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Partners: UC, infrastructure consolidation to drive business in '08

Unified communications (UC) and infrastructure consolidation will be hot technologies in 2008, VARs say.

Infrastructure consolidation and unified communications are two hot technology trends for the upcoming year, according to solution providers.

Service provider and value-added reseller (VAR) execs expect to see booming demand for unified communications (UC) and desktop sharing solutions this year. Meanwhile, customers will seek infrastructure consolidation -- an area where virtualization technologies loom large.

There's a lot of partner interest in the upcoming Cisco Nexus 7000 Ethernet switch, which will handle Ethernet networking and assign storage workloads so that all servers can access network and storage resources. That, in turn, will facilitate virtualization, according to Cisco.

Cisco and Microsoft are trying to drive demand for the convergence of voice and data communications with their respective unified communications wares.

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Cisco's Unified Communications Manager for large businesses, Communications Manager Express for medium-sized companies and the Smart Business Communications System for small shops are products to watch, according to reseller execs. But solution providers also see major play this year from Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007, which boasts stronger Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) features because of interoperability with Nortel's gear.

With a looming recession and shrinking IT budgets, execs agree customers want to do more with less. "First we help them understand the new applications that can make their lives easier," said John Babcock, senior vice president and general manager of technology services at Relational Technology Solutions, a VAR based in Rolling Meadows, Ill. "Then at the end of the conversation, we talk about the technology that they will have to buy."

It shouldn't be hard to make the business case for unified communications. In 2007, there was buzz around unifying voice, data, email and video over one interface -- but user uptake didn't match the hype. In 2008, sales are expected to pick up since "UC and mobility are more mature," according to Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala.

Shawn Allaway, vice president of Waltham, Mass.-based NWN Corp., said his customers use VoIP unified applications to "grow their mobile workforces." Solution providers say UC applications instantly boost sales and customer service productivity by linking client data to call features and enabling instant chat and conferencing between companies and their users.

Unified communications converges voice, data systems

Until recently, UC users have split between two camps: the Cisco-centric approach driven by VoIP telephony, and the software-based Microsoft PC strategy. But that divide will shrink in '08, Allaway said.

"You have to look at [UC] from a customer-centric view," he said, which will require a combination of strategies. "Cisco's been doing it longer, but Microsoft is getting there," Allaway noted. Microsoft's partnership with Nortel means interoperability between Nortel's Communications Server 1000 and Microsoft's Exchange Server 2007, as well as between Nortel's Multimedia Conferencing 5.0 and Office Communicator 2007.

This year, UC also extends to collaboration applications that will "change the footprint" of the market, said Gregg Rosenberg, founder and CEO of Tinley Park, Ill.-based Ricis Inc., an open source solutions VAR. He noted CommuniGate Systems' Pronto, a Flash-based product that integrates email, IM, voice and video into a Web 2.0-style interface. He also pointed to file-follow-me solution Novell iFolder, which lets users access and update documents across multiple systems, saving changes on the hard drive or remotely without redundancy. IFolder is also available as part of the Novell Open Enterprise Server.

Demand will also rise for collaboration applications, which means Microsoft SharePoint Services and SharePoint Servers will get more play in '08. Ronnie Parisella, chief technology officer of New York-based VAR Primary Support Home, says small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are clamoring for SharePoint Services, which are included in Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 and enable common, interactive workspace and documents. "They are mostly interested in document check-in and check-out," Parisella said.

But larger companies are also seeking SharePoint Server 2007 and SharePoint Services, possibly making 2008 a year to upgrade Exchange and Windows Server, said NWN's Allaway. "If you really want to take advantage of collaboration, you need Exchange 2007 and Windows Server 2008. Microsoft thought last year was the big change year, but we're getting inquiries for upgrades now."

In storage, the major trend in '08 will be in data center consolidation through virtualization. Virtualization enables management of data and applications from numerous hardware sources on one or a series of typically low-cost virtual servers. Server virtualization generally means getting more work out of fewer boxes.

James Kavanaugh, CEO of systems integrator World Wide Technology in St. Louis, has high expectations of Cisco's Nexus 7000 switching system, which will ship in the second quarter of '08. The system can move 15 terabits of data per second, and companies can consolidate data from office branches across long distances.

Virtualization will enable infrastructure consolidation

James Rankin, technology specialist at CDW in Vernon Hills, Ill., still predicts strong sales for VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 when it comes to virtualized servers. He also sees rising interest in virtualized desktops, pointing to VMware's Virtual Desktop Manager 2.0. Virtualized desktop applications enable the enterprise to host the operating system of computers in the data center while users have a typical desktop experience on a thin client or through mobile devices.

Security and compliance needs will drive storage sales. World Wide Technology will emphasize network-edge security applications with "vertical-market slants" for industries like healthcare and insurance with specific compliance regulations.

"Vendors to watch are Cisco, Sun and EMC and how they are expanding their product portfolios to holistically manage security from the network's edge to the core data center," Kavanaugh said. "Nobody has it totally nailed down yet. We're going to have to build collaborative solutions."

Collaboration is "an art and a science," Kavanaugh added. It'll take "strong technology and skilled individuals" to make it work.

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