Jun 27, 2011

Posted by in Thoughts | 2 Comments

How to describe Lync voice?

Recently I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how Lync can function as a PBX replacement. It’s clear that Microsoft have put a lot of time and effort into making sure that Lync can function “stand alone” as the sole voice solution in an enterprise, but is it really a true PBX replacement? There are undoubtedly situations where Lync will more than meet a businesses requirements and then others where it would fall significantly short (without lots of custom development). Anyway I wanted to just share something that I have previously written for work.

Lync is the latest generation of Microsoft’s real-time communication server. It picks up where Office Communication Server 2007 R2 left off with massive improvements in several key areas including voice, deployment and administration. Lync also provides deep integration across the rest of Microsoft’s product suite including Office, SharePoint and Exchange. A lot of the improvements made in Lync have been around voice.

The key to understanding Microsoft’s approach with voice is not to look at things as you are used to, but requires a paradigm shift. Consider not the need to call numbers or extensions but rather having the ability to communicate with people. Lync seamlessly allows you to interact with people in the way you deem most appropriate or convenient. It does this by letting you see in advance if the person you need is available and where they are. If they aren’t free you can immediately see if they are in a meeting, how long it lasts and when they are likely to be back.

That isn’t to say of course that Lync can’t handle communications the traditional way with extensions and numbers instead of people and presence, there will always be situations where this is required e.g. external callers, but to help with this Microsoft has bought a lot of new tools to the table that are more “traditional PBX” features such as:

  • Response groups / Call workflows
  • Call parking
  • Private line support
  • Simple call forward or diversion management
  • Hold music / information messages

Response groups provide incoming call management and allow the creation of powerful call workflows, including voice recognition and automated prompts.

Call parking allows incoming calls to be held and retrieved from any other extension.

Private line assigns a separate DDI to a user that will bypass any call delegation configured on the user’s main line.

Lync’s server topology is very modular and easily scalable allowing it to support many different business scenarios. Lync also introduces full virtualisation support for all server roles, including voice – traditionally an area that has required physical servers.

The key to a Lync voice deployment is how you choose to “breakout” calls into the traditional voice network, and again Lync provides many different options. This can either be done using pre-existing compatible phone systems such as Mitel or Cisco, with hosted SIP providers, or even with custom voice gateways that “bridge” between Lync and any existing PBX.

So there we go, while I’m not calling Lync a PBX replacement I certainly believe that it is a more than viable “communication platform” replacement, is that how you would think about Lync for voice? Can you see more scenarios where “communicating with people” is more appropriate that “communicating with numbers” and vice versa? Or have I just got the wrong end of the stick? If you’ve got this far & have heard about Lync then please drop me a comment I’m interested in gathering opinions about this stuff…

  1. Francois says:

    Hi Ben,
    Of course you have all rights to your opinion on whether Lync is capable of PBX replacement or not.
    However, since your own assessment seems to fall short of what Microsoft itself states, I wonder if you might be willing to provide more specifics in support of your point (which right now could be perceived as a bit data free).
    For example, what deployments have you conducted and what specific limitations have you encountered that prevented Lync to replace a PBX?
    I have worked with many, many customers who have removed thousands of PBX thanks to Lync, so at least from my point of view I am not aware of any significant limitation.
    Thank you!

  2. Ben Lee says:

    Hi Francois,
    Firstly thanks for taking the time to read & comment. I think perhaps the point I’m making is that it isn’t strictly correct to consider Lync as a PBX replacement as this isn’t necessarily fair to either Lync or PBX systems. While they are both designed to perform the same function (to enable & enhance communication) they achieve it in different ways.
    PBX systems work the “old” way with numbers, extensions and dial plans etc… (also traditionally where an extension is fixed to a physical location) whereas Lync functions in a much more intuitive “modern” way allowing you to forget about all that stuff and just get on with communicating with people (and location is no longer a barrier).
    This is the key difference I feel when trying to broach the subject of replacing PBX systems with Lync as it is a small but fundamental difference.
    A recent example I came across was where a company has many users spread over multiple sites – this bit was perfect for lync. However they also had a hotel business which has its own associated telephony challenges such as billing & privacy. I don’t believe that even if you did “fudge” Lync common area phones to work in this scenario it would be sub-optimal. In this type of scenario you really don’t want any sort of presence information you just need a “dumb” extension and the ability to make a straight forward call. For this scenario you would probably use a PBX that would specialise in the hotel side & have Lync for the staff.
    In broad terms & most scenarios I can think of Lync is perfectly adequate (and then some!) for matching a business’s communication needs, I just feel that referring to it as a “PBX replacement” is doing it a disservice when taken as a platform it is so much more!
    My real-world Lync voice deployments are very limited and I am hoping to get more experience moving forward, at work we are involved with several opportunities where it will be great to design and deploy Lync voice.
    I will of course defer to your opinions on Lync voice as you sound like you are well ahead of me in real world experience, but still half the fun of this game is sharing & discussing right! 😉

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