Ever since the first VoIP calls were made in 1973, the industry predicted that packetized voice would replace traditional voice technology in enterprise networks. Are Cisco, Microsoft Lync, and others now capable of replacing PBX platforms? The answer is “yes” and “no”. That’s because most organizations today are looking to move to one Unified Communications (UC) platform that supports all their communications needs – email, instant messaging, audio and video conferencing – not just voice. Let’s examine four commonly cited concerns about VoIP’s ability to deliver "ready for prime time" voice services and whether they are fact or fiction today. We’ll use the Lync Server UC system as a reference.
Myth #1: “Lync does not provide all of the features that my current PBX has.”
Yes, Lync does not “check-off” every feature box available with traditional PBX systems, primarily because Lync is a software-powered PBX. As a result, Lync’s foundation is very flexible and can be modified to fit almost any business need. It provides 90 percent of the features found in a traditional PBX, but also includes advanced telephony features like “true” E911, Call Admission Control, QoS, least cost routing, etc. Lync also offers branch office survivability, rich endpoints, and media bypass for voice components. Where Lync comes up short against PBX platforms is with large call center capabilities (Lync does include small call center functionality with Response Groups), paging, and shared lines. For most enterprises, these capabilities are not required, and if they are, can be addressed through third party partners.
Myth #2: “Lync is proprietary and hard to interoperate with.”
Lync is a part of the UCIF (Unified Communications Interoperability Forum www.ucif.org), whose sole purpose is to advance unified communications standards that enable interoperability across all vendor solutions. This is the same path that was travelled by the circuit switched technology vendors in the early days of that industry. More and more vendors are becoming UCIF members and solutions and standards that all vendors can utilize are surfacing every day. For example, Lync can natively interoperate with Polycom video endpoints without the use of any “middle” transcoding gateway. Also, generic SIP phones are becoming more common in Lync environments by utilizing partner solutions from NET and Audiocodes. Finally, Lync can interoperate with any PBX or PSTN connection with either a direct SIP connection (SIP trunk) or through a media gateway.
Myth #3: “Lync with Enterprise Voice introduces too much complexity.”
To the contrary, Lync reduces infrastructure complexity. By supporting virtualization for all workloads, Lync allows enterprises to implement a full “PBX” solution using as little as one server. A simple one server implementation can include the Front-End server with collocated Mediation server, and a SIP trunk to connect to an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider). Also, since Lync uses Active Directory for authentication and directory services, there’s no need to maintain separate authentication databases and address lists for voice services. However, management complexity, which exists for both traditional PBX platforms and Lync, remains the same.
Myth #4: “Lync’s choices of endpoint devices are limited.”
Not anymore. Lync now supports a virtually unlimited number of devices, since basically any accessory with a microphone and speaker can be used as a phone. Microsoft has also created an official certification program for devices that are optimized to be true plug and play compatible with Lync and require little to no user configuration. This program currently has over 70 devices from 12 different vendors ranging from IP phones, USB, Bluetooth, Conferencing, and video devices. Lync Server and other unified communications platforms have matured to the point where they match the PBX capabilities required by most enterprises, while exceeding what voice-only systems can accomplish. These technologies are not your father’s VoIP. Since Lync and others support virtualization and can interoperate with existing PBXes, these new generation UC solutions can be easily taken for a test drive with full functionality under a trial license.
Tim Harrington is an expert on VoIP and other unified communications technology. He is a Lync Architect for Azaleos Corporation.