Free(ish) Ain’t Free(ish): The True Cost of Microsoft Lync
One of the lