No Post This Week – Join Us for More Next Week

Lync Server 2013

Hello Lync Insider readers! Remember last week when I said I’d have a post on stress-testing Lync Servers today? Well, it’s not quite ready yet. I’d like to do a few more tests before I can call this topic well-researched. So I’m postponing this another week.

Join us next week though! It’ll be worth it, I promise.

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What is the Lync Room System?

Conferencing

Reader emailed me asking about the latest update to the Lync Room System (see “What’s ‘Room PC View’?” below). And I realized…we’ve NEVER talked about it here on the Lync Insider!

So I’ll answer his question, of course. But along the way, let’s do a little introduction to the Lync Room System too.

Introduction to the Lync Room System (or LRS)

The “LRS” is an integrated hardware & software endpoint designed for conducting Lync Meetings in a conference room. Microsoft created LRS in partnership with Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom and SMART.

The LRS consists of a special Lync 2013 client, touchscreen monitors, video cameras, audio, and a tabletop meeting console. This kind of setup creates a much more immersive conferencing environment than regular Lync conferencing.LRSrender

You’ll find a full introduction post at TechNet: The Lync Room System (LRS) – TechNet Blogs

(Image taken from TechNet Blogs page, Copyright Microsoft.)

Who Can Use the LRS, and What For?

Unlike the standard Lync 2013 client, the LRS client is designed specifically for conducting video conferences. Businesses mid-market and larger can set up the Lync Room System in their conferencing rooms to run their meetings with internal and external contacts. (LRS has the same interoperability with other systems that Lync Server 2013 does.)

Because the LRS is assembled using dedicated hardware and thus requires higher up-front investment than a standard Lync 2013 client, it’s not generally recommended for small business use.

Do We Need to Have LRS to Run Conferences?

No. Lync Server 2013′s Conferencing functionality works with all its clients as-is. The LRS is intended as a standing “Lync version” of a conference room. Think of it like a dedicated workstation – you go to the conference room, touch the meeting console to activate, and begin a scheduled Meeting.

What Kind of Hardware is Needed?

You’ll need at least a meeting console, audio, a video camera and one display. See this list of video options for Lync for supported partner hardware: Video Solutions Qualified for Lync – Lync Tech Center
(I like Polycom myself; very reliable hardware.)

What’s “Room PC View?”

Here’s where we come to our reader question. The reader, K, asked:
“I saw this post yesterday. Never heard of Room PC View before. What is it? How does it work?”
(Slight editing to remove personal details.)

Like all its software, Microsoft updates the Lync Room System regularly. Its June 2014 update for Lync Room System includes a new feature called “Room PC View”.

This feature essentially lets a presenter push a button and display content from a PC connected to the LRS console. Microsoft added it because some LRS users connect a computer to their LRS and leave it there 24/7.

(Never seen this happen in person, so I’m guessing it’s meant as a storage location for conferencing-related content).

Room PC View is optional; if you just want to plug a laptop into the console and display PowerPoint occasionally, you don’t need it. Here’s some more information (this is the post K asked about): Lync Room System June Update Now Available: New Room PC View! – Office Blogs

How Would We Install the Lync Room System?

Consult this deployment guide: Microsoft Lync Room System Deployment Guide – Microsoft Downloads Obviously, you’ll need to have some form of Lync Server installed already (I would strongly recommend on-premise Lync Server 2013). The installation process is quite detailed; multiple PowerShell cmdlets are needed to enable LRS accounts, connect them to Exchange & Active Directory, and update Conferencing Policies.

Acquiring the LRS software itself is done through Microsoft’s partners (Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom and SMART). Makes sense, since you’ll have to pick up the hardware necessary to run it first.

And that’s our introduction to the LRS! It’s basically a super-strong conferencing station. Great for big important meetings with shareholders, partners, vendors, and the San Jose branch office. K, I hope this post answers your question.

Does your business have a Lync Room System? If so, please comment or email me. I’d love to hear your experiences using it.

Join us next week for a post on stress-testing your Lync Servers.

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Read Up on Lync, SharePoint, Office 365 and More with Free Microsoft eBooks

Lync Server 2013

It’s happened again. Microsoft released a trove of ebooks about their various software products:
Largest collection of FREE Microsoft eBooks ever, including: Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Office 2013, Office 365, Office 2010, SharePoint 2013, Dynamics CRM, PowerShell, Exchange Server, Lync 2013, System Center, Azure, Cloud, SQL Server, and much more
(Yes, that’s the post’s real title!)readingbook

I think this is the third time such a giveaway has occurred in the past 2 years? Fourth? Either way, I’m grateful to Microsoft for releasing all these titles. And to Mr. Ligman for compiling them.

