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Lync vs. Jabber: Do You Really Have to Choose?

There has been much debate about which vendor products offer the best collaborative technology solution suite. Microsoft and Cisco are the leaders in this space, and each is encouraging enterprises to align on a single vendor. Aligning on one of the leading vendor solutions like Microsoft Lync or Cisco Jabber for your collaboration suite will drive simplicity in the architecture and deployment, but is it a good idea or a necessary move at this point?

The Collaborative Technology market is going through substantial transformation, and aligning to a single vendor may not be the best near-term approach. Increasing competition through "freemium" pricing models as well as new and innovative alternatives entering the market may make it a smart decision to take a wait, see, and dabble strategy. Many organizations have significant existing investments with both Cisco and Microsoft, and doing a wholesale migration to a single vendor may simply not be cost effective or practical. The good news is there are several options for deploying and maintaining a multi-vendor environment that can provide a full-featured and crisp collaborative technology suite of capabilities.

In this article we'll explore a few of the options for delivering the full suite of collaborative technology capabilities while maintaining a multivendor environment using both Cisco and Microsoft solutions.

Collaborative Technologies Definition
Before we jump into the details, it's worth reviewing some definitions. There are several collaborative technology definitions that have emerged over the past few years, and they vary dramatically. For the purpose of this article we define collaborative technology as:

Software and supporting platforms that enable multi-user, real-time communications and content sharing across multiple media channels and devices.

"Media channels" refer to the mode of communication (i.e. voice vs. video). These modes or channels can be delivered and consumed on multiple and diverse devices, including mobile (Apple iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, etc.), hard phones, as well as group and immersive video rooms.

As we review and discuss Microsoft Lync and Cisco Jabber, the communication channels we'll focus on include Instant Messaging, Presence, Voice, Video, and content sharing:


Cisco and Microsoft have introduced mobile clients for Windows Mobile, Android and Apple iOS devices, which has helped enterprises begin to realize the promise of collaboration anywhere, anytime on any device.

Vendor Client Alignment by Channel One of the easiest collaborative technology strategies for deploying in a multivendor environment is aligning each channel by single vendor. In this case, multiple vendor clients would be deployed, but only specific channels enabled for each vendor.

The key to keeping it simple is to make sure there are no overlapping channels between vendors. This is one of the bigger mistakes multivendor enterprises make. The process of enabling a specific channel within a vendor's product suite is simple, and many organizations simply turn on everything. When the same channel is enabled on more than one vendor's client, end-user confusion ensues.

Consider what happens when video is enabled using Cisco Jabber as well as Microsoft Lync. Things will work fine as long as Lync users call Lync users and Jabber users call Jabber users, but it breaks when a Lync user tries to call a Jabber user. Unless you've integrated the two vendor environments, you end up with isolated user communities.

Another challenge in this case is headset and camera contention. The biggest challenge with a desktop voice and video deployment is getting the headset and camera configured and working properly. The challenge increases exponentially when multiple clients are configured to use the same headsets and cameras, and this is the most common problem reported to Service Desks in a multivendor environment. In either case, the end users' experience suffers and Service Desk calls increase.

Choosing which vendor to use per channel can be driven by a couple of simple factors. Most enterprises that utilize both vendors have initially deployed Cisco for IP Telephony and Microsoft OCS or Lync for messaging and presence. If this is your environment, then look at your IP Video room standard as the driver for the rest of your strategy.

If Cisco Tandberg is your group video room standard, then consider using Jabber as the desktop and mobile client for voice and video and WebEx for content sharing. In turn, disable voice and video within the Lync environment and your deployment will be clean and simple. The biggest advantage with this approach is you only have one desktop client contending for the headset and camera on the desktop or laptop.


If Polycom or Lifesize is your group video room standard instead, then use Lync as the desktop and mobile client for video and content sharing. Microsoft has strong partnerships with LifeSize and Polycom, and both offer virtually seamless integration and interoperability with Lync. In this case, Microsoft Lync would be used for all channels except voice. The voice channel would continue to be supported by Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) and Cisco IP desk phones.


Usage Case
One of the main benefits of a single vendor solution is the ability to escalate a communication session across different modes, or "channel hopping." In this case, a user can start with an IM session and escalate to a voice or video call with a few mouse clicks. This capability is attractive, but is the benefit worth the effort and cost of migrating if you currently have a multivendor environment?

Consider how channel hopping occurs today. Most users are accustomed to changing technology when moving from one channel to another. For instance, when moving from an IM session to a phone call, most people simply type "call me at" and then pick up the desk phone. The IM session may continue while one user picks up the desk phone and calls the second user. Given this current behavior, weigh the benefits of being able to escalate channels within a client against the cost and effort to migrate to a single vendor solution.

The second aspect to take into consideration is the usage requirements between channels. Using video and collaboration is dramatically different than voice, messaging and presence. Using different clients to deliver these capabilities can be natural and logical if implemented and supported correctly.

