Microsoft launched the latest version of its unified-communications server, now known as Lync Server, on November 17.
(The Lync Server and client aren't available for purchase until December 1, but a 180-day trial version is available to those interested in kicking the tires starting today.)
Lync is the successor to Microsoft's Office Communications Server product. It provides corporate instant-messaging, audio/video conferencing and voice-over-IP telephony all in a single product. It integrates with Exchange Server and SharePoint Server. The Microsoft-hosted version of Lync, Lync Online, is due out next year, simultaneous with the delivery of Office 365, the successor to Microsoft's hosted Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).
One of the biggest selling points of Lync is its ability to either supplement or replace traditional PBX systems. Microsoft itself has implemented Lync inside most of Microsoft's offices and has replaced many of the company's PBXes and conferencing systems, saving the company more than $200 million annually, Redmond officials said.
The fact that Lync can replace PBXes isn't new to Lync; Microsoft also said the same of Office Communications Server. But Microsoft officials are saying that the Lync release is the first allowing Microsoft to deliver true "enterprise voice" capabilities to customers.
Enterprise voice, by Microsoft's definition, is "the software-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) component of Office Communications Server 2007 R2 (and Lync)... (that) integrates voice communications with e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, and conferencing to provide a unified experience for users and unified management for administrators."
Lync adds some new enterprise voice functionality that was missing from OCS 2007 and OCS 2007 R2. Specifically, voice features like the ability to manage bandwith utilization and increase quality with Call Admission Control; QoS markings, and a new enhanced 911 feature are all part of the latest release of Microsoft's unified communications offering.
One Microsoft partner, Prometheus Networks (which, by the way, is my hosting provider), has been on the enterprise voice bandwagon for the past couple of years.
"Enterprise voice is the only truly unified communications platform on the market today," said Prometheus Chief Technoloogy Officer Matthew Freestone. "By providing seamless integration between all your productivity applications (such as Outlook, Office, Sharepoint, CRM and more) and the old-school telephony world -- while not being limited by either -- it truly enables users to communicate with fourth-generation capabilities in a very intuitive way."
Freestone noted that Prometheus "saw the vision very early for what enterprise voice could be, and we’ve been hard at work providing a 100% fully-hosted version (of OCS) delivered to the small business without contracts to allow them the same power and capabilities of any Fortune 500. Microsoft’s platforms have allowed us to do that. Now with Lync, Enterprise Voice truly is the death of the PBX and brings us into a 4th generation world of simple yet powerful unified communications."
Freestone was upbeat about another new Lync capability in the pipeline. Microsoft announced at the launch today that the company is going to bring Lync support to Windows Phone and the iPhone in 2011. He said many of Prometheus' customers have been asking for iPhone support for hosted OCS.
Verizon is one of a number of partners supporting Lync. Verizon Business announced today that it will be offering SMB customers Microsoft's BPOS (with Communications Online supplanted by Lync Online next year). Verizon Business also said it will be providing new consulting services around Lync 2010. Logitec released new business HD webcams and headsets optimized for Microsoft Lync 2010, along with new enterprise video conferencing products from its LifeSize division.