This latest collection is huge – and it contains more than enough Lync Insider-relevant books for me to mention it. Here’s a list of what I downloaded right away for brushing up.

  1. Office 365 Midsize Business Quick Deployment Guide (DOCX)
  2. Quick Start to Office 365 for Small to Medium Businesses (ZIP)
  3. The Wiki Ninjas Guide to SharePoint 2013 (PDF)
  4. The Wiki Ninjas Guide to SharePoint 2013 – Part II (PDF)
  5. Windows PowerShell 4.0 Language Quick Reference (PDF)
  6. The Big Book of PowerShell Gotchas
  7. Lync Server 2013 Stress Testing Guide
  8. Microsoft Lync Server 2013 Step By Step for Anyone (PDF)
  9. Microsoft Lync Server 2013: Basic Administration – Release 2.1 (PDF)

There’s a couple more Lync-related books in the post, so go check it out. But I’d like to talk about these last 3 today.

Microsoft Lync Server 2013 Step by Step for Anyone
Written by Matt Landis
Matt’s on the list! Looks like he has converted a series of posts on setting up Lync Server 2013 from his blog into an ebook. We’ve covered this material here in the past.

The book walks you through a Lync Server 2013 Standard Edition install. It also has several additional how-to’s, such as “Using Microsoft Lync Server with SonicWall Firewalls” and “How to Configure Lync Server 2013 Live Messenger PIC to Enable Skype Federation.”

At 258 total pages, it’s too big to print out. But it’s a great reference to have on hand if you’re running an installation offline (e.g. for a test project). Maybe put it on a tablet while you install Lync Server.

Microsoft Lync Server 2013 Basic Administration
Written by Fabrizio Volpe
This is a basic overview of Lync Server 2013 for administrators. It has a narrative approach, which would make it great for those newer to Lync and potentially unfamiliar with the scope of its capabilities. Good high-level detail on Lync’s structure and workings.

What I do like about it is that it includes information on:

  • Cost mindfulness when deploying server roles (p. 15)
  • Firewall rules & access requirements (p. 82)
  • Verification tools [which include TRIPP and Remote Connectivity Analyzer!] (p. 90)

It would make a good catching-up reference for new hires entering a Lync environment.

Lync Stress Testing Guide
Written by the Lync Server 2013 Virtualization Team
This one is just fun. It talks about conducting stress tests on your Lync installation with the Lync Server 2013 Stress and Performance Tool (LSS). Since this guide focuses on one toolset and one purpose, it’s very focused & heavily detailed. (I didn’t even know it could do some of these tests!)

It does recommend you run stress tests in a lab environment. NOT on a live deployed Lync Server system. If you do run it while live, don’t be surprised if you knock everyone offline!

I’ll do a full post on stress testing later. The contributors did a thorough job documenting the process; it deserves more attention. Pick this guide up and see for yourself.

Go Forth and Download – But Come Back for More Details!

Both the strength and the weakness of Microsoft free ebooks are that they are basic guides. Intended to introduce you to software, how to run it, how to work efficiently with it. Nothing at all wrong with that – in fact I think it’s a great way to foster knowledge – but it has its limits.

In books like these, gritty-details administration, troubleshooting, advanced modifications & developments are not usually covered. You need to rely on experience, more specialized manuals, and online resources. Like this blog!

Is there an upcoming Microsoft software release you’re waiting for? New version, an update or a fix? Please comment or email me. Let’s see what’s coming soon for all of us.

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Lync VS. the PBX – Is Conferencing Driving Adoption More Than Voice?

Conferencing, Lync Online, Lync Server 2013

Lync is experiencing serious growth in business environments. Both via on-premise Lync Server 2013 and cloud-based Lync Online. While this makes us happy, I find myself wondering what’s driving the increase in adoption.

Is it the prospect of replacing your old PBX? Or something else?

I’ve spoken in the past about adding PSTN calling to Lync Online. It’s a popular demand, and for good reason. Yet Lync Online is still gaining subscribers without it.

