Microsoft is partnering with enterprise telephony vendors to make its Office Communication Server (OCS) 2007 work more closely with office phone systems.

On Tuesday, at the OCS launch, the company plans to announce a formal program to certify interoperability between IP phone systems and OCS. As part of that, Microsoft will discuss a specification to let enterprises migrate one building at a time to its software-based unified communications system, and still have calls go across the organisation as if on the same PBX.

Two models of Cisco's popular ISR (Integrated Services Router) branch-office platform will be among the products certified for this type of interoperability, according to Zig Serafin, general manager of Microsoft's Unified Communications group.

Microsoft's initiative, called the OCS 2007 Open Interoperability Program, will formalise work that has already been going on with some third parties. As that work has expanded, it's reached a point where it needs to be more organised, Serafin said. The idea is to let customers know what will work with OCS, and Microsoft will provide a table on its website where potential customers can check the certifications of third-party products.

Although promoted as an effort to coexist with the IP phone systems now established or taking root in enterprises, the program also will make it easier for customers to migrate away from dedicated communications systems and phones themselves, the company acknowledges. Voice call control is new to Microsoft's unified communications system with OCS 2007, but the software giant envisions a day when separate platforms such as Cisco's CallManager won't be needed, industry analysts say.

Cisco, Avaya, and other vendors have already moved the voice call-control functions of traditional circuit-switched PBXes into server software, but they sell that software along with IP handsets and other gear. Microsoft intends OCS, together with Office Communicator 2007 client software or special OCS phones made by Polycom and LG, to ultimately replace those dedicated systems.

Microsoft has already certified gateway products from five vendors for Direct SIP interoperability, Serafin said. Among them are Cisco's Integrated Services Router 2851 and 3845. In fact, all ISRs with voice capability can interoperate with OCS, according to Mike Wood, director of product marketing in Cisco's access routing group. Gateways from Dialogic also have already been certified.