The Gartner report released in July 2010 shows Microsoft as the clear leader in unified communications based on the Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 platform, a platform that was nearly 2 years old at the time. And later this month Microsoft will release Lync Server 2010, a huge improvement over Office Communications Server. In short, the best just got a lot better.
In addition, Microsoft won the VoiceCon "voice" RFP shootout. Microsoft was the dark horse going up against more experienced Cisco, Avaya and others, but still came out on top. If you read the full RFP response you'll notice that not only does Microsoft offer the richest set of features, it is one of the most economical solutions, roughly half the price of Cisco's solution. The funny thing is Microsoft's Jeff Raikes predicted in 2007 that by 2010 software-based solutions would be roughly half the cost of hardware solutions.
To be the best the solution needs to be flexible enough to work for businesses large and small. Sprint, obviously in the large category, saves $9.3 million per year using Microsoft UC. And I've worked with companies with less than 50 employees that save $30,000 per month on conferencing costs by leveraging the same Microsoft UC stack. Those are pure "hard" ROI numbers. The emerging Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) market promises savings an order of magnitude higher.
But let's see how Microsoft's back-end infrastructure and the end user perspective compare to the competition. Cisco's solution, for example, leverages Microsoft Active Directory and other Microsoft tools, but still needs a multitude of loosely integrated products to form a "solution". From both an administrative standpoint, that's overly complex and confusing.
The Microsoft story is both simpler and more powerful. At the core of Microsoft's UC solution is Active Directory. Exchange 2010 adds e-mail, calendaring, mobility and unified messaging. Lync Server 2010 adds IM, Web and audio conferencing, VoIP and real time collaboration.
Flipping to the user side of the coin, Microsoft achieves all this without a VPN. While some competitors take a network-focused approach, Microsoft couldn't care less what your network looks like. No extra software, no VPN required. Users can work wherever, whenever, empowering the next generation remote and mobile workforce. That's simply not possible with any other solution on the market.
Microsoft's UC stack also leverages tight integration and a familiar look and feel with the Office suite. With over 80% of enterprise users using Microsoft Office, the Microsoft UC solution doesn't require extensive end user training or a steep learning curve. With Microsoft Lync Communicator and Office, the only clients required, all users can leverage the power of unified communications.
Moving to a technical discussion, some competitors have thrown their eggs in the network basket claiming network QoS to be sufficient for real-time communications. That's great inside an enterprise, however with the growing mobile workforce it's insufficient. Microsoft introduced the RT-Audio and RT-Video variable codecs in Office Communications Server 2007 and improved them greatly for Lync Server 2010.
The key differentiator is that Microsoft's solution adjusts to provide the optimal user experience over all networks, including the Internet. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be able to make a great call from the beach over my tethered 4G connection than have to go into the office. I know that because I spent last month working from Hawaii, using my PC, Lync and a headset as a mobile office to keep in touch with clients and friends. The Microsoft solution worked perfectly and I was just as productive as I would have been in a traditional office… but much happier.
While it's an oversimplification, essentially Microsoft means work anywhere, while competitors keep you confined to your cubicle.
Earlier this year, Microsoft rolled out the "Why Microsoft" campaign and the social networking world went crazy with #whymsft tags. That slogan is especially appropriate for unified communications. Why Microsoft? Because they are simply the best solution in every qualitative and quantitative metric available. Not to mention the least expensive and, in my opinion, the easiest to manage.
Convergent Computing is a technology consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area that specializes in Microsoft technologies and boasts some of the top experts in their field. The company principals have written several books on Microsoft server technologies, including Exchange 2010 Unleashed and the upcoming Lync Server 2010 Unleashed. Contact Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.