Skype and Lync Finally Connect
The announced Lync 2013/Skype federation capabilities include only audio calls and, as of yet, do not include video call federation.
Earlier this year I presented a session at Enterprise Connect 2012 in Orlando entitled "Skype in the Enterprise". It turned out that Microsoft at the time was not ready to publicly disclose future plans related to Skype, so I was left speculating on future Skype and Lync integration.
As it turns out, though, my speculations have finally been realized, some six months later. On September 20, 2012, Brian Crum, Product Marketing Manager for Microsoft Lync, confirmed on the Lync Team Blog that indeed Lync 2013 (the next version of Lync, currently in "preview") will include the ability "see presence and IM or call anyone on Skype." Note that the announced Lync 2013/Skype federation capabilities include only audio calls and, as of yet, do not include video call federation. Also, you cannot yet set up federation between the Lync 2013 server preview version and Skype; it appears on the Skype end they have not enabled the SRV records needed to support federation.
The current version of Lync (2010) already allows Lync users to federate with the approximately 400 million people who use Windows Live Messenger; this includes sharing presence, instant messaging, voice and video calls. Lync 2010 also provides an XMPP gateway that allows federated IM and presence (no voice or video) with the likes of GoogleTalk and Cisco Jabber. In Lync 2013, the XMPP gateway does not require a separate server and is integrated into the "base" Lync front-end server role.
Skype integration in Lync 2013 opens up IM, presence, and voice conversations to another 200 million-300 million active Skype users. This also likely opens federation with the 750 million active Facebook users who already can place audio and video calls to Skype users. With Skype federation, Microsoft serves up a communication "garden" (walled or not) that services over a billion people.
Microsoft invested $8.5 billion to acquire Skype, and adding Skype federation to Lync, its premiere corporate UC platform, is a first, significant step in working to achieve a strong return on its investment. Expect to see Skype capabilities in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 (further speculation on my part).
However, as exciting as Lync-to-Skype federation is, because the current federation commitment for Lync 2013 and Skype is limited to IM, presence and voice, there are several alternatives you may also want to investigate:
1. Lync 2010 (the current version of Lync) already supports federation with Microsoft Messenger, and this federation includes presence, instant messaging, voice and video. This could provide the needed business-to-consumer communication you are looking for.
2. With Lync 2013, The Lync Web App application (LWA) runs in a browser and provides IM, presence, voice, video and shared desktop functionalities; that is to say, anyone external to your organization can download the Lync Web App and communicate with you. (The Lync 2010 Web App ran on Windows in IE and on the Mac OS 10.4.8 or greater in Safari). So far it looks like Lync 2013 Web App will support both Windows and Mac OS X but likely will also work on other operating systems that can run IE, Safari or the Firefox browser.
Either of those two options may provide you with the business-to-consumer or business-to-business communication connectivity you require.
The improved federation capabilities of Lync 2013 is only one area where Microsoft continues to advance the capabilities of a true UC platform. Certainly this helps Microsoft establish a key position in the UC "horse race". My colleague Russell Bennett has recently suggested that we may be down to a two-horse race between Microsoft and Cisco--do you agree? Are you looking forward to the new Lync-to-Skype federation?
Please comment below or via twitter @kkieller.