Unified Communications: Can (or Should) You Ditch the Exchange Server?

Unified communications solutions are commonly used by large corporations, with solutions from providers like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. But the convenience and potential cost savings of having multiple modes of communications combined in one service can be appealing to smaller businesses with limited staff and resources.
For example, Unison Technologies makes a Linux based server that includes email, instant messaging, calendars, contacts and PBX phone system in one. This single server approach can save companies money since they don’t have to buy and maintain separate email servers, phone systems or software. The company claims that its solution can increase employee productivity by 15% because the combined functions allow them to have all messages and contacts close at hand without switching between applications.
We recently spoke with Rurik Bradbury, Unison CMO, about why a small business might want to consider a single server solution like Unison’s.

So if we’re understanding correctly, Unison not only saves money but also boosts productivity by NOT using Microsoft’s unified communications offerings?
Yes, it boosts productivity by unifying all communications into one interface. Microsoft’s solution requires two or three desktop clients, which is more cumbersome and difficult to use than Unison, which unifies everything into a single server and client. Microsoft had to create additional clients, because Outlook/Exchange is a 15-year-old legacy product — too difficult to re-architect radically — and it is also targeted mainly at large enterprises, so the back-end software architecture cannot be drastically re-architected either. I believe that if Microsoft could start over and design a unified communications system for SMBs, it would look like Unison.
Is there no benefit to using Microsoft technology, such as full integration with Microsoft Office and people being in a more familiar environment?
Microsoft Outlook has minimal integration with other Microsoft software and our research has suggested that most users do not take advantage of it anyway. The Unison Desktop client is designed to be very easy to use for people who usually work in a Microsoft environment. Most of our users run Windows on the desktop, rather than the Linux desktop client, and the Unison client gives them a familiar experience.
What businesses are best suited for advanced communication systems? Which ones can do just fine with more simple appliances like phone systems rather than full communication servers?
The real benefit of Unison is that it is just as simple to install as a simple PBX or a basic e-mail server – and much simpler than systems like Microsoft Exchange or a Cisco PBX. Yet Unison is even more powerful than systems like Exchange or a Cisco PBX because into integrates all those features into a unified experience for users. Companies no long have to ‘make do’ with basic communications, because Unison advanced communications, with just one server to deploy, is now even easier to deploy than ‘simpler’ systems.