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HP and Microsoft: Unified communications and collaboration for SMBs

HP and Microsoft have extended their alliance to allow partners to sell unified communications and collaboration products to the SMB market.

HP Networking and Microsoft have announced a joint initiative that will enable channel partners to sell HP's Unified Communications and Collaboration products and Microsoft Lync to small and medium-sized businesses.

The initiative extends a partnership that began three years ago, and focuses on scaling down these products to give the SMB market a more cost-effective road to using communications tools from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Microsoft.

"We are trying to expand beyond the [large enterprise] marketplace and go into that next layer down. How do we get to those midsize and smaller enterprises and deliver the same benefits to them? The best way is with channel partners," said Alan MacLeod, HP's director of the Microsoft Alliance's unified communications (UC) and collaboration initiative.

Initially, the alliance between HP and Microsoft helped partners understand how to integrate Microsoft's collaboration package with HP's hardware, and incorporate services surrounding the joint offering. "We focused on leveraging HP's expertise internally in our services organizations and helping customers understand how to integrate [Microsoft's Office Communications Server] OCS and now Lync into their existing [private branch exchange] PBX voice infrastructure," MacLeod said.

The HP and Microsoft alliance continues to offer partners the chance to become certified in both HP Networking products and Microsoft Lync. "Partners can be part of the Microsoft incentive solution program and be provided assistance in helping to understand and learn how to use the program," said TerryAnn Fitzgerald, SMB solutions marketing manager at HP Networking. HP also provides ongoing sales and training support services.

HP and Microsoft strategize ways to enter the SMB market

HP's suite of products in servers and storage that are already suited for the SMB market will be part of the partnership with Microsoft. "We were able to utilize the products we already have, and have products that are already Lync-optimized -- like our phones, for example," Fitzgerald said. Going forward, HP will continue to create solutions that work in the enterprise, but also in the SMB market.

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The program will help channel partners focus on companies with 250, 500, 1,000 and 2,500 employees. "They were designed specifically to simplify deployment, reduce costs and give customers a great experience with the implementation and deployment of the solution," Fitzgerald said.

Additionally, HP has created sales and marketing collateral material. "They can use these items, like solution briefs, banners, white papers, call guides and presentations, which are all customizable," Fitzgerald said.

Partners also have access to HP case studies. The company also hopes partners will be able to sell SMBs on the fact that they can have unified communications (UC) and collaboration at a price range they can handle. "These customers have very limited resources and budgets. They are looking to reduce costs and improve employee productivity. This solution offers a fast adoption rate due to a familiar customer experience with Microsoft, the benefits of HP products, and no rip-and-replace as the solution is deployed alongside the existing network solutions," Fitzgerald said.

UC and collaboration success in the SMB market

Integrated Access Solutions (IAS), a managed services and solutions provider, has already seen the benefits of the HP and Microsoft alliance.

"We've tested it out and done some projects with Lync as the unified communications and collaboration platform and HP Networking as the underlying communications infrastructure," said Bob Murphy, senior consultant at IAS. "We've seen success and done it in an economic way that is palatable for the SMB market."

A longtime HP Networking and Microsoft Lync reseller, IAS has been working with the HP and Microsoft alliance program for a year and a half. Now IAS is telling more of an integrated story.

"People are used to Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. The technology capabilities of HP to optimize and manage real-time-protocol traffic like voice and video, and manage a network that's handling multiple forms of media are important. To be able to do it for less money, more strategically, and get the benefits of the integration and interoperability between Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Microsoft System Center just makes sense," Murphy said.

Many of the customers already using Microsoft might have site licenses that allow them to move inexpensively to an enterprise communications infrastructure without taking on the incremental costs of other manufacturers.

"You factor in HP's advanced converged-networking capabilities at a very competitive price point that enables us as a VAR [value-added reseller] to increase our profit opportunities when engaged with clients. When you combine the two, it offers an economical solution that doesn't sacrifice in the advance technologies that cost more with companies like Cisco and even Avaya and ShoreTel," Murphy said.

Pay attention to unified communications and collaboration, or else

The UC market is growing now that SMBs are getting involved, and it's vital that partners start talking to customers because its demand will continue to grow.

"You have to very quickly get up to speed on the Microsoft and HP [alliance] because if you're not talking to your customers about it, someone else is," Murphy said. "If you ignore it, you're opening yourself up to competitive pressure with your existing customers and missing out on opportunities to talk about something fresh and exciting with potential new customers."

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