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Does Microsoft's Lync hype match customer desires?

Despite the big splash, Lync is just another product to evaluate against corporate needs

By , Network World
November 19, 2010 07:06 AM ET

Network World - Customers eying Microsoft's Lync 2010 unified communications server need to take a step back and evaluate what's really new and whether they need it right now, down the road or not at all, experts say.

On the one hand, the company offers multi-modal communications that are well integrated with its extremely popular business and collaboration products Office, SharePoint and Exchange -- a combination that could lead to more efficient ways of transacting business.

Microsoft on Lync launch: The PBX era is over

Lync signals the emergence of communications embedded in business-process applications such as Office and SharePoint, leading to a future when it is embedded in more proprietary software, says Don Van Doren, a principal in Unicomm Consulting, which advises on UC and collaboration (UC&C) technologies.

 "Microsoft is doing what a disruptive competitor does -- rethinking what communication is," he says.

On the other hand, Lync isn't as fully featured as competitive products in some aspects of communications, such as the PBX, and has yet to prove that major telephony gap-fillers new with Lync are stable and reliable.

Customers likely won't trust Lync as a PBX without proof, so it may have to be on the market for a couple of years and proven with large scale deployments by early adopters to win over business telecommunications decision makers. "Telecom tends to be conservative. I'd like to see deployments with 5,000 to 10,000 users," says Art Schoeller, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Perhaps to offset this perception, during the formal launch of Lync 2010 last week Microsoft vice president Gurdeep Singh Pall declared that PBXs are in decline. "The era of the PBX, folks, is over," he says.

Even if PBXs are on their way out, the company needed to show that it can handle traditional corporate phone traffic, says Melanie Turek, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan. "Microsoft had to spend a lot of time getting parity with voice," Turek says. "They're much closer to the point where a customer could decide to use Lync for voice and expect reliability and business-class capabilities."

With such parity, more customers will consider Lync along with offerings from its competitors such as Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Siemens and others, which Turek says do better than Microsoft in video, social networking and collaboration with their UC&C platforms.

Last week, Microsoft highlighted what it considered the significant new capabilities, many of which other vendors have had for some time, Turek says. Matching them feature for feature, though, may not be most important to customers.

In reality, most businesses use what Turek calls best of breed for communications, messaging and collaboration, so they may use a mix of products from multiple vendors. With sizeable investments in PBXs and IPBXs, customers will be reluctant to rip and replace that gear. As a result, customers may do careful evaluation and delay decisions three to seven years as they wait for their existing infrastructure to live out its usefulness, she says.

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