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."
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