Lync, the next generation of Microsoft's Office Communications Server software, was unveiled this week in New York City, complete with a surprise appearance from Bill Gates via Lync's video conference tool.
Essentially, Lync is OCS (Office Communications Server) with new and improved unified communications features such as e911 and "search by skill." But the general feature set of corporate instant-messaging, audio/video conferencing and voice-over-IP telephony remains the same.
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Microsoft is, however, dedicating more resources and marketing to Lync (and giving it a shorter, catchier brand name). It has also beefed up the amount of partners for Lync as it takes on Cisco, Avaya and IBM in the UC (unified communications) space.
Lync Server and client software are available for purchase on December 1. The Microsoft cloud-based version of Lync, Lync Online, is due out next year, as part of Office 365.
The lure for businesses with Lync is that it is capable of augmenting or replacing traditional PBX and conferencing systems, thereby saving companies money on hardware and licensing costs.
But there are other serious considerations for companies looking at Lync. It makes communication easier and could be a money saver, but it has the potential to be a worker distraction, and voice and video eat up network bandwidth.
At the launch event in New York, CIO.com's Shane O'Neill sat down with Gartner Research Vice President Stephen Blood to map out the advantages and challenges of moving your company to Lync.
Smooth merger of technologies
What Lync offers businesses is the ability to access and switch between instant messaging, video and voice telephony features in a single interface. Other companies provide these tools, but none have seamlessly integrated them as well as Microsoft, says Blood.
The biggest Lync competitor is Cisco, but its UC suite tends to be more expensive. IBM's UC suite, Sametime, doesn't have the voice component. It does IM and Web conferencing, but it relies on PBX vendors for the voice telephony part.
For IT, Blood says the integration of Lync makes life easier because they need just need a PC and one set of servers from one supplier to use Lync.
Lync offers better bandwidth management
With Lync, Microsoft is providing better bandwidth management than it did with OCS.
"They've added Call Admission Control, a common function in PBX systems that monitors how many users are allowed onto the network at one time," says Blood. "With OCS there was no ability to monitor how many users were using bandwidth. You could just keep adding users, which would eventually deteriorate call quality."
Lync's bandwidth management upgrade also allows IT pros to split what goes over the WAN and what goes over the Internet. For example, you can route voice calls over the WAN but route video over the Internet if the video doesn't have to be perfect quality. This is something you could not do with OCS.