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Microsoft Lync Licensing: Anything But Straightforward

Maybe it's just me, but if I have to read through a 24-page document to learn how to buy a product, something's wrong. And trust me, that document won't answer all your questions.

Now that we've all had a chance to digest the flurry of stories and blogs on features, benefits, and shortcomings of Microsoft Lync, let's look at one of the biggest problems plaguing Microsoft, which remains unchanged.


Talk to any IT professionals who deal with Microsoft, and ask about the regular headaches they suffer when dealing with Microsoft pricing and licensing. As one VP of Collaboration says: "You need a PhD just to understand this damn licensing structure!"

It's a point of frustration across IT staffs of all sizes and in all industries. If you want to see all the options for Lync alone, check here.

And if that's not enough, you can link to the 24-page document: "Microsoft Lync Server 2010 Licensing Guide."

Maybe it's just me, but if I have to read through a 24-page document to learn how to buy a product, something's wrong. And trust me, that document won't answer all your questions. You'll need to spend some serious time with a Microsoft licensing specialist.

Considering Lync? You’ll need to buy a server license--either standard ($699) or enterprise edition ($3,999 or $3,443, Microsoft's Web site and Licensing Guide list two different prices, and clearly all prices will vary based on reseller discounts) and a Client Access License--either Standard ($31), Enterprise ($107), or Plus ($107). This is a gross over-simplification (as evidenced by the need for the lengthy licensing guide). But these are the initial, basic prices Microsoft has provided.

Where pricing and licensing get more onerous is in the following situations:

* Not all users require access to all applications for the entire term (with an ECAL, for example, all employees have access to everything during the entire term of the contract. So, if you have a three-year term, for example, and your migration schedule will take two years, you still pay for all licenses for all three years).

* You may want some applications hosted and others in-house. Looking for Lync Online? There is a Standard and Enterprise User Subscription License, and you can buy them as standalone USLs or as part of a suite.

* You already have some servers in a Standard or Core CAL, but you want to switch to an ECAL. Must you really negotiate the value of the existing servers already purchased?

* You want software assurance for some applications but don’t feel it's necessary for all applications.

* You want a device-based CAL for some users, and a user-based CAL for others. These are two different licenses, which does offer flexibility, but requires some thought to go into how each employee plans to use Lync.

* You have contractors who need access to Lync. You guessed it! There is another option for licensing called an "External Connector," and within that category, there are three more options, Standard, Enterprise, and Plus.

* You're considering the Microsoft Office suite. Here's another choice: You can buy Lync as part of the suite, or as a standalone client license.

* You want Lync with Web conferencing. The CAL that's required depends on the features you want. For example, if you want rich IM and presence, you need a Standard CAL, but if you want the online conference features, you need the ECAL.

Once you get through the complex licensing, the actual costs may (or may not) be compelling and the actual terms may (or may not) be favorable (the "may nots" are why so many companies are evaluating Google). To be fair, Microsoft employs a solid stable of experts who help IT organizations navigate through the options and pricing—typically leading larger companies to an ECAL, which is the most cost-effective for those using multiple applications from Microsoft. If you’re using or want to use multiple applications, it's common for ECAL to save 50% to 60% on Standard CALs.

Microsoft's competitors in the UC space are working to simplify licensing and pricing structures, and their starting point is advantageous. We simply don't hear complaints about complex licensing structures with Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, ShoreTel, and others. Sometimes, IT folks will complain about the cost itself, but not about the time, effort, and complexity involved with just figuring out how much it's going to cost.

As IT staffs evaluate their UC options, licensing complexity does become an issue. Although some of this complexity results in flexibility in how companies buy the products, it also results in rigidity, as well (i.e., sure, you can get compelling per-user pricing, but only if you buy a license for every user in the organization).

I'm realistic, though. Microsoft’s licensing and pricing affects all enterprise products, so Lync’s unveiling won’t be cause for change. I'm just warning those who haven’t gone through this process: It's time-consuming and cumbersome. Telecom buyers who have purchased IP telephony or integrated UC from traditional vendors are accustomed to fairly straightforward pricing structures (not perfect, but significantly easier to follow than Microsoft's). Even those who have dealt with other Microsoft applications for years complain about the licensing structure.

The battle is heating up for UC feature sets, integration, APIs, and capabilities. But for now, Microsoft has lost the battle for straight-forward licensing structures.