Microsoft May Not Have Lync Appliances, But Microsoft Partners Do

Brian Riggs
B. Riggs

Summary Bullets:

  • Microsoft Lync appliances for SMBs are available from small, regional solution developers
  • There may be a certain degree of risk associated with purchasing from smaller, regional solution developers <br><br>

My recent post about the lack of a  Microsoft-delivered Lync appliance generated some messages about Microsoft UC offerings for small businesses. The first was from Maarten Swemmer:

“I completely agree with your analyses. And although Microsoft offers Lync Online for SMBs, it does not offer the telephony functionality one would desire in a Unified Communications solution. You’re still stuck with your old PBX. However, implementing voice isn’t easy and often requires customization on a hardware level. That’s an area Microsoft explicitly does not like to involve itself in. This might be one of the reasons why Microsoft has not implemented Lync as an appliance itself.”

It’s a good point – that Microsoft steers clear of products that require customized hardware, and in the world of business telephony solutions, customized hardware platforms have traditionally been quite common. That being said, in many cases these days, business telephony (aka PBX) software runs on industry-standard servers (just like Microsoft Lync), is SIP-based (just like Microsoft Lync), and includes a messaging, conferencing and collaboration feature set beyond basic telephony (just like Microsoft Lync). In fact, many PBXs ran as software on a plain old server long before Lync was a gleam in Microsoft’s eye. So it’s not really the IT buyer that has this problem with PBXs, since PBXs can offer many of the same features and benefits of Microsoft Lync. It’s the Microsoft reseller that has the problem, because more often than not Lync is the only arrow in his quiver when it comes to telephony.

Another comment that came in was anonymous:

 “There are several attractive options for SMBs at the moment…As a Microsoft Partner and SMB ourselves, we are grateful that Microsoft left the door open for us to fill a niche in the product portfolio.”

This was from someone at CyberUC, a provider of hosted Lync services. Swemmer, incidentally, is associated Active Communications, a Microsoft business partner based in the Netherlands. Both make a very valid point: That while Microsoft may not be delivering a Lync appliance of its own, several of its partners have stepped in to do so. These include boxedUC from Italy-based FrabbicaDigitale, Netherlands-based StartReady, SynSIP in Belgium (a developer of Asterisk-based PBX that added a Lync appliance to its portfolio), and Iluminari Tech in Canada.

What’s striking about this list is, first, a number of the vendors on it are based in Europe. I don’t really associate Lync strongly with Europe, in part because it lacks support for emergency services outside the US. And second, they are all very small companies. I’m surprised larger developers are not getting into the game. HP, given its close partnership with Microsoft, would be a prime candidate for pairing its servers with Microsoft’s UC software for a combined offering. The company offers (or offered, as it’s not on the HP Web site anymore) a “survivable branch appliance” that runs Lync on a gateway deployed at an enterprise’s remote offices. But HP has been actively backing away from UC, discontinuing sales of the 3Com line of VCX products and divesting itself of its Halo telepresence solution. Meanwhile Dell has a Lync-centric UC practice. This pairs Microsoft UC software with Dell storage and server hardware, but stops short of a pre-packed Lync appliance.

For IT buyers in SMBs considering Lync as an alternative to more traditional business communications systems, the appliances noted above are clearly worth considering. But bear in mind that these are from small developers whose staying power, telephony expertise, and ability to support customers not near their center of operation may still need to be proven.

Microsoft and Skype Threaten Service Providers, but Regulators Will Be Watching

G. Barton
G. Barton

Summary Bullets:         

  • Microsoft has yet to show that it knows how to make the most out of the opportunities from its acquisition of Skype.
  • Microsoft has the potential to take voice revenue and customers from service providers, but regulators will be watching.

Microsoft’s $8.5 billion dollar acquisition of Skype has added a threatening new dimension to the software giant’s role in the communications market.  On the surface, the decision seems natural for a vendor that has strongly promoted software-based IP telephony as a better alternative to PBXs.  Services such as FMC and UC are proving effective as hosted solutions and showing a natural affinity for cloud-based delivery, which suggests that Microsoft is on to a winner.  The obvious model is for Microsoft to embed Skype into Lync/Office 365, and even potentially into future iterations of its desktop/laptop and mobile Windows operating systems.  Other vendors (e.g., BT’s Onevoice Anywhere solution) have demonstrated the cost-saving potential of driving voice calls over the corporate VPN via WiFi either through a softphone or a SIP client on a smartphone.  Microsoft could use Skype In/Skype Out to handle PSTN interconnection and keep all calls between Skype clients off the PSTN.  Skype can assign phone numbers and simultaneous call volume; Microsoft software can distribute basic calling or complex IP PBX functions (via Office365) throughout the organisation.  Office 365’s popularity among businesses as a solution attracts numerous carriers globally, including the majority of European incumbents and mobile operators such as Vodafone.  Skype will also strengthen Microsoft’s capability to offer voice- and video-enabled messaging and collaboration applications to business customers.

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