Hello, Skype? It's Lync Calling

Skype and Lync were merged into a single division about three months ago, now headed by Tony Bates, who outlined the integration before a crowd of about 1,000 Microsoft customers and partners.

The goal, said Microsoft Lync General Manager Giovanni Mezgec before the keynote, is to provide a common platform for users from the living room to the boardroom. "People want to use their software independent of their environment. You are the same person [in either location]. There is a lot we can do to take the massive appeal of Skype in the consumer space and new adoption of Lync in the Enterprise and be able to connect the two worlds together," Mezgec said.

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Now, a Skype client will be able to call a Lync client in a meeting and video integration between the two platforms will happen over the next 12 months, Mezgec said. In addition, more functionality from laptops and mobile devices will be available for Lync, Mezgec said.

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"You can have Lync on Windows phones, iOS and we're working on Android. Those will be available in the March or April time frame, with Android being the latest of the three," he said.

Windows 8 Phone users will see the same user interface and be able to initiate a video call over IP-based networks, according to Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

"It will really substantiate our vision to connect to meetings from any device wherever you are," Mezgec said.

Lync 2013 also features integration with Polycom, Crestron, LifeSize and other manufacturers, he added.

Since its inception about two years ago, Microsoft Lync is gaining traction in the enterprise, Mezgec said. The platform now has about 5 million seats deployed, up from about 3 million 14 months ago. In addition, about 90 of Microsoft's top global Fortune 100 clients are Lync customers, Mezgec said, including many who use Lync as an IP PBX backbone.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has signed about 600 channel partners for Lync and still adds an average of about one new partner a day, Mezgec said.

"This was a big deal for us in entering this space that's been dominated in terms of the business model by hardware resales. The IP BPX is a piece of hardware. Partners knew how to sell hardware. We had to open up opportunities with a software-only solution," Mezgec said. "From building applications to deploying product to integrating with the rest of the infrastructure, we knew we were competing against a mature way of selling. We feel pretty good about the dent we've made the last couple years."

Mezgec points to about 500 partners attending the Lync Conference as evidence of the platform's strength.

"This is not easy stuff. You need the right staff, the right skills expertise and there's an up-front investment," he said.

About half of Lync's 600 partners come from a traditional Exchange/SharePoint background with Microsoft and view Lync as an expansion of that business, Mezgec said. The other half of Lync's partner base are traditional voice partners looking to expand their own business.

Microsoft is still in the partner recruitment phase, Mezgec said. "Demand is outpacing the partner supply. In particular, the demand for high-tech skilled people that know how to configure Lync is really off the roof. If you're a certified Master Professional of Lync, you're probably in high demand these days," he said.