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Microsoft Axes Lync Online's 'Hybrid Voice' Feature

Microsoft's Lync Online service will no longer have a "hybrid voice" feature, the company said on Monday.

Microsoft did not give a detailed explanation for the change, except to say that the feature wasn't widely used. "We only had a handful of customers affected, mostly with test deployments," a Microsoft spokesperson indicated. For instance, the hybrid voice feature required running Lync Server on premises as well Lync Online, but users didn't get all of the voice capabilities.

"The Lync hybrid configuration option referred to as 'hybrid voice' has been deprecated from Lync Online and is no longer being sold nor provisioned," stated Jamie Stark, Lync senior product marketing manager, in a blog post. "Hybrid voice was a Lync Online multi-tenant configuration option that required customers to deploy and maintain Lync Server on premises but provided only a subset of enterprise voice features for configured users."

It's still possible to run a so-called "split domain" configuration between Lync Online and Lync Server to support voice. This split-domain architecture delivers all of the enterprise voice features.

Getting rid of the hybrid voice feature avoids future problems for Microsoft's Lync Online customers, according to Stark. "We do not want customers to invest in a short-term approach that may require complex migration scenarios in the future," he explained.

Stark claimed that Microsoft is still committed to its pronouncements made back in February, right before its first Lync Conference 2013 event. One of those ideas was a commitment to bringing enterprise voice capability to Lync Online and Office 365 by 18 months' time. It's not clear if Microsoft will move that milestone, given this new announcement.

Microsoft's move in dispensing with the hybrid voice feature of Lync Online is partly a response to customers that want to use Lync Online without having to deploy Lync Server on premises, too, according to Scott Gode, senior director at Avanade. Seattle-based Avanade is an IT services provider and Microsoft partner on products such as Lync and Exchange.

"In general, what Microsoft has announced here is a very wise decision for a couple of reasons," Gode said. "No. 1, they recognize that with this previous approach with this hybrid system, customers weren't completely happy and Microsoft itself wasn't completely happy with the configuration solution they had. No. 2, Microsoft announced back at the Lync conference that they were going to do true enterprise voice in the public cloud and Office 365 in about 18 months' time or so. And No. 3, in the interim, for customers who want this enterprise voice in the cloud solution, they could still get it. It wouldn't be from an Office 365-branded solution. It would be from a hosting provider such as AT&T. ... So, Microsoft is basically saying, 'Hey don't worry about this other hybrid thing. We have got a solution that's going to do it right down the road. In the interim, we are going to try to make you, Mr. Customer, more happy by giving you either a partner-led solution or just suggesting that you go on premise with your Lync needs until we're ready with our new solution.'"

Getting rid of the hybrid voice feature doesn't signal trouble in the voice-over-IP department, according to Gode.

"To me, this [announcement] doesn't in any way signify that the voice portion of Lync is lagging or in trouble," he said. Gode added that Avanade has seen increasing interest from customers on deploying Lync for voice capabilities.

Microsoft's deprecated hybrid voice feature isn't related to its "Lync-to-phone" for Office 365 capability, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Lync-to-phone enables Lync Online users to connect to phone numbers in the United States and Canada via the public switched telephone network. This Lync-to-phone capability currently is supported by JahJah, a provider of IP communications services. The Lync-to-phone capability is only for pure Lync Online users.

"Lync-to-phone is not available in organizations with a hybrid server/service deployment," according to Microsoft's Lync-to-phone explanation.

Organizations willing to get support from Microsoft's managed services partners for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking services can get enterprise voice service, even while using Lync Online services offered via Office 365.

"We have enabled partners like AT&T, BT and Verizon to offer customers a complete Enterprise Voice solution that can be deployed on-premises as a managed service or hosted in a partner's datacenter, even if the customer is also using Office 365 for other workloads," the Microsoft spokesperson explained.

About the Author

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

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