OCS Rethync Results with Lync

by Dave Michels

I’ve got my head buried in Microsoft’s Lync for the past and next few weeks. Several client projects have me spending my days digging into this family of solutions. Lync is the family name of three products from Microsoft; Lync 2010 (client), Lync Server 2010, and Lync Online. Much more to say later, but wanted to blog some initial thoughts.
I have been fairly critical of OCS in the past. It deserved it. It was an overly complex product that offered a fairly limited feature set. Yes, it had its followers and for many organizations OCS was indeed a reasonable fit. But coming from a voice perspective it just had too many misses. Lync 2010, the new name of the upcoming release, appears to be a horse of a different color.

My impression is Lync will cross the proverbial chasm – the gap between what OCS fans love and what voice professionals require. Microsoft has clearly listened to its OCS customers as well as (and more importantly) the folks that refused to implement it. The company takes the notion of unified communications to a far more integrated level than most solutions. Lync has its limitations and it won’t be for everyone, but this upcoming release is indeed significant.

Microsoft Lync will be launched formally next week. I don’t get the New York announcements/launches for non New York companies. But it’s what companies do to signal big news. I think the Space Needle would have been far cooler. Anyway, Microsoft Lync will be formally launched, but the UC world won’t actually change until December when the products become available. Oops, its the holidays. Happy New Lync.
But I do think Lync is an important milestone, and here are some of the reasons why:

  • The updates in the product and client are broad, but one of the biggest is the SBA – survivable branch appliance. It is easy to overlook – it’s just an appliance. To make the SBA, Microsoft had to make changes to the architecture, and it fills a giant OCS hole. I’ve got some separate research underway on how the SBAs differ.
  • Where Lync really shines is with its ability to integrate the various communication tools of UC. For example, taking an IM chat to a phone or video call (and back) or making a calendar appointment result with a clickable link that contains all the relevant login codes.  MSTagline
  • The recent news that Polycom will be spearheading Lync’s video development is significant. 
  • This is the first product from Microsoft that will truly challenge separate phone systems. And not, Lync is being positioned with or without telephony. The Camel’s nose in the tent trick.
  • A whole new family of endpoints – tightly integrated to the desktop. Contacts are on my computer and my cell phone – why not my desk phone?
  • Microsoft is going to buy market share – licensing is very attractive and many users (perhaps unwittingly) already bought Lync licenses.
  • This is not a simple product. Don’t even think about it unless you already bow to your IT staff. This is for organizations with deep internal IT talent. There is a cloud version more geared for SMB called Lync Online which will be bundled with Office 365 next year. However, that service has some limitations (for now). 
  • Interoperability is tough. In some respects Lync is extremely proprietary and Microsoft’s partner program is a bit one-sided. However, Microsoft is working harder than most on interoperability – both directly through Lync interop programs and through the UCIF.

This last point deserves some additional clarification. When all things are equal, open wins. But the reality is rarely are all things equal. The vast majority of the UC solutions on the market are proprietary. Consider for a moment Apple’s iPhone, an extremely proprietary device all the way down to the applications allowed for installation. The iPhone is a fantastic success. If there was another model available with the same specs and complete openness including Flash and so many other forbidden fruits it would be an interesting sales comparison. But that wasn’t an option. Windows Mobile 6 and Blackberry devices were the alternatives and the iPhone won. Why? Because the iPhone delivered an intuitive and powerful experience. It boils down to an experience that changed the game. The experience made the device intuitive. Lync offers a new type of experience that will win some fans.

This brings me to my key point about Lync. It’s Outlook all over again.

In the 90s, email wasn’t particularly a new technology, but its adoption into the enterprise was just taking hold- rapidly. There were plenty of solutions on the market, some quite proven. Exchange and Outlook were new, but won the hearts of many IT managers and users. Outlook was one of the first email clients that integrated Contacts and Calendaring. It turned out that having an integrated address book simplified email addressing. It also turned out that many appointments get set via email. Outlook offered an integrated solution and it worked. And that is what Lync does with the various components of Unified Communications such as presence, IM, video, voice, sharing, and conferencing. It’s perfectly clear, Lync is sorta like an iPhone. (Ok, maybe not the best analogy).

Enterprise UC fascinates me, and now more than ever. Microsoft Lync will join in the game changing transition UC is experiencing. Microsoft is actually playing the odds, trying a disruptive premise play with Lync and also betting on Lync Online with a cloud disruption play. Microsoft will add some drama to a very busy UC plot developing. Google and its UC aspirations have incredible disruptive potential. Skype is about to change the world (but I’m not sure how). Then there’s everyone’s favorite topic of mobility which has tons of drama including devices, operating systems, 4G standards, and miraculous new tablets. And I would be derelict if I didn’t mention the other top voice players which are planning counter strike strategies from radical bundling to rental licensing.
As Yogi Berra says: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

Lync Launch Event on November 17 will be live streamed. Details are at www.microsoft.com/lync and it will include live demos and 100 new Lync certified devices. I still see a few holes in the product strategy that I anticipate will be filled with announcements on launch day.