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Lync Conference 2013 - One Analyst's Key Takeaways Spelled Out

25 Feb 2013 | by Rob Arnold
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This week Microsoft held Lync Conference 2013, its first ever conference dedicated to Lync. It was a forum for Microsoft to showcase Lync successes to date and to lay out some future initiatives.

Already a lot has been Tweeted and blogged about the event. Because my 18-month old daughter has me thinking from new perspectives, I decided to blog my takeaways in a different format.

"M" is for mobile. Mobility took a prominent place from the start, with Skype President Tony Bates espousing Microsoft’s mobile UC advancements during his opening keynote and Lync Engineering VP Derek Burney working a number of impressive mobility demos into the kickoff keynote session. Derek showed off the new Lync Mobile 2013 client delivering a variety of UC features to a range of iOS, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets. You can find a nice overview here by Matt Landis. It is clear that Microsoft faces similar challenges as its competitors in providing consistent feature support across different mobile OSes and devices. In a feature comparison across devices, it is also clear that Microsoft still trails in some aspects, such as consistent support for content sharing, multi-party video and the Lync 2013 mobile client not expected for release until sometime in Q2. In any case, the Lync Mobile 2013 client is a vast improvement over its 2010 predecessor.  

"I" is for interoperability and integration. Among the biggest announcements at the event are plans to federate Lync and Skype. The first phase will be IM/presence and voice federation due in June for premises-based Lync deployments. In a tool set that looks similar to that in today’s Skype client, Lync administrators and users will be able to customize their permissions and controls to allow/disallow connection with Skype users. On-net calls between Lync and Skype clients will be free, just as Skype-to-Skype calls are today. At the back-end, customers can connect their Lync systems to the Skype network via SIP, with pricing yet to be finalized. Federated video and collaboration features (i.e., content sharing, etc.) are slated for availability sometime in the next 18 months. Many customers and partners seemed very enthused about the use cases for Lync-Skype integration such as B2B, B2C and interaction with other external parties. Still, most of the questions I heard pertained to the security, governance and compliance concerns that have long surrounded Skype. Microsoft spokespeople were armed with responses, but in my opinion the story needs a lot more shoring up.  

"C" is for conferencing. Lync Conferencing is getting a makeover to better support structured meetings. In what appears to finally be the merging of LiveMeeting functions with Lync’s strong ad-hoc conferencing capabilities, the latter is receiving a plethora of scheduling, meeting management, host control, attendee participation and other features that have been missing. This all bodes well for continued Lync growth, as the conferencing applications have proven popular due to ease of use and tight integration with other Microsoft products. My initial investigation does not suggest any improvements to Lync Conferencing scalability in the immediate future, leaving it to partners and competitors to address customer requirements for large scale web events and meetings..

"R" is for Room System. OK, the official name is Lync Room System (LRS). Four Microsoft partners have signed on to develop room-based video conferencing endpoints that will integrate natively with Lync. LRS was a main talking point from a multi-media apps perspective. By the end of this year SMART, Crestron, LifeSize and Polycom all plan to introduce multi-screen room systems. All will support content sharing, touch screens, white board, and HD video conferencing with continuous presence as well as the Microsoft flavor of SVC that was announced at the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With LRS, Microsoft is appealing to customers that want tighter integration of video conferencing and content collaboration solutions with UC and IT infrastructure. The value prop is fairly strong, however Frost & Sullivan research finds that the market for software based clients and executive systems has outpaced growth in the high-end room systems endpoint segment for several years.

"O" is for Online. Lync Online is expected to support many of the enhancements with the premises version of Lync Server 2013. Availability of new functionality will come in phases. O is also for Office, as the emphasis on Lync integration with Microsoft Office desktop productivity apps continues. In my opinion, the undertones of business process enhancement enabled through such integrations are understated by Microsoft. And O is for Outlook, as Lync Conferencing and other Microsoft UCC apps will benefit from strengthened integration with the Outlook Web Access (OWA) interface that appears to be will improve lightweight and remote access to a richer set of functionality.   

"S" is for social and SharePoint. Lync Conference 2013 was squarely centered upon UCC. However, it was surprising to me that so little fanfare was given to the social realm in which Microsoft has so heavily invested in recent years. I listened to many conference attendees inquire about end-to-end Microsoft UCC, which encompasses content management and social integrated with UC. Perhaps it was not exactly the right forum for Microsoft to emphasize its social capabilities but I still think an opportunity was missed, especially as IBM, Jive, Cisco and others continue to pound away at the value propositions of integrating social with both the enterprise IT and UC stacks.

"O" is for Office 365 (O365). There were a number of breakouts sessions about cloud-based solutions – including O365 integrations with CPE-based Microsoft components (Lync, Exchange, etc) as well as the myriad Online and associated hybrid cloud options. Most of these sessions were well attended, so interest among customers and partners is obviously high. Q&A segments often centered upon issues with Active Directory sync and federation across domains as well as ensuring security, compliance and control. I did learn that there are significant impacts to scalability for certain applications in cloud and hybrid configurations. Combined with GRC concerns, customers and partners have plenty of homework to do.   Finally, we learned at the conference that Enterprise Voice will be offered as a component of O365 will be available sometime in the next 18 months. Details are forthcoming, but it will be very interesting to see how this plays out, especially against the backdrop of Skype integration with O365.

"F" is for five million. That is the number of total Lync Enterprise Voice user licenses Microsoft reports it has sold. At the end of 2011 the number was 3 million (including Lync Plus and grandfathered OCS R2 users), putting Microsoft’s 2012 efforts at 2 million clients. This lines up with Frost & Sullivan estimates.

Microsoft faces an interesting paradox here. On one hand, it positions Lync with Enterprise Voice as a PBX replacement. Therefore, the company must show traction that provides an apples-to-apples comparison with the way PBX vendors report their success (such as line licenses and end point sales). On the other hand Microsoft wants to move past the PBX era to make call control a cog of the greater UCC wheel. As such, several Microsoft executives stated they are looking into reporting total voice minutes over Lync networks as a measure of their success. A key issue here is that about 60% of voice traffic is inter-company (according to general Frost & Sullivan estimates), which is the main use case and need for the PBXs that Lync is trying to replace.  

"T" is for TechNet. TechNet has historically been an excellent resource for Microsoft product information—from high-level vision to technical minutia. However, Lync Server 2013 for premises deployment has been available since December, and Lync 2013 Online will reportedly be available at the end of this month. To the dismay of many customers and partners at the conference, there is a dearth of useful Lync 2013 information currently available on TechNet to help them plan now. "T" is also for telephony. There were some details about an enhanced telephony feature set in Lync 2013, such as group call pickup and Response Group improvements. However, in-depth details on most advancements to the much scrutinized Lync Enterprise Voice feature set were not provided and are not yet posted to TechNet.

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With Lync 2013 Microsoft has upped its ante in the UCC market, specifically in terms of Lync mobility, conferencing, and video, and by providing a more concrete roadmap for Lync-Skype integration.

So there you have my ABCs of Lync Conference 2013, an event well worth attending. Please tell me what you think about Lync 2013.

 

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