In-Depth

Q&A: Microsoft Corporate VP Gurdeep Singh Pall Talks About Lync

The Corporate VP discusses Microsoft's battle plan for getting your enterprise to adopt its new communication system.

 

Microsoft yesterday officially took the wraps off Lync 2010, the company's integrated system that combines presence, instant messaging, conferencing and telephony. At the launch in New York, I sat down with Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office Lync and speech Group, to discuss the importance of the new platform to Microsoft, its customers and partners.

You're pretty emphatic about the fact that Lync will eliminate the need for the PBX but some are not so certain that will happen in the near term. What's your prediction on how quickly that will happen?

I think we're at a point where the PBX is on its downward slide. At some point it won't be relevant. I personally believe that any customer today who's going to make a choice on buying the next PBX, if they think about it all they will probably think twice and ask, "Is this the right thing that I'm doing?" In some situations some people may end up buying a PBX but I think the game has changed.

In many organizations, those who own management of telecom systems may be reluctant to shut off the PBX. Is that something that can be overcome?

One of the goals for us with Lync 2010 was to make it an enterprise telephony solution. So even the telephone departments can actually evaluate it and feel comfortable with it. In fact, I see this happening already, inside enterprises where the telecom department is saying, "This is what you want to adopt," because they don't want to be associated with something that is going away.

What would you characterize as the most significant new features in this release compared to its predecessor?

Number one is the complete enterprise telephony solution. E-911, branch office survivability, call park, music-on-hold, support for call routing across different geographies. Having a variety of price points around devices including independent phones, support for analog phones, conference room phones. That is by far the biggest thing that this release accomplishes. The next thing is: we've finally converged the conferencing experience which is Live Meeting and Communicator, into one experience. That is huge for users because end users can't learn multiple tools, they want to learn one tool which works consistently whether it is for a meeting, whether it is an ad-hoc conversation. The third big thing is a lot of the Office and social elements that we pull together. We believe that social is becoming very important, people are using these in their personal lives, and they want to have those kind of capabilities in the workplace, so that was an important element of it. And then of course integrating people in rich ways into Office in a much deeper way, like the contact card, where anywhere inside any document or email, you can just hover inside a conversation. The last piece is around interoperability and the extensibility that we've got from a platform perspective. This total software platform with APIs is valuable and we can combine it with other things. We think it's going to unleash a whole lot of innovation in the communication enabled business process space, which hasn't happened so far.

You emphasized the partner ecosystem. What is the opportunity for system integration partners to not only deploy this technology but to up-sell various capabilities?

We think it's a tremendous opportunity for systems integrators, and here's why: Some of our system integrators and channel partners have been there in the PBX space as well. There was a particular set of economics which worked in that old model. In the new model, here's what systems integrators can do: they can be the trusted deployment partners for customers, they are the ones who recommend the combination of devices and gateways and hardware that is necessary and fits the needs of the customers that they are deploying for. Because we are offering the APIs, they can now start doing a lot of value-added work, where they can go in and integrate communication capabilities into line of business applications, enterprise applications and workflow applications. This was something they could never do before. So they can really go with a very rich value proposition to the customers. They can offer support services. That's why we talk about BT and HP and Dimension Data and Dell and Verizon. These are the big global SIs but there are a whole lot of regional SIs flocking to the opportunity.

Are you ready to go head-to-head with Cisco?

We certainly see Cisco very active in this space. They're a big company and we respect them as a competitor, but we don't see them having a vision and a solution which is like our unified communications solution. Their approach is to keep buying companies, and putting the solutions together and giving it to customers. Customers can't deal with that complexity. They can't deal with many different back ends and end users, even more importantly cannot deal with five different applications. We really don't see Cisco having a truly competitive offering to us in the market.

Are you seeing SharePoint and Exchange partners that have had little experience with unified communications suddenly taking an interest in Lync? Where that's the case, what do they need to do to get up to speed in terms of what new skills do they need to ascertain?

Absolutely. We see a lot of interest. For example Aspect Communications went and bought a company called Quilogy. Quilogy was a really strong SharePoint systems integrator, Aspect bought them, put them together and now they are really going to customers with a very broad portfolio with these things linked together. We are also seeing inside a lot of our partners like HP, etc., who have had distinct practices for SharePoint and Exchange now have practices for UC and they are starting to connect these practices together.

Do some of them need to get more experience in perhaps becoming more familiar with the telephony hardware ecosystem?

I think they do need to broaden their portfolio. If you have a practice on Exchange, you already are a trusted partner to the customer as to whether that should be implemented with SANs, or cheap disks and how to [address] backup. We are already starting to see connections happen. HP and Polycom already have a partnership around some of the audio video gear. When HP goes with a UC proposition for a customer, the customer is expecting that HP would recommend what hardware, what devices, etc. to them, and Dell is forming those connections as well.

You mentioned the cloud [in the keynote] but it didn't get a big emphasis at today's launch. Why was that?

We already did the launch for Office 365 and we talked about Lync Online then. This is really about the moment today, which is about the on-premise servers and the solutions for on-premise. But as we announce with Office 365, all of the work we've done here will actually accrue to the cloud as well. We will have IM and premise and conferencing with Office 365 and later in the year [2011] we will have the voice capabilities come out as well. Because when you do voice hosted in the cloud, you want to be working with some of the telco partners because there are other considerations that come in.

Where do you see the technology going next?

The next major wave for us is the Office 15 wave, which will have the next version of Exchange, the next version of SharePoint, the next version of Office apps and the next version of Lync. The expectation now is, what are the scenarios that can cut across all these different workloads and provide even deeper value for the customers. So that is a big piece of 15. Another important piece will be more social elements provided in a way that is relevant for the enterprise. Enterprises are very scared about some of the social tools that are out there so they are looking for those elements as part of the productivity suite that they use every day. So we expect a lot of investments in that area. We will keep doing a lot more on the services side supporting hybrid scenarios like as customers transition to the cloud and some users are on premise and some users are in the cloud, yet it's one consistent infrastructure. That's a huge piece.

What was the genesis of the Lync name? Why did Microsoft change the name of Office Communications Server?

When we came out with a software-centric unified communications vision, we found that our competitors had a unified communications  [nomenclature]. Actually they are pretty different products. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from that movement in the industry. With this release we felt we really were about connecting people in new ways, and it was transformative, it was different, it was time for us to rebrand to the essence of what this thing was. By making it L-Y-N-C, we made sure in trademarking it we wouldn't have a copycat strategy.

Why Lync?

What we were looking for was to highlight that it links people, which is about connecting people, and sync, meaning getting people on the same page, getting people to think similarly. That's what businesses try to do but they have teams working together. So we took the idea of link and sync and we combined them into Lync. And that really resonated.

 

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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