Comms Business Magazine talks to James Byles of alwaysON about his views on Microsoft Lync and where it fits in the applications mix.
Comms Business Magazine (CBM): Lync is heralded as a complete unified communications solution for business but what exactly is the reality and what are the alternative solutions for resellers looking to provide a range of UC applications for their customers?
James Byles (JB): Microsoft Lync is a feature-rich application which unites all of the ways that users communicate, into a single business-grade application. According to Gartner’s magic quadrant, the only other UC solution that comes close to Microsoft Lync is Cisco’s Unified Communications solution. Comparing features, there are few differences between the two offerings; however there are huge differentials in price-point and arguably different target markets.
The inherent versatility of Microsoft Lync and therein the different flavours available, means that Lync is appropriate for organisations and budgets of all sizes. Whereas the Cisco solution is targeted at large Enterprise organisations with big budgets and/or a legacy estate of Cisco hardware that needs to continue to be leveraged, in order to satisfy business justification requirements. Although Cisco already has an established channel programme, volume is key to securing the biggest discounts and in reality few resellers are able to generate sufficient volume for large discounts in order to compete effectively in this market.
The ubiquity of Microsoft Lync is driving application extensibility. There is a growing eco-system of third-party solutions that are now available to ‘plug-in’ to Microsoft Lync. Irrespective of a reseller’s core business focus, Lync can, and is being used and developed into wider technology solutions.
alwaysON recommends the delivery of Lync as a hosted solution for optimal business benefits. Furthermore, we endorse the delivery of hosted Lync via a QoS (Quality of Service) enabled private network connectivity to ensure peak application performance. For organisations not ready or not able, to adopt a cloud solution, on-premises or hybrid (on-premises + connectivity or Hosted dedicated/Office 365) solutions are available.
CBM: What about the new release; Lync 2013 which Microsoft says improves on all the fundamentals and provides better resiliency, reliability and as well as the option to carry out conference calls on the move?
JB: Lync 2013 is indeed game changing. Microsoft has delivered improved features and functionality, perhaps the most significant being the new mobility capability. However, from a channel perspective the most significant development is the truly multi-tenanted capability.
The most compelling feature of a multi-tenanted Lync deployment is the reduced price-point. The shared infrastructure enables a lower price per user and therefore makes Lync an attractive proposition for small and medium sized organisations with limited budget.
alwaysON is currently participating in Microsoft’s Technology Adoption Programme, helping to inform the development of multi-tenanted Lync prior to its general release in June. As one of only four partners in the UK, alwaysON has been in the privileged position of being able to offer free trials of Lync as part of this programme. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest uptake we have seen has been from Resellers who wish to include Lync in their portfolio, but want to trial the solution first.
CBM: Is this just an enterprise solution or can Lync realistically be sold to SME users?
JB: As already discussed above, Lync works for organisations and budgets of all sizes. Of course, there are a number of considerations for any deployment of Lync including; number of users and locations; functionality desired (internal only vs. external); existing infrastructure to be integrated with; deployment preference etc. While some organisations will benefit from a dedicated deployment of Lync, others will benefit from the multi-tenanted deployment. It is however fair to say that the multi-tenanted solution available with Lync 2013 will deliver a more affordable solution for small numbers of users characteristic of SME organisations.
CBM: What’s involved in becoming a Lync ‘authorised/accredited’ supplier?
JB: When discussing the addition of Microsoft Lync into an end-user business, Microsoft frequently uses the phrase ‘the cloud on your terms’. Although this refers the deployment flexibility that Lync offers – hosted, on-premise and hybrid, it’s also applicable as the strategy for any organisation looking to include Lync as part of their portfolio.
First and foremost, before resellers embark on any kind of on-boarding process to become a Lync authorised/ accredited supplier, we advocate an internal deployment of Lync. It is vital that resellers are familiar with the application and its full scope of capabilities in order to discuss them competently with their customers. Here at alwaysON we call this approach ‘eat your own dog food’ and it works!!
The second consideration is whether or not the reseller needs to become an authorised/accredited Lync supplier themselves. For most resellers, a Lync platform build is out of the question – the skill-set required and financial investment alone makes it a prohibitive option. A better and more realistic option is to engage with a supplier who has the relevant accreditations and Microsoft competencies – arguably, any organisation embarking on this journey so late in the game may has already missed the boat. To revisit the ‘cloud on your terms’ phrase from Microsoft, it is important that the Reseller has options when it comes to Lync.
The alwaysON channel model for Lync offers a flexible approach for resellers in three broad categories as follows:
1. Full white label solution
2. Partner – Reseller maintains customer relationship and billing
3. Dealer – alwaysON maintains customer relationship and billing, Reseller receives a commission.
alwaysON provide pre-sales support for Lync solution design and are able to provide resellers with options to add connectivity and voice solutions to their Partner agreement with alwaysON. Other benefits of working with us include:
• Bespoke billing solutions
• Full connectivity deployment including delivery of QoS at no extra charge
• Full integration with the resellers existing portfolio
• Full pre-sales support
alwaysON has a Gold Communications competency and are part of the Microsoft hosting community. Our legacy of delivering voice and data solutions means that we understand the intricacies required for full Enterprise voice capability and the need for a fully managed, right-sized and resilient network infrastructure to ensure optimal application performance for end-user organisations.