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Bye-bye, legacy PBX; hello, MS Lync?

MS Lync may change the game for UC, as software firms move into a market networking providers once dominated. Lync integrates it all -- Outlook and instant messaging and video calls -- but can enterprises really get rid of their legacy PBX systems?

There's no question that in a relatively short period of time Microsoft has become a major competitor in the IP telephony (IPT) market. Of the 55% of companies planning to move to a new IPT platform, according to the Nemertes 2013-14 Enterprise Technology Benchmark, 13% are going to Lync, the same percentage as those moving to Avaya. (Cisco still leads at 23%.) Microsoft makes a compelling pitch to potential buyers: Why run Lync for instant messaging and presence, and Web conferencing and a separate IP telephony system when one platform can do everything? Not only enterprises are listening, but so are Microsoft's competitors, who've rapidly moved to match (and in some cases exceed) the Lync feature set within their own portfolios.

Lync for all -- or for some?

Lync buyers tend to fit a consistent profile:

  • They are medium-sized-to-large enterprises that classify their views toward emerging technology adoption as "cutting edge."
  • They already have a Microsoft enterprise license agreement, have deployed Microsoft apps (Office, Exchange, SharePoint) and are using MS Lync or Office Communications Server for IM and Web conferencing.
  • They primarily comprise knowledge workers who find value in softphone-based communications and who do not need many legacy telephony features.
  • They are at an inflection point in their current telephony environments, with a demonstrable need to replace legacy infrastructure.
  • They haven't recently invested in alternative IPT platforms.
  • They have integrated their telephony organizations with other application groups.

The biggest challenge for those implementing Lync for telephony is the need to find the right partners for telephones, conference-room phones, session border controllers, remote site and analog gateways, management, and room-based video conferencing -- components that Microsoft competitors natively offer. Microsoft customers must also integrate and manage these various partner products, often via a multitude of configuration applications.

As a result, Nemertes' total-cost-of-ownership research shows that MS Lync operating costs are the highest of all major IP telephony vendors, though year-over-year costs are declining as systems integrators and enterprise organizations increase their familiarity with Lync operations, and as deployments scale.

Lync: Complex, but interesting

Despite the costs and integration challenges, interest in Lync for IPT is growing, thanks to the improvements in Microsoft's own features, its marketing efforts and the desire of those responsible for communication and collaboration to deliver an integrated set of capabilities across mobile and desktop devices. The challenge of providing a consistent user experience across desktop and mobile is increasingly driving interest in Lync as a legacy PBX replacement.

Vendors like Avaya and Cisco offer plug-ins for Lync on a desktop that enable the Lync client to use third-party legacy PBXs for telephony. However this same plug-in capability doesn't exist for mobile devices, meaning that an Avaya customer, for example, would need to run Avaya's one-X for voice on an iPhone or Android phone and Lync for IM and conferencing. Thus, network architects are faced with a choice: running multiple mobile apps or settling on one vendor, not only for voice but for the rest of the UC feature set.

Nemertes recommends that those considering Lync as a legacy PBX replacement evaluate it based on their appetite for cutting-edge options, the cost of investment, the state of their current environment, their relationship with Microsoft and the applicability of software-based communications to their users.

Next Steps

Learn how Cisco UC and MS Lync compare

Can Cisco technology work with MS Lync?

Dig Deeper on IP Telephony Systems

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