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Nortel-Avaya channel stands by vendor

New IP Office 7.0 touts integration of Nortel intellectual property into Avaya portfolio.

Avaya’s release of IP Office 7.0 in mid-May marked a major milestone for the company -- complete integration of Nortel Enterprise Solutions’ intellectual property into the business collaboration platform. Whether or not you sell that particular product, the move was significant and designed to win over long-time Nortel Networks’ customers -- and the Nortel VARs who served them.

Now, as Avaya Inc. prepares a $1 billion initial public stock offering to pay down some debt, many enterprise solution providers representing the Avaya and Nortel technologies remain committed to selling both technologies.

This was by no means a given. Many Nortel VARs started to worry and wander as that company struggled and then declared bankruptcy in January 2009 and subsequently sold its enterprise solutions business to Avaya.

Since then, Avaya “developed a roadmap that boasts the best of what Avaya does and the best of what Nortel does,” said Greg Forrest, president of the managed services division for Paetec, which recently acquired Avaya/Nortel partner XetaTechnologies where Forrest was CEO. “That is a roadmap that is starting to resonate with the CIO and telecomm community.”

That sentiment was echoed by Michael Tallent, director of Avaya sales for Presidio Networked Solutions, the professional and managed services provider based in Greenbelt, Md. “There has been an increase in opportunities, specifically with a lot of the Nortel customers who for several years were sitting on their hands and weren’t getting a lot of motivation and push from Nortel,” Tallent said. “Now that there is a roadmap, it has really opened up the doors for us from an opportunity perspective.”

Avaya/Nortel solution providers that stuck by the companies said there are two big reasons not to discount Avaya:

First: Many Nortel Enterprise Solutions technology customers remained loyal during the transition. In the case of IP Office, Avaya estimates that there are 14 million legacy Nortel enterprise technology users that can now take advantage of the product.

Second: The network infrastructure and unified communications marketplace has prompted many enterprise businesses to begin looking more closely at their strategy for converged voice and data technologies.

“Pre-acquisition, it was a three-horse race for us: Cisco, Avaya and Nortel,” said Forrest. “Now, with the two coming together, the bets are off.”

“Sometimes external things stir the pot and get the marketplace stirred up,” said Michael Taylor, chief technology officer for Strategic Products and Services (SPS), an Avaya Platinum Certified partner based in Parsippany, N.J. He pointed to the emergence of Microsoft Lync, that company’s unified communications play, as one such factor.

Taylor said the important message around IP Office is that the Avaya and Nortel technologies are consolidating around a single platform: “There are some people who will probably not look on it as favorably, but their direction is admirable: heritage support, IP-capable handsets, SIP compatibility.”

He cautioned, however, that businesses should not leap to the conclusion that a single technology vendor can serve all their voice and data communications needs. The fact that more than one technology is needed continues to create great services and integration opportunities for the Avaya/Nortel channel.

John Wassenbergh, leader of the Nortel practice for SPS, said many heritage Nortel users are looking for solutions and guidance as the roadmap becomes clearer. “This is the first time in the history of the Nortel product set when many Nortel users could be required to make a choice to change their support partner,” Wassenbergh said. The focus for the SPS Nortel practice is to offer services that continue to integrate the technologies for as long as SPS customers need that. “We form a bridge for the h eritage Nortel user from where they are to where they need to be,” he said. 

Presidio’s Tallent said the path that his company advocates depends on the company’s investment in training and personnel to support specific platforms. “In many cases, it is difficult to get them to look at anything else,” he said.

But he also said the time to contemplate a future strategy is coming for “some of the older release” customers who face the sun-setting of support for certain end-of-life products. “There is still quite a bit of this equipment out there,” Tallent said. “In this instance, the reliability is somewhat of a curse.”

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York area with more than 20 years experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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