Microsoft TechEd 2012 Through UC-Shaded Glasses
To customers at the show, Lync is not just a corporate IM platform or PBX alternative. It is a Microsoft product that fits neatly and cleanly alongside the many other Microsoft products the company has deployed.
This year Cisco Live and Microsoft TechEd took place on the same week. A coin was tossed. It landed--heads or tails I will not say--and come mid-June off I go to TechEd. What struck me most about the conference was how little play Lync got in the keynotes. It wasn't mentioned in either of the two I attended. Not once. This was disappointing to me, but only because I am an industry analyst tracking UC and I view all products, technologies, conferences, and keynotes with UC-shaded glasses. I remember back at TechEd 2010 Gurdeep Singh Pall had a keynote in which he unveiled some of the new capabilities of the next version of Office Communications Server 2007 which at that time was still going under the "Wave 14" code name. In fact, that conference was a treasure trove of information on the features and functionality to be included in what we now know as Microsoft Lync 2010. I downloaded all of the presentations and listened to them ad nauseum on a flight to an otherwise Lync- (and UC-) free vacation.
Fast forward two years, and whiffs of "Office 15" and the next version of Lync are in the air. Microsoft execs have long since characterized Office 15 as "the most ambitious undertaking yet for the Office Division," with changes to the servers, cloud services, mobile clients, and PC clients for Lync, Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, and other software. "Lync Server 15" will reportedly receive major changes to its UI. If I'm reading between these lines correctly, Lync Server 15 will also bring IPv6 support, but apparently not a cloud-only option, at least not one that's significantly different from the Enterprise Voice-less Lync Online currently part of Office 365.
Whatever Microsoft has planned, the company is (maybe now, was?) hiring more than 200 software developers, product managers and other personnel to work specifically on Lync Server 15. So whatever is happening with Lync, Microsoft's investing pretty heavily in it.
But the company was not spilling the beans at TechEd 2012, where all public discussions of Lync remained squarely focused on the here and now. This was a bit surprising because Microsoft's PR strategy--particularly around Lync and OCS--has been to announce major upgrades a full year in advance of general availability. Assuming that Lync 15 ships in early 2013 like a lot of the other Office 15 products, Microsoft is not carving out much time for its customary marketing hoopla.
This year's TechEd keynotes instead focused on Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform, and Windows 8--two strategically important products to Microsoft. And while the post-keynote press conference also lacked a UC angle, I did notice similarities between the decision making process behind businesses adopting Azure and businesses adopting Lync.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft President, Server & Tools Business, delivering TechEd 2012 keynote on Azure
In the press conference Jerry Schulist, enterprise architect at the Tribune Company and longtime Azure advocate, was asked why he was adopting Windows Azure rather than another vendor's PaaS offering. He explained that "a lot of our stack is Microsoft products," and that when adopting a new product or platform he needs it to have tight integration with Exchange, SharePoint and other Microsoft software products that his company has deployed. Mike Boyle, CIO of Aflac, responding to the same question, essentially echoed the statement, saying, "we're also very heavily invested in Microsoft" and developers in Aflac's IT department can easily learn a newly adopted Microsoft product even if they haven't seen it before.
Speaking with Lync customers--and there were a lot of them at TechEd, many very eager to talk about their deployments--more often than not I got a remarkably similar response. Are you using Lync for Enterprise Voice? ("Enterprise Voice" being Microsoftese for not just using point-to-point VoIP inherent to Lync when deployed for IM only, but rather for using Lync as a full-on PBX replacement.) When the answer was yes, more often than not the decision was made by the part of the IT department, as Schulist says, "heavily invested" in Microsoft software.
To them, Lync is not just a corporate IM platform. It's not just an alternative to traditional PBXs. It is a Microsoft product that fits neatly and cleanly alongside the many other Microsoft products that the company has deployed and whose IT department has painstakingly trained its technicians and developers to support. This, as much as any of Lync's technical merits, is one its top advantages in the market. Just as Cisco-certified gearheads in charge of IT departments' networks helped make a home for Cisco-based UC systems, so are Microsoft-certified code monkeys doing the same for Lync.
Next Page: Lync beyond the Keynotes