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Microsoft Lync Conference 2014 - A Review by Wainhouse Research
Last week WR attended the 2014 Microsoft Lync Conference and presented, as well as heard about Microsoft's and its partners' announcements, visited a busy show floor, and ingeneral rubbed elbows with a vast number of members of the Lync / Skype ecosystem. So first the news, then what we heard from others, and our quick take. We'll be publishing some upcoming profiles and notes and a much more extended analysis of the Lync Conference in our premium subscription services.
First and foremost, he's baaaack....Gurdeep Singh Pall took the stage after a two-year leave of absence from the collaboration group (focusing on artificial intelligence for Microsoft) and lightly touched on his new role as Corporate Vice President for Skype and Lync. Many will recall that as GM he helped develop the strategy that led to the formation of the Real-Time Collaboration division and the acquisition of PlaceWare. Derek Burney, Corporate VP for Microsoft Lync & Skype Strategic Relations and Solutions within Microsoft's Applications and Services group, conducted most of the keynote demo, which included a great riff on the band Kiss bobble heads connected via endpoints, various demos of Lync to Skype video, a swipe at traditional video conferencing room systems (complete with a call to a cobweb-encrusted TANDBERG system) -- well, you get the picture. There was a fair amount of jockeying taking place against the "vendor who shall not be named" -- namely, Cisco.
Specific announcements to note: 1) Lyncto- Skype video (last year Burney demoed audio and IM -- this year video is the next frontier in terms of bringing these two separate animals together); 2) new Lync support for Android tablets, which will be available summer 2014; 3) Lync server video interop with legacy "TANDBERG" units; and 4) browser extensibility with integrated Lync voice and video content through a jLync API. All of these are promised to be in customers' hands by the end of 2014. Also announced: the ability to make and receive PSTN audio calls from Lync Online and enhancements to large meetings in Lync Online.
Microsoft has a vibrant ecosystem, and a number of vendors and service providers showed a variety of
peripherals like handsets and headsets, as well as Lync Room Systems, contact center solutions, and even
persistent IM integrated with Lync. Here are a few folk we visited with or otherwise heard from:
Emulating POTS- to-cellular call handoff first pioneered by the cellular industry a few years ago, Plantronics demonstrated new applications that work with Microsoft Lync and Plantronics' sensor-enabled wearable devices to help improve productivity for users, particularly when they are on the go. Plantronics specifically demoed how a connected worker can use his / her headset to seamlessly transfer an active Lync call from his computer to his mobile phone as he moves away from his desk. In addition, Plantronics showcased how its Smart Presence application can provide more accurate presence information in Microsoft Lync when a user is on a mobile or desk phone. Trust us, there was more from Plantronics, including contact center applications developed by third-party partners like Zylink and Clarity Connect.
Lync Room System vendors Crestron, SMART Technologies, and Polycom (the latter showing off its LRS system with a bundled CX5500 Unified Conference Station) revealed varying degrees of focus on driving their products into conference rooms by playing in the Lync sandbox. SMART announced an enhanced SMART Room System (SRS), adding interactive sharing that enables touch and inking into any software application; integration with
SMART Meeting Pro PE (Personal Edition) software; and the introduction of "unbound workspace;" as well as new display sizes and combinations to bring collaboration to more workspaces. Crestron showed its Crestron RL-- pushing its ability to integrate into a business's infrastructure via room controllers, etc., etc. No announcements from
Polycom -- its LRS was only announced a few months ago -- but we expect to hear more from some of this crowd at next month's Enterprise Connect.
We visited with MindLink, a purist's example of how the Lync ecosystem is enlarging opportunities for vendors large and small. MindLink is a UK-based start-up offering a purpose-built enterprise persistent chat that integrates with Lync. Why not use Lync alone for persistent chat? MindLink would argue that its chat adds to Lync's persistent chat by adding mobile device management (MDM) support, advanced alerts, advanced integration, better social media "secret sauce," better compliance features, and moderation features. Is there a future for this kind of small fry?
We dunno, but financial services firms already on the Lync adoption curve are eating it up.
Logitech showed off its Lync-certified ConferenceCam CC3000e, recently announced to fanfare for its sub $1K price point and 1080p video, as well as its ability to off board onto the camera H.264 encoding.
Finally, SpectraLink showed off a brand new Android-based Wi-Fi handset that is in the process of Lync-qualification.
What WR thinks:
The Lync Conference brought together a fan base genuinely pleased with progress to date, happy OR skeptical vendors hitching their wagons to Microsoft's short and long tail, and others there to learn and figure out how to leverage UC. Oh yes -- it's no longer Unified Communications. Microsoft has rebranded the entire category Universal Communications, in light of the familiar experience of Lync and Skype, aspects of content and application intelligence built into its entire suite of products (from Xbox One to Office, Bing, SharePoint, etc...), mobility and cross-device story, video interoperability story, and global reach through the cloud. Well, we all needed another term.
Seriously, a sold-out conference of almost 2,000 attendees, up from 800 in 2013, shows Microsoft's ability to build buzz. Another way to look at it, however, is that Microsoft is becoming the force in UC that Cisco was a few years ago. The titans continue to clash, the race is on! We give Microsoft credit for driving a rich, complex ecosystem that is helping push UC further into the enterprise. Cisco will have its turn again, no doubt. Specific to Microsoft Lync Room Systems, Anton Kratz, Microsoft's Principal Program Manager, Lync Product Group, gave a detailed talk on progress to date for the LRS spec and partner programs. An October update added support for 27 languages and Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) compliance. In November 2013 Perceptive Pixel (purchased by Microsoft in 2012) touch screen options were added. And this month the company has added licensing and deployment updates and a System Center Operations Manager (SCOM). Kratz spent a good bit of time differentiating the Lync Room System (and its channel partners) from -- ok he named it, Cisco-comparable systems, both in terms of price points and functionality. Will there be a non-touch-enabled version of a Lync Room System? At this point that's not the plan - this is a Lync Room System, after all, and the goal is to get people to use this stuff the way they are meant to use Windows 8.1.
What do we really think? As the three of us tossed around our respective takes on the event, we came away impressed by a few things, concerned about a few significant "omissions."
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