In-Depth

Q&A: Microsoft Talks About Lync 2013 and Skype Connectivity

 B.J. Haberkorn
B.J. Haberkorn, director of product marketing for Lync at Microsoft.

Microsoft showed off Lync 2013 and Lync Online at its kickoff talk on Tuesday at the Lync Conference 2013 event in San Diego. After the talk, I asked a few follow-up questions of B.J. Haberkorn, who is the director of product marketing for Lync at Microsoft.

The following edited Q&A adds a little more perspective about the announcements. Haberkorn offered details about Lync's voice and videoconferencing capabilities on mobile clients, management tools for Lync, what's needed to deploy enterprise voice, Microsoft's own Lync deployments, and whether an organization should rip and replace their PBXs or deploy Lync alongside existing infrastructure.

Redmondmag.com: What can we take away from the Lync-to-Skype connectivity demo at the event?
Haberkorn: What he [Derek Burney, corporate vice president at Microsoft's Skype Division,] was showing there was that, oftentimes today, in our business context, we are using Lync because of the various controls it gives to the enterprise. And now, with this connectivity, you can connect from that same client you are already using to this huge set -- first, your close set of personal friends; second, to people within the consumer space. You really can reach anybody from that Lync client and that connectivity. It doesn't matter whether your contact is on Lync or Skype. You can get to them.

How can the traffic be kept secure and separate?
That's a big part of the point. The idea here is you might want to have Skype connectivity in order to connect consumers, for example. But, as an organization, you don't really want to be managing both Lync and Skype. So what the organization can do is run just Lync, and with the demonstration that Derek [Burney] showed, basically at the boundary of the organization, you're still talking Lync, and out in the world anyone on Skype can still connect in. So, actually the organization takes advantage of all of the capabilities of Lync -- which would be all of the management capabilities, the compliance capabilities, the network management, security, etc. What that really allows them to do is have connectivity to everybody on Skype without even using Skype within the enterprise if they don't want to.

Is Microsoft itself using Skype and Lync?
We actually tend to use both of them. We have a long habit of using our own software. So internally now, what you'll find within our division [is that] we actually are plan-ful about using the combination of the two. Over time, we do expect people to be using both, and we want to connect them together in the right way.

What are the management capabilities for Lync for IT pros?
A company that uses Lync takes advantage of their management investments in Active Directory, in Exchange, in the skill sets -- PowerShell, System Center. Just recently, we released a Lync plug-in to the System Center Advisor. And what it does is it is a very small software agent that runs on the Lync Servers and it will alert the IT guy or gal to a variety of things that they want to take care of. Basically, for server utilization, it would raise an alert. Lync raises [alerts on] certificates for security. If a certificate was close to expiring, it would alert the IT pro. In this System Center Advisor console, the IT pro sees the same [view] across the entire set of products. The other [tool] is for a real-time communication system. You want to be watching in real time to make sure communications are working well. Take Microsoft -- over 100,000 people relying on Lync for voice, meetings, instant messaging and presence. Lync itself captures statistics in real time. How well are the calls going -- that's MOS scores -- how high is the voice and video quality; it could be, if you had a network problem, call failure rates. And what we did is we have a plug-in where System Center will raise alerts based on thresholds you set.

If a Skype caller calls a Lync user, is there some permission control there?
Both Lync and Skype today give the person who uses it essentially control over who has access to you. If you are a Skype user, you [see] if someone wants to add you to your contact list [and] you have to agree to it. On Lync, we do something very similar. We refer to it as a "privacy relationship," so if you add me to your buddy list on Lync, I get the option of treating you as friends or family or work group, which means you can contact me, you can see my availability -- you can basically see everything about me. Or I can choose to have you in a lesser privacy relationship. So, it's completely under company control of the person. And of course there are many cases where an organization wants to have policies that apply to groups of people, and we provide that as well.

What's next for the clients (Windows Phone, iOS and Android) running voice and video over Lync?
We showed voice and video over IP within those clients. The next update is early March for Windows [Store] and iTunes for Windows Phone and iOS clients, adding voice and video over IP. Android is about a month later. You can use 3G or Wi-Fi (or 4G or LTE) [for voice and video over IP]. One of the things, of course, that people are concerned about when they hear that is that they'll say, "Well, I don't really want a bunch of video that's on my 3G or 4G data plan." So, one of the things we did in the product was to give both the user and the organization policy controls on that. On my phone right now, I've set it so that I don't do video unless I'm on Wi-Fi. So the client automatically says, "Hey, you're connected on the cell network. I'm not going to accept video or start video." You can do the same on VoIP. You could say, "Require Wi-Fi for both." You could split them either way. It will work on either one. What I've seen personally is the video works better on a 4G or LTE network or Wi-Fi than on one bar somewhere and 10 miles offshore. So we give control to the user and the policy guys in the organization to set that.

