Microsoft Lync 2013: Don't Base Upgrades on New Features Alone
Microsoft announced its Lync 2013 offering on 16 July with enhancements including HD multiparty video, mobile and Web clients, persistent group chat, and greater integration with Skype, Windows 8 and Office 2013. Let server/hardware considerations and deployment models guide your upgrade decision.
- The current version of Lync Online is based on Lync 2010 functionality. It now supports a very limited small or midsize business (SMB) voice over IP (VoIP) capability that is delivered through carrier partners such as Jajah (a small U.S. carrier owned by Telefonica).
- The new Lync enhancements announced in July 2012 primarily pertain to dedicated deployments. Gartner expects these enhancements to extend to Lync Online in 1Q13.
- Persistent group chat is integrated, no longer requiring a separate server role or client, but is still not supported for Lync Online. There is no expected date when this feature will be included.
- Investigate Lync 2013 for IM and presence, Web conferencing, and as a good quality/low cost desktop video capability, as it now supports multiparty videoconferencing with HD resolution.
- Users who were undecided about using Lync 2010 for telephony should take another look with Lync 2013. It offers numerous administrative advances in server consolidation, session management and PSTN failover capabilities, and automation. However, there are few new end-user features for telephony and mobility with Lync 2013.
- Businesses interested in Lync Online for telephony will have to wait, as the current offering is not a PBX replacement. However, enterprises can secure PBX functionality from an on-premises Lync server.
- Base upgrade decisions for Lync 2013 on the following scenarios:
- The enterprise wants to deploy the newest version of Lync Online in the cloud.
- The enterprise wants a full on-premises deployment, has made the server and hardware upgrades to 64-bit, and plans to install Windows 2012 when it is released.
Lync 2013 carries on from Lync 2010, which saw Microsoft unifying its real-time communications and collaboration offering with social capabilities such as activity feeds, people pictures and status notifications. Further enhancements to video and VoIP capabilities makes Lync 2013 a stronger solution for IM, presence, Web conferencing and desktop videoconferencing.
However, there are differences in capabilities between the on-premises (Lync 2013) and cloud (Lync Online) versions that organizations should be aware of when deciding which option to deploy. In general, Lync Online (part of Microsoft's Office 365 offering) does not include all of the features available in the richer on-premises Lync 2013 version (such as centralized call admission control).
Microsoft has not yet announced a firm general availability date. Gartner believes the on-premises version will be available in 4Q12, while Lync Online (with selected Lync 2013 embedded technology) will be available 1Q13. Microsoft has a corporate commitment to support similar release dates for its on-premises and cloud applications.
Lync 2013 will offer businesses a variety of new features and functions. The key enhancements from Gartner's perspective are in the following areas:
- Video: Lync will support videoconferencing with five simultaneous streams with a maximum resolution of 1080p based on the H.264 SVC video standard. This is a significant upgrade from Lync 2010's active-speaker videoconferencing with Video Graphics Array (VGA) quality. With H.264 SVC, video quality can be dynamically adjusted based on the capabilities of the endpoint — from mobile to desktop and videoconference room devices.
- Skype: Lync provides IM, presence and voice federation with Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 4Q11 for $8.5 billion dollars. This will be the first step in a longer-term strategy to connect Lync with the more than 240 million Skype users, thus giving Microsoft greater mind share in the consumer market and extending business communications to customers, partners and suppliers. The Lync 2013 update does not include Skype video federation, nor enhancements to use Skype as a business service.
- IM and chat: Persistent group chat rooms is a fully integrated capability in Lync 2013. Previously there was a separate Lync Group Chat client experience for the group chat feature. A new Chat Rooms icon replaces the Activity Feeds icon on the main Lync client. The Lync 2013 client also adds tabbed conversations, which allows you to keep all your IMs, chat rooms and calls in one window.
- Windows 8 and Office 2013 integration: In addition to redesigning Lync 2013 for touch, a new Lync Windows Store app will also be available, specifically optimized for Microsoft's upcoming Window 8 offering, with integration with tablets and smartphones. Windows 8 will be touch-based and is a strategic attempt by Microsoft to modernize the offering. Similarly, Lync secures greater integration with the Office 2013 applications suite, including OneNote sharing and the ability to upload presentations to a Lync meeting directly from PowerPoint.
- Simplified management and administration: Lync 2013 represents a follow-on release to a still maturing architecture including predecessors OCS and Lync 2010. In past versions, as new features and functions were added, additional servers were added. Lync 2013 focuses on server consolidation to assist in the ease of maintenance and administration. Examples include the merging of the front-end audioconferencing and videoconferencing server, along with the merging of the monitoring and archiving servers. There are also improved capabilities for PowerShell scripts to allow automation of repetitive tasks (for example, the provisioning of an entire business unit with thousands of users).
The new release will also offer improved voice resiliency by enabling flexible and redundant trunking between Lync and peer telephony infrastructure (such as third-party IP PBXs and session border controllers), enabling redundant trunks between Lync servers that comprise the Lync end-to-end architecture. Similarly, Lync 2013 will enable a backup home pool that supports both voice and conferencing capabilities for disaster recovery. Lync 2013 now supports IPv6 addressing, which is particularly important for Asia/Pacific and public sector support. There had been speculation that Lync 2013 would enable the partitioning of Lync servers across the cloud and on-premises (that is, putting some Lync servers in the cloud and some on-premises). This would be of value if a given employee wants to have IM/presence in the cloud and telephony on-premises. However, the Lync 2013 update keeps a similar Lync 2010 architecture in place. Thus, each user must rely on all on-premises Lync 2013 servers or cloud Lync servers.
