infoTECH Feature

October 19, 2010

Microsoft Lync Nears General Availability

Microsoft (News - Alert) Lync, the company’s next wave of unified communications software (the next version of Microsoft Office Communications Server previously code-named Microsoft Communications Server 14), is getting closer to general availability. Lync, a brand name that combines the terms “link” and “sync” to reflect new ways of connecting people, is currently in a Release Candidate Stage and is available to download and try. It is Microsoft’s final milestone prior to release to manufacturing (RTM) and general availability (GA) expected by the end of this year. This new version approaches full enterprise telephony with support for Enterprise Voice features, enhanced management tools, additional presence and conferencing features and new client functionality. Read more about Microsoft Lync below for more on the enterprise telephony market.

Microsoft formally names its next version of its Office Communications Server (OCS) unified communications software, calling the software Microsoft Lync and announcing the Release Candidate Stage, the final milestone prior to RTM (release to manufacturing) and General Availability (GA) which is expected later this year. Microsoft explains that the new Lync branding, a combination of the words “link” and “sync,” aptly describes their goal to connect people in new ways easily and efficiently, from anywhere. The family brand will be known as Microsoft Lync, the server as Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and the client as Microsoft Lync 2010. Microsoft reports that 20,000 Microsoft employees and over 100 enterprise customers are already trying Lync 2010 in this beta stage. Microsoft is incorporating their feedback as it prepares the software for general availability later in 2010.

Since OCS 2007 was first introduced, each new wave of the Microsoft’s unified communications software (reportedly deployed by millions) has incorporated more functionality that has brought this software-based communications solution closer to traditional PBX replacement. This latest version promises full enterprise telephony with support for some important voice functionality, including Enhanced 911 for North America, survivable branch appliances, call admission control, additional telephone models, call parking and high availability architecture.

To recap, at VoiceCon Orlando last spring, Microsoft participated in Allan Sulkin’s annual IP PBX RFP session for the first time, demonstrating that Lync is ready to compete as an enterprise telephony solution. While Microsoft’s solution may lack support for some traditional PBX features included in the analysis, Microsoft rightly points out that many legacy features no longer make sense since today’s unified communications capabilities provide such functionality with a different and often better approach. For example, Microsoft’s solution does not support the traditional Automatic Callback PBX feature used when a caller encounters a busy station or line (the caller can receive a callback when the line or busy station becomes available). Such functionality can be handled in a unified communications environment through presence state tagging and instant messaging. Microsoft’s presence functionality displays a device’s status visually (e.g. “in a call”) and allows a caller to choose to be notified (tagged) when the device is free. Or, one user can contact another via non-intrusive instant messaging whether either user is currently on an active call or not.

All in all, Microsoft’s compliance was high in several categories of Sulkin’s analysis, with complete compliance (100 percent) in terms of system attributes, traffic handling and unified communications, and at or above 80% for user voice features and system features. Telephone features, attendant features and contact center were rated lower; however, as noted above, unified communications capabilities provide a different and often better approach to legacy PBX functionality. Also, Microsoft notes that deployment of third party contact center solutions brings its contact center compliance up to 100 percent.

Lync enhances and adds new features on the IT side such as operating system and processor support, virtualization support and management tools, but also introduces new capabilities for users, including voice features. Below is a sampling of new user-related capabilities to be delivered with the forthcoming Lync later this year:

  • New Enterprise Voice features include voice resiliency in central and branch offices, new call admission control (bandwidth management), E911 dialing, malicious call trace, new management features, call park, additional call routing methods and more flexible IVR, an announcement application, monitoring (e.g. reporting and voice quality diagnostics) and a hosted version of Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging.
  • New presence features enhance privacy controls and support contact lists with photos.
  • Conferencing functionality adds a single meeting client (replaces Microsoft’s Live Meeting client and Outlook Add-in), the Microsoft Lync 2010 Attendee downloadable client, simple URLs for joining meetings, a Presentation Mode, application sharing, whiteboard tools, polling, new dial-in features and video enhancements (panoramic video, multipoint video, VGA and HD video).
  • The Microsoft Lync 2010 client  (previously Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2) is redesigned with functional tabs, including a Conversations tab (lists recent conversations), an Activity Feeds tab (social updates), a Phone (News - Alert) tab (dial pad for making calls, a list of voicemail messages and a button to test call quality) and a Contacts tab that displays contacts by group, availability, or level of privacy with or without photos, shows the 10 most frequent contacts and incorporates a new skill search feature to find people with particular expertise using SharePoint to search by keywords, such as skills, projects or interests. In the Me Area, users can update their status and location and upload a personal photo.
  • Two new Lync clients are available, growing the existing client portfolio which includes the Lync 2010 client (with full functionality), Lync Server 2010 Attendant, Lync 2010 Mobile (works with Professional Edition of Windows Mobile) and Lync 2010 Phone Edition (software for USB-attached phones):

*Lync 2010 Attendee is a new conferencing client for users without Lync 2010 installed, enabling them to participate in Lync Server 2010 online meetings; it is installed on per-user basis and does not support presence, contacts, instant messaging or telephony.

*Lync 2010 Web App is a browser-based version of Lync 2010 for those without a Lync Server 2010 account, and who want to participate in online meetings using a Windows or Mac operating system.

  • New Lync-optimized IP Phones Series have been developed by Aastra and Polycom (News - Alert) (Lync will also support analog devices).

For pricing and licensing, Lync Server 2010 uses Microsoft’s Server/Client Access License (CAL) model. A Lync Server 2010 license, either the Standard Edition ($699) or the Enterprise Edition ($3,999), is required for each operating system environment running Lync Server 2010. A CAL is required for each user or device accessing the Lync Server. There are three types of user/device licenses or CALs: Lync Server 2010 Standard CAL ($31), Lync Server 2010 Enterprise CAL ($107) and Lync Server 2010 Plus CAL ($107), each with varying levels of functionality in terms of IM and presence features, audio/video/Web conferencing functionality and Enterprise Voice technology. The Plus CAL is required for full Enterprise Voice features. The Lync Server 2010 Standard CAL is a prerequisite to both the Lync Server 2010 Enterprise CAL and Lync Server 2010 Plus CAL. Microsoft Lync 2010, the client software, is licensed separately ($31).

A growing list of companies (over 30 to date) have announced products and services that will interoperate with Lync, including IP phones from Aastra (News - Alert) and Polycom and snom, solutions for branch office survivability (from Audiocodes, Dialogic, Ferrari, HP and NET) and E911 routing (from Connexon and Intrado (News - Alert)), call accounting software (from Quest and NICE) and a number of SIP trunking vendors (Verizon, Swisscom and Sprint among others).

Sandra M. Gustavsen, senior analyst for T3i Group, contributes her TelecomTactics column to TMCnet. To read more of Sandra’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jaclyn Allard

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