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Unified communications Battle Royale: Cisco, Avaya feel the heat from Microsoft Lync

Tim Greene | Feb. 22, 2013
It seems Microsoft's unified communications system Lync is becoming so popular among businesses that it is the No.1 threat to the top vendors Cisco and Avaya. Cisco this week launched an online blogging campaign to point out Lync's shortcomings, and Avaya volunteered a nearly identical list of what it perceives as Lync limitations.

For its part Avaya raises these issues plus a few more. It questions whether Lync is resilient enough to provide 99.999% uptime for telephony services, long the industry standard among telecom carriers, says Vincenzo Signore, vice president of marketing at Avaya.

He says Microsoft's video collaboration in Lync won't support as many on-screen images of other participants as Avaya's Aura platform and by requiring longer contract commitments for enterprise support may force businesses to be locked in to Microsoft.

Signore cites a Nemertes study that finds Lync's first-year total costs are higher than those for any of the top contenders [see graphic]. While Lync client access licenses may be inexpensive other costs - capital, implementation, operational - jack up the price.

In presentations at Lync Conference 2013 Microsoft executives made several announcements that address some of these concerns. "Microsoft filled some major holes," Lazar says.

The most gaping of these is a lack of broad support for mobile devices. Microsoft announced support for voice and video over iPhones and Android devices, as well as the capability to handle voice over Wi-Fi, Lazar says, along with administration tools to use Wi-Fi when available vs. cellular connections as a cost saving measure. "That takes away one Cisco line of attack - 'Good luck using Lync on an iPad,'" Lazar says.

Microsoft needed a Web client that lets Mac devices participate in meetings, and having one takes a good talking point away from Cisco and other competitors, Lazar says.

Skype integration with Lync for voice calls and a promise to include video calls in are attractive to business users, Lazar says. Skype remains an annoyance to Cisco, Avaya, IBM and others because their VoIP platforms are not integrated with it. That's significant to businesses in which Skype has become a de facto standard for business communication, he says.

Microsoft says it will integrate Lync fully with Office 365, its cloud application service, which would address another of Cisco's criticisms. But Lazar says it's been promised before, so keep an eye on whether it's delivered.

Lync does lack a collaboration vision, Lazar says, in which Lync is integrated with other Microsoft platforms such as SharePoint and Yammer. But Microsoft seems willing to forego that and remain focused on competing for enterprise voice business. "They think that's where their win is," he says

Lync's attractiveness breaks down when it comes to mobile devices because it lacks a unified client. Customers with an Avaya mobile client but a Lync IM client force end users into switching among separate applications when they want to shift from one mode of communication to the other, Lazar says, "That's not really user friendly."


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