BroadSoft Connections - Recap on Microsoft's Blog

Just when you thought I was done with BroadSoft Connections! Wait - there's more, but with a twist. Microsoft's Communications Sector recently started a blog called Behind 3 Screens - referring of course to the three screens they're trying to serve in our digital world - PC, TV and mobile.

Anyhow, they've been on me for a while to submit a guest post, and this is my first one for their blog. If you follow my blog and/or BroadSoft, you'll know they're working closely with MSFT, especially for hosted UC. As such, they were keen to hear my thoughts about Connections, and I prepared an exclusive recap post for their blog, which is running today.

So, if you haven't quite got Connections out of your system, I welcome you to read my post there, and I'm sure MSFT would love for you to leave a comment or two behind. Even Microsoft likes to hear words of encouragement from time to time! Me too...

BroadSoft Moving Into Hosted UC - Busy, Busy

October has been a busy month for BroadSoft, perhaps their busiest to date. I've had a couple of recent items on hold pending yesterday's announcement with Microsoft around hosted Unified Communications, and now I can tie them all together.

Working backwards, the most recent news shows a deepening relationship between BroadSoft and Microsoft, especially in terms of serving the business market. It also builds nicely on momentum stemming from another joint announcement this summer about their approach to offering hosted services to SMBs, which I wrote about in my Service Provider Views column on TMCnet.

They have had an integrated offering since last year, and now the push is towards hosted UC, positioned under the broader guise of SaaS, or even CaaS - communications as a service - as others are calling it. Whatever you call it, this is an important evolution away from hardware-based IP telephony, and as the concept of a legacy PBX becomes less relevant, the story shifts from voice/VoIP/telephony to an integrated multimedia services platform, or UC for short.

For BroadSoft, this is a great way to widen their exposure to new customers - i.e. pretty much anyone using OCS, and for Microsoft, this gets them the best of both worlds. Their joint offering keeps the focus on this being a software-based solution, which plays well into Microsoft's comfort zone, and makes it easier for their customers to entrust their communications regime to a Microsoft-based solution.

Moving beyond this comfort zone, by positioning this as SaaS, Microsoft now has a stronger footing to counter Google Wave, and the rising tide of cloud-based communications solutions that are threatening to displace software much like the way software displaced hardware. In effect, Microsoft is covering both flanks here, and the news gives Microsoft another angle for reaching the SMB market, where their enthusiasm was recently curbed following a round of job cuts that brought Response Point to a near halt. Given all this close activity, along with BroadSoft's newfound dominance (post Sylantro) of their served market, you have to wonder if these two companies are more than just friends - makes you wonder, right?

In terms of the news elements from yesterday's announcement, a few items are worth noting to show there is some substance to what these two companies are doing together:

- their hosted UC offer is in "testing with 12 of the top 25 carriers in the world". That can mean many things, but if this is BroadSoft's ticket to the top tier of carriers, so be it.

- two service providers currently using this were cited - Alteva and Outsourcery - so they do have some proof points to share with the market

- to strengthen the hosted UC value proposition, they announced an expanded partner ecosystem - which is a pretty key piece of the puzzle. It's not clear to me if this is simply BroadSoft's Xtended community getting a boost, nor if it serves as a replacement of sorts for Microsoft's CSF Sandbox, which was quietly and quickly shelved last year - but that's another story.

- two integration items were highlighted - BroadWorks and Dynamics CRM 4.0, and BroadWorks SIP Trunking with OCS. Both will add weight to this offering, especially when you think about how Microsoft was an early supporter of SIP, and now they can truly bring an end-to-end SIP solution to market.

I think this tells a pretty strong story, but there's more to talk about. Before getting to that, I should add that the announcement also talked up how Microsoft will be a major sponsor of BroadSoft's upcoming Connections event, and you can be sure this will be a major showcase opportunity for customers and prospects alike. Connections is going into its 7th iteration, and runs later this month in Phoenix. I've been attending the last few of these, and will be there this year as well, so look for my blog posts about it for updates on how this joint initiative is being received.

To round out this post, I need to now tie in some other important items. We've got a long way to go before SaaS takes over the world - if ever - and there's still hardware for any form of UC beyond the handset. In particular, I'm talking about the media gateway, and last week's news with AudioCodes.

This may not be as exciting or headline-grabbing as Microsoft, but you can't have hosted UC without a gateway. I've written about AudioCodes's MSBG previously - Multi-Service Business Gateway - and they've done a great job of building a complete portfolio of gateways that can address any stage of a carrier's IP migration plan.

The main idea here is the integration of their MSBGs - and IP phones - with BroadWorks. Both companies have strong brands, and many carriers no doubt would want to deploy them together. With this integration, that process now becomes much easier, not just for the carrier, but their enterprise and SMB customers. Ease of use is still king, and it's been a particular issue for SMBs, who generally lack the IT expertise to make all these things work together. Everybody gets that, and it's good to see vendors focus on this very basic message. SMBs do not want to be system integrators, and carriers will have a much easier time selling them on hosted services with this type of an offering.

Finally - there's one more thing to add here - QoS. The press release makes a passing reference to BroadSoft's PacketSmart VoIP QoS solution. QoS is another obstacle to deploy hosted services, especially for businesses relying on the public Internet - can you blame them? Well, when you have SIP Trunking and SIP aware gateways - and a QoS solution - you can pretty well be assured of carrier-grade, end-to-end IP service. That's a pretty strong selling point, and takes away the standard defence of hiding behind the rock-solid quality of TDM. Fair enough, but when you can now assure equal-or-better QoS with IP, the legacy fallback gets a bit shaky.

