Some Microsoft Lync Deployments 'Stuck in Pilot Phase:' UC Consultant

Many enterprises get limited use out of Microsoft Lync for unified communications because it’s hard to grapple with the complexity of linking their networks to external communications networks, according to West IP Communications.

The Lync unified communications platform has been a strong product for Microsoft, with revenue growing by 45 percent in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2012 that ended June 30, compared to the year ago quarter.

But a number of Lync deployments are limited by the complexity of connecting an enterprise’s network for external telecommunications and Internet Protocol (IP) networks, according to West IP Communications, a unified communications systems integrator.

Many Lync deployments are “stuck in the pilot phase” with deployments of only instant messaging (IM), presence and some audio conferencing, said Jeff Wellemeyer, West IP Communications’ executive vice president. Left unexplored are the features of Lync that use the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and IP networks, such as the Internet, Wellemeyer said.

In another example of Microsoft introducing a new technology platform and encouraging partners to build an ecosystem around it, Microsoft Lync has prompted companies like West IP Communications to offer deployment and system integration services that help enterprises get more out of Lync.

West IP’s “Media Cloud” service helps connect the on-premise elements of Lync to external telephony or IP networks, said Wellemeyer. He said the difficulty in pitching its services is that many prospects consider Lync to be an on-premise solution.

“We’re fighting an uphill battle to get people to completely outsource their Lync deployments and in a lot of cases, it’s better on-prem because there is a lot of on-prem communication that is done, and taking it out into the cloud or onto the network for every call just doesn’t make any sense,” Wellemeyer said.

Hence, West IP offers a hybrid approach that lets enterprises manage the on-premise elements of Lync on their own, but use Media Cloud for connections to external networks.

“We have taken the parts that make sense to be on-prem and managed on-prem and we left them on-prem, and the parts that really belong on the carrier cloud are put into our network,” he said.

More than 80 percent of enterprises are using Instant Messaging (IM) solutions today for business communications. However, only 10 percent of those enterprises that have deployed IM have also deployed a full feature set to include audio, video and conferencing for their users, said Bill Haskins, senior analyst in unified communications at Wainhouse Research, citing a survey it had done.

In the case of Lync, he said, the limitations of the network reveal themselves when an enterprise tries to add those capabilities.

“The step from Lync as an instant messaging engine to Lync as a conferencing engine and Lync as a PBX, those incremental steps add almost exponential layers of complexity to IT organizations,” Haskins said.

Not only is the internal network not necessarily equipped to handle videoconferencing and other high-demand services, a unique set of equipment is needed to make the connection to those external networks, he said.

“You need specific equipment, specific gateways and you need to be very careful about where you place those elements between your network and the outside network, because anytime someone makes a call now they will be going through that specific network path that you built,” Haskins said.

There are other providers that enterprises can use to make fuller use of Lync, including carriers such as Verizon and AT&T in the U.S. or British Telecom and Vodafone in the U.K. Then there are IT outsourcers such as Accenture and Dimension Data, but they usually only offer to manage all of an enterprise’s Lync systems, said Haskins.

But West IP is unique among them in offering a hybrid approach of letting enterprises manage the on-premise features of Lync by themselves and using West IP to manage the external network connections, Haskins said.

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to clarify the comments of Bill Haskins, senior analyst in unified communications at Wainhouse Research, concerning the state of enterprise IM deployments.