Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications category.

How will Licensing Work? Which Issues will Appear? Predictions on the Coming Skype for Business

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

The Web is abuzz with talk about Lync Server’s rebranding. I’m just as curious as the rest of you. (If anyone wants to weigh in, please feel free to comment with your thoughts/wild speculations.)

After reading more from fellow IT professionals, journalists “in the know” and the vast pool of brains we call ‘social media’, I think it’s time for some predictions.

(Yes, I was wrong about the Skype-Lync integration path, but humor me here! Predictions are fun!)

Upgrades

Microsoft claims the on-premise server upgrade will require “no new hardware.” For the most part, I believe this will be true. A solid Lync Server 2013 hardware setup should easily handle some additional Skype features (e.g., accessing the Skype Directory).ID-100103810

The only place I could see more resources being useful, would be the Mediation Server role. Which is almost guaranteed to change in 2015, to accommodate the Skype access changes.

Licensing

Here I pretty much have nothing but questions. Will Skype for Business have the same CAL structure Lync Server 2013 does? Will users need to use their Microsoft account to sign in?

Licensing costs & implementation issues strangled multiple Lync Server installations back when 2013 was released. We had one client who almost gave up on Lync entirely, after they had to pay for enterprise CALs and then add more CALs later on. Microsoft needs to give details on Skype for Business licensing ASAP.

The Issues

We’ll start seeing the issues appear in the second half of 2015. That’s when businesses will start moving toward Skype for Business. Blog commenters have pointed out several points where they suspect they’ll run into trouble – configuring for firewall rules or proxies, SIP trunking, communication between on-premise Lync users and off-site Skype users. We’ll watch for these.

The Office 365 Question

Announcements have indicated that the Lync Online service will also receive a Skype for Business update. Very little detail beyond that, for now. But I have a concern here…because of another announcement made last week.

Microsoft just released a beta of Skype for Web. A Web-based Skype version, with Skype for Business coming available in an online service too…this is a setup for serious confusion. I hope Microsoft has cross-communication between Skype for Web and Skype for Business completely ironed out.

Anticipated Reactions

There are still some organizations using Lync Server 2010. So, I imagine some of you will stick with Lync Server 2013 a while too. Moving to Skype for Business will be a very gradual process over the next 3 years.

I predict that the reactions to Skype for Business will lean slightly negative. At least next year. We have a lot of disparate groups who’ll weigh in on the transition:

  • Skype users who may not know about the new Lync tools available
  • Businesses who view Skype as “consumer only”
  • Lync 2013 users who don’t like or are confused by the new interface
  • And so on.

Personally, I’m not completely thrilled with the name change. But I’ll withhold judgment until I have a chance to test the software. Actual performance is always more telling.

Where Help is Needed Now

We have the luxury of time right now. We know a new version of Lync is coming, and we have an idea of what to expect when it arrives.

If I consider these predictions, what I think is needed now is:

  1. A better understanding of the new features.
  2. A map of how the old Lync features will transition (if at all).
  3. Performance measurements on the new on-premise server and the online service.

We will aim to bring you all of these, here at the Lync Insider Blog.

Speaking of which, last week’s poll results are split almost evenly between:
–Lync Insider
–Skype for Business Insider
–Inside Unified Communications

There’s a couple hilarious write-in votes too. Thanks guys, those were great. I appreciate all the responses so far. We’ll aim for the new blog name – if we do change it! – around the first of the year.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! We’ll see you back here in December for the 2014 home-stretch.

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Lync Server Gets a New Name – “Skype for Business”

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

A while back, I speculated on how the Lync/Skype integration process would work. A few times.

It seems we have an answer. And it wasn’t the one I picked.

Microsoft Rebrands Lync as “Skype for Business” – ZDNet

Lync Gets a New Name and Skype Features in 2015

Next year, Lync will become Skype for Business. A full rebranding–kind of like when OCS became Lync Server. Like before, the next version of Lync/Skype for Business will have some cosmetic changes and new features:

  • Skype contacts available in the Lync client
  • Skype’s “call monitor” window
  • More Skype-like video calling
  • Access to the Skype directory
  • Video integration between Skype and Lync clients

However, at least according to what we know now, the main Lync functions will remain.

Skype for Business

Image courtesy of ZDNet.com.

You’ll still have IM and Presence. Enterprise Voice and Conferencing capabilities. Persistent Chat.

I’ve seen “No new hardware” a few times too. “You will be able to upgrade from Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business Server. No new hardware is required.”

