Seven Things to Know About Microsoft Lync (And One Thing You Should Do About It)

The economy remains a schizophrenic beast. The stock market may be rocketing upwards, but governments are imposing painful cutbacks such as the U.S. Government’s $1.2 trillion sequestration.

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At the same time, businesses are eager to gain the benefits that collaboration solutions can deliver to their organizations. 56% of enterprises view collaboration tools as very important or critical to their companies’ future, according to a February 2013 survey by Computerworld magazine. And driven by BYOD, 58% of business leaders are pushing for more video collaboration tools, according to a recent 2,000-respondent survey sponsored by Avaya.

What does it all mean? Business and IT leaders are still investing. However, they are investing carefully, looking for easy-to-use mobile video collaboration solutions, while keeping a close eye on cost, value and deployment risk.

Into this environment enters Microsoft Lync 2013. Microsoft touts improvements in the latest version of Lync. It is pushing hard for customers using Lync today as their desktop instant messaging app to upgrade to voice and video, as well.

I recently returned from the Enterprise Connect 2013 conference in Orlando, where Microsoft did a slick keynote demo of Lync 2013. However, there were some things about Lync that Microsoft didn’t share with the audience – things that we discovered from interviewing nearly 100 IT leaders, channel partners and analysts. Before you engage with Microsoft, you should prepare by considering these seven areas of concern:

1)      Lync’s limited video conferencing capabilities. Lync’s pathway into enterprises was as a low-cost instant messaging application. Despite improvements, its video capabilities remain immature even in Lync 2013:

a.       No end-to-end solution. Microsoft doesn’t yet provide executive video desktops, video room systems, video gateways or telepresence systems. Even more importantly, Lync’s multi-party video solution only works on desktops.

b.      Limited conferencing capabilities. You can only have continuous presence with 5 different parties in Lync 2013, for example. Also missing are common features such as dual presentation, multicasting and server-side recording. And interoperability with 3rd-party systems remains undefined. Until this is addressed, Lync remains an island in the sea of collaboration, unable to work with any of your existing room-based video conferencing gear or telepresence systems. By comparison, Avaya offers full end-to-end video collaboration, from room systems to desktop and mobile clients, all fully interoperable with all major 3rd-party systems.

c.       High resource utilization. Bandwidth is a huge part of your TCO. But Lync uses up to 600% more bandwidth than competing distributed media solutions, according to a white paper by Constellation Research’s Dr. E. Brent Kelly.

2)      Inconsistent support for BYOD. BYOD has been driven by workers toting their personal Samsung Galaxy smartphones and iPad devices. But Lync doesn’t do a great job of supporting BYOD. While it can support instant messaging and presence on Windows, Android and iOS, features such as viewing shared meeting content and simultaneous multi-party video are mostly missing from iOS and Android devices. See below:

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The problem is that Android and iOS dominate, together holding 92% of the global smartphone market, while Windows holds just 2.6%.

3)      Lync voice remains limited. Voice is supposed to be Lync 2013′s biggest area of improvement. But there are many enterprise-class features it lacks that Avaya Aura has. To get Lync 2013 voice running well, you’ll need to buy additional 3rd-party gateways, Session Border Controllers for security as well as new desk and conference phones. If you already have a contact center or telephony solution in place, you’ll need to rip it out completely if you choose Lync (for the fiscal implications, see point #6).

There’s no contact center or call recording features. Such limitations may inhibit using Lync in your business. For instance, Lync’s weaknesses with the feature ‘call park’ may prevent many retailers from adopting it. These are all things that we, with decades of experience in communications and the most innovative solutions, already do better.

4)      Lync requires complex integration for real-time collaboration. To get Lync working as well as other solutions, you’ll need to source a variety of applications from 3rd-party vendors. For enterprises looking for reliability, simplicity and “one throat to choke,” it’s bad news

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Lync’s complexity is evident even at the most basic level. Well-known enterprise IT analyst, Josh Greenbaum, recently detailed his failed attempt to get Lync working with the cloud-based Office 365 in his blog, “Microsoft Lync 2013 Flunks the Unified Communications Opportunity.” Cloud apps aimed at small companies are supposed to be easy to use, but Greenbaum was stymied, despite four calls to Microsoft tech support, two to his ISP’s, and Greenbaum’s background as a seasoned IT pro. Greenbaum’s conclusion? Lync is “a bloody nightmare” and “not worth the trouble.”

5)      Unproven “-ilities”. Complexity is not just an academic issue. It means you need more IT staff, more training in new, different pieces of software, and more places where things can go wrong, costing you time and money. Lync customers will need to deploy management stations for each 3rd-party system, as well as real-time performance monitoring software. Even then, survivability of branch office telephony in Lync is limited to basic features only (messaging and conferencing are not available). That forces Lync customers to either endure costly downtime or invest more to prevent it. Which leads me to…

6)      Lync Voice is more expensive. Forget what you think you know about Lync’s cost based on what you pay Microsoft for IM. Switching to Lync for your voice is likely to be much more expensive. That’s not just my opinion, but the findings of Robin Gareiss, co-founder and analyst at Nemertes Research. In her No Jitter piece, “Considering Lync for Telephony? Plan for Rising Opex,”  Gareiss writes that “Lync’s operational costs can be significantly higher than competitors’.” According to detailed interviews with 211 real-world customers that had actually installed and run Lync or solutions from other vendors (including Avaya), Lync customers spent an average of $1,912 on operational costs in the first year, nearly 3x more than the median (and more than 6x than customers using Avaya).

Seven Things to Know About Microsoft Lync (And One Thing You Should Do About It) image no jitter chart1Seven Things to Know About Microsoft Lync (And One Thing You Should Do About It)

Source: Nemertes Research

Customers of Microsoft attributed the higher cost “to challenges related to integration and sound quality,” according to Nemertes. While operational costs do fall 20% after the first two years, according to Nemertes, they will still make up the bulk of any businesses’ communications budget. Meaning Lync will likely remain pricier for you than other solutions. To learn more, you can download the entire Nemertes white paper here.

At Avaya, meanwhile, we are very sensitive to enterprise budget realities. Our solutions can offer you a better TCO through efficiency and ease of manageability, as my CEO Kevin Kennedy recently told No Jitter.

7)      Lync Reduces Customer Choice. This might seem strange, considering Microsoft’s heavy reliance on 3rd-party components. But Microsoft’s bundling of its solutions can leave enterprises effectively locked in. That’s a problem when Redmond raises its prices 15% for client enterprise software like Lync, as it did last December.  You’ll face no such lock-in here at Avaya. As Kennedy, who gave the keynote speech at Enterprise Connect last week, told No Jitter: “We have an end-to-end play, but we have an open stack.”

Let’s give Microsoft some credit. They’ve done a great job at popularizing enterprise IM and presence, and have about half of the market. At the same time, many customers have successfully deployed real-time communications solutions from Avaya. So what should the enterprise do? If you are looking for the best real-time communications and collaboration solution that preserves your existing workflows and keeps your TCO low, you should take a good look at Avaya. Our Avaya Client Applications 6.2 plug-in works with our proven Avaya Aura communications stack to deliver simple, high-quality and reliable voice to Lync as well as Office 365, and at an estimated cost over three years of between 1.8x to 3x cheaper than Microsoft can do.

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“Avaya’s ACA 6.2 plug-in is an ideal solution for customers who want to use Microsoft Lync for presence and instant messaging, but prefer the field-proven Avaya back-end infrastructure for telephony and collaboration,” says Ira Weinstein, senior analyst and partner with Wainhouse Research. Avaya’s “solution lets customers choose the experience they want, without increasing complexity.”

So let’s not be swept up by the hyperbole around Lync and the assumptions you may have as a Lync instant messaging user. The facts and figures show that if you are thinking of deploying an easy to use, mobile video collaboration solution for any of your users, Avaya offers a simpler, better-quality and more tried-and-tested solution than Lync, and at a much lower cost to boot. If you have invested in Lync for IM or presence, you can expand into Unified Communications and earn maximum value at minimal cost and risk by integrating with Avaya. No need to impact your contact center, or risk impacting the reliability of your communications systems. That makes sense anytime, of course, but it’s the perfect solution in these challenging economic times.

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