Lync Server 2013 is, in my opinion, doing even better. Full communications feature set including PBX-replacement-level Enterprise Voice. Takes some setup (like PBXes do) but once it’s in place? Fully-functional phone system with a dozen extra services available.

Hmmm. Maybe those extra services are more popular than we think. Maybe it’s the additional tools which continue to propel Lync Server, more than its PBX replacement power.

Conferencing Emerges Stronger

In an article titled Lync voice capabilities mature, but can they replace PBXs?, Antone Gonsalves includes an infographic from Infonetics Research. The infographic details the fastest-growing UC (Unified Communications) applications.

What’s the most popular? It’s not voice – it’s video conferencing.

Video Conferencing71% of survey respondents (largely enterprises from what I can tell) use it now, with 88% projected to use it by February 2015. Next up is Web conferencing, at 65% currently using and 83% projected to by February 2015.

(Go read the article for more; it’s well written with lots of good data. I’ll wait right here.)

Voice is not among the top 4 applications in this graphic. That doesn’t mean it’s not popular – can’t have a conference without voice! – but it does show another power behind Lync’s drive forward.

Video Conferencing is included in Lync Online. It’s limited to Lync clients, but at least it’s available. Aside from price, this may be a big reason behind Lync Online’s popularity.

Either way, more Lync use is more Lync use. Expansion into more businesses, more testing & updating for its communications tools. Both for Conferencing and for Voice.

I remember when first reading about Lync Server 2010′s Enterprise Voice. “Wow, a whole phone system built in!” It was exciting–then. Now? Now we just get frustrated when there’s a hiccup and we can’t make calls.

Why Voice Isn’t the Biggest Adoption Driver (But Still Surpasses the PBX)

I think there are two reasons Voice is not the biggest pull for Lync:

  1. Voice is seen as ‘ordinary’. We’ve grown used to having the ability to make a phone call from just about anywhere. Voice is essential for conferencing, but it’s not seen as the ‘major’ feature. Video is.
  2. The rise of texting via smartphones. I recall seeing a statistic somewhere saying more people text on their phones than make calls!

While this doesn’t help Lync Server adoption, it doesn’t much hurt either. In fact, I think this information could help push the PBX even closer to the recycling bin.

A PBX doesn’t include video. If you even want the option, you have to introduce a whole other system, such as Cisco’s Telepresence Server. And if you’re adding servers, you’re increasing complexity to the point of diminishing returns. Fast.

Smart businesses are moving to integrated solutions like Lync. Hence why Lync Server surpasses the PBX – even if we’re more interested in video conferencing than making calls, we can get both & more from 1 software platform.

Did you replace a PBX with Lync Server? What motivated you to switch? Please comment or email me. I’d love to hear your stories!

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Lessons from an Office 365 Outage

Lync Online, Office 365

Starting Monday, Office 365 users started losing service. First Lync Online went down for several hours on the 23rd. Then Exchange Online did the same thing on the 24th.

Lync Online Outage: Microsoft Lync Online users hit by outage – ZDNet
Lync users see outages as Microsoft wrangles with network problems – The Register

Outlook/Exchange Online Outage: Microsoft Outlook Outage Reported Across Much of the Country (Resolved) – Washington Post
Microsoft Suffers Another Cloud Outage As Exchange Online Users Left In The Lurch – CRN.com

Looking at Twitter yesterday, I saw tweet after tweet of frustration. There were even businesses who asked customers to call them today, because nobody could receive email!

The services are back up as of now…but the outage still meant many hours of lost business time for thousands of customers.

Comments on the above articles make points we should all keep in mind.

“At least with on premise, you are in control.”
“[On-premise] Lync Server is on par with Exchange in terms of complexity.”
“Outages happen. Doesn’t matter if it’s your datacenter or MS’ datacenter, just a fact of life.”

The last one is 100% true. This was inevitable. The day Office 365 signed up its first user, the countdown to a large-scale crash started.

Outages are an unfortunate reality of IT. No matter what system, no matter how many backups or failsafes or redundancies you build in, eventually something will crash.

No, I’m not going to say ‘I told you so’. Nor will I disparage Microsoft for the outage (though I am on record as preferring Lync on-premises than via Office 365).

Instead, I’d just like to talk about what we can learn from outages like this.

Outages are Inevitable. Plan Accordingly.