While I’d love if this were the case, I admit to feeling a little dubious. We’re talking about a major shift in the product’s features and interoperability; even if we can use the exact same hardware, I suspect some reconfiguring is required. Time will tell what kind.

The next release of Lync Server/Skype for Business will arrive in the first half of 2015. The rebranding/update affects both on-premises Lync Server and the Lync Online service (which will become Skype for Business Online, pushed out to users next year too).

Impressions: Yea, Nay, and In-Between

I read through some news articles, their comments, and Twitter. Naturally, such a move by Microsoft garners attention. The opinions range far and wide.

A few people view this as Microsoft abandoning the credit Lync’s built up among enterprise businesses. Others are wishing Lync a speedy goodbye and embracing Skype “on the job”. Still others are irritated by the fact that they just got everyone onto Lync, and now they’ll have to change again (can’t blame them there!).

One point brought up more than once is powerful, and may even indicate why Microsoft did this. Commenters pointed to Skype’s massive worldwide customer base and well-known brand. By changing to “Skype for Business”, Microsoft can capitalize on both the customer base’s familiarity, and extend Lync’s unique capabilities into the everyday Skype-user mindset.

However, this has a built-in problem as well. Skype is known the world over, yes…but as a consumer app. Microsoft wants to employ its name in a business context. That may work fine for smaller businesses, but the enterprise? They may have more of an issue.

What Will Become of The Lync Insider?

Now we’re left with the big question. With Microsoft rebranding Lync, getting rid of the Lync name essentially…what will become of this blog?

Will we continue to be “The Lync Insider”? How about changing to “The Skype Insider”, or “Inside Unified Communications”?

Truthfully, right now I just don’t know. We at PlanetMagpie have worked with Lync since before it was called Lync, and we’ll continue to do so when it’s called Skype for Business. Though I always liked the name “Lync.” Easy to say, easy for people to understand.

We’ll brainstorm on the naming & direction of this blog over the next couple months. And I’ll also ask you!

What do you think this blog should call itself? Post your answer here.

What should this blog be called going forward?

Do you have any topics you’d like to see us cover in 2015? Please comment or email them in. Sounds like 2015 will be a big year for unified communications…we’ll have lots to talk about!

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Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services from Linux Computers

Lync 2013 Client, Lync Mobile, Reference, Third-Party Lync Products, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

In my post on MindLink Anywhere last week, I mentioned that one big value-add from the software was its ability to work on Linux. Options for accessing Lync services on Linux are limited. Though in the past couple years they’ve improved a lot, both in number and quality.

What else is available for “Lync on Linux”? Let’s take a look and see what’s out there.

Running Lync Server 2013 on a Linux Server? No. But you can access it from Linux computers.

Unless you install Windows Server in a VM, this isn’t happening. Lync Server 2013 is intended for Windows Servers. Which makes sense, honestly – Unified Communications hooks into Exchange and SharePoint, also Windows-platform servers. If Lync ran on Linux, it would do so in an underperforming state, users unable to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Fortunately, this does not mean Linux users are completely in the cold! There are ways to access Lync’s services on Linux desktops and mobile devices.

Linux Lync Clients

Sadly, there is no native Lync client for the Linux desktop. You must use third-party products to connect with Lync. Only a couple of them exist as yet.

Judging from my research, the most popular choice is Pidgin. Makes sense – one of the most reliable, full-featured IM platforms on Linux. Adding Lync to Pidgin? Just one more service.

Choose from any of the following blog posts to install Lync into Pidgin:

  1. Microsoft Lync on Linux – GeekySchmidt.com
  2. Configuring Pidgin to work with Lync server in Arch Linux – I Fix Therefore I Am
  3. Add a Lync/Office Communicator Account to Pidgin/Ubuntu – ITSwapShop.com
  4. Setting Pidgin Up for Lync 2013 – AskUbuntu.comWync-Logo

No matter the method, you may have to deal with limitations when using Lync through Pidgin. Commenters have claimed everything from having to manually add contacts, to voice and video chat not working.

Another third-party client usable for Lync on Linux is Wync, made by Fisil. Wync is actually designed to work with Lync, and Fisil does offer support. Most functions work – Voice, IM/Chat, Screen Sharing and File Transfer.

I was only able to test it out briefly, but Wync was stable and made clear calls. (Tested on Ubuntu 32-bit desktop.) It’s great to see an actual Lync client available on Linux systems!

Lync Web App

Works, but only for attending Lync Meetings by default. No voice, video or IM.

