Friday, November 18, 2011

Lync and 3rd Party PBX Integration

I've been reading the comments over at VOIPNorm's blog post about Avaya ACE.  There's a lot to wade through there, but it got me thinking about customer expectations around unified communications.  I've got this one particular customer who's got Cisco phones deployed everywhere.  They've also got Lync everywhere and people love it.  They recognize that Lync has nailed the user experience, encompassing a full featureset along with an easy-to-use interface.  Naturally, this customer doesn't want to toss out their significant investment in Cisco hardware, and they want Cisco and Lync to work together.  They want Lync to work with their existing phone system with little fuss, and still maintain the rich UI experience of Lync.

What I want to tell them is that you will NEVER have a truly seamless easy-to-use experience when you try to join two competitors' UC products together.  To paraphrase one of the commentors at VOIPNorm's blog: when you mix a nice red wine with a nice white wine, the end result isn't a great rosé.

At this client, we attempted to go down the integration path with OCS and a third-party product that promised seamless remote call control with Cisco.  They were looking at a 3rd party for RCC rather than Cisco's Unified Presence Server (CUPS), because of apparent scalability issues with CUPS.  From an administrative standpoint, the 3rd party product was an absolute nightmare to configure and troubleshoot.  Once we did get it working, it did provide remote call control, but there were significant usability issues.  The product worked fine when the user was in the office.  Users could make or take calls on their deskphone using Lync to control it.  However, when the user went home they got frustrated when they couldn't answer incoming calls they could see on their Communicator client because it would answer it on the deskphone back in the office.

We tried giving them the best of both worlds by enabling them for Enterprise Voice, but that became a support nightmare when they got confused about which way to answer the phone or to make calls.  If they were set to answer via Communicator, they were confused why their deskphone didn't go off-hook.  If they made a call from home and they were set to RCC mode, then they didn't understand what was going on when they dialed a number and they couldn't hear anything (because the call was going out via the deskphone at the office).  Not only that, but we now had two separate phone systems to manage.

We tried CuciMOC and CuciLync as well. I remember saying that if CuciMOC could deliver on even half of what they were promising, then our integration problems would be solved.  Unfortunately, the end-user experience was so lacking that the project never went beyond the IT pilot phase.  Not only that, but the administrative burden involved in configuring and maintaining it was not something that the IT group wanted to deal with on a large scale.

Both projects died a well-deserved death, but the CIO has been demanding seamless connectivity between Cisco and OCS/Lync ever since.  It's interesting that people expect so much more from Microsoft than any other vendor.  I don't think I've ever heard anyone demanding that Cisco and Avaya integrate with each other.  Why should Microsoft get such different treatment?

Unfortunately, when we are dealing with two COMPETING vendors like Cisco and Microsoft, there will never be the sort of tight integration that will allow companies to both leverage their existing investment AND take full advantage of the UC capabilities of Lync.  Each vendor has their own very good reasons to push the benefits of their own particular solution.  Companies need to stop trying to get the best of both worlds and fully invest in either one or the other solution, not both.

I truly believe that Lync is the best and most cost-effective unified communications solution out there.  No other vendor has the same level of product functionality built into the base product as Lync.  Companies can get IM, presence, video/audio conferencing, whiteboarding, application/desktop sharing and Enterprise Voice with as little as ONE server.  Of course, high availability requirements and larger deployments do require more servers, but it does serve to illustrate what is possible with just one server.  Add ONE more server for seamless external connectivity with other companies and remote users.  Lync can provide companies with the sort of unified communications their users desire, but sadly even with my best pre-sales pitch, I can't convince everyone.

We are in the early days of a true revolution in communications.  Its natural to be resistant to the big changes necessary to put the pieces in place.  However, once the switch is made, it will pay dividends in terms of ease-of-communications, cost and flexibility.


  1. Great post, exactly what i was trying to say in my comment on the orginal post. And i must admit that i love the phrase "when you mix a nice red wine with a nice white wine, the end result isn't a great rosé."

  2. Hey Tommy,
    Thanks for that. Wish I was the one that came up with that great phrase!


  3. I also share the same ideia. It's just difficult to join to two competitive products and convince the customers to buy one mixede solution for the price of two... only in some specially situations

  4. Great post Ken.

    I can definitely appreciate the call forking picture you have painted for us. My workplace has an Avaya CS1000 and we are slowly migrating our user base off and onto EV, end users find it far simpler and are only too happy to get the full Communicator experience.

    That said we have definitely managed to sweat the investment of our existing Avaya estate whilst giving me the buying time necessary to move entirely off and onto Lync.

    - Adam

  5. @Ken @Tommy, I too love the wine phrase, but of course I said it :-)

    The myth that combining two vendor products yields something that is more than the sum of its parts is what I call the Integration Myth. It is a myth that the solution yields a superset of features and it is a myth that end users are necessarily better served by these integrations.

    I wrote about this way back in 2009 in my piece entitled the Integration Myth:

  6. Hi Ken - I have deloyed many dual cisco / ms uc deployments and managed to integrate them fine. CuciMOC/Lync has worked very well for many of these. Shoot me an email if you are looking for any info.


  7. What you speak of is a prefect example of the sunk cost fallacy.

    New product comes out that everyone, including yourself(CIO) love.
    There is a cost in moving over, and yet you decide it's worth the cost to do so.
    However there's the older product you spent money on, and despite being ready to spend money on the new one, feel that you'll be "wasting money" by getting rid of the old one, and try an do something with it. In this case, integration.

    The fact of the matter is, the cost is sunk, the money is spent and there is no way to get it back(directly anyways, you could always auction it off/sell it if allowed by company policy). If you have decided that the new product(whatever it is) is worth spending the money on, then trying to keep the old product around in some hobbled together fashion often times merely results in good money being thrown after the bad.

  8. As a matter of fact, there are already so many products like that. Every one makes huge claims when he develops such product. However, until now, people prefer to use a service that is more well known to them. Until now, no one has been able to beat the popular VoIP phone service providers like Axvoice, ( Ooma and Packet 8.