Dave Michels
Dave Michels is a Principal Analyst at TalkingPointz. His unique perspective on unified communications comes from a career involving telecommunications...
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Dave Michels | December 18, 2012 |


FAQs about Microsoft Lync

FAQs about Microsoft Lync What's the scoop on licensing? Is Lync for everyone? These and other questions are answered.

What's the scoop on licensing? Is Lync for everyone? These and other questions are answered.

Microsoft Lync is becoming a popular topic of conversation--partly because it's so interesting, and partly because it's so confusing. Lync is unique in several ways, so it takes a conversation (or ten) to describe it. Here is a compilation of frequently asked questions about Lync

What is Lync?
Lync is an enterprise real-time communications solution capable of instant messaging, presence, conferencing (audio, video, and web), and voice telephony. The voice can be internal between clients, or connected to the PSTN.

Lync is the name for both the server and desktop clients. The solution is tightly integrated with Microsoft solutions including Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Active Directory (note, Lync does not replace Outlook or Exchange).

Unlike many of its UC competitors from the legacy PBX world, voice is optional, and not all implementations include it; at least not initially. Lync can be integrated with several third-party (existing) call control solutions.

Lync Online is part of Microsoft's new Office 365 hosted solutions. It has limited PSTN telephony capabilities.

Is Lync Free?
No. It is a licensed commercial product from Microsoft. It has a false reputation of being free because Microsoft has included rights to use within many of its (paid) enterprise licensing programs. Microsoft licensing in general, and specifically regarding Lync, is extremely complex. If you're considering Lync, be sure to consult a professional and inquire about upgrades and ongoing obligations for continued rights to use. Although aspects of Lync's licensing can be obtained through enterprise licensing, the voice capabilities are generally purchased separately.

As with all other UC solutions, the initial upfront license is only a portion of the total cost of an implementation. Total costs include necessary hardware, skills acquisition, ongoing maintenance, and system administration. Nemertes Research recently studied IP telephony costs and determined that initial implementation costs for Lync were slightly below the study's median initial cost for all products; but the total first-year costs for Lync were significantly above the study's median first-year cost.

Who is Lync For?
Lync 2010 is mostly associated with larger customer organizations. Of course, smaller organizations can implement it, but its complexity and operations require a reasonably savvy IT team. Numerous consulting groups offer assistance with implementations. Lync will be most attractive to organizations with these characteristics:

* A significant investment and commitment to other Microsoft technologies;
* IT scope that includes voice; and
* An older or legacy voice communications infrastructure.

Lync is also emerging as a hosted solution from third-party providers, which should appeal to a broader user base, including small businesses. It is too early to tell how this will resonate, or the preferred solution for integration with other services (premises, hosted, Office 365).

Why is Lync so Complicated?
UC is more complex than voice in general. Some believe Lync is no more complex than other leading UC solutions. The complexity has a lot to do with current skill-sets and implementation objectives. Several factors together will make Lync generally more complex than many of its alternatives.

* Lync has a fairly distinctive approach. The notion of starting with presence and then optionally adding voice is the polar opposite of most competitive UC solutions.

* The licensing is complex. There are multiple levels of client licenses. Rather than unlocking entire feature areas like video, voice, or presence, each client license unlocks specific functionality within those areas. Full functionality requires multiple (stacked) user licenses as opposed to a single advanced user license. Also, licenses can be assigned per user or per device.

* The Lync implementation is composed of multiple server roles. These servers can be physical or virtual, but most enterprises will physically distribute the loads among multiple server resources to leverage Lync's high-availability features. Lync is optimized to integrate with Exchange and SharePoint, thus implementation scopes tend to be larger.

* Lync is a multi-vendor solution. Microsoft only provides the core Lync software. Third party applications as well as hardware for servers, phones, headsets, branch appliances, and gateways are all acquired from other vendors.

Is Lync the Market Leader?
No, at least not in terms of telephony. It wasn't even in the top ten in 2011, and probably not in 2012. However, it is growing quickly. According to Diane Meyers at Infonetics, "The demand for tools that aid employee productivity and flexibility is fueling growth in this [UC] segment, and Microsoft's Lync has been the primary beneficiary, enjoying over 40% sequential growth in the third quarter."

What Version is Lync?
Version numbers in general just don't seem to naturally increment like they used to. With Lync, it's additionally difficult as the product changed names several times. The major releases are:

* 2013--Lync 2013 imminent
* 2010--Lync 2010
* 2009 - Office Communications Server 2007 R2
* 2007 - Office Communications Server 2007
* 2006 - Live Communications Server 2005 with SP1
* 2005 - Live Communications Server 2005 ("Vienna")
* 2003 - Live Communications Server 2003

Lync 2010 was the first release out of these that was generally recognized to be suitable as a mainstream solution for voice.

Does Lync Require Softphones?
No. Lync is commonly associated with softphone implementations, and softphones reduce the overall cost. However, Polycom, Aastra, and HP offer Microsoft-designed proprietary phones for Lync. Snom offers Microsoft "qualified" phones that are also SIP-compatible endpoints. Non-Lync endpoints are supported through some gateway vendors.

Is Lync Open?
Every major UC solution now carries the "open" label. What this actually means varies widely. Lync does support SIP trunks. It offers gateways to popular presence solutions, though some are charged per user per month. Microsoft offers Lync clients (functionality varies) for Windows, Macintosh, Android, and iOS. There is an emerging ecosystem of Microsoft-certified Lync-compatible hardware and software solutions ranging from headsets to call center solutions.

However, Lync utilizes proprietary endpoints and proprietary codecs. It requires Active Directory for security, and Exchange for unified messaging. Also note that approved third-party solutions must agree to Microsoft's partner program requirements.

Why is Lync Attractive?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lync has several worthwhile characteristics including a feature-rich means of standardization across locations, deep integration with other Microsoft products, and a fairly fresh approach to telephony and communications.

Lync is not for everyone. Alternative solutions offer a more robust menu of features, applications and devices; non-reliance on other Microsoft products; and potentially a simpler model to acquire, implement, and maintain.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and analyst at TalkingPointz .


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