Important distinction here: If you’re running Lync Server 2010, you will need Silverlight to run the Lync Web App. Silverlight is Windows-only. But there is a Linux version of Silverlight, called Moonlight.

Here’s an AskUbuntu discussion to help you work out Lync 2010 Web App with Moonlight. You should find Moonlight in your repository of choice…but if it’s not there, try these direct downloads: Moonlight for Chrome & Firefox.

If you’re running Lync Server 2013, Lync Web App does not require Silverlight. However, expect a very limited experience on a Linux desktop (if it works at all).

Android

I’ve heard people say that the #1 operating system in the world is actually Android–a Linux distribution. If so, Microsoft really should spend more effort on its Lync Mobile client for Android. The reviews are full of problem reports!

That said, I’m glad the client at least exists and is supported directly by Microsoft. Android isn’t poised to go anywhere but up, and I want a good solid version of Lync available to its users.

Lync Online on Linux?

Using Lync Online? You’ll still face the same problems as above. Fortunately, the same solutions also work. If you use Lync Online in a Linux environment, I’d say try Wync first, and then Pidgin. See which one works better for your day-to-day.

Here’s a blog post on how to get Pidgin working with Lync, specifically focused on using Office 365: Configuring Pidgin Instant Messenger for Office 365 LYNC – VincentPassaro.com

What About Skype?

There is a version of Skype available for Linux, so at least our Skype brothers & sisters are OK. A little better off than Lync users…at least for now.

If anything, this could be a positive sign for future versions. Depending on the upgrade path Microsoft takes for Lync & Skype integration, we may have ourselves a Lync client (or at least a Lync-friendly client) on Linux soon.

Linux Alternatives to Lync Server

What’s that? You only use Linux on your company’s servers? Well, I’m afraid it could be a while before you can enjoy Lync Server’s capabilities (if ever). But fear not! Alternatives do exist. None are quite the same as Lync, but they can give you the necessary communications tools.

Here are 3 popular Linux/open-source alternatives:

  • Avaya: Avaya has the Aura Platform for a VoIP, chat & video offering.
  • Twilio: Twilio is a cloud-based voice and text product suite that’s quite highly reviewed. Useful on the phone side, though not as full-featured as Lync.
  • Asterisk: Asterisk is a framework for building powerful communications systems. As I understand it, several enterprises have used Asterisk to build their own custom phone systems.

Of these, if I had to recommend a Lync Server alternative to a Linux-using business, I’d recommend Asterisk. Then Avaya.e00cb7b29fc9f70724e906d87e4e4dbf-tux-penguin-clip-art

Lync is Making its Way Onto Linux

While PlanetMagpie is a Microsoft shop and supports all Microsoft servers (not just Lync Server), sometimes I like to see how Linux is doing in comparison. It’s encouraging that there’s this much development regarding Lync. More is sure to come, both within the Linux community and from official channels. (Okay, mostly from the Linux community.)

Does your office use Linux and Lync? How do you make it work for you? I’d like to hear your experiences.

Next week, more reader inquiries! Join us then.

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Why I Think “Universal Communications” is a Ways Off

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

At the Lync Conference in February, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft Corporate VP for Lync and Skype Engineering said,

“The era of universal communications is here to stay. That’s what the next decade is going to be about. It’s going to change your and my life. In fact, 1 billion people in this decade will use Microsoft universal communications.”

Lync-Skype Chief: ‘Era of Universal Communications Is Here’ – Redmond Channel Partner

Bold words. Very ambitious. But are they realistic?

I’d sure like to think we’ll have universal VoIP (with video!) by 2024 or so. The capabilities it would generate for everyone – huge opportunities for developing countries, more expansion away from crowded cities, simple & powerful businesses popping up everywhere…

The problem is, I’m not sure 10 years is a realistic goal.

Why? There’s one small problem…and it’s not one Microsoft can fix by itself.

The Problem Isn’t Microsoft, It’s Internet

It’s not that I don’t believe MS couldn’t pull off the tech angle. They’re already a long way toward it. Lync Server, Lync Online, Azure cloud services, Skype federation, better hardware all the time, worldwide reach, huge development team…

They can make Lync-style Voice over IP universal. I believe that.

What I question is the infrastructure. High-speed Internet infrastructure capable of supporting Voice over IP, and related technologies like video and conferencing.

The Difficulty in Getting Fiber Connections (Even for Businesses)

Let me tell you a brief story. Some months ago we contacted Comcast about getting a high-speed connection into our datacenter. We wanted it for secure backups, cloud service, and – of course – the fastest Lync calling speeds we could get.Universal Communications Loading...

But Comcast wasn’t interested. They would have had to pull a new line into the area. That meant workers and downtime. Both of which they wanted us to pay for. Up front.

So we talked to AT&T. Fortunately, AT&T WAS interested. In fact, AT&T was happy to do the fiber setup, plus cover the cost! It’s part of a program they have running to help turn on fiber connections for local business use.

Read the whole story (and the AT&T program’s details) at our main blog: The Fiber Option: Super-Fast Internet for Innovation District Businesses (And Beyond) – PlanetMagpie Blog

So our connection problem was solved. But, one has to ask – if this is a common issue in rolling out high-speed Internet connections, how long will it take for a “bandwidth build-out” big enough to support Pall’s Universal Communications?

The Form Universal Communications will Take

From the Channel Partner article: “Pall defined universal communications as having five pillars: global reach through the cloud, video everywhere, the ability to work across all devices, context and application intelligence, and a consistent experience for work and life.”

1 billion people using all these services in the next decade? Tall order.

In terms of present technology in use, we’re not that far off. Global reach via the cloud and consistent work/life experiences can be had. The sticking points will come with ‘video everywhere’ and ‘ability to work across all devices.’

Mr. Pall is most bullish on the video. I agree with his notion that “you should be able to reach anybody anywhere in the world with video.” However, video does require bandwidth to support it. While we have lots of bandwidth going around via mobile 3G/4G tech, it hasn’t reached worldwide saturation yet.

I think the form Universal Communications will take is very similar to Pall’s 5 pillars. Though all of them will require a foundation of solid, universal Internet access. That comes not only from technology, but economics. Which is why it won’t happen all at once.

What I Think Will Happen: Staged, Cyclical Spread of High-Speed Internet & Lync

Stage 1: Lync Online receives PSTN calling. (Yay!)
Stage 2: Further expansion of Lync Server/Cisco/RingCentral implementations for VoIP
Stage 3: Infrastructure Build-outs (Fiber, wide-area Wi-Fi, etc.)
Stage 4: Cycle between Stage 2 & 3, expanding their areas of influence as they go
Stage 5: True Universal Communications

Stages 1 and 2 are proceeding. According to an RPC article last week, Lync Server 2013 deployment is expanding like crazy. (Our own IT consultants are also seeing more interest for Lync among Silicon Valley businesses.)

It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft delivers on the “PSTN Calling for Lync Online Users” promise. Stage 3 is where we’ll either see rapid expansion toward “Universal Communications”…or we’ll see economics slow things down.

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What do you think? Is infrastructure the key to Universal Communications, or a potential slowdown? Please leave a comment or email. We love to hear readers’ thoughts!

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Using Skype and Lync for Work – A Reader’s Experience

Unified Communications, Voice over IP

I was planning on testing some Lync plugins from GitHub today. But that will have to wait.

The other day I asked you, our readers, for a little help. Would someone who uses both Skype and Lync answer a couple questions about your experiences with the two systems?

And someone did! Peter from Psquared.net has come forward. His office uses both Lync and Skype (along with a couple other add-ons, as you’ll see). He was kind enough to answer my questions with great detail.

From my questions and Peter’s answers, I hope you’re able to get a good clear example of how businesses can use Skype and Lync in concert. CAN, mind you, not MUST. There are many different ways for Skype and Lync to interoperate…this is just one (albeit one that appears to serve Peter quite well)!

So let’s see what Peter has to say. The following is from his own words.

Q&A – One Company’s Skype/Lync Experience

1) What’s your Lync Server setup like?

We have a single Sangoma Lync Express appliance which hosts our FE [Front End Server], as well as VMs that host the Web Apps server and the Edge Server. It also has a special Sangoma software SBC VM image.

We still use a TMG2010 server for our Reverse proxy. I keep meaning to switch to a new VM running IIS ARR etc. but just haven’t gotten round to it – after all, it currently ain’t broke!

We actually use an Asterisk based IP-PBX for our main office PBX (Sark from Aelintra), but this has bidirectional links to Lync so our employees can use either Lync or legacy SIP for their calls – the phones are all Snom 820/821 phones with accounts for Lync (7xx extension numbers) and for the Asterisk extensions (all 2xx extension numbers)

The reason for still having the Asterisk box is that although we have Enterprise Voice, the built in Response Group Application is just too slow at connecting calls when used with the Snom handsets, so we have stuck with the Asterisk for the majority of calls.

Our biggest use for Lync is internal IM, but it’s also key for our disaster management plans – in the event that the office cannot be reached due to bad weather etc. then staff will remote desktop into the building and use the Lync client for all calls in and out of the building. We would change our call routing so all calls will go straight through the Asterisk box direct to the RGS service on Lync – as these are then Lync Client then the call connect delay is minimal. This is all much easier to handle than achieving the same with our Asterisk box which would require everyone setting up soft Sip clients and all sorts of other tricky bits, not least due to the lack of multi-endpoint registration to a single account.

2) Can you tell me a little about the people who use Skype? Just customers, or maybe partners?
man-talking-on-phone-md
We use Skype to connect primarily to customers, though a few partners as well. Primarily we use it for doing initial web based meetings and demonstrations of our products with new customers. However, we have quite a few customers in India and in East Africa and Skype is ideal for them to save a fortune on international calls!

Because of the relatively high cost of a Lync deployment for small sites, we actually don’t have any active Lync federation with any customers, so Skype is what gets used for “free” calls to us and vice versa.

3) What kinds of errors do you come up against, user-related or otherwise?

The biggest issues we have are to do with initially getting Skype based contacts into our Lync Contacts List. If you add the user, but they haven’t requested to contact you first, then the Skype user doesn’t always seem to get the Contact Request. If they do, but then discard it by accident then you end up with a real problem as it doesn’t seem that you can re-send the request – even deleting the contact from Lync and trying again doesn’t seem to resend the request.

The opposite is also true – even with your Lync Permissions set to allow anyone to contact request you, some requests just don’t seem to come in from Skype users, and if they do but you accidentally reject it, you’re stuck again. After a lot of removing from both ends and re-trying you sometimes get the requests come through and then you can connect without any problem.

The main issue is that it’s obviously great for IM and voice, but with video not supported, we often end up getting the person to join a straight Lync Web Conference instead. Being honest, most of the time we just go straight to this anyway as it obviously works without any Skype client install so is good for locked down users like education sites, but also means we can do multi-person conferences. Skype can do these, but at a cost!

When we get Video to Skype with the next release of Lync that will be a big improvement, but we’re really comfortable with web meetings now, so not so critical.

4) From your site, you work with radio software. Do you find Skype is more conducive to good-quality recordings? Or is Lync better? How do they compare?

The Skype audio codec is excellent so when we do Skype-Skype it’s always good. However, we have a full broadcast studio here with professional quality microphones and hi-def Microsoft webcams, which means that when we do Lync Web Conferences we always get comments on how amazing the quality is and how clearly the end user can hear us – important when we’re aiming to sell audio equipment and software to them!

We know that a lot of our customers are using Skype for doing Outside Broadcasts to get high quality audio back to the studios, so they obviously like the Silk codec, so when we get to see that in the next release of Lync it will be quite interesting to see how that sounds!

5) Do you use any add-on services for either Skype or Lync?

We use Skype Connect to actually give us “real world” phone numbers in Eire and the US which are routed directly into our Asterisk phone exchange – this is not ideal as there is quite a connection delay with 2 or 3 rings before Skype forwards the calls on. We have looked at using 3rd parties to provide us real world numbers on TLS streams that could be fed into Lync, but these are expensive and complicated to setup compared to Skype.

We also looked at using WorkAnywhere, but as this is licensed by the number of queues, not by the number of end users, it’s much too expensive to justify.

6) What’s the most common cross-platform communication you do for both systems? Chat, voice calls, conferences?

Chat is easily the biggest – even while typing this email I’ve handled 3 or 4 Lync IM conversations with people here in the office, and also with a supplier who open federates so we can do nice quick IM checks with them as to how they get on.

For Skype, we primarily use it for voice, but we do do some IM as well.

In terms of sales, we use Lync Web Conferences a lot – these have saved us a huge amount of travelling to show customers (and potential customers) new features and “how-tos” for existing deployments. We’ve never actually done a Lync to Lync conference as we just don’t seem to have any customers on it! But because the Web client can work for anyone with a modern browser, it’s ideal for use for demos and training sessions.

Some Observations to Add

  • It seems that the strongest services for each – IM and Conferencing for Lync, Voice Calls for Skype – are Psquared.net’s focus. They’re using the service which makes the most sense for the communication medium.
  • I’ve heard good things about the Sangoma Lync Express Appliance, but never had the chance to work with one. I’ll have to look into it more.
  • Curious doubling effect with the Asterisk PBX. Sounds like they have VoIP partially overlapping. Though it does make for an excellent disaster recovery setup!
  • Introducing the Silk codec into Lync may in fact be the driver for broader Enterprise Voice adoption.
  • The contacts error in #3 seems very similar to the Contact Removal trouble I had a while back: How to Remove Old Federated Contacts from Your Lync Contacts List

Thanks very much Peter! This is excellent insight into Skype/Lync interaction. Again, you’ll find his business at Psquared.net.

 

Is your Skype/Lync experience different? Have you experienced problems using either Skype or Lync? Please comment or email…I’d love to talk about it!

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Lync Love: March 2014

Exchange Server 2013, Lync 2013 Client, Lync Online, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Need to stay head-down this week. I was planning to continue my exploration of Lync plugins from last time…but, no rest for the busy!

So for today’s post, let’s take a look out in the Lyncosphere and see what we find.

Exchange Server 2013 SP1: What’s New – WindowsITPro.com
Discussion of Exchange 2013’s Service Pack 1, released last month. A very thorough article on it too. It covers SP1’s intended purpose, what to watch out for, the new features, and background on the Exchange service model (Cumulative Updates similar to Lync). If you haven’t already installed SP1, read this for a useful reference.

Lync-Skype-Office 365 Goes Off-Hook – TelecomReseller
This article covers some of the same points I made in Exchanging Protocols: The Latest on Lync and Skype Integration.
Not sure I fully agree with this line: “MSFT will finally smash them together a new UI will emerge probably in 1-2 years to simplify their product offering.”
But, the reason I included it in Lync Love is the images. There’s a big diagram outlining the Lync-Skype-Office 365 architecture (interactive), and a chart of codecs used. Good for a visual reference on both.PosterCutout

Announcing the Release of the Lync Server 2013 On-Premises Architectures Poster – NextHop
Speaking of visual reference! NextHop recently posted an architectural guide for running Lync Server 2013 on-premises. As with previous posters, this one’s extremely detailed and required reading for any Lync administrator.

Microsoft Warns of Looming Exchange Server 2003 Support Deadline – Redmond Channel Partner
Most of us are aware of the looming Windows XP deadline. (Only 3 weeks away!) At the same time, Office 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 will meet their end.
Hopefully everyone is off of Exchange 2003 by now! But just in case, here’s a reminder. And a nice punctual list of the available upgrade & support options for Exchange 2003 holdouts.

I also came across a long article on VoIP and Lync Online. It deserves its own post as a response. You’ll see that one soon.

Next week, I’ll take a stroll through GitHub for some more Lync plugins to test. See you then!

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How to Encourage Lync Users to Use More Than Just IM

Lync 2013 Client, lync server 2010, Lync Server 2013, Microsoft Lync, Unified Communications

The other day I was talking to some friends. The discussion turned to blogs. I mentioned this blog; one of my friends said her office used Lync (still on 2010 though).

I asked her what she liked about it, thinking there might be a good post or case study in the making here.

She said, “I don’t really use much of it. Just the IM.”

Questioning further, I found that her office used Lync Instant Messaging for most inter-department conversations. Presence was secondary in terms of use, and making phone calls out was a distant third. I’m not even sure if they knew Group Chat existed!

Naturally, this got me thinking. If Lync Server is set up with all these great communications tools, and nobody uses them, what good are they?

4 ways to encourage users toward using Lync for communication

If you’re a sysadmin or IT manager, it’s your job to make sure users are educated about what tools are available to them. Allow me to assist!

If you need to encourage further Lync adoption, here are 4 ideas to help. You can use any or all of these, depending on your office environment.

Educate your users with a visual display of Lync’s full capabilities. The key here is ‘visual.’ Hold a conference call and give a short presentation on Lync’s services. Send an email around once a month “highlighting” one Lync tool at a time. Maybe hold a contest to see who can use all the services in one day. Be creative!

Use them yourself to contact co-workers. I know, many of us prefer to do our day-to-day work via email (I’m guilty too!). Set an example (at least temporarily) by making use of other Lync tools. For instance, loop a manager and an employee into a conference call, and add in a whiteboard as a “creative space.” If talking with someone via IM, suggest opening a Group Chat/Persistent Chat so you can show the log to someone else later.

The more users are exposed to Lync tools this way, the more curious they’ll be.

Collect blog posts & reference guides, and give out the URLs anytime someone asks about Lync. If you’re stirring curiosity, people will ask questions. This way, you’ll have reading material for anyone asking questions about what Lync can do for them.

Here’s a modest sampling of links you can start with:

Make sure all mobile workers have Lync Mobile installed & working. You can always call them through Lync this way to build awareness. Plus they’ll have a new app on their phone – curiosity will get them eventually!

Successfully encouraged users into Lync? Tell us!

Have you successfully incorporated Lync communications tools into daily operations? Let’s hear about how you did it!

I’d like to showcase some administrators who rolled out successful adoptions. Please leave your stories in the comments, or email me.

(No last names will be shared, and your company will not be mentioned if you don’t want me to.)

Future Lync Insider posts will have whatever insights we have to share. Until then, see you next time!

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Is the Unified Communications Market Crowded?

Unified Communications

The other day I came across this article:
Microsoft pushes into crowded Unified Communications market – ComputerWorld

It says that Lync Server 2013 is pushing into an already-crowded Unified Communications market. And that it doesn’t really stand out from its competitors…or show any real innovation.

Are these valid concerns? Is the UC market really crowded?

All due respect to the article’s author (it’s still a good read)…but I don’t think it is. And I think Lync Server is well-suited for the future of communications. Let’s explore the market a little, and see what we find.

The Current Providers

As mentioned in the article, the major Unified Communications providers right now are:

  • Cisco
  • IBM
  • Avaya
  • Siemens
  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • Mitel
  • ShoreTel
  • Microsoft Lync

8 major IT players. Definitely some healthy competition going on here.

That by itself doesn’t mean the market is crowded. Crowded implies the market is glutted, or the current providers are offering solutions the market doesn’t want.

Not even close. In fact, businesses are moving to more UC technology, not less.

The Current State of UC: 51% and Growing

According to a 2012 IDG Enterprise report, Unified Communications adoption is at 51%. Half the organizations out there.

Plenty more room for UC expansion. And in fact, 90% of organizations DO plan to invest more into Unified Communications & Collaboration solutions over the next 3 years, starting in 2013.

The most popular UC solution in use? Web conferencing (76% of organizations). Followed by IM (72%). VoIP is at 52%. (“The State of Unified Communications Adoption”, Osterman Research 2010) Again, plenty of room for more service adoption.

The BYOD trend is helping to accelerate adoption too. The enterprise is accelerating UC investment due to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets.

Because employees are buying such equipment themselves, they’re essentially giving enterprise businesses ready-to-use UC endpoints. (Just be careful of security!)

Finally, consider that the market is not universal. We do have the enterprise, mid-market and small business segments. Are the current providers focusing equally on all three?

No. According to their websites’ UC content, they’re concentrated mostly on enterprise-level:

  1. Cisco – Enterprise, Mid-Market
  2. IBM – Enterprise, Mid-Market
  3. Avaya – Enterprise
  4. Siemens – Enterprise
  5. Alcatel – Enterprise
  6. Mitel – Enterprise, Mid-Market, Small Business
  7. ShoreTel – Enterprise, Mid-Market
  8. Microsoft Lync – Enterprise, Mid-Market, Small Business

Clearly, there’s plenty of room in the small business and mid-market space. And this is where the ComputerWorld article slipped – it appears to characterize Lync Server as an enterprise product only, like the other providers’ offerings.

Lync is more adaptable than that. In fact, far from “not showing innovation,” Lync Server is one of the very few which can provide Unified Communications to ALL market segments!

Unified Communications is Spreading Out, Responding to Market Demands

BYOD, almost half of the market still open, UC expansion continuing, most providers concentrated on the enterprise…I don’t think the Unified Communications field is crowded at all. I think it’s undergoing metamorphosis.

One final statistic: Right now, there are more cellphones than people in the U.S. (327 million phones, for 310 million people). And they’re still buying more!

In light of continuing phone & tablet proliferation, some of these providers will change their offerings. Some may drop out of the space, or be bought out. As mobile access speeds improve and business adapts to changing information flow, Unified Communications will provide necessary channels.

Perhaps that’s a little optimistic. But we’ll see, very soon!

2 Comments

Addendum: How to Connect Lync Server to Exchange Online (Additional Step)

Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

Yes, we’re still hard at work on this client site deployment. But I do have something for Lync Insider readers to chew on!

Never let it be said I’m not willing to admit when I missed something. And miss something I did, on this post:
How to Connect Lync Server to Exchange Online: Part 1

A reader, Patrick, asked for clarification.

Where you said, “Where I’ve inserted “ExchangeOnline.com” – for the Identity and ProxyFQDN parameters – enter the URLs for your Exchange Online setup” in the article, where do I get those values from, the Identity and ProxyFQDN parameters?

