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Microsoft Lync 2010 puts the "U" in UC

Lync Server 2010 unites enterprise telephony, IM, video, audio conferencing, and Office apps.

By Mike Heck, Network World
November 29, 2010 06:04 AM ET

Network World - Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2, which was released in early 2009, does a credible job of providing presence awareness, instant messaging, conferencing and voice capabilities. Still, these services aren't always integrated, and thus aren't easily managed by IT staff. For end users, the lack of integration means maintaining various sets of contacts and working differently depending on the application.

Watch a slideshow of what we love about Lync

That's all history with Microsoft Lync 2010, which officially ships on Dec. 1, and replaces OCS. We've been testing the software for several weeks and we find that Lync integrates well with Exchange, Active Directory, SharePoint and Office.

Lync also makes a strong case for becoming either a companion to an existing PBX via SIP, or an eventual PBX replacement. Lync's overall voice capabilities still lag behind competitors like Avaya and Cisco, and enterprises aren't likely to rip out their existing PBXs, but companies planning ahead for their next voice upgrade should give Lync a look.

For our evaluation, we setup four Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual machines – for Exchange, SharePoint, Active Directory and the Lync server. Microsoft specifies that a single Lync 2010 server can handle 10,000 users with dedicated hardware and about half that through virtualization. By pooling severs, you can manage 100,000 users – and unlimited pools are theoretically possible. Based on performance monitoring of our testbed, these figures appear to be accurate.

Your technical staff should be able to manage Lync 2010 servers without much additional training. That's because Lync includes the same type of PowerShell command-line tools that are included with Exchange Server, Active Directory, and other Microsoft server products. Moreover, there's a Silverlight-based GUI (Lync Server Control Panel) that should improve productivity of administrators for day-to-day tasks, such as server monitoring and reconfiguring voice features.

Persistent presence

The end-user experience centers on the Microsoft Lync 2010 client app. It's visually rich, providing photos of contacts, which are color-coded with presence status. We used the prominent search field to query our Active Directory Server to find contacts, which can be grouped in many ways. Another benefit of this coupling: fly-out "contact cards" display greater information, including phone numbers and where the contact fits within your organization structure.

Lync Server automatically draws information from a user's Outlook calendar, such as location information or status. Besides the standard Available and Busy status (which were available with OCS) Lync lets you add a note, such as "in a budget meeting." We appreciated other details, too. For example, presence status also indicates whether a user is signed in from a mobile device or IP phone that cannot accept instant messages.

Presence information and integration extends to SharePoint, Outlook, and other Office applications. In practice, this "click to communicate" feature saved us time when collaborating on projects. Hovering over a person's presence icon in SharePoint, for instance, displayed a menu that let us immediately start an IM or voice conversation.

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