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Microsoft To Rename Lync as 'Skype for Business' Next Year

Microsoft announced plans this week to rename Lync, its unified communications platform for organizations.

The next version of Lync -- both Lync Server and the Office 365 service called Lync Online -- will be renamed "Skype for Business." The new product is expected to roll out sometime in the first half of next year. Microsoft promised in its announcement that Skype for Business will have "a new client experience, new server release, and updates to the service in Office 365."

The name change won't be a first for the product. Microsoft's early unified communications platform was once known as Microsoft Office Communicator, but it became "Lync" in 2011.

Skype-Like UI
When released next year, the revamped Lync product will start to look a little more like Skype, which is Microsoft's consumer videoconferencing service. For instance, Microsoft plans to use Skype icons in its revamped Lync client products. It will use Skype icons for actions such as calling, adding video and ending a call, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Microsoft has already made it possible for Lync business users to connect with Skype consumer users via audio and instant messaging. With the new Skype for Business offering, Microsoft plans to add the ability to interconnect via video, too. The video integration between Lync and Skype is expected to arrive by the end of this year, but it will require having a Microsoft account to make connections. Skype for Business, though, won't require a Microsoft account to connect via video, according to a Microsoft spokesperson, via e-mail:

Announced at Lync Conference in February, video connectivity between Lync 2013 users and the Skype network will be enabled by the end of 2014, for those Skype users signing in with a Microsoft Account. Skype for Business adds video calling and access to the Skype user directory (not just those Skype users signing in with a Microsoft account) making it possible to call any Skype user on any device.

Skype for Business won't require a hardware upgrade, Microsoft is promising. Organizations can just upgrade Lync Server 2013 to the new Skype for Business Server product when it's available. It's not clear from Microsoft's announcement if Lync Server 2010 users will have that facility. Lync Server 2010 has different hardware requirements than Lync 2013.

Commenting on the news, Curtis Johnstone, Dell Software's senior UC architect and a Microsoft Lync MVP, described Microsoft's rebranding as "a bold step" because of Microsoft's position in the enterprise unified communications space. He noted that Microsoft has so far executed well on its unified communications goals outlined 10 years ago.

In February, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Information Platform and Experience, talked about Microsoft goals for the next decade. Those goals, Johnstone said, center on the concept of "universal communications," which is about integrating work and home experiences via the cloud. Universal communications has four pillars: a consistent user experience, communication in an intelligent context, video connections and establishing "universal reach," he said.

"They [Microsoft] have delivered on their video interoperability with Skype consumer to Lync, which speaks to the fulfillment of the video pillar of universal communications and the universal reach," Johnstone said, in a phone call. "This enables anyone in the workforce using Lync to do a video call with the 300-plus million Skype users out there. They've also done a nice cadence of mobile updates on all of the native mobile platforms, like iOS, Android and Windows Phone. They've even delivered a whole lot of Skype features for Xbox One. It really speaks to their universal reach and their consistent user experience across the different work-life experience."

VoIP Getting Better
The "enterprise voice" voice-over-IP (VoIP) feature in Lync has "improved substantially" over the last two years but it hasn't meant that organizations are necessarily replacing their PBX hardware quite yet, according to Johnstone. He added that there are various ways to bring VoIP in house.

"A SIP trunk is one way to bring PSTN into an organization," Johnstone said. "If you have an existing PSTN brachial point, an existing IP PBX, you can integrate that with Microsoft Lync. All you need is a gateway piece of hardware. Or, in some cases, if you have a newer IP PBX link like Cisco Call Manager, Lync actually supports communicating with that PBX via Direct SIP. It's a protocol that allows Lync to talk to Cisco Call Manager. They don't necessarily need to go and buy another SIP trunk …."

The quality of the network to support enterprise voice is typically a main consideration, he added.

"The good news is, it [enterprise voice] absolutely is getting better," Johnstone explained. "And specifically, there's more awareness on right-sizing the network, and making sure that the network has the appropriate knobs and controls to support this kind of real-time communication. For a long time, Microsoft Lync…has had the ability to use QoS tags on the network if the network supported it. What I see…is companies are getting more serious about enterprise voice and, as they get more comfortable, they get more comfortable allowing Lync to tag traffic on the network…."

Microsoft is still working on implementing software-defined networking scenarios into its unified communications platform, which would enable smarter packet handing, although Johnstone hadn't heard any new details. He also noted that Microsoft recently announced an effort with the Worldwide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force to produce a native real-time communication API that will eliminate the need to use a browser plug-in to make Skype calls. That's called the ORTC API for WebRTC.

Dell, for its part as a partner, provides hardware, software and services to support Lync. Dell Services provides support for assessing business needs in implementing unified communications. Dell provides hardware, as well as reference architectures, for deploying Lync. Dell also sells management tools for both Lync and Exchange. In that latter sphere, new Dell products are in the pipeline and yet to be announced, according to Johnstone.

About the Author

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

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