Most businesses running Lync 2010 are either not deploying Lync telephony or are running Lync telephony as a parallel offer for their legacy PBX (for example, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Siemens or even TDM Centrex/PBX). We find most Lync deployments are initially for instant messaging, presence and conferencing. While these businesses are not yet convinced that Lync 2010 is enterprise telephony ready, they are open to the idea of Lync telephony deployment as its proves itself in the market.
Gartner's initial assessment is that Lync 2013 offers only modest enhancements to the PBX feature set. While the Lync 2013 PBX feature set will be sufficient for most businesses, it is not as full-featured as those from longer-standing suppliers like Avaya, Alcatel, Siemens and Cisco. More importantly, Microsoft's voice offerings lack the proven stability and management capabilities of the long-standing voice vendors.
Microsoft has improved the feature set for mobile clients in Lync 2013. Lync for mobile clients supports Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Along with IM and presence, voice and video calls can now be enabled from mobile devices. There are other enhanced features planned for iPad users such as audio call back and the ability to upload PowerPoint presentations from within a meeting. The Lync Web App supports audio and video on a variety of browsers, but for smartphones and tablets, users need to use the application from the device's respective store. Bear in mind that not all features are supported similarly across all devices. Reference Microsoft guidance comparing mobile clients and features supported can be found in these Mobile Client Comparison Tables.
In addition, desktop client support for non-Windows clients (such as for Macs) does lag behind in terms of functionality. Utilize Microsoft support services to understand supported client features/functionality across operating systems and platforms.
Through 2012, the Lync Online technology will remain based on Lync 2010 technology, complemented by a few additions for cloud deployment. Gartner expects elements of Lync 2013 functionality to be added to Lync Online some time in 1Q13, though it still won't achieve full parity in areas such as enterprise voice.
The Lync Online capabilities are supported across Microsoft's base of global data centers (Gartner estimates that there are 10 to 15 data centers, with at least two per region served for enhanced reliability). Lync Online now supports an SMB-based voice offering branded as Lync-to-phone. This includes a baseline telephony feature set including call transfer, call hold, call forward, single number reach and click to call. The Lync-to-phone voice offering will be acquired through combining Microsoft Lync Online functions with a carrier partner. For now, that carrier partner is U.S.-based Jajah. Jajah supplies PSTN termination, direct inward dialing termination and E911 services. This set of capabilities is designed to serve as a key system replacement to selected SMBs.
The Lync-to-phone offering in its current format will not gain significant market share given its present dependence on Jajah. Microsoft will have to establish more credible communications service provider channel partners that can provide stronger SLAs.
Lync Online offers IM, presence, audioconferencing, Web conferencing, VGA-quality videoconferencing and small business voice. Other capabilities still missing from Lync Online that are available on-premises include persistent group chat and federation with public IM services such as AOL and Yahoo.
For companies interested in hybrid deployments, Lync 2013 supports having an integrated environment of on-premises servers with Lync Online, which is similar to what was available with Exchange 2010. In fact, Lync 2013 allows three deployment options: on-premises, online in the cloud and hybrid. Some users can be supported with the cloud option and some with an on-premises deployment. This scenario may make sense for companies that want to deploy Lync Online for all users but also want enterprise voice. An on-premises voice infrastructure can allow Lync Online Office 365 users to make and receive calls from the on-premises PSTN gateway. Another scenario where hybrid makes sense is in cases where a business moves in a phased approach, from an on-premises deployment to Lync Online with Office 365. When Lync 2010 was initially released, Office 365 was not yet available, so hybrid scenarios weren't possible. However, a Lync 2010 on-premises environment can now be mixed with Lync Online for a hybrid deployment. Enterprises will have to understand the different licensing plans and cost implications depending on the nuances of this approach.
While Lync 2013 does not allow a pick-and-choose model for some Lync functionality in the cloud, while other Lync functionality is delivered on-premises, the hybrid scenario allows for users on a cloud deployment to have their voice PSTN connectivity occur through an on-premises Lync server deployment. Thus, in this hybrid voice model, users can secure on-premises Lync for voice (albeit without the full Lync server capabilities), while securing IM, presence and conferencing online.
Specific upgrade decisions should be based on the following company profiles and considerations:
- Companies wanting a cloud deployment: Wait for Lync 2013 and choose the Lync Online deployment in the cloud.
- Companies wanting a hybrid deployment: In this scenario, Lync 2010 will suffice and it can be configured with Lync Online.
- Companies wanting full functionality on-premises: Waiting for Lync 2013 or deploying Lync 2010 will come down to what stage the enterprise is at with regard to server and hardware upgrades. Lync 2010 and Lync 2013 have similar hardware requirements and require 64-bit servers. Enterprises will either have the necessary hardware for Lync or else will need to upgrade.
Lync 2010 requires Windows Server 8 and SQL Server 2008. Lync 2013 will require Windows Server 2008 R2 with Service Pack 1 and SQL Server 2008 R2. It will also be able to run on Windows Server 2012, which is expected to launch in 1H13.
If the enterprise has upgraded to 64-bit hardware and is staying with Windows Server 2008, then continue with Lync 2010 deployments. If the enterprise is planning to install Windows Server 2012 when it is launched, we recommend waiting for Lync 2013.
Enterprise decisions for upgrading should be based on the overall strategy for unified communications and collaboration. Each feature enhancement should be looked at through the lens of a people-centered approach to help users get their work done. Special attention should be paid to existing infrastructure investments, mobility support, cloud options, integration of social capabilities and overall support for new business-specific workloads.