February 13, 2009, 4:05 PM — A Microsoft partner Tuesday launched a new service for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that combines hosted unified communications with a hosted PBX (private branch exchange) service.
LightEdge, based in Des Moines, Iowa, rolled out a hosted version of Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 with an option for customers to integrate the service with an existing Hosted PBX service the company already offers.
The integrated service gives customers the ability to make calls on a PBX desktop phone using the Office Communicator client software interface, said Scott Riedel, director of marketing for LightEdge. Office Communicator is Microsoft's desktop software for OCS.
The integrated service can also show a user's availability via Office Communicator. For example, if someone is talking on a PBX phone, the user's presence information will show up as "unavailable" to other users in Office Communicator, Riedel said.
While LightEdge has been offering Hosted PBX for some time, Tuesday is the first time the company is offering hosted OCS, though some other Microsoft partners already do so. Microsoft recently rolled out an update to the software, called OCS 2007 R2. However, Riedel said his company's service is based on the first version of OCS 2007.
LightEdge is offering two flavors of hosted OCS. The premium service, which includes integrated Hosted PBX as well as Microsoft Office Live Meeting, is available for US$10.95 per user, per month. The standard version, which does not include these services, is available for $6.95 per user, per month.
With IT budgets tight and companies cutting costs, hosted services are becoming an increasingly attractive option for many companies, particularly for those in the SMB market. The emerging unified communications market is not immune to this trend, said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst for research firm COMMfusion.
"With the economy the way it is, people don't have the money to buy any equipment," she said. "By paying for someone to host the service, it avoids the capital issue."
She added that hosted unified communications and PBX services are a particularly attractive option for SMBs, as well as for companies with a geographically dispersed workforce that don't want to purchase software and hardware for each office. Buying and managing a PBX on site can be an expensive proposition.
Riedel agreed that SMBs and companies with a lot of small offices are probably the most likely to purchase LightEdge's integrated service, but she added that larger companies that have outdated PBXes also might want to give them up for a hosted option.