For reference, the point he’s referring to is under Point C) Configure the Edge Server for integration.

Here’s the additional step, for Lync Server 2013 users.

How to Locate the Identity and ProxyFQDN Values in Office 365’s Server Setup

(Information is partially taken from this page: Manually Configure Outlook to Connect to Office 365 – Spiceworks.com)

In order to connect to Exchange Online, you must acquire the primary Exchange 365 host address from your Office 365 setup. Finding them is not difficult:

  1. Go to https://www.testexchangeconnectivity.com/ and click the Office 365 tab.
  2. Select “Outlook Anywhere (RPC over HTTP)” in the Microsoft Office Outlook Connectivity Tests. (The “Exchange ActiveSync Autodiscover” test may also work for you.)
  3. Fill in your credentials (email address, password) and perform the connectivity test. Use the Autodiscover option.
  4. You should see a line like, “Attempting to ping RPC endpoint 6001 (Exchange Information Store) on server (LongURL.microsoft.com)” in the test results. This long URL is your primary host address, usable for the Identity parameter.

For the ProxyFQDN parameter, use “outlook.office365.com“.

I’ve updated my original post with a link here. Should be everything you need (now) to connect Lync to Exchange Online.

Patrick, thanks for the conversation. Glad we were able to help!

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What's the best way to explain Presence?

Lync 2013 Client, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications

A few days ago, my boss told me some of our prospective clients were confused about Presence.

She said the last few people with whom we discussed Lync didn’t get Presence. “How does that work? Is it useful?”

If someone’s never seen it before, I can see why Presence is a little hard to grasp. So let’s go through it, and work out a good clear way to explain Presence to someone new.

First, let me draw a parallel to a longer-used system: Instant Messaging. In IM clients like AIM or Yahoo Messenger, you get an indicator of when a person is online, offline, busy, away, etc.

Lync’s Presence system accomplishes something similar, but farther-reaching. Here are the basic codes for Lync 2013 Presence status:

Available Available
Away / Off Work
Busy / In a Call / In a Meeting
Do Not Disturb Do Not Disturb / Presenting
Offline
Unknown

The same color shows up along the left side of your avatar image.

So we could start by defining Presence as:  Lync Presence is a system where you can see the status of another user.

But why would we want to know a person’s status?

To determine if it’s okay to contact them. If they’re set to Away or Busy, chances are they won’t respond to your message/phone call.

The same also applies to your own Presence. If you’re in a meeting, set to Do Not Disturb!

Does Presence convey any other information?

Yes. It also conveys (upon mouse hover) your current location and any note you’ve entered as you what you’re doing.

For instance, here’s a screenshot of my Lync 2013 client. I’ve set my status to Busy, written a note saying what I’m busy on, and set my location as the office. Took about 3 seconds.

Custom Presence is even possible, as we’ve discussed here in the past.

Let’s revise our definition: Lync Presence is an indicator of a user’s status, given to help advertise when it’s okay to contact them.

What if we’re not looking at Lync? Can we still see someone’s status?

Yep! Presence expands past the Lync client. (Big part of Presence’s value, right there.) You’ll also find the Presence icon in Outlook, SharePoint, Exchange, federated networks, Lync 365 on Office 365, Lync Mobile, Microsoft Dynamics software (like CRM), and related apps.

Here’s a partial screenshot of my Outlook window. You’ll see that one person is Unknown (external contact), one is Away, and two are Available. You can determine these users’ status at-a-glance by the Presence icon color.

What if I don’t want everyone to know what I’m doing – I just don’t want them to bug me?

The final value of Lync Presence is that Presence visibility is determined by privacy relationships. The relationships you set between yourself and your Lync contacts governs how much of your Presence status they can see (and vice versa).

There are four such privacy relationships in Lync by default (ordered from most open to least): Friends & Family, Workgroup, Colleagues, and External Contacts.

So for example, if you and I had a Workgroup-level privacy relationship, I could see your job title, work phone number and your SharePoint Site. But if we had a Colleague-level privacy relationship, I couldn’t see the work number or SharePoint Site. If we were External Contacts, I couldn’t see those either.

Here’s a full run-down of who can see what, by privacy level:
Control Access to Your Presence Information in Lync – Microsoft Office Website

A final definition of Lync Presence

With all of this, we can revise our definition of Presence again.
Lync Presence makes communication much more efficient, by showing who’s willing & available to communicate, where they are, and how you can contact one another.

Hope all this information makes it much easier for you (and us!) to explain Presence to others.

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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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