Before you get locked into Lync, consider open source options

Lync further entrenches Microsoft in critical pieces of your IT and communications environment -- so make sure you want that lock-in

Lync, Microsoft's unified communications platform that combines voice, Web conferencing, and instant messaging is reportedly poised to become the next billion-dollar business at Microsoft. That's good news for Microsoft, but those billions of dollars come out of IT's pocket. It's time you considered alternatives before Lync becomes ingrained in your IT environment, much like SharePoint has for many companies.

Lync follows in SharePoint's billion-dollar footsteps

According to reports from Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference 2011, the company has high expectations for Lync, with several Microsoft managers telling MSPmentor's Joe Panettieri that sales trajectories place Lync as Microsoft's next billion-dollar platform.

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With Lync, formerly Office Communications Server, Microsoft is following a similar strategy to that of its SharePoint, another billion-dollar-plus business. As with SharePoint before it, Microsoft has built a set of applications that leverages Microsoft Office's massive install base. Microsoft is now accelerating partner involvement to shift Lync from a set of applications to a platform that partners can manage and customize.

Microsoft expects to target the 10 million legacy VoIP phone lines that Cisco Systems currently controls, largely in the enterprise space. However, as Panettieri explains, Microsoft has the installed base and partner channel to grow Lync in the small and medium-size business market.

Lync is available on the Office 365 cloud, but is expected to garner higher on-premises interest, an attractive point for Microsoft's managed service provider partners, thanks to its more complete feature set on premises than in Office 365.

Consider alternatives before Lync arrives at your door

As Microsoft partners get more involved with Lync, you'll be getting briefings on the benefits of Lync in your business. Now would be a good time to start considering alternatives, especially a few in the open source arena, to be ready for Lync conversations with your friendly neighborhood Microsoft partner.

As Microsoft's strategy is to grow Lync sales by selling into the Microsoft Office installed base, the first alternative you should consider is Google Apps, a direct cloud competitor of Microsoft's Office 365. Although Google doesn't yet offer a PBX, OnState Communications offers a cloud-based PBX in the Google Apps Marketplace. It also stands to reason that Google will add some degree of PBX capabilities to Google Apps.

Twilio, a self-described cloud communications vendor, offers a platform to build voice and SMS applications using simple APIs. Twilio also offers an open source phone system through its OpenVBX offering. Twilio is targeted at developers, whereas Lync is a ready-to-use platform for companies. However, systems integrators or managed service providers could take the Twilio APIs and build a repeatable solution that offers much of Lync's capabilities.

Although several open source PBX phone systems are available, the open source Asterisk project is by far the best known. You could consider Asterisk as a piece of a Lync alternative. However, Asterisk does not offer a full platform for voice, Web conferencing, and instant messaging as yet; it's currently just a PBX product.

Perhaps the best alternative to Lync, especially for small and medium-size businesses, is a unified communications offering from the likes of a Cisco or Avaya. These aren't open source, but still are worth investigating.

Earlier this year Cisco announced the Cisco Unified Communications 300 Series, aimed at companies with as many as 24 employees. Cisco also offers the Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000, for companies with as many 300 users.

It would be interesting for a Cisco competitor such as Avaya to acquire Twilio and build a customer- and developer-friendly offering that rivals Cisco's unified communications platform and Microsoft's Lync.

Whatever alternatives to Lync you ultimately decide to consider, ensure that you've done this due diligence before Lync arrives at your company's doorstep. Make no mistake: Lync does offer value, but it also further entrenches Microsoft into critical pieces of your IT and communications environment.

I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "Before you get locked into Lync, consider open source alternatives," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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