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Dell Drills Down on Microsoft Lync Costs

Organizations mostly expect to save on travel, teleconferencing and meeting expenses by adopting Microsoft's Lync unified communications solution, according to a recent survey conducted on behalf of Dell.

Dell commissioned Dimensional Research to conduct the study (PDF), which was published in January. A total of 204 participants with responsibility for overseeing Lync from a technical standpoint were polled. The questions in the survey centered on Lync's use, costs and the organization's expectations from using it. Dell has a vested interested in such assessments because it sells a software tool, called "Dell Message Stats for Lync," that calculates the costs of using Microsoft's unified communications system, as well as the return on investment (ROI). The tool is part of Dell's legacy from acquiring Quest Software.

In addition to providing management and reporting solutions, Dell sells hardware (PowerEdge servers and various client devices) for Lync deployments and offers technical support. The company also works with its partners on Lync Room System conferencing products.

Calculating Lync ROI
Microsoft has sometimes touted Lync as an easy PBX replacement, but it's somewhat complex. The company has gradually improved Lync Server over the years, including its recent Skype-to-Lync video integration and mobile platform support improvements that were described at last week's second annual Lync Conference. However, even organizations currently using Lync may not have a handle on its costs or savings potentials.

Participants in the Dell-sponsored study showed such as trend. When respondents were asked if their companies had met cost-saving goals by using Lync, 52 percent said they didn't know. In addition, nearly half (46 percent) could not estimate what was saved on travel, communications and other expenses using Lync. Respondents felt that it was not easy to report such details, according to 69 percent of those polled.

"For me the biggest takeaway was -- one of the questions was why did your organization deploy Lync, and right under 'improving internal communication and collaboration' was 'reducing cost,'" said Curtis Johnstone, senior unified communications product architect at Dell Software, in a phone call on Friday. "For me it validated the fact that organizations are looking at UC solutions to save them money to enable their businesses to grow." However, Johnstone, a Microsoft MVP on Lync and Exchange, added that "the follow-on is that half surveyed didn't know if their cost-savings goals were met." He recommended having the capability to take measurements of Lync traffic and then assigning costs. From that point, organizations can make truer "apples-to-apples" assessments of Lync's costs and benefits.

Lync Advancements
In addition to discussing Dell's survey, Johnstone clarified some Lync Conference announcements. Johnstone is involved with writing management software for Lync at Dell, so he pointed to Microsoft's new JLync wrapper as being a particularly important announcement coming from the event.

"One announcement that sort of got lost in the headlines because it was a little developer focused was a new JavaScript wrapper for Lync code-named 'JLync,'" he said. "Why that's significant for enterprises and the future of Lync is it's going to enable Lync communications to be embedded more easily into Web applications and into any applications on any device." He added that "with this JLync ability, you get the ease of communications embedded into whatever application makes the most sense for your business and you get all of the controls you need, too."

Microsoft's announcement that it will be bringing "enterprise voice" (or voice-over-IP capability) to Lync Online later this year was another big milestone, according to Johnstone.

"That is fantastic for customers, especially small to midsize companies that just want a once-a-month bill and they get communication -- everything from IM, voice and video, with enterprise voice integration with mobile phone systems," he said.

Previously, Microsoft had enabled public VoIP calls through Lync Online using a "hybrid voice" capability, but it required having Lync Server on premises too, so Microsoft scrapped that plan. Microsoft also had worked initially with JahJah, a VoIP service provider owned by Telefónica, to deliver public VoIP calls via the Lync Online service, but that too has fallen off. JahJah ceased operations at the end of January.

Johnstone said that Microsoft has remained pretty mum so far on the enterprise voice piece for Lync Online, but the service is being offered.

"There are some existing carriers right now that can offer enterprise voice for Lync Online," he said. "At least Rogers Communications in Canada is one of them. So you can actually buy a separate SKU of Lync Online that includes Rogers offering of the enterprise voice piece."

Microsoft had promised at last year's Lync Conference that a new version of Lync Server would appear in the second quarter of 2014, but Johnstone has heard nothing so far. He commented that Microsoft has been graduating more toward releasing more frequent updates, instead of full-blown server releases, as a way of improving the features in Lync.

Other notable Lync announcements include the video integration between Lync and Skype that's coming later this year because "video is becoming the new norm" of communications, according to Johnstone. He added that the new Lync Room Systems are "fantastic" because of the ease of setup, allowing white boarding during conferencing sessions. Video use has bandwidth implications, though, so Dell's solution helps to track those costs, he added.

He also highlighted future software-defined networking (SDN) capabilities to come in Lync.

"Lync now has the ability -- recently announced six to eight months ago -- to benefit from SDN-provisioned networks," Johnstone said. He added that SDN is still a work in progress, though, at present.

"One of the things looking ahead in the future and the real promise of SDN is [that] right now [with] packet-switched networks, the decision of routing packets is done at the hardware router level," he said. "But the promise of SDN is that that all moves up the stack and applications will have a bigger say in how packets are routed, and even have the ability to route packets based on what the application sees in terms of problems or network performance. So, for example, looking in the future, an application like Microsoft Lync could have the ability to make smart choices about how it routes an audio call in real time based on network conditions, which is really powerful."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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