Deploying a Collaboration Technology strategy by aligning channels according to vendor can be simple and offer considerable value. On the downside, this approach will limit your ability to escalate communications across channels and may have a higher licensing cost if sustained for the long-term. On the upside, you avoid the complexity and cost of multivendor integration. You are able to maintain your current technology investment, drive a competitive landscape and are not locked into a single vendor migration.

Next Page: Vendor integration by Channel

Single Client with Vendor Integration by Channel
If your overall goal is to align to a single vendor client across all channels then you will need some level of integration between the two environments. In this case you can strategically integrate the Microsoft and Cisco environments with a goal of maintaining a single primary desktop client. As discussed in the previous section, the key benefits come when you integrate the two environments by channel. This option is more complex but can offer a seamless and consistent look and feel to the end user.

In the next sections we will lay out approaches for integrating the voice and video channels. These options below assume that PSTN access is already provided via a SIP Trunk and Session Border Controller (SBC) and you are using CUCM as your IP-PBX.

Voice Channel Integration
For the voice channel, the goal is to integrate inbound and outbound PSTN services into the Lync environment. To accomplish this, we first need to build a SIP trunk between the Lync Mediation server and the SBC. Next, we assign a secondary DID to the Lync users and configure this in Active Directory (AD) as an additional attribute for the Lync users you want to enable PSTN access for. This secondary DID is used by the SBC to route inbound calls to Lync. It is critical that the primary DID also be in AD and match the DID assigned to a user's phone in CUCM. The SBC will also be configured to route any Lync-rejected calls to the CUCM environment. Once this is set up, the call flow will work as follows:

Inbound calls will first route to the SBC from the PSTN via the carrier SIP Trunk. The SBC, in turn, will look up the caller DID in AD. AD will return both the primary and secondary (if it exists) DIDs to the SBC. The SBC will route the call to the Lync subscriber based on the secondary DID, and, in turn, the user can answer the call using their Lync client. If the secondary number does not exist in Lync (user has not been set up for PSTN access in Lync), then Lync will reject the call with a return code 4XX/ 5XX. In this case, the SBC will route the call to the CUCM based on the primary DID. The user can also choose to decline the call in Lync, which will also route the call to the CUCM environment and ring the Cisco desk phone. The diagram below shows this call flow:


Outbound calls placed from Lync clients to the PSTN can use the same SIP trunk configured between the Mediation server and SBC. In this case, outbound calls simply follow the same call routing rules that are already established for the CUCM environment.

There are caveats with this approach, including a lack of simultaneous ring as well as the inability to hand off established calls between environments. There are alternative integration options that can enable these features but are considerably more complex to set up and support. This approach provides a basic level of PSTN access for your Lync environment and delivers a straightforward solution for your users.

Video Channel Integration
Integrating Lync and Cisco video bridges and endpoints is also a challenge and can be overcome with the use of a video gateway. In this example we'll use the Cisco VCS-Control with the Microsoft Enhanced Gateway license applied to it. To integrate the two environments we will create a SIP route in the Lync environment pointing all calls to the VCS-Control gateway. To complete the setup, configure a Back-to-Back User Agent (B2BUA) on the VCS-Control gateway. Cisco has a good configuration guide for this available online.

Once in place, the B2BUA will terminate Lync video calls and reinitiate or proxy those calls to the rest of the video infrastructure as standards-based video calls.

To make the user experience easier, it is good practice to create static bridges that can be easily searched and used as contacts within the Lync client. This allows users to easily search and join video conferences from their Lync client by using these predefined bridges.

In most cases point-to-point video calls will be from Lync client to Lync client and simply accomplished by right-clicking on a contact and placing a video call. If instead a Lync user needs to place a point-to-point call with a group video or Immersive room, then it is best to use one of the static bridges. This will simplify the user experience and prevent the need to use the fully qualified names.

As with voice integration, you may need to review and modify your dial-plan to ensure complete reachability throughout the video network. Below is a diagram showing this configuration:


Just as your Lync environment will have a static route to, your VCS-Control will have a SIP route to pointing to the B2BUA and from there to Lync. When this is properly configured, you'll also be able to pass presence between the two domains.

The debate continues regarding which vendor products offer the best Collaborative Technology solution. Microsoft and Cisco are competing to be the leader in this space and continue to encourage enterprises to deploy their single vendor solution. There is substantial benefit to be gained by aligning to a single vendor solution, and this should be your long-term goal. If you're like many enterprises, though, you have deployments and licensing with both vendors, and it may not be practical to align on one vendor in the short and near-term. Aligning vendor capabilities and/or integrating by channel is one way of preserving your current investment while providing the best and most practical user experience.

Jim Allen presents the tutorial, Implementing SIP Trunking at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2014.