Third-Party Vendor Provides Option In Response to Microsoft's Unified Messaging Changes
In response to Microsoft's announcement this week that it will no longer provide session border controller (SBC) support for PBX systems accessing Office 365, third-party firm AVST is stepping in with a solution.
The gist of Microsoft's announcement is that users of Exchange Online Unified Messaging (UM) will have to use an alternative method of connecting voicemail with Outlook. In July of next year, Microsoft won't support PBX connections using SBCs for that purpose. Microsoft instead offered four alternative options. In its announcement, the company suggested that only "a small number of customers are affected by this change" and that it was making it to "provide a higher quality of service for voicemail."
Those four options likely won't be cheap or simple for affected organizations, said Paul Cunningham, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, commenting in a Practical 365 blog post. The move could simplify things for Microsoft, though, he suggested.
"I see this simply as part of Microsoft's grand strategy to jettison legacy platforms and solutions that are complex and not highly profitable, and focus on services like Cloud PBX that they can deliver more efficiently," Cunningham added.
Microsoft is discontinuing its SBC support on the Office 365 side so that it won't have to rely on "a third-party system" that's difficult to manage, suggested Jeff Guillet, a Microsoft certified solutions master and Microsoft MVP. He explained the technical aspects of Microsoft's move in this blog post, adding that giving companies just one year to move is "asking a lot," since the switchover likely will affect large companies.
Meanwhile, AVST, a Microsoft Gold partner on Skype for Business and Exchange, and a voicemail pioneer, is indicating this week that it has the means to support organizations faced with Microsoft's one-year deadline.
The company's CX-E Unified Communications platform offers a quick solution that can integrate with leading PBX systems, such as systems from Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and others. The platform permits organizations to continue to use Outlook forms to link voicemail with e-mail. Because of the potential pain involved in such moves, it's currently offering discounts via its value-added reseller partners.
How AVST can address the issue was explained by Tom Minifie, AVST's chief technology officer, as well as Denny Michael, senior vice president of sales and marketing at AVST, in a phone interview today.
AVST has been addressing the unified communications space for decades.
"The company goes back over 30 years and we were one of the folks that brought voicemail to the marketplace," Michael said. "We've been around for a long time, and we primarily service the enterprise space. We're very strong in healthcare, state and local government, regulated industries, higher education and other horizontal industries as well."
Minifie explained that organizations with third-party (or non-Microsoft) PBX systems using Office 365, or thinking about moving to Office 365, will be affected by Microsoft's change. Most options, of the four listed by Microsoft, will require moving to Skype for Business and scrapping PBX systems. It'll be "disruptive," he said.
"Clearly, from Microsoft's position, they want that alternative to be 'Get rid of your PBX and use Skype for Business,'" Minifie said. "So, for customers that have already been planning for that, that's a good option for them. They move to Skype for Business and continue to use the Exchange [Online] UM component. But for customers that aren't interested in doing that or aren't ready to do that, then this is pretty disruptive because it's not something that they've planned for already."
AVST, with its CX-E Unified Communications platform, specializes in the fourth option presented by Microsoft.
"And what that is, it's really saying is that instead of directly connecting the Exchange [Online] UM environment to the PBX, I'm going to have a different unified messaging solution that performs that same functionality, and that's how we approach it," Minifie said. "Because of our history, we evolved the integrations into the various phone systems, so whatever phone system or PBX the customer is using, we'll be able to integrate into that, but then we also integrate into the Exchange environment so that we can provide unified messaging through Exchange."
End users also get the same familiar Outlook look and feel with AVST's platform.
"In our eyes, we're providing the best of both worlds," Minifie said. "We're solving the problem, which is you can no longer connect Exchange [Online] UM into your PBX. So we take care of that PBX connection. But you get to continue to use the familiar Outlook interface that the end users are used to."
Minifie affirmed that Microsoft was essentially eliminating the SBC on its end.
The Time Factor
AVST and its partners validate phone systems and architectures. They perform application discovery to address any functionalities that organization may want. The time it takes to deploy will depend on the solution chosen.
"As far as the amount of time, that kind of depends on the solution," Minifie said. "Ours is quick because you really aren't changing anything. Your phone system doesn't change. Your Exchange doesn't change. We just get put in the middle of it. And so that can be deployed very quickly."
Other approaches can get delayed.
"With the other solutions, you're getting into having to order telecom things," Minifie said. "You need SIP trunking and have to order from the carrier, and there are whatever delays for that to get delivered."
AVST's solution can be installed on premises or it's provided as a hosted software-as-a-service solution via subscription. More information about AVST's replacement offerings for Exchange Online UM can be found at this page.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.