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Cisco vs. Lync: Is there an apples-to-apples comparison?

In the debate of Cisco vs. Lync UC products, is there a direct comparison? Expert Richard Luckett explains how to break down product features.

Which Cisco product competes directly with Lync? Is there even an apples-to-apples comparison?

In 1998, I worked for a company that had offices in the same building as WebEx in San Jose and had the opportunity to have access to an early version of WebEx. I was responsible for supporting our internal, on-premises deployment. When WebEx moved toward an online only, subscription-based product, we used Meeting Place as an alternate, on-premises service. You may recognize both of these as being Cisco acquisitions.

Not long after, I began to work with the predecessors to Lync Server from Microsoft: Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server and Live Communications Server. In my consulting practice today, I work primarily with Lync Server. So, I have some historical perspective on the offerings from both Microsoft and Cisco that allows me to have a healthy respect for these two highly competitive products.

Both Microsoft and Cisco use multiple products to provide a unified communications solution. At a high level, you could say there are two general categories where they compete. First would be in conferencing, which includes instant messaging, audio and video, data, whiteboard and desktop sharing collaboration. Second would be in voice communications, or telephony, which includes PBX functionality and unified messaging, or voicemail and email integration. The following table provides a rough sketch of how Microsoft and Cisco products align based on UC workloads.

UC Workload WebEx CUPS CUCM Tele-presence Suite UCCX Unity Connection   Lync Server Skype Exchange Server
IM/Presence   X X*         X    
Contact Management         X     X   X**
A/V & Data Conferencing X   X         X X  
Telephony     X         X X  
Mobility     X         X X  
Hi-Def Video Telepresence       X       X    
Unified Messaging           X       X

*CUCM supports some limited presence.
** Exchange 2013 provides the Unified Contact Store when integrated with Lync Server 2013.

If you treat the products from each of the vendors as a collection or suite, then it may be possible to do an apples-to-apples comparison. Both vendors offer a hosted solution: Microsoft's Office 365 and Cisco's Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS). HCS is not directly hosted by Cisco, but rather by the company's HCS partners. Microsoft Partners can also host Lync Server for their customers. It is worth noting that WebEx is now supported as an online or on-premises product.

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The simplest answer to your question is that Lync Server provides services that compete with what Cisco provides in the United Communications and Collaboration suite including Cisco Unified Communications Manager, WebEx, Unified Contact Center Express, Cisco Telepresence Suite and Cisco unified Presence Server. From a client perspective, Cisco provides Jabber and Microsoft provides Lync. In the July 2013 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, both Cisco and Microsoft were listed as the top two leaders in the UC market segment. Features lists for Microsoft Lync and Cisco Unified Communications products can be found at their respective sites.

Learn more about the Cisco vs. Lync debate:

  • What the decision comes down to in Cisco vs. Lync
  • Compare Cisco and Lync UC features when the market is ripe
  • Cisco and Lync duke it out for top UCC vendor


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