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Microsoft Lync: Take to the cloud or keep it in-house?

By , Network World
November 17, 2010 11:59 AM ET

Network World - Microsoft's overhauled unified communications platform -- Lync -- will soon hit the market, and customers will eventually have the option of running the software in-house or on Microsoft's cloud network.

As Microsoft has done with previous products, the company is releasing the packaged software to customers before upgrading its own cloud service with the capabilities. While Lync on-premise software is available starting Dec. 1, Lync Online will become available in the first half of next year with the full voice capabilities being added to the platform closer to the end of 2011.

With Lync, Microsoft lowers price of Office Communications Server

For customers who don't need to make a decision right away, cloud-based Lync may be a viable option. Microsoft promises that Lync Online will have all the same end-user features as the on-premise software. Some back-end IT administrative features -- like the ability to restrict the number of video calls going over bandwidth-restricted WAN links -- won't be available in the cloud version simply because they won't be necessary, Microsoft says.

Microsoft already has cloud-based unified communications (UC) with Office Communications Online, the precursor to the upcoming Lync Online. Today's service includes IM and presence but features beyond that are limited. While the current version has PC-to-PC audio and video calling, it does not have a full telephony system.

All that will change next year with Lync Online.

Initially, "Lync Online will include instant messaging, presence, audio and video conferencing, and PC-to-PC voice calls," Microsoft says. It won't be until late 2011 that Lync Online would provide users with their own phone numbers and voicemail, and be a full replacement for PBX systems, says Microsoft Lync Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall.

One reason for the delay in voice capabilities is the process of building out a partner network to integrate with telecom services, SIP Trunks and the like.

CIO George Bedar of LA Fitness International examined Microsoft's cloud software and, finding that it lacked phone calling capabilities, went with the on-premise version for his company's 350 clubs and corporate office. LA Fitness has about 5,000 endpoints, largely computers with Polycom CX200 AND CX300 desktop phones, and plans to upgrade from Microsoft's Office Communications Server software to Lync.

If Microsoft's on-premise and online UC capabilities were already on par with each other, as they will be a year from now, Bedar says a cloud-based system would be appealing but also has some drawbacks. Pricing is one tricky issue.

"The question you run into is if you go with the cloud version, you're paying as long as you're going to use it, and when you stop paying you don't have a system to use," Bedar says.

Perpetual licenses for an on-premise version cost more up-front, but customers can continue to use it for years, theoretically even after Microsoft drops support for the product, Bedar notes. With the cloud, "It's going to be a low up-front investment and you're not going to pay a large chunk of money all at once," he says. "You're going to pay it over time, but it's an unending payment."

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