Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is planning a global VOIP rollout with tens of thousands of IP phones - based on a Microsoft product that has just arrived in beta.

"Ultimately, we don't see the need for separate IP telephony and Microsoft messaging platforms. That is our vision, but it depends on whether Microsoft delivers," said Johan Krebbers, group IT architect at Royal Dutch Shell, during a presentation at the VoiceCon conference in Orlando this week.

Shell plans this year to begin testing Office Communications Server 2007 and Windows Vista, along with Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007, and rolling the platforms into production by early 2008. The company currently uses Nortel's Communication Server 1000 IP PBX running in its data centres, which host around 1,000 IP phones worldwide.

When the Microsoft infrastructure is in place, Shell will start to switch over large numbers of employees to Office Communicator softphone clients, hosted by the Microsoft OCS platforms, as well as Nortel IP hard phones, managed by CS1000 IP PBXs.

Shell's multi-year plan involves a gradual migration off of hundreds of disparate PBX systems in more than 110 countries to a centralized VOIP, messaging and collaboration infrastructure based on Microsoft servers, and Nortel IP PBX and gateway technology.

The oil giant's core VOIP network will shift eventually to Microsoft OCS, with Nortel IP telephony technology serving as a bridge between legacy telephony and VOIP.

"We [will] not have a separate Nortel IP PBX infrastructure," if the OCS servers prove to be stable enough, and offer the right amount of features, Krebbers said.

The Microsoft servers will be hosted in three data centres -- in the United States, the Netherlands and Malaysia - and will handle all VOIP call control for more than 40,000 IP hard phones (from Nortel) and softphones, based on Microsoft Office Communicator.

Microsoft will shortly issue the first public beta of its Office Communications Server and Office Communicator client, with the product due to ship later this year. Shell has decided to go with Microsoft, despite the announcement of products from other vendors, including Cisco and IBM designed to counter it.

OCS 2007 is the successor to Microsoft's current Live Communication Server - a real-time communications product for instant messaging, audio and video conferencing, as well as IP PBX-like call control.

Most IP PBX vendors - including Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Nortel and others - have products that interoperate with Microsoft LCS. The new Microsoft product will work with other PBXs, but can also replace them.