Microsoft Lync will provide a host of new opportunities for the channel, but the pressure is on partners to rethink how they consult on and deploy unified communications (UC) solutions if they're going to reap the benefits. Lync is the updated version of Microsoft's former Office Communications Server.
"There is lots of change, and a lot of it is happening now," said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president, Microsoft Lync & Speech Group, in an interview with CRN following Microsoft's Lync launch in New York Wednesday. "It's not just folks with software and developer backgrounds on this, it's a lot of the legacy infrastructure and PBX VARs."
Global system integrators and solution providers like Dimension Data will be key to Lync's scale in the enterprise, and those partners often have it easier during industry transformations, Pall argued, because of their size and versatility. It's smaller solution providers, especially regional VARs, that will need to adapt to a changing world of software-centric UC.
"What we're finding is that some of the smaller telephony-focused partners are facing an important choice. They need a strategy for this transformation," Pall said. "Some of them are going to become part of other organizations, some of them will frankly figure out how to transform and get ahead of the curve, rather than be run over by it, and some of them who don't transform will be seeing an increasingly smaller opportunity available to them."
The leap from Exchange and other Microsoft staples to Lync, however, isn't that far -- and that's part of its appeal to the Microsoft channel.
"For all the small Exchange partners, the products are so similar in the way you deploy them and the same Active Directory, so the crossover is reasonably easy," Pall said. "If you're a small company with 20 consultants and you get a big project, maybe one day you're working on Exchange and the next day you're working on Lync. You can train people like that and there's opportunities for each."
Pall acknowledged that Microsoft Lync and Microsoft's UC strategy in general bring into much more direct competition with Cisco and other UC vendors with whom it also partners. With Microsoft also tightly aligned with Polycom -- the two vendors have deepened their partnership around UC devices and Lync -- there will be a competition against Cisco and the video portfolio it acquired through Tandberg.
"From our perspective, if Cisco is a partner, like one of many partners in our ecosystem, that's only good for us," Pall said. "If anything, we think customers will do more business. Say they already made a decision to build a Cisco PBX, well, we allow some level of integration with Lync 2010 and that PBX. We also had a great partnership with Tandberg before, and that is continuing. Customers use Tandberg, and we hope that Cisco will remain open in that area. They don't have a track record of doing so, but I hope they will remain open, because customers want this."
NEXT: Microsoft's Competitive Edge Is ExtendabilityLync will be a great way for many solution providers to expand their competencies, Pall noted, given its seamless integration with Sharepoint, Exchange, Office and the other linchpins of the Microsoft portfolio. Lync Online, which the company has promised as a forthcoming Lync version for Office 365, its cloud and hosted services offering, will also be a flexible option for partners designing cloud computing solutions for customers.
"One of the big things we did for Lync is made the same code work for on-premise and as-a-service, so as we transition from Live Meeting and upgrade to Lync Online, we'll see the presence capability, conference capability, Sharepoint Online, all of those things being available when Office 365 ships," Pall said.
Lync's extendability is its competitive edge, he reiterated.
"We feel great about the fact that some of our competitors have different products for on-premise, and different products for cloud. That's a big gap. But we've got the same bits running in the cloud and on-premise," Pall said.
Hewlett Packard is among Microsoft's key system integrator and reseller partners, and back in 2009, the companies forged a four-year, $180 million global initiative to deliver integrated UC and collaboration solutions.
The launch of Lync, and the certification of nine HP devices, including PCs, as "Lync-optimized," is the latest step in that relationship, said Richard Skoba, director of worldwide strategy, unified communication and collaboration for HP Services.
"HP, as you know, has the rest of the stack, from desktops to data center," he said Wednesday. "We integrate with Lync, and it's a pretty powerful message to the traditional PBX world. We're excited about it -- you never bet against Microsoft -- and it's a neat technology. I tell people if they're not believers and they use the technology, they'll get it."
UC and collaboration are major sales priorities for HP's services arm this year, Skoba said, and are now an enterprise business initiative within HP, meaning that the company's greater sales force -- and not just its dedicated UC and collaboration team -- is pushing the message.
"You'll see it in the top-tier accounts, the enterprise and some of the commercial space," Skoba said. "This is a big initiative right now."
Next: The Lync Ecosystem Takes ShapeIn line with Microsoft's Lync announcement, several vendors in the emerging Lync ecosystem also confirmed plans, from HP and Polycom naming Lync-optimized devices at the New York unveiling, to service providers and other device manufacturers making Lync waves of their own.
Verizon, for example, has partnered with Microsoft to deliver cloud-based UC for SMBs under the banner of Microsoft Online Services. Global Crossing, also a partner of Microsoft's on the networking and service provider side, confirmed that its SIP Trunking solutions are Lync-certified.
Another vendor and Microsoft Gold partner, Dialogic, went live with a Lync-compatible Survivable Branch Appliance offering for all of its DMG4000 Gateways, to be sold through channel partners or available as a software package upgrade.
Elsewhere, Logitech, another Microsoft Gold partner, announced HD Webcameras and headsets optimized for Lync, including a 720pHD videoconferencing option in its B910 HD Webcam. And Juniper Networks confirmed that several of its IP networking products, including the M and MX Series Routers, SRX Series Services Gateways and EX Series Ethernet switches are Lync-interoperable, as well.