As Microsoft preps for Lync conference, competitors launch attacks

Cisco, Avaya take aim at Lync
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As Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) prepares to hold its first Lync user conference this week, competitors are taking aim at the IT behemoth and its unified communications (UC) platform.

Keynote speakers at the sold-out conference being held in San Diego include Tony Bates, president of Microsoft's Skype Division, and Derek Burney, corporate vice president of Microsoft Lync Engineering. This is no coincidence, since Microsoft revealed last fall that it was moving its Lync product to its Skype division.

"This move aligns the best of our consumer and business solutions and will position Microsoft to continue to redefine how the world communicates at home, at work and on the go," Microsoft told telecom analyst Dave Michels.

The marriage of Lync and Skype makes sense from a UC perspective. Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011 for $8.5 billion, has been a leader in consumer VoIP, while the Lync UC platform fully supports SIP trunking for enterprises.

Microsoft's competitors are not letting the firm bask in the UC spotlight, though. Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), for example, unveiled survey results on Monday that indicate IT professionals are not necessarily enamored with Microsoft when it comes to UC.

Close to half of 3,320 IT professionals surveyed by Redshift Research on behalf of Cisco said they do not use Lync for business-critical external communications, even though they have it deployed in their enterprise. In addition, three quarters of respondents believe it is important to maintain a separate communications system from Lync for users and calls requiring high quality and reliability.

Business-critical external communications include "a contact center agent who has to provide customer support to one of their customers, someone at a retail store trying to answer a question for a customer, an executive who has to do an important customer meeting, or a quarterly analyst call meeting," Michael Smith, senior director of marketing for collaboration applications at Cisco, told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.

"Among the IT populace there are concerns. 'You know, Lync is great for certain uses, but it is not the solution I use when I need a high quality solution.' That is not an acceptable scenario when dealing with a customer or partner," Smith said.

In addition, 80 percent of respondents expect to get enterprise voice and video from the cloud, something Cisco said it can deliver through its cloud-based Unified Communications Manager and its Hosted Collaboration Solution.

"Microsoft is playing catch-up... there are concerns with quality and reliability," wrote Carl Wiese, senior vice president of global collaboration sales with Cisco, in a blog.

Also, 87 percent of respondents want a single point of accountability for their UC product. Not surprisingly, Wiese argued that Cisco provides such a single point of accountability, while Microsoft's UC approach "involves a patch quilt of vendors."

Avaya also joined the party criticizing Microsoft. Microsoft's Lync product lacks the reliability needed for enterprise adoption, argued Vincenzo Signore, vice president of unified communications product management at Avaya.

"If you look at all of the modalities that include unified communications… Microsoft is a distant player in terms of market share," Signore told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.

A recent Webtorials survey of 200 IT professionals listed Cisco and Microsoft as the top two players in the UC market. At the same time, Gartner's Magic Quadrant UC report placed Avaya in the leaders' quadrant along with Cisco, Microsoft and Siemens Enterprise Communications.

Signore argued that Microsoft's Lync "has not proven to be of the same reliability as Avaya's technology," adding, "high reliability is a very important component of UC and that is one of the reasons why many customers are not going down the Lync path."

Microsoft's UC efforts have obviously raised alarms for its major competitors, prompting them to launch preemptive attacks before the Lync conference. So Microsoft must be doing at least something right.

For more:
- see the Microsoft Lync conference website
- check out Cisco's survey results

Related articles:
Skype, VoIP taking business away from carriers
Webtorials: 75% of enterprises have partially or fully deployed UC
More than two-thirds of enterprise users want mobile UC features, according to BroadSoft survey
Gartner names Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and Siemens as 2012 UC market leaders