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Microsoft Credits Partners for Lync's Year 1 Growth

After one year on the market, Microsoft's newest unified communications offering has grown 25 percent -- with no small thanks to Microsoft's partners.

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Microsoft Lync Server, according to Derek Burney, corporate vice president for Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Office Data. Burney fielded questions about Lync, SharePoint, Office 365 and other Microsoft matters at the Credit Suisse Technology Conference (audio recording here).

Burney credited Lync's success to its association with the Microsoft Office product line, as well as to the partner community associated with Lync. He said that the partner ecosystem has created "over a thousand" certified devices for Lync Server. (This Microsoft blog states that number as "over 130 Lync optimized devices" with partners submitting "over 1,100 Unified Communications applications" in the last year.)

Lync can save on long-distance toll charges via voice-over-IP technology and it can save on hardware maintenance costs associated with legacy PBX systems, Burney claimed. Lync is typically described as a unified communications-type solution that can support e-mail, instant messaging, presence, video, voice and application sharing via a single client interface, depending on the configuration setup and licensing.

So far, 3 million voice lines are connected using Lync, Burney claimed. He pointed to a Microsoft-commissioned Forrester Consulting study (PDF) that projected a return on investment for deploying Microsoft solutions (including Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010 and Communications Server 2007 R2) of greater than 300 percent.  

Microsoft's Skype acquisition is still in its early days, but Microsoft plans to extend the Lync integration in the enterprise to connect with the 700 million registered Skype users. Burney said that this business-to-consumer integration is "super-important" for Microsoft's customers.

Audience members at the Credit Suisse event wanted to know how Microsoft would square enabling VoIP given that it might cut into the financial interests of telecommunications carriers. Burney said that it was too early to comment but that Microsoft has good relations with the telcos. Office 365, which provides access to Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online delivered as services, has 16,000 partners supporting it, and some of those partners are telcos that offer the Office 365 platform, he explained.

SharePoint currently has 65,000 customers and a partner ecosystem of 4,000 partners, Burney claimed. He added that 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies already use SharePoint. Office 365 will help small- and medium-sized companies gain access to that technology, too, he contended.

Microsoft's business intelligence (BI) efforts are a billion-dollar business for the company, Burney said. BI should be a self-service operation for business workers based on Excel and SQL Server, and Microsoft is generally working to provide a "data-gasmic experience" for its customers, he said -- even for consumers. For instance, Microsoft's "Photo Vote," a Facebook social networking application that lets people vote on proposed topics, will let users drill down through the poll results. "There's no reason why data should not be sexy," he said.

Lync Appliances
On top of Burney's comments, it seems that Microsoft's partners are moving to simplify Lync Server deployments by rolling out preconfigured appliances for customers. On the server side, implementing Lync can be a real bear, according to Woody Walton, a Microsoft partner technology advisor. He said in a blog post that "someone who has never delved into Lync or OCS [Office Communications Server] will have a steep learning curve."

Walton cited two Microsoft partners that have created such Lync appliances, which are based on best practices. Active Communications, based in the Netherlands, offers a Lync appliance that can support between 100 to 1,000 endpoints, starting at around $15,000. StartReady.com, with offices in the United States and Europe, offers both a Lync appliance and a subscription-based management service for appliance maintenance.

These appliances simplify matters because Lync Server can be deployed as either one server or many servers, based on organizational needs. In addition, there are about seven main roles that can be assigned to a Lync Server. Microsoft offers Lync Servers in Standard and Enterprise editions, with the Enterprise version promising greater scalability.

This "appliance" partner model has also been seen with Microsoft's Azure Platform Appliance. While partners such as Fujitsu, HP, eBay and Dell are involved, it seems that only Fujitsu has announced much progress so far in rolling out the Azure Platform Appliance.

Licensing
Lync Server follows Microsoft's server and client model for licensing, so organizations pay to license a standalone server plus Client Access Licenses (CALs) for each user accessing the server. The CALs can be bought as part of the Microsoft Core CAL or Enterprise CAL Suites. A glance at Microsoft's Lync Server licensing page shows greater complexity beyond that description. However, Walton claims that "the roles that need be licensed are the front end servers, so the license cost of Lync may not be as bad as it seems."

There are also licensing costs to pay for using the Lync 2010 client software. According to Microsoft's description, "Lync 2010 is the client software used to interact with the Lync Server 2010 Server and is licensed separately as a standalone license, or available via Office Professional Plus 2010." Office Professional Plus is the premises-installed suite of Office applications that's sold through Office 365 subscriptions.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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