Microsoft preps Lync 2010 as unified communications juggernaut

Combining broad vendor backing with cloud flourish, Microsoft may snag chunk of unified communications market

You may not have noticed, but Microsoft is making a strong play for a lucrative piece of the unified communications (UC) pie with Microsoft Lync 2010, its next-generation Office Communications Server. Backed by an small army of hardware vendors rolling out assorted gear optimized for Lync, and with intriguing plans to moving its multicommunication offering to the cloud in 2011, Redmond may have a winning UC recipe -- and the potential to become a major player in the coveted low-cost VoIP and videoconferencing market.

As a brief primer, Lync 2010 is OCS on steroids, supplements, and other performance-enhancing substances. On top of performing Exchange duties, it tackles archiving and monitoring, audio/videoconferencing, Web conferencing, reach application sharing, and more. That's a generous amount of capability, crammed into fewer servers than OCS needed.

The result, as Microsoft describes it, is a system that enables all forms of communications (aside from, say, smoke signals) from anywhere. Then again, what UC vendor doesn't make that promise?

Microsoft's advantage, beyond its already strong foothold in the enterprise, is its backing from plenty of vendors, among them HP, Polycom, and Logitech. Microsoft says its assorted partners have rolled out 70 products today optimized for Lync, including IP desk phones, headsets, PCs, and meeting room devices. ("Optimized for Lync," according to Microsoft, means plug-and-play installation and a seamless user experience.)

Contrast that to UC vendors who package their software and hardware in proprietary fashion, meaning they can charge an extra limb when you need to add a new phone or headset.

In rather un-Microsoft-like fashion, the company also says it's committed to "open standards and extensive interoperability across a wide variety of platforms." In other words, Lync will support not just an array of equipment but services as well, such as the top IM applications.

Adding to Microsoft's recipe for success, the company plans to bring Lync to the cloud in 2011 -- including VoIP -- as part of the company's broad Office 365 initiative. Doing so shatters yet another barrier some organizations face in implementing a broad UC system: deploying and maintaining servers.

Combine all these elements -- Microsoft's sizable presence in the enterprise, support from vendors who can roll out Lync-friendly gear at competitive prices, and a cloud component that eliminates the need for a larger server room -- and Microsoft's future as a major UC player looks pretty bright.

This article, "Microsoft preps Lync 2010 as unified communications juggernaut," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.