In my role as a Partner Technology Advisor for Microsoft Corporation I work as a generalist as it relates to our technology stack. Basically, I am expected to know and be able to speak intelligently about all of our core business solutions across the full spectrum from productivity solutions to security and management, with business intelligence and unified communications in-between. So like you, I am spread pretty thin at times and I cannot know everything about everything as much as I might want to.
In the last year or so with the roll out of the new Lync Unified Communications platform, the successor to the Office Communications Server product line, I have found myself more and sucked into an area where I once had no comfort (read no telephony experience). What got me started was the beautiful way Lync demonstrates to customers and the way my personal productivity is enhanced every day. Everyone I show Lync to LOVES IT. …and I LOVE IT TOO!
Now the not so great part. There is a technology side to Lync that can seem a little overwhelming. I am not saying one cannot grasp it, just that someone who has never delved into Lync or OCS will have a steep learning curve. Also realize that Lync deployments in a small business may seem to include too much infrastructure (of course you can virtualize), and for those occasions Lync Online, a component of Office 365, may be an excellent fit.
To illustrate what I am saying look at the diagram below.
Note this is a full blown enterprise voice based implementation and therefore more complex than many implementations, but still there are a lot or “roles” on the table.
Lync Server can be deployed with one server or with many depending on what functionality one needs. The only required role is that of a front end server, other roles being added as needs arise, such as the Edge role for remote workers and public IM connectivity. Interestingly the roles that need be licensed are the front end servers, so the license cost of Lync may not be as bad as it seems. A Lync Server deployment can have the following roles:
- Front End Server and Back End Server
- A/V Conferencing Server
- Edge Server
- Mediation Server
- Monitoring Server
- Archiving Server
A list of all the server roles available in Lync and their descriptions is located here. There are also two editions of the server, Standard and Enterprise. As with other Microsoft lines, the enterprise edition scales more and allows for increased high availability scenarios.
So what if you think Lync is the perfect solution for your customer, but you feel as though this is too much to get into.
Step in Lync Appliances!!!
Several companies are bringing Lync solutions pre-configured and installed on hardware ready to go. The two that I know about are:
Lync without most of the hassle. I am most familiar with the Active Communications product as I have had the honor of speaking at length about it with Marco de Jager of Active Communications. In his words ACS (their Lync Appliance) “is an all-in-one UC platform, that simplifies installation and maintenance by unifying multiple servers into one appliance, one admin interface for daily maintenance and a connector to the Active Directory.”. Pretty straight forward.
Some benefits of the ACS Lync Appliance are:
- Appliance based: virtualized on Hyper-V
- Out-of-the-box running LYNC solution
- Soft appliance or including hardware
- One system administrator interface
- Setting up configuration for customer
- Add, moves and changes for or by the customer
- Active Directory controller
- No impact on customer’s Active Directory
- Additional features
- Centralized Call Forwarding
- Status Based Routing
The sweet spot for ACS is from 100-500 end points and scale to 1000 endpoints. The additional benefit is it is all on one box. You can add telephony integration as well. They start out at about 15k and work up from there depending on what you need. I consider this pretty reasonable. Another point Marco made with me was that by using the ACS Lync Appliance you basically are getting the Microsoft Partner Competency in Unified Communications with the purchase (not exactly true but catchy!). What Marco meant by that is that all the training and experience necessary to obtain the competency is not needed by you as the product is pre-configured via best practices.
These Lync Appliance solutions intrigue me greatly and I will be following them more closely in the near term. Both of the company logos above are hyperlinked so you can explore what they can offer you and your customers.