News from the Lync Conference: UCaaS

9 Mar 2014

What did not come out of the Lync Conference was a lot of clarity about UCaaS and what Microsoft is expecting of that channel. Disappointing, but not unexpected. Microsoft has been consistently focused on the premise enterprise deployments. Gurdeep Singh Pall and Giovanni Mezgec made a lot of references to cloud enablement for Lync but the details were sketchy and by context they were likely talking about private cloud deployments of Lync (via HP or the telcos) or about hybrid solutions (similar to what West IP Communications is doing).

In their session on Service Provider Opportunities, Michael Butler and Roy King indicated that the partnership between Microsoft Office 365 and its service provider partners (historically in this relationship called "syndication partners") was continuing to expand. That was expected and portends good things for Microsoft as it finds more opportunities to work with the telcos.

Not a lot was said about Lync Hoster Pack v.2 other than Microsoft continues to offer it to partners and no mention was made in the Partner Hosting session led by Roy King and Clinton Dickey regarding a possible v.3 release. Steven van Houttum did a credible job talking about how UCaaS partners might work with Hoster Pack v.2 but this information was not particularly new since last year's Hosting Summit or WPC sessions.

What was missing, other than a small suggestion on Slide 8 of their deck, was detail of when Lync and PSTN services would be available directly from Microsoft via O365. Roy brushed by this topic in his comments and the slide seems to indicate that this service will be available in the United States in 2015. This is crucial news as it means that Microsoft is not abandoning the path it started down with Jajah about being able to provide dial-tone services directly to its Office 365 Lync customers. This, in turn, has potentially great impact on Microsoft's UCaaS channel.

More than likely any PSTN service that Microsoft would offer O365 Lync customers would initially be fairly generic. But just as likely those services, particularly as part of a larger O365 bundle, would be very competitively priced. That means that a UCaaS provider built on Lync is going to have to contend with the 800 pound gorilla that is Microsoft competing for customers wanting basic Lync functionality (typically, PBX replacement). As Roy and others pointed out, the key for long-term success by UCaaS providers will be to differentiate themselves through services, upgrades, and extensions.

It is expensive to differentiate, which is why it looks like the UCaaS world is consolidating. Arkadin's recent purchase by NTT and their own recent acquisition of Implement.Com is an example of how consolidating service providers in the Lync world will enable the UCaaS partners to build out a competitive portfolio. West Corporation (InterCall) had already moved in this direction with its acquisition of PostCti, which, together with the acquired Smoothstone, was repackaged as West IP Communications and enables West to build custom hybrid solutions. Avanade's acquisition of Azaleos combines hosting expertise with solid deployment and development expertise; although Avanade has not yet announced whether it will develop a Lync-based UCaaS it certainly has the horsepower now to do so.

It is unlikely Microsoft will provide any clarity on its UCaaS plans at Enterprise Connect. This month's Hosting Summit in Bellevue may provide a glimpse of things to come but if, as Roy's slide suggests, its own UCaaS service will not be fully enabled until 2015 it may be the Lync Conference next year where we get a more precise roadmap of where Lync, PSTN, and Office 365 are headed together.


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