Warakorn - Fotolia

Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

How to manage Cisco and Microsoft UC integration

Client complexities, overlapping apps and different user interfaces are just some of the challenges IT leaders juggle when managing Cisco and Microsoft integrations.

One of the most common topics in my discussions with enterprise IT leaders is integrating Cisco and Microsoft unified...

communications environments.

IT leaders operating Cisco voice and video platforms struggle with how to pair them with Microsoft Skype for Business or Office 365 desktop applications for instant messaging, web conferencing, and voice and video chat -- especially now that Skype for Business is a fully functional phone system. Fortunately, options for UC integration are slowly improving.

Creating a UC integration strategy should work backward, starting with the end user. IT leaders must first determine what client applications they wish to support and if they are comfortable providing potentially overlapping apps, especially for mobile users. 

Starting with the desktop, the options include using multiple clients, such as Cisco Jabber and Skype for Business, or integrating Cisco call control into the Microsoft client via the Cisco Unified Communications Integration for Microsoft Lync. The latter approach essentially replaces the Skype client's call control with Cisco call control. So, when a client places a call from the Skype for Business app, the call is routed through the Cisco server. 

So far, we've seen few companies use this UC integration approach because of the added user-side complexity -- both from changing the Skype for Business user interface and from adding another client app. 

Try to avoid end-user confusion

A variant of the integrated client approach is Microsoft's Call Via Work, a replacement for remote call control. In Call Via Work, when a user clicks to call from the Microsoft client, the call is placed through the enterprise PBX, causing the desktop phone to take over the call. Here, again, is the potential for end-user confusion, as individuals must use their Cisco phone, or Jabber client, to conduct an actual call. 

Alternatively, companies can run Cisco and Microsoft side by side, using SIP trunks to connect internal calls without needing to traverse the PSTN. This approach preserves the native user interface for Microsoft, but requires organizations to run two separate phone systems with their own directories, PSTN access and numbering schemes. Though, a session border controller can mediate the Cisco-to-Microsoft interconnection and centralize both policy and dial-plan management. This approach simplifies the end-user experience by providing only one desktop and mobile client.

IT leaders can also deploy Cisco Expressway to provide directory and presence federation between both platforms.

Cloud models could complicate UC integration

Ultimately, the UC integration challenges are driving companies to look to consolidate on one vendor or the other.

Video integration has improved in recent years. Thanks to on-premises services -- such as Cisco Meeting Server, Pexip Infinity and Polycom RealConnect for Skype for Business -- companies can integrate existing video conferencing rooms with Skype for Business to enable Skype for Business clients to join room-based meetings.

Cloud-based offerings from vendors such as Blue Jeans, Cisco, Fuze, StarLeaf, Masergy, Polycom, Vidyo and Zoom offer the same kind of integration without investments in hardware.

Enterprises looking to maintain both Cisco and Microsoft UC environments must also address performance management. Fortunately, platforms from vendors such as Integrated Research, Nectar, Oracle and VOSS can enable cross-platform system management.

Ultimately, the UC integration challenges are driving companies to look to consolidate on one vendor or the other. Nemertes Research's latest data showed 43% of midsize to large end-user organizations, with more than 2,500 employees, are planning to consolidate their UC environments onto a single, primary vendor -- typically either Microsoft or Cisco for the large enterprises.

The movement of Cisco and Microsoft to cloud-first software delivery will further complicate the ability to maintain and integrate both environments. At the end of the day, IT organizations will need to decide what kind of user environment they wish to provide. They also need to determine if the need for additional components for integration outweighs the cost of consolidating.

Next Steps

Cisco and Microsoft need to step up UC interoperability.

Microsoft and Cisco experts examine cloud trends.

Go beyond the features when comparing Microsoft and Cisco.

Dig Deeper on Unified Communications Integration and Interoperability