• Microsoft Lync is starting to be offered on a hosted basis
• Trial software and services are readily available and a good way to determine if Lync is right for you
When I first saw the press release for BT’s Hosted Microsoft Lync pilot service, , I thought it was the first stage of a pilot for a new hosted Lync service that BT is planning to rollout. Upon closer reading, and after a conversation with Stephen Bruce, Portfolio Partner, Unified Communications and Mobility at BT Global Services, I found it is rather a pilot program where enterprises – large, multinational ones – can pay $15,000 to kick Lync’s tires for 90 days. Lync, for those not following the communications space closely, is the latest and greatest version of Microsoft’s unified communications software. It not only provides instant messaging and presence, but also can augment or completely replace a traditional PBX. Microsoft has a huge marketing campaign behind Lync and a growing number of highly capable channel partners very actively selling it. But Lync has only been out for about a year and for this and other reasons businesses have been hesitant to use it to replace tried-and-true PBX systems. Hence, BT’s kick-the-tires pilot program. Two things strike me when thinking of the BT pilot from the perspective of IT buyers: the state of hosted Lync services and for-pay Lync trials.
Hosted Lync services. Lync is first and foremost an on-premise communications solution. IT buys the software; sticks it on a server; integrates it with Exchange, Active Directory, SharePoint; maybe deploys some Lync-certified handsets, gateways, and other products from Microsoft partners. Businesses interested in Lync as a hosted service are usually directed to Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud service that has Lync Online as a component. The problem is Lync Online doesn’t yet support the Enterprise Voice feature set that makes Lync a viable alternative to traditional PBXs. However, where industry observers like myself see product deficiencies, developers see opportunities. Sipcom, for example, has developed a multi-tenanted hosted service around Lync that it is bringing to market via partners like InterRoute, alwaysON and others. BT currently has a managed Lync service as a standard offering and says it can deliver a hosted Lync service for customers that demand it. But this is a dedicated, not multi-tenanted, service like the Sipcom offering. The takeaway for IT buyers is that hosted Lync services are in fact available today – sometimes dedicated, sometimes multi-tenanted; sometimes from top-tier providers, sometimes from lesser known players. Pricing is not at all clear as yet, so you’ll definitely want to shop around.
Paid Lync trial. As I mentioned, the BT pilot costs $15,000. Current Analysis’ Cindy Whelan authored a report that details what you get for that. But if the price is out of your range, there are other options for IT buyers considering Lync as either an on-premise solution or cloud-delivered service. The first source is Microsoft itself, which has trial software available for download. Granted, this requires a certain amount of IT involvement to download, install, set up, etc. But large enterprises considering Lync as something that will integrate with or replace PBXs and other systems deployed on site presumable have IT resources that can be dedicated to this for the 180-day length of the trial. Service providers likewise have free trials available. These include NextUC, CallTower and Sipcom, among others. Like the BT pilot, these are try-before-you-buy offers for businesses potentially interested in their respective hosted and managed services. So there will be minimum of IT involvement required. All in all, they could be a good way of getting one’s feet wet with Lync before committing to a plunge.