Unified communications products don't typically play nice with each other, but Blue Jeans Network and Microsoft Lync offer enterprises a compelling communication proposition: the ability to chat, talk, video and screenshare with each other regardless of the device they are using. Blue Jeans, a cloud-based video conferencing provider, says it has built the video equivalent of an audio conference bridge so that users can collaborate on a plain old telephone, a VoIP platform, a room-based video conferencing system or an integrated Lync solution.
Although Blue Jeans Network enabled communications between Lync users and non-users a year ago, the company announced at last week's Microsoft Lync 2013 conference that it's now possible for users to view and share screens with users of any other screensharing program. Now, Lync and Cisco TelePresence room users can not only videoconference but share their screens bi-directionally as well.
Andy Brezinskydirector of engineering, Corvisa Services
Advancements in video conferencing technology like SVC and WebRTC are promising easy, more affordable and integral video conferencing, but Frost and Sullivan unified communications analyst Robert Arnold says, "This will likely result in more islands of video conferencing deployments that will want to be connected, which is Blue Jeans' forte."
Is the Blue Jeans Network enough to connect Microsoft Lync users?
Critics of Lync say that Microsoft's multivendor strategy lacks central customer support, but Arnold believes that systems integrators and channel partners serve as a single point of accountability that gives customers end-to-end unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions. "This is Microsoft's approach, and it is a credible one for the many customers that prefer best-of-breed solutions or phased implementation to end-to-end UCC networks," he said.
Despite Blue Jeans' offering, Lync users want more from Microsoft, including integration with Microsoft's own Skype service. "Microsoft is seeking to connect Lync and Skype users without the assistance of Blue Jeans. Microsoft's plan is to allow Lync administrators and users to directly control whether they can connect to Skype and which users they connect with," Arnold said.
Microsoft intends to integrate Lync and Skype in June, but even Lync-Skype integration can't connect Lync users to Cisco or Polycom hardware. A Blue Jeans Network service can do this completely off-premises and with the user's choice of subscription payment: by monthly minutes, per-user licenses or number of ports used in the cloud (for traditional multipoint conference unit-style purchasing).
"In general, connecting Lync users to Skype users may not be enough [for Microsoft]. However, Microsoft needs to prioritize the external services and users it connects Lync to. Skype's popularity makes it the obvious choice as a top priority," Arnold said.
Solving communication islands
Andy Brezinsky, director of engineering at Wisconsin-based Corvisa Services, turned to Lync to solve his company's "communications gap." The technology consulting company shared a lot of content and conducted countless meetings using accounts like GoToMeeting and Join.Me, but "there was nothing really integrated -- especially for desktop sharing. That's what drove us to Lync: to have a unified corporate messaging system with video- and desktop-sharing capabilities."
But corporate video conferencing was not enough. Corvisa had a Polycom room-based system that it wanted to connect travelling executives to. After some research, Corvisa's CIO found Blue Jeans Network, and the company tested the service and signed a contract the same day.
"It's been one of the smoothest implementations of a hosted product in a space that is traditionally very complex," Brezinsky said. "Obviously, we could have gone with an on-premises [video] solution, but that would have been a large commitment and an up-front capital expenditure. … [We] just didn't find anything in the marketplace other than Blue Jeans."
Today, Brezinsky says his users default to Lync for internal one-on-one meetings, but use Blue Jeans for multipoint business-to-business video conferencing. Through an email, invitees can decide whether they want to join a conference via phone, Skype or a room-based system. "When we have 10 to 15 people from different offices, two video conference rooms and an executive who's remote … it becomes a lot easier for people to dial into the Blue Jeans bridge versus trying to get a conference started [by] connecting room-based systems up to Lync."