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Living with Lync: Common Questions and Answers

Federation, SIP connections, and ROI have proven to be among the top concerns.

In mid-September I had the opportunity to keynote the Enterprise Connect "Microsoft Lync: Progress in the Enterprise" virtual event. This well-attended event provided good insight from a number of points of view related to Lync's continued growth in enterprises. (If you missed the event, all of the content is available on demand at the link above; note a simple registration will be required.)

During my keynote presentation, I was thrilled to have Jamie Stark, Product Manager for Microsoft Lync, provide additional background and "color commentary". However, because both Jamie and I are passionate about unified communications and because both Jamie and I have many Lync stories to tell, we did not have time to answer all of the questions from the participants. As such, in this article I wanted to take the time to answer some of the most common questions related to Lync.

Keynote Recap
Before I get to the questions, let me first briefly recap some of the key points from my keynote presentation.

I shared some "truths about Lync":

* Lync can act as a PBX replacement
* The network is important
* Users seem happy to adopt Lync
* Communication and training is very important
* You need Lync + telecom + network experience
* SIP trunking can make deployments easier

I don't see any of the above as debatable; if you disagree, please feel free to respond in the comments below.

I then highlighted some of the top new features Lync 2013 brings for end-users:

* Video preview
* Greatly improved mobile support: Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, or Android device
* One-click meeting joins
* Persistent chat
* Shared OneNote for meetings
* Gallery view
* Lync Web App client

I shared some of the top new Lync 2013 features that should make life better for system professionals:

* New high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR) options
* Better Enterprise Voice Functionality
* Skype Federation
* Lync Room Systems (LRS)
* Reduced server footprint

I then highlighted some of the best practices that help to make Lync deployments successful:

* Make sure Lync is the right option for you.
* Define, document and prioritize your business objectives.
* Assemble a strong cross-functional team.
* Assign a Project Leader.
* Recognize communication, training and change management as critical.
* Monitor adherence to metrics.

Jamie and I also talked about some of the future features expected to be coming to Lync; although I wasn't able to encourage Jamie to disclose any exact dates! And with all of that material covered, time expired and we still had a number of unanswered questions.

Questions and Answers
Below are some of the most common questions asked along with answers:

Q1: Is Lync part of the Microsoft Office 365 offering?
A1: Yes. See Office for business for more details. Lync is included in the O365 suite of products. Do note that the online version of Lync has different capabilities as compared to the on-premises version of Lync.

Q2: Is meeting content presented to Lync mobile devices such as iPhones?
A2: Yes. A recent (August 2013) Text that's linked to the Lync mobile clients for iPhone and Windows Phone added more meeting management and content viewing options. The Lync mobile client for Android as of now does not show meeting content (although it will show voice and video).

Q3: How do customers support Lync in their environment for a reasonable ROI?
A3: Return on investment (ROI) is challenging to calculate accurately; see the ROI Myth in my recent UC Strategies article. Here is what I do know:

* I can find a study that shows every UC solution provides the lowest TCO and best ROI. The results are fully dependent on the assumptions!

* The only ROI that should matter to you is the one calculated using the specifics of your organization.

* There is no shortcut to building a business case and calculating your ROI; you need to take the time and "do the math".

* Organizations have reduced TCO and deployed Lync with strong ROI; as I am sure they have done using other UC platforms.

Q4: If SIP provides so many benefits, why are there only a few enterprise-wide SIP implementations?
A4: SIP offers the potential for consolidation and cost savings. This being said, moving to SIP may not reduce your costs. One reason is that SIP may require you to invest in new terminating equipment, to support a SIP versus PRI interface. As with all potential cost savings, you need to take the time and do the math for your specific situation.

SIP is also newer, less standardized and less understood as compared to the PRI interface which has been around far longer. In his June 2013 No Jitter article, Eric Krapf outlined some "SIP Trunking Challenges" and then provides "More SIP Trunking Gotchas" in his July 2013 article. The issues raised in both articles speak to why organizations are, and should be, moving to SIP carefully.

Specific to Microsoft Lync, using a Lync-certified SIP trunking provider can help to reduce some of these challenges.

Q5: Does federation between Lync and Skype support video?
A5: Not yet. The current federation between Lync and Skype supports IM, presence, and voice. Microsoft has indicated that video federation is on their roadmap, no specific timeline given.

Q6: Can Lync hold video conferences with endpoints outside the organization (inter-company)? Can Lync join to other room-based video systems?
A6: An accurate, detailed answer to this question requires more specifics. However, let me share some ways Lync supports inter-company video conferences:

1. Any person in an organization that is also using Lync and federated with your organization can fully participate in Lync video conferences. This includes participating from Lync Room Systems.

2. You can invite any person outside your organization to join a Lync video/web conference. They can use the Lync Web App, a browser-based client supporting Safari, Firefox, Chrome and IE, that lets participants join audio, video and web conferences, including the new gallery video view.

3. Hosted federation services, such as NextPlane, might be able to help, but as of now NextPlane only supports video federation with Google Apps.

4. Polycom and Radvision offer Lync-qualified video bridges.

5. Other vendors, such as Cisco, provide media gateway solutions that can be used to interconnect Lync video endpoints with other video endpoints.

If you have additional questions, Enterprise Connect 2014 is a great place to meet with a great collection of Lync experts and people from organizations who have experience deploying and living with Lync.

Have more Lync questions? Want to add to my answers? Use the comments section below and I promise to respond to each and every comment.

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