It was common knowledge that Microsoft was releasing a new version of its communications and collaboration suite this year, but behind the traditional development cycle, the Microsoft marketing machine was operating at full speed as well. The name “Communications” has been replaced by “Lync” broadly across the traditional OCS product line, reflecting in my opinion, the fact that enterprise communications and collaboration is all about linking the people, processes, and thoughts that drive creativity. I am fond of saying that there is the verb “to collaborate” (what humans do to create new and better ideas together) and the noun “collaboration” (what many tech vendors sell in the form of collaboration platform software). By adopting the name Lync, I believe that Microsoft is taking to heart the requirement for communications software to link people, processes, and ideas, while SharePoint remains the place where those ideas are stored and shared on enterprise networks for companies that have adopted Microsoft’s unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) products broadly.
Beyond the name, I believe that the most compelling news is that Microsoft is now getting serious about its Microsoft Lync Server being ready to replace the private branch exchange (PBX). Many Microsoft execs — from Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president for the Office Communications Group, through BJ Haberkorn, OCS senior product manager responsible for voice — have spent extensive time telling me about the reliability and scalability of Microsoft’s voice services within its UC&C solutions. Microsoft continues to expand its feature set to compete robustly with other communications vendors. New capabilities of the Microsoft Lync Server include:
- Rich presence providing access to things like location or user skills.
- Conferencing with features like one-click scheduling and improved security.
- Support for E911 calling.
- Consolidated management capabilities.
Deployment stories from customers like A.T. Kearney, Intel, Shell, and Sprint provide a rosy picture of Microsoft’s scalability and reliability, but many customers still want more proof and want interoperability with their existing network investments (check out my September 10 report, “Jump-Starting The Unified Communications Market”). Microsoft has been instrumental in establishing the Unified Communication Interoperability Forum, which provides a forum to discuss, design, and develop strategies to allow smooth, open, and reliable interoperability between various UC&C solutions, including the Microsoft Lync Server.
Microsoft was successful in presenting Microsoft Lync Server-based solutions (Microsoft OCS Wave 14 at the time) as a viable alternative for new installations at VoiceCon (now Enterprise Connect) in March of 2010, submitting a well-respected response to Alan Sulkin’s hypothetical IP PBX RFP (Alan is an independent analyst/consultant focused on the communications market who fields this theoretical PBX RFP each year). Microsoft met all of the functional requirements and most of the user feature requirements in the RFP when responding with planned Microsoft Lync Server capabilities. This should put existing communications solution vendors on notice that Microsoft is closing in and will soon be competing for traditional PBX budget dollars — putting one more giant squarely into the ring.