Lync Plus Legacy Voice: Best of Breed with a Twist
It is commonly assumed that a pure Lync solution would be simpler than mixing with a third-party voice vendor, but in reality it's not clear that this is true.
Is it preferable to use a single vendor that offers a broad solution portfolio, or to select separate vendors and applications based on specific needs and fit? That is the classic IT dilemma, the age-old debate that will never die. The benefits of comprehensive solutions often include fewer vendors and tighter integration between components, while the best-of-breed approach tends to offer richer features and capabilities, often at a lower price.
In unified communications, a new twist to this debate is quietly emerging. Many vendors are now offering a best-of-breed voice option for Microsoft Lync (the most recent example is Mitel's announcement this week). It's an interesting shift that deserves some attention, but it's not a solution that is being actively promoted by all vendors.
At first blush, this strategy seems only appropriate for enterprises that already have products from both Microsoft and a legacy voice vendor. However, there's actually merit for net-new implementations as well.
Microsoft's Lync provides solid IM/Presence for enterprise customers. Lync is tightly integrated into other Microsoft solutions including Office, Exchange, and SharePoint. For many organizations, Microsoft includes Lync's base licensing through enterprise licensing agreements. As an enterprise solution, Lync can provide, via servers and a desktop client, multiple modes of real-time communications. However, adding enterprise voice to Lync quickly becomes complicated and expensive.
Lync has impressively penetrated the enterprise, but largely as an IM solution. To activate enterprise voice requires additional licensing. That's a step that most Lync customers have not taken. The reasons vary, but there's little debate that Lync is both complex (requiring integration of multiple 3rd party components) and less mature than many alternative enterprise voice solutions. However, Lync does offer an impressive single-user interface for multiple modes of communication.
It is commonly assumed that a pure Lync solution would be simpler than mixing with a third-party voice vendor, but in reality it's not clear that this is true. Lync's complexity already means many enterprises seek external assistance for design and implementation. Lync's voice capabilities are also relatively narrow--requiring third party providers for common applications such as contact center, recording, and gateways.
In addition, while Lync nicely addresses the needs of a desk-based knowledge worker, many businesses have a broader variety of worker groups. For example, service technicians often require basic ring/hunt groups, health care workers require specialized endpoints, and there's also need to support legacy integrations such as AMIS or BlackBerry's MVS solution. Nor is a pure Lync solution necessarily financially the least expensive, as several researchers have concluded Lync's TCO is among the highest in the industry.
A best-of-breed approach is feasible with Lync, as third-party voice integration is actually a core feature designed into Lync. When done properly, the integration is transparent. The Lync client is all that is needed, but the enterprise has the option to support other vendors' clients, or mix-and-match based on specific devices or needs.
Integrating Lync with a third party voice solution can provide several benefits. A customer that takes this approach could have a broader feature set embracing a wide variety of endpoints including wireless devices; an advanced contact center; a simplified HA architecture; a lower cost of ownership; broader support with carriers; potentially integrated SMS; and additional choices in applications ranging from call recording to unified messaging. This can all be provided with a single client, simplified management, and fewer vendors.
The approach isn't intuitive; many presume a pure Lync deployment would be less expensive and simpler. That's the ironic part--if every voice vendor that offered a Lync integration pushed this option aggressively, it could cast a shadow over the pure Lync model. However, most vendors are quiet about their Lync capabilities because Lync is, after all, a competitor. They don't want to promote Lync into enterprises that weren't already considering it. As a result, it makes this best-of-breed approach the best kept secret in UC.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz