Adding up the real costs of so-called 'free' Microsoft Lync

Using Microsoft Lync as a corporate UC system is cheap -- free, even, right? While Lync licenses are free, installing Lync may cost more than you’ve bargained for.

Microsoft Lync is free. I’ve heard this from a number of people looking to utilize MS Lync as a corporate UC system....

Microsoft certainly positions Lync this way, but is it really free?

If the customer has a Microsoft Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) then yes, the Lync licenses are indeed free. This means that the customer can take the software, install it and start enjoying all the wonderful features of Lync immediately.

This would allow companies to run Lync on an existing server and use the Lync client to make calls from the PC. But this is where “free” ends -- assuming the customer wants to do more than make internal phone calls from a PC. Here’s the gotchas that come with a Lync installation:

  • Server OS licenses: The customer will likely need to purchase new Windows Server OS licenses for the Lync, SQL Server and Exchange Unified Messaging servers.
  • Server hardware: Unless the organization wants to repurpose old servers, it’s likely that new servers will need to be purchased. Also, be prepared to buy a number of servers, too, as each feature, group chat, mediation, UM, etc., requires a different server. Alternatively, you could run a number of them on virtual machines (VMs), but then you need VMware licenses.
  • IP phones: Unless everyone in the company wants to use a PC- based softphone, it’s likely you’ll need to purchase new IP phones. Though Microsoft has broadened the breadth of its phone offerings over the past few years, this purchase can still be sizeable.
  • Gateways for branch survivability: To give Lync branch survivability, customers need to purchase a survivable branch appliance (SBA) gateway for each location. This can add significant cost to the deployment.
  • Analog endpoints and adapters: These are needed for fax machines, alarms and dial-up modems. While the majority of communications is moving to IP, the need to maintain some POTS lines remains.
  • Additional software assurance/support costs: If you want 24x7 support from Microsoft for voice, there is an incremental upcharge to the software assurance costs that are currently in place. Look for additional spending here.

I am in no way saying that enterprises should consider Microsoft Lync or use it in their organization. If you’re already a big Microsoft customer, it may make sense to trial Lync with a handful of users and see if it meets your business needs.

However, if you are going to go down the Lync path, make sure that the reasons you’re doing so are in line with your business needs and not because it’s free -- because it’s not. Going into an MS Lync implementation with your eyes open and a good understanding of the extra costs will help you avoid going back for more budget for basic things like making the solution survivable in branch offices.

Zeus Kerravala, ZK ResearchAbout the author: Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical and long-term strategic advice to constituents, including end-user IT and network managers; vendors of IT hardware, software and services; and the IT investment community.

Prior to ZK Research, Zeus Kerravala was a senior vice president and distinguished research fellow with Yankee Group. Before Yankee Group, Kerravala had a number of technical roles, including a senior technical position at Greenwich Technology Partners (GTP). He has held numerous internal IT positions, including vice president of IT and deputy CIO of Ferris, Baker Watts and senior project manager at Alex. Brown and Sons Inc. Kerravala is heavily quoted in the business and technology press, and is a regular speaker at events including Interop and Enterprise Connect.

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