The main thing to remember when it comes to outages, is that they WILL show up eventually. Sure, we do a lot of work to make sure they are rare and short-lived. But part of that work, if you’re working smart, is in making a plan for when the outages do come about.

brokencable1It could be as simple a plan as, “When outages occur, switch operations to X and call IT.” Even that can help a lot.

If you want a more constructive plan, here are some considerations all businesses – especially businesses using cloud solutions – should take into account.

Do you have a backup communications method?
If you do use Lync Online, chances are you can survive without IM for a while. Unless email is down too. Then you’re left scrambling to communicate. And when Lync Online adds VoIP capability, I would advise you to keep some cellphones around!

Do your users have an alternate way to send/receive email, create business documents and collaborate?
Few things will grind a business to a halt than email going down. It may be prudent to contract with a local service for an on-demand email server. Or add Exchange to an on-site server and keep it in reserve.

Where are your files stored?
If you store files in the cloud, it’s smart to have a local backup of some sort. Either a local server pulling down copies, or a third-party backup provider doing so for you.

Do you have strong security in place, both for cloud-based access and internal computers?
Microsoft’s security for Office 365 data is well-documented. But it still pays to employ security on data transmitted to & from cloud services.

Maintain a relationship with an IT professional or consultant who specializes in the software.
Do you know an expert who can help you if Lync Online goes down? What about on-premises software like Exchange Server or your CMS? Even if you don’t call them often, having someone you can rely on brings peace of mind.

Remember not to blame IT for the outage.
I asked our IT consultants about the last few customer outages on which we’ve worked. They mentioned two in the past month. Both at customer sites – a server failure and an email crash. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t the customer’s fault either. It just happened. They went in, fixed the problem, and everyone got back to work. Believe it or not, keeping this in mind helps a lot with the frustration.

Office 365 Will Go Down Again. Just a Matter of Time. Don’t Panic.

While I’m not a big fan of Office 365 – I prefer Lync’s much greater on-premise capabilities – it’s out there and in popular use. All Office 365 users must be aware that, even with 99.9% uptime, outages can occur. If someone is at fault, fine. But either way YOU need a plan to deal with the outage.

Without a plan in place, most business’ default response to an outage is something like, “Wave Arms in Air, Run Around Yelling”. Not very productive is it?

Do you have an outage plan in place? Does it have elements not listed here? If so, please comment or email me. We can all benefit from discussing outages and how to respond to them.

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Lync as a Remote Access Option – The Conversation Continues

Conferencing, Lync 2013 Client, Lync Server 2013

Quite a lot of responses to my last post! Thank you to everyone for the comments.

I’d intended to discuss Tom’s AutoAssist app in today’s post. But you brought up a lot of good points – let’s address all of them and see what else we can find out!

When the User Does Not Have Lync

Jay asked about remotely connecting to user PCs which do not have Lync.

When I tested out using Lync for remote access, I also tested it on a home desktop. Why? Because I knew it did not have Lync installed. I wanted to see if the remote access would fail, or show an error, or have nothing happen…

…Or auto-install Lync Attendee.

Which is exactly what it did. Attendee auto-downloaded, just like it should, and connected to the Lync Meeting. The remote login continued just like I described last week.

However, I should point out that this test was done before I installed AutoAssist.

AutoAssist: Speed Boost for Accessing Lync-Enabled Computers

Tom’s AutoAssist application does exactly what he claimed – it automates the Meeting invitation acceptance, so you get right to requesting control of the user’s PC. Essentially, it lets you skip Steps 2 & 3 in last week’s how-to.

For an IT admin or support tech who does a lot of remote support, this is an ideal timesaver. You can download AutoAssist free at http://autoassist.thoughtstuff.co.uk/.

We tested AutoAssist in the office. And it worked great! The app runs in your taskbar, ready whenever you are. It does have one limitation though – users must be Lync contacts. Which is understandable, given the app’s nature. I tried sending a $share$ invite to one of my Lync-free computers and received “Error ID 504 (source ID 239)”.

So there’s your answer Jay. AutoAssist doesn’t like to work if the remote user does not have Lync already installed. Lync however does facilitate remote access in such a situation, by using Lync Attendee. You’ll just have to follow all the steps.

Hmmm. Maybe AutoAssist could prompt for Attendee download. Might take some federation-related configuration. Tom, what do you think?