Do we have examples today of companies that have integrated Skype and Lync?
Yes, we demonstrated that today for the first time. Because we haven't released it yet, you won't have the case studies yet or [hear about] the benefit they've gotten.

What's the future of enterprise voice on Lync Online and Lync Server?
I don't think Derek [Burney] mentioned it during his keynote but, just to set the stage, everything he showed in his keynote today actually works on both Lync Online and server. Today, in Lync Online, the set of voice features is actually -- when you compare it with the set of Lync Server voice features -- it's a subset, to be sure. We're quite clear on that today. If an enterprise or organization needs a full set, [then] they should use Lync Server, either running it themselves on their own premises or with any of a number of strong partners that can host it on their behalf. At the end of Tony's [Tony Bates, president of the Skype Division at Microsoft] talk today, he talked about what we are going to do in the next 12 to 18 months, and one of the things he said there is actually adding enterprise voice into Lync Online. And the reason is probably somewhat obvious -- there's actually a huge demand for it, particularly with the Office 365 demand and the desire of at least some customers to not be managing their own equipment. So, over the course of those 12 to 18 months, we'll fill in the things that aren't developable for Lync Online from an enterprise voice perspective.

For Lync Online and enterprise voice, you need a communications provider, right?
When I talk to enterprise customers about carrier connectivity in an online world, we actually hear two things. First, there are some who have a very strong desire for the carrier trunks to terminate in the cloud service. In that case, we expect to add a full set of appropriate carrier offerings that terminate in Lync Online. No details to share [on that] today. Today, our offer with Jahjah is solely in the U.S. and the U.K. -- so you'd expect to have geographic coverage and a choice of carriers [in the future]. The other thing that customers tell us is they already have, in many cases, carrier contracts that are well negotiated. They have carrier trunks terminating on their premises of different types. And a lot of times they tell us what we'd really like is we'd like you to be running the Lync infrastructure in Lync Online. And we'd like to leverage our existing carrier and even PBX infrastructure as we retire it. So, in the current release of Lync that is just coming out now, we offer sort of a preview of essentially an appliance-like approach, where you use an appliance on premises to connect to your existing telecom state. So you can keep your carrier contracts; you can connect into your PBX network if you are leaving some portion of that alive. And then Lync Online connects to that and handles all of the signaling and management. So that, in some ways, is Option 2, if you will. We expect there will be some that use carrier connections to Lync Online and some that continue to take advantage of what they've got. And as I say, we've got some people doing that already in a preview capability.

Will telecom carriers get involved in selling Lync?
You're probably familiar with Office 365 and the idea of a syndication partner. Very often it's a carrier; it doesn't have to be. You can have a service provider who adds Office 365 to their offerings and then can offer additional value to their customers. KPN in the Netherlands is a recent example. They added Lync Online and the ability to extend calls out to the Lync endpoints to their PSTN services. I think they started it as a trial. It's generally a bit broader than just the voice and video -- they want to be able to offer the full set of Office 365 capabilities. And then, once they do, the integration of Lync within your Outlook -- taking advantage of Exchange, taking advantage of the different integration capabilities -- then it becomes incredibly compelling.

What about rip-and-replace considerations?
When you talk to our customers, you'll find that there are some customers who are using Lync alongside their existing PBX. There are others who have ripped out PBXes or they have moved a bunch of users over. And you'll often see it's a bit of a journey. You'll see that the company may start with a small number of people that are using Lync all up with no PBX phone and then over time it grows. Microsoft is a good example of that. Everybody in the company is now on Lync without PBX phones anymore. It took a couple of years. When I joined the company, which was four years ago, I think we were around 30,000 users, give or take. We're now well over 100,000 users. With Lync, they had the option to eliminate separate PBX phones and eliminate the maintenance costs and eliminate the license costs, the management costs, the electricity costs (great case study on that). And what you find is that oftentimes it's driven by amortization schedules on the assets they've purchased or maybe they've got a managed services contract -- and what you find is that they tend to retire those seats as they come up. We of course interoperate -- we want customers to be able to reuse their investments. And we hope that as the older traditional equipment comes for renewal that Lync offers the set of capabilities they need.  We now have roughly five million users in the world that don't have a PBX phone anymore. That's up two million from roughly 14 months ago. That's actually a pretty striking number in that amount of time if you look at this market.

How about the Yammer acquisition and the inclusion of that social networking capability in Lync?
It's probably premature for me to talk about how we pull all of those assets together. Certainly, there are differences between what Lync does and social networking, but you can see those synergies.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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