I'm mentioning this, not because it's an important part of a truly integrated hosted offering, but because it rounds out the busy month I referred to at the top of this post. The QoS piece comes courtesy of a small acquisition BroadSoft made at the beginning of October; a company called Packet Island. I don't know them, but you can read more about that if you like, in the press release. You can also get the corporate view from Mike Tessler's blog post about the acquisition.

I wanted to mention this primarily for the benefit of anyone wanting to follow BroadSoft more closely. They recently re-launched their website, which now includes a separate site called BroadSoft Ignite. That's where their top executives all blog, and the content is pretty good. However, it's not easy to find Ignite on BroadSoft's main website, and I'm not sure if that's by design. Whether it is or not, I'm telling you about it here, and it's worth keeping tabs on, especially if hosted UC is important to you.

JAJAH/Microsoft Revisited - My Interview with Trevor Healy

A couple of weeks back, JAJAH made an interesting announcement about their partnership with Microsoft to integrate SIP Trunking with OCS.

The news didn't attract as much attention as I thought, but to me, it says a lot about the value JAJAH brings to Microsoft, especially for strengthening their Unified Communications offerings. With today's news about Avaya and Nortel, I'd say the stakes are even higher now, as Microsoft has taken a few steps backwards with its business telephony plans following the scaling back of Response Point in May.

To help bring JAJAH's story to light, I did a Q&A with their CEO, Trevor Healy. He's a busy guy, and despite my best efforts to get this out in late August, it's taken til now for this to happen. As you may know, I'm part of the UC Strategies team, and given the importance of this news to the Unified Communications space, I felt it was best to do this interview as an exclusive under the UCS banner.

It's posted now on their portal, and whether you're just coming around to this news, or want to hear Trevor's take first-hand, I'll steer you to the interview. I hope you enjoy it, and by all means, stick around and explore the portal. It's the best thing going for all things UC.

Getting Hosted Services Right - BroadSoft, Microsoft and Chinook

My latest Service Provider Views column on TMCnet is running now, and if you're following the hosted space, especially for serving SMBs, I think you'll enjoy this column.

The focus is on a recent announcement about how BroadSoft, Microsoft and Chinook Hosting are working together on an integrated offering that delivers Unified Communciations on a turnkey basis for SMBs (enterprises too). Hosted is a great solution for SMBs, but it's remained a tough sell for a variety of reasons. I think this offering gets it right, and my article explores the reasons why. If you give it a read, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I've been meaning to post this since Monday, but our new Smart Grid venture has taken priority big time the past few days! That's another story, and for some of you, it's a space you'll want to get closer to.

Microsoft Cuts Include Response Point - One Step Backwards

Last week's cuts by Microsoft got lots of attention, but I've barely seen anything about the fallout for Response Point. I actually didn't catch wind of this until yesterday, and since then I've had dialog with a couple of Response Point team members to better understand what's happening.

I've been following Response Point for some time - such as here - and have always thought it was a great entree for Microsoft to serve the SMB voice market. There's so much at stake these days for owning the customer, and Microsoft knows it can't do this with software alone. They've invested a lot of time/energy/money to develop an SMB solution that bring the best of both worlds in terms of software and hardware, and that's what Response Point is all about.

In terms of public news about how the cuts impacted the Response Point team, I can steer you to two sites - their own blog, and the Mini-Microsoft blog. The latter post is more about the overall cuts from last week, but if you sift through the comments, you'll find references to Response Point.

My understanding is that Microsoft had to cut back support for initiatives that weren't delivering short term profits, and being a startup, Response Point clearly falls into that category. From all accounts I've seen, Response Point is not going away - they'll just have to make do for now, and support the current version as best they can.

Basically, this means living with Version 1.0, which launched in early 2008. They've been building their early momentum with this, but most people are looking to Version 2.0 to make Response Point a mainstream SMB solution. This version is more voice 2.0-oriented, and includes new features such as a softphone, Key System functionality, better branch office integration, and remote user connectivity. Unfortunately, the air has come out of this balloon with the funding cuts, as Version 2.0 was not slated for release until later this year.

So, development is now on hold until these cuts have been digested. Presuming Microsoft is performing better a couple of quarters from now, hopefully, they'll be able to revisit funding then and get 2.0 launched. Until then, the team needs to consider possibly launching a few core 2.0 features now to make Response Point more competitive, as the market is continually evolving.

This last point is the most troubling aspect of what these cuts mean, not just for Response Point, but Microsoft itself. We all know there's a huge land grab in play now for the massive SMB space, and there are tons of solutions to choose from. Response Point makes a lot of sense for SMBs who are Microsoft-friendly and want an easy-to-use solution. Furthermore, with so many new entries, buying from a trusted brand is an important comfort factor for an audience that is generally not that tech-savvy.

The problem facing Response Point is all the time they lose now to develop Version 2.0. This creates a bit of a vacuum that will quickly be filled by solutions that Microsoft will have a hard time competing with 6 months or so from now. Web-based offerings like and Vocalocity are starting to find their niche, as are hybrid PBX/router solutions like Jazinga. And then you have the whole Open Source ecosystem, along with a growing variety of hosted, managed and cloud-based offerings.

These cuts also reflect on Microsoft, who simply had to make a business decision to adapt to current market conditions. However, it sends a message that SMB is not their top priority (which is probably true), but for the legions of vendors, VARs and developers supporting Response Point, it's a step backwards for what most would see as a winning strategy for Microsoft. Tough choices for tough times, and I do hope that the Response Point team keeps things moving forward, as I think their offering could be a major cornerstone for Microsoft's value proposition in the SMB market.