Privileged Apps: Legitimate Obstacle

Two commenters brought up the issue of remote-controlling privileged apps. This IS an obstacle for Lync, like Shaun said. Applications like LogMeIn incorporated tools for seeking administrative permissions, facilitating work with restricted apps on user PCs. Lync does not include the same tools.

Lync can still access most applications running on standard permissions. Privileged apps are an inconsistent obstacle popping up here and there. It’s something to keep in mind…and to keep a backup remote access solution around, just in case.

Unattended Access: Snarl in Lync Remote Logins

Currently, using Lync for remote access does require someone on the other PC to accept the meeting invitation & give control. If they are not there, LogMeIn could provide Unattended Access. Lync? Not so much.

Quite frankly, this is something I didn’t test initially. But it is definitely a problem. I would say this is the weakness Lync must work around when it comes to remote access. We’ll have to see if there is a way we can automate the Lync Meetings invitation. (Hey, maybe AutoAssist could do it!)

Lync Bots?

Finally, Mike mentioned a bot he’d coded. Mike, I looked at your site, but I didn’t see this bot! Could you give us a link?

I did see some interesting Lync add-ons though. Like this: Lync Custom Status 2014. It has quite the features list – creating custom status alerts, adding personal notes, adjusting call handling options…I’ll have to pick up a copy & test it out. Go check out his blog at MikeSel.info if you like programming, Lync and how-to’s.

So it seems Lync Server is not a perfect solution for remote access & control. I did say it wasn’t 100%, but all of these topics are valid and important to keep in mind. We’re fortunate at least that Lync DOES allow for so much remote control as it is.

Plus, we have capable developers working to expand it! We appreciate your work.  Please keep it up!

If you’ve created an add-on for Lync Server 2013 (remote access-related or not), please comment or email & let us know. I’d love to showcase the add-ons on the Lync Insider.

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Lync Server as an Alternative to LogMeIn

Conferencing, Lync Server 2013

Use Lync Meetings to Control PCs Remotely

Chances are you’ve used LogMeIn at some point. The remote-login software made it easy to provide remote support and find out what you needed from someone else’s PC.

Remote Login via LyncIn January, LogMeIn increased their fees–dropping their free option in favor of making all users pay. A choice which backfired into a lot of angry users ceasing to use it.

In the past, we too used LogMeIn for remote support. Taking control of a client’s PC and troubleshooting their issues, while talking with them on the phone to explain our actions and receive feedback. The problem was, with so many clients requiring remote access for support? We’d need to switch to the highest LogMeIn subscription option. And that gets expensive fast!

For a while, we paid for a LogMeIn subscription. It allowed us to continue with remote support uninterrupted…while we investigated alternatives.

LogMeIn Alternatives: Teamviewer, VNC…Lync?

Other remote access solutions do exist: Teamviewer, Chrome Remote Desktop, VNC, etc. We tried out a couple. But they didn’t quite meet our needs, or felt clunky.

While investigating these alternatives, one of the IT team members noticed something. He saw that signing into a Lync Meeting is similar to the LogMeIn remote login process. And a Lync Meeting allows for sharing – sharing applications, whiteboards, even desktops.

Could we use Lync Server as a LogMeIn alternative? If it could facilitate remote support, we wouldn’t need a solution like LogMeIn at all!

We did some research and some testing. It turns out that, while the process is a little more complicated than LogMeIn or Teamviewer…it DOES work. Remote access through Lync Server is possible.

Here’s how.

How to Use Lync Server for Remote Login

Step 1: Create a Lync Meeting
Click “Meet Now” in Lync. (It’s under the Settings menu; click the arrow next to the gear.)
Mouse over “Invite More People”, and then click ACTIONS in the window.

Step 2: Invite a User to the Meeting
In the Meeting window, click “Invite by Email”.
Enter the email address of the user you want to connect to, and send the message. Wait for them to accept the invitation.
You may need to invite them in from the lobby if they are using Lync Attendee (i.e. they do not have Lync 2010 or 2013 installed).

Step 3: Have the User Present
Once the user enters the Lync Meeting:
Direct them to hover their mouse over the “Present” icon (fourth from the left in the lower-left corner)
Direct them to click Desktop in the popup window.
Accept their invitation to present.

Step 4: Request Control
Now the user is presenting their desktop. You should see it, but you can’t control it yet.
Click the “Request Control” button.
If necessary, direct the user to click Yes.

You now have remote control of the user’s desktop!

Perform whatever support tasks are necessary. Be aware that, just like with LogMeIn, the user can see what you’re doing.

Step 5: Disconnect Remote Control
When you’re done, click the “Release Control” button to release your control of the user’s PC.
Direct them to click the “Stop Presenting” button.
End the meeting.
——

Cautions

  • This may not work 100% in all situations. LogMeIn doesn’t work 100% either, so that’s not really a limitation. I just want you to be aware.
  • Our office uses a Lync Server 2013 Standard installation, with Edge Server and Reverse Proxy. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work for Enterprise Edition either. But as with all software implementations, your results may vary depending on configuration. (If you do experience an issue, please send it to me! I’d love to hear about it.)
  • This remote login method was NOT tested on all phones & tablets, so I can’t guarantee it’ll work there either. I was able to access an iPad remotely, which had Lync installed.

Test Lync as a Remote Access Option – and Tell Us About It!

If you have Lync Server 2013, you should be able to use this method in a remote support situation. Without disabling any existing remote access solutions.

Try it out! And if you do, please tell us how it worked. Please comment below or email me.

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Killing off Skype in Favor of Lync: What Would the Users Say?

Lync 2013 Client, Lync Server 2013, Office 365, Voice over IP

While I finish up the post on Lync as a LogMeIn alternative, let me bring something to your attention. An excellent Skype/Lync piece was posted just last week…and it amounts to a warning shot across Skype’s bow.

Derrick Wlodarz, the same author who wrote the BetaNews piece on PSTN Voice in Lync Online (2 Articles You Need to Read about Lync), has posted a meticulous argument for killing Skype in favor of Lync.

The piece (also on BetaNews) is called “Skype VS. Lync: The case for killing off Skype”. It’s extremely thorough. He references an Ars Technica article making the same argument last year. His points are persuasive. It’s well worth a read.

It’s also missing something.

The BetaNews Article: Case Against Skype & For Lync

Let’s take a look at some of Derrick’s points against Skype. Largely, it consists of the fact that the two platforms overlap, and where they do? Lync comes out ahead.

For example:

  • Skype Chats are limited to 10 people. Lync’s conferencing goes up to 250 people.
  • Skype has lagged behind Lync in development, including number porting and PSTN calling capabilities.
  • Lync has e911 support; Skype does not.
  • Skype has shut down access to its API, preventing further third-party extension development. (This might be a Microsoft tactic to shrink the Skype developer base in favor of Lync…)

“It’s fair to say that there is little reason that two ecosystems need to exist for the long run.” Agreed.
“…Lync indeed does everything Skype does, and brings a lot more to the table as well.” Also agreed.

There’s nothing here with which I disagree. It’s well-argued and expansive. He even brings up a point I’ve addressed here in the past: The different codecs used in Skype and Lync.

So why DO we still have the two platforms? People have proposed numerous reasons. Comments from the referenced Ars Technica article give users’ opinions as to why Skype and Lync still operate:
Dashiffy: “While it seems to make sense to do that, there are reasons (technical, managerial, economical) for keeping the two products separate; the main argument being that consumer-driven product lines are coded, implemented, and supported in a vastly different manner than enterprise-driven products.”

Dilbert: The two products are worked on by two different groups, and the VPs in charge hate each other.

Zvadim: What bothers me about Lync is the pricing/licensing model. Why does Lync-to-Lync voice & video requires upgrading to “enterprise” CALs? Shouldn’t this functionality be part of the “standard” CAL? How am I supposed to sell this “upgrade” to management, when Skype does all of that for free?

All of these may be accurate. The question is, is any one reason stronger than the others?

Skype Is Still Hanging On By Its Users

I think there’s one big roadblock keeping Skype and Lync separate–at least right now. The author went almost the whole piece without addressing it:
The Skype user base.

“The backbone is there; the real challenge will be migrating users off Skype and into Lync, along with all the related difficulties of shifting a global user base.”Skype Out?

This, I believe, is the major reason why Microsoft is taking their integration process slow. They have to work out a technical method of evolving Skype, as well as a strategy for convincing users to accept those changes.

Try to change the technology? Difficult, but doable. Try to change a millions-strong user base? Ohhh, you’re in for a fight.

I discussed the Skype-Lync integration a few months ago. Before that, I listed out 4 possible avenues Microsoft would take when it comes to Skype and Lync:

  1. Skype replaces Lync.
  2. Lync absorbs Skype.
  3. A new Lync-Skype hybrid app replaces both platforms.
  4. Lync and Skype stay separate, but interoperate.

So far, I’d say #4 is the most prevalent. Derrick is calling for #2. And not without merit, I might add. He makes a strong case for #2…albeit with minimal consideration of user base inertia.

He does put forth the idea of expanding Lync into the consumer space. I like this idea. Building out its capabilities so that it could take Skype’s place? It would mean a viable VoIP system across all major platforms.

Plus it would serve as an improved replacement for Skype. Taking Skype away without a replacement app? Even Microsoft could not weather THAT storm!

What do you think? Is Derrick on the right track? Should Skype come to a more sudden end, in favor of an expanded Lync? Please comment or email your thoughts.

3 Comments

Lync Usage Poll Results

Lync Online, lync server 2010, Lync Server 2013, OCS 2007, Office 365

Short post this week – We have a major site launch in the works, and another coming up right after it.

But I promised to return to the Lync usage poll I put up 2 weeks ago. So, here we are! I have some good results from the poll, and some reflection on your votes. Here are the poll results:

POLL – What type of Lync Server do you use?
Lync Server 2010 (On-Premise) - 7 votes
Lync Server 2013 (On-Premise) - 29 votes
Lync Server 2013 (Hosted) – 0 votes
Lync Online – 1 vote
OCS 2007 – 1 vote (write-in)

Thank you to everyone who did vote. I will leave the poll up here if you didn’t get a chance before.

Lync Server Usage: 2013 Most Popular, Some Surprises Between On-Premise and Online

That Lync Server 2013 (On-Premise) was #1 makes sense to me. It’s the latest version, with many more capabilities than the other choices.

I didn’t expect someone to write in OCS 2007 though. Lone reader/voter, I’d love to know why you’re still using it. Upgrade hassle? Does it fulfill a proprietary need? Please comment or email me!

I’m also a little surprised by the number of Lync Server 2010 users. I actually thought the numbers would be a little more even between 2010 on-premise and 2013 on-premise.

It’s one of those situations where I’m glad to be wrong! While Lync 2010 was a good system and had a lot of appeal, 2013 is much more powerful & flexible. The upgrade path isn’t as scary as some people have mentioned to me.

Zero votes for the Lync Server 2013 (Hosted) option makes me think I should have clarified that a bit more. By this I mean running a full-version Lync Server 2013 instance, in a hosted/cloud data center. You get the full power of Lync Server, but without installing extra servers on-site. We actually do this for a couple of customers now, via our Private Cloud Service.  Hope that didn’t confuse anyone!

Lastly, Lync Online. Only 1 voter for Microsoft’s Office 365 service. Given the rancor posted to NextHop about Lync Online’s service quality, this doesn’t surprise me either.

That said, I suppose now’s a good time to explain why we don’t recommend it to most businesses.

As I mentioned in “Lync Blogs are Disappearing,” on-premises Lync Server has more options & more power than Lync Online. Though we may see PSTN calling added to Lync Online soon, we don’t know when. And there are other capabilities Lync Server 2013 has which we may never see in Lync Online.

The same is true of Office 2013 overall vs. the Office 365 offerings. Many people will never use Word’s more advanced functions, but they’re there nonetheless.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to save money up-front. In that respect, Office 365 seems appealing. However, its regular billing adds up over time. In the long term, you’re paying a lot for decreased capacity.

The only time I WOULD recommend Office 365/Lync Online is for a small-but-growing business who wants to temporarily test out the Lync communications system. In this case, Office 365 becomes a useful stepping stone into a full-version Lync Server implementation. Would it work for your business? Well, here’s a way to find out!

Again, thanks to everyone who voted. I will put up more polls in the future, so you can be heard more often. As always, the Lync Insider Blog welcomes feedback & questions!

Next time (provided I have enough time to make a solid post on it) we’ll discuss using Lync Server as an alternative to LogMeIn. Don’t forget to sign up for email reminders in the right column, so you won’t miss out!

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Reader Question: Call Transmission in Lync Server vs. Lync Online

Lync Online, Lync Server 2013, Office 365, Voice over IP

To everyone who responded on last week’s Usage Poll, thank you! We already have quite a few responses. I’ll leave it open another week (go here if you haven’t voted yet).

In the meantime, I received an email from a reader. Jose was curious about Lync call transmission methods. He asked (in part):

“We are planning to deploy Lync on-cloud. But I wonder if the audio-call or video-call is established directly peer-to-peer or is it always depending of an internet connection?”

It’s a good question to ask before you deploy Lync – in any form! When I replied, I asked him what form of Lync deployment they were considering. This will become important in a moment.

How Lync Transmits Calls Across the Network and Out to Phones

But first, let me answer the question of call transmission method. There are three types of calls to consider here: Peer-to-peer Lync calls, PSTN/Enterprise Voice calls, and conferencing.

Peer-to-peer calls use existing network bandwidth. Internally, so do conferencing calls. They use different audio codecs to facilitate their connections, and they have specific bandwidth requirements for those codecs.Lync Call Transmission Methods

Here’s a list of those codecs and their requirements: Network Bandwidth Requirements for Media Traffic – TechNet

(Obviously, conferencing will require more bandwidth to transmit video!)

PSTN/Enterprise Voice calls are a bit trickier. Since these need to communicate with the worldwide phone network, they must be translated into a signaling medium compatible with our phones. To do this in Lync Server 2010 and 2013, you need two things: the Mediation Server Role, and either a PSTN gateway or SIP trunk.

Here’s an overview page on Mediation Server: Mediation Server Component – TechNet
There’s also some information PSTN gateways and SIP trunks.

Through configuration in your Lync topology and Mediation Server, you dictate how voice calls are transmitted to & from the PSTN. It takes some setup, and you must make sure you have enough bandwidth available! But the system works once it’s in place.

I communicated this to Jose. And I asked him a question of my own:

“You said on-cloud – do you mean a hosted Lync Server installation, or Lync Online with Microsoft? Lync Online does not include Mediation Server, the component which governs communication with PSTN gateways.”

Good thing I did. Jose responded by saying he was interested in Lync Online instead of a full on-premises Lync Server. He added:

“Is there any way to create some sort of hybrid environment to have Lync Online with the Mediation Server capabilities? I’m trying to get this scenario because Lync Online is cheaper than a full on premises implementation.”

This is also a very good question. It’s true that Lync Online is cheaper than on-premises Lync Server 2013. But you’re making a trade-off when you opt for Lync Online – its calling capabilities are severely limited. Why? Because Enterprise Voice is not included. No Mediation Server. No PSTN calling capability.

Lync Online requires an Internet connection? Yes, to start. But what about PSTN calls?

Now, let’s go back to Jose’s original question. He wanted to know if Lync Online required an Internet connection for direct peer-to-peer calls. I cannot answer this with complete certainty, as I don’t have Lync Online right in front of me to test. (Really need to get myself an account…)

However, after consulting Office 365 Help (Set up Microsoft Lync Online), I feel confident in saying that Lync Online requires Internet access to establish peer-to-peer calls. But it uses existing network bandwidth to facilitate them once established.

Lync Online runs off of Microsoft servers. It makes sense that the Lync client would store contacts on those servers, and need to call back to those servers when a Lync call or conference is started.

But what about PSTN calling?

It’s here that Lync Online stumbles. It has no Mediation Server component available. No Enterprise Voice capability. At least, not yet. Microsoft has recently stated that PSTN calling functionality is coming. Lync Online users are clamoring for its addition…but for now, they have to wait.

In the meantime, is there a hybrid solution like Jose asked? Yes. I do know of one option:
Telephony Support for Lync Online or Office 365 – Sangoma Express for Lync

Sangoma offers a Lync gateway to add VoIP to Lync Online. From the page:

“Express for Lync is the ONLY Lync server appliance with a built-in VoIP gateway and SBC, both of which are qualified and tested for Lync. It is the easiest and most convenient way to deploy Lync with telephony support for Office 365, for a branch office or for a complete PBX replacement using Lync for installations of less than 1,000 users.”

1,000 user limit…while I’d strongly recommend organizations with 1,000 users and up use on-premises Lync Server, it’s good that we have an option for smaller organizations.

I hope this helped Jose with his questions. And his future Lync rollout, whichever form it takes.

Did this post help you with understanding Lync calls? If so, please comment or email. Oh, and don’t forget to vote in the poll! We’ll return to it next week. See you then!

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    The Lync Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft Lync Server 2013, its predecessor Lync Server 2010, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., Tech Writer & SEO Engineer for PlanetMagpie IT Consulting.
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