State of Unified Communications 2014

Is that time of the year again when Gartner releases their yearly analysis of the Unified Communications vendors and their offerings called Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications. The vendors evaluated must meet certain criteria which is a product portfolio that supports

  • Voice and telephony
  • Conferencing
  • Messaging
  • Presence and IM
  • Support for different client platforms
  • Support communications-enabled Applications

It is a tradition to comment on the Gartner UC MQ’s here at the msunified.net blog, and have done so since 2009. See the previous articles here:

The trend within Unified Communications (UC)

  • UC is an early mainstream phase
  • Key solution deficiencies include lack of integration options, lack of client functionality or missing functions on mobile devices, or lack of scaling for more-demanding environments which needs to be supplemented by partner ecosystem
  • Enterprise planners must consider
    • Business process integration
    • Hybrid UC
    • Federated UC
    • Tactical use of point conferencing solutions
    • New generation of UC clients

The Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications 2013

GartnerMQUC2014

Analysis: What has happened since last year?

  1. Microsoft is in the lead for the first time in two years
    • Launched Lync 2013 the platform being evaluated, a new version is in the making, favoring a good roadmap
    • The Lync partner ecosystem expanded at a rapid pace
    • Customers report that Lync functions can be readily integrated into business processes and applications, providing new, different and effective ways to perform tasks
    • Gartner clients report users with Mac workstations are not satisfied with the functionality and quality of the Lync UX
  2. Cisco is in second place
    • Released new endpoints for dekstop, rooms and TelePresence
    • Good feature set for MAC
    • Have a fragmented product portfolio
    • The on premises infrastructure can now be virtualized on UCS server and other qualified servers
  3. Avaya moved to third place
    • continued to advance its UC cloud and managed service offerings, which are based on the same solution as the on-premises version
    • Broad range of Clients
    • Avaya continues to expand its integration capabilities, allowing for stronger multivendor UC integration options, including integration with Microsoft Lync
  4. Mitel moved from visionary to the leader quadrant
    • Bought Aastra with strong EMEA presence and targets large enterprises
    • Mitelis extending its cloud capabilities and offers leading contact center solutions that leverage its UC solution

My thoughts on the state of UC

I am happy to see that Lync is the leader of the magic quadrant this year. I think it is deserved as well because of the improvements done to the clients during the last year, with the latest iOS features for controlling Lync meetings. As a Chief Technical Architect at Knowledge Factory I have a lot of discussions with clients and Microsoft Partners about Lync success factors. There are three main areas I usually focus on

  • PBX-replace
  • Interoperability
  • Cloud Offerings

PBX-replace

I like to think that Lync Enterprise Voice is mainstream. We see a lot more companies wants to implement voice in Lync and not just go for chat and see how it goes. Lync was placed in the leader band of The Forrester Wave™: On-Premises Unified Communications and Collaboration, Q2 2014. One of the reasons was this comment:

“Microsoft’s single familiar user interface drives rapid adoption and utilization of its solution by information workers” – Forrester

I totally agree with this statement and that is why you should deploy Lync as the primary communication platform for your information workers. But should you replace your PBX with Lync in your global enterprise? it depends

  • If the company has a diverse persona profile in their organization
    • Look at the existing PBX, how it is deployed for field workers, If it is up to date and there is a big reliance on DECT and other specific features for field workers?
      • Leave the PBX as is for field workers, integrate with sip trunk for Information Workers and create a strategy for how you should move to Lync over the next three years when the existing solution needs replacement or moving to new locations
      • In this way you can reach a short term goal to enable Information Workers with a connected communications platform and at the same time leave the experience for the basic telephony users as is
  • If the business primarily has an information worker persona
    • Deploy Microsoft Lync outside the existing PBX, using direct SIP trunking and “fake” a number plan integration by manipulating numbers until you are all over on Lync and assign the correct numbers to users. Or place a voice gateway in front of the PBX and Lync and direct numbers where the users reside.
    • In that way, you don’t have to integrate with existing platform, you keep it simple and you don’t have to upgrade the old PBX if it’s out of date, saving upgrade license cost, complexity and consultant hours.

I talked about Phone Number Normalization in Lync at the Lync Conference 2014 and at TechEd North America 2014. It is clear to me that a lot of organization are moving to Lync Enterprise Voice at a global scale based on the interest and discussions I have had after the talks. Either if its a coexistence road or a replace road the organization is choosing, planning for how you manage those DID’s in Lync is an important topic. Check out the talk for some scripts and tips.

Interoperability

For a fast uptake and rollout of Lync, being able to keep investments made in to meeting room space is important. My recommendation is to implement video interop MCU’s like Pexip, Acano and look at what Polycom are doing in terms of integrating with Lync. There are two effects to be gained by this

  • Internal interop and keeping ROI on existing meeting room equipment that still is up to date
  • External interop with partners that have their own meeting room equipment and still want to meet with you on Lync

In terms of rollout in these scanrios, you ensure that Information Workers are able to fully utilize Lync and you also kill any religious debates on technology choice on devices vs meeting rooms.

At Norwegian Lync Day 14th of october 2014 we have several sessions that goes in to details on how to keep ROI on existing meeting rooms and how the actual integrations work.

Cloud offerings

There is two types of public cloud offerings. You have Lync Online in Office 365 and you have hosted Lync with Enterprise Voice. Now with the Lync Hosted Edition being deprecated by Microsoft as of summer 2014, hosters now have to be in a gray zone in terms of supportability. They still can differentiate themselves by offering Lync Server 2013 Enterprise Edition and separate customers with address book segregation like you have to do on Exchange 2013. The only loss is the multitenant switch that allowed hosters to separate customers with federation settings.

What many people are forgetting now a day is this: Lync Online and a hosted Lync solution is only best effort in terms of call quality since it is delivered over the internet. Here is where I see a big opportunity for hosters, they can deliver a hosted solution, over MPLS to their customers and do quality of service (QoS) and make their solution in to a true hosted PBX replacement. This is a real opportunity in the market today until Microsoft decides to do this themselves in Office 365. That is not going to happen within this investment cycle (3 years) at least.

You also need to remember devices and wireless networks in terms of call quality. There are now several vendors certified for optimizing wireless traffic for Lync voice using QoS. This is important, because the Lync solution is not better than the weakest link, and today and moving forward that is the wireless network. Check out what Aruba does in this space.

To sum it up

In order to succeed with Lync and Unified Communications, there is not one quick fix to rule it all. Lync owns the Information Worker desktop. But what makes it tick under the hood could be a diverse solution made up with interop and the Lync partner ecosystem. This is what makes Lync complex to implement, fun to work with and very rewarding to succeed with. I also see the state of Unified Communications as of 2014 as quite healthy with the partner ecosystem being more mature and successfully expanding on Lync core features.

Read the full Gartner report here, cortesy of Microsoft: http://www.gartner.com/technology/reprints.do?id=1-1YWQWK0&ct=140806&st=sb
Also check out Microsoft own comments: http://blogs.office.com/2014/08/11/communications-market-update-customer-response-analysts-assessments/

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