Microsoft Lync 2010: Unified communications comes of age

Microsoft's seamlessly integrated IM, VoIP, and videoconferencing put users in touch and in control

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Lync 2010: Up from LCS/OCS
For the review, Microsoft's Lync team visited my lab at the University of Hawaii. The Lync capabilities they demonstrated obviously shared some DNA with the previous Live Communications Server 2005 and Office Communications Server 2007 products, but had just as clearly benefited from the hard knocks experienced by the LCS/OCS user community. At nearly every step in the demo, I saw how different Lync was from its predecessors. It almost seemed like Microsoft had used my list of LCS/OCS gripes as a product road map.

Lync is not only more functional and easier to use, but significantly easier to deploy and manage than the previous generations. Unlike the last pass with OCS, Lync no longer requires integration with Exchange, Active Directory, and SQL Server, but incorporates all the required services into a single installer. Gone also is the multitude of management consoles, replaced by a single Lync console over SSL. Naturally, Lync can still be integrated with Exchange and Active Directory, and it can be scaled across multiple servers to support large environments, but the single-server footprint makes Lync a good fit for smaller businesses as well. (Additionally, Lync is available from the cloud in Office 365.)

10 ways Microsoft Lync 2010 beats its predecessors

LCS/OCS gripesLync solution
Five-server deploymentSingle-server install
Active Directory dependencyLync maintains its own user database
VPN dependencyLync clients connect over TLS (Transport Layer Security)
Windows onlyWindows, Mac, Linux, and Web clients (Linux not fully functioning yet); mobile clients (Windows Phone 7, iPhone, Android) still to come
Everyone needs to be in the Active Directory treeFederation roles between domains
IM and presence island; no interoperabilityGateways for foreign IM coming soon
Complex to start audio/video connectionsContext-sensitive Lync buttons (for example, open meeting from calendar reminder)
Users have to download address bookMuch greater flexibility for integration with Active Directory, Web, and so on
Multiple panels to switch audio or video devices (changing from headset to internal microphone), which invariably interrupt the callSingle click without interrupting call
Five different management consoles to wrangle

Single Silverlight-based Web console from anywhere in the world; no more MMC

For IT organizations concerned about the cost and effort required to set up and maintain VoIP systems, the best part of Lync may be Microsoft's core codecs (RTAudio and RTVideo), which do not require ultralow error rates and hygienically pure networks but are able to handle the wild west of unmanaged public Internet connections. With Lync, there's no need to invest in creating a pristine or isolated network, or to spend megabucks on specialized VoIP test tools.

New communications paradigm
One message that came through loud and clear during the testing is that Lync not a "better PBX" -- instead, it's as much a paradigm shift as Web browsers were to bulletin boards. A reimagined approach to connecting today's far-flung information workers, Lync starts with integrated voice, video, and IM, then builds on these tools to weave a communications workflow through the enterprise with features either not found in today's PBX offerings or are horribly expensive when added to the PBX mix.

For example, voice and videoconferencing can be provisioned as easily as a meeting announcement, without a multipoint conferencing unit (MCU) costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, nor does conferencing require dedicated endpoints or expensive ISDN circuits. Further, the conferencing lobby (aka waiting area) does not require an additional MCU/bridge license, as it does with some conferencing solutions.

Office Communications Server 2007 required a five-server cluster. The entire demo rig for Lync 2010 fit into a pelican case shipped to my lab. The low-profile workstation on the left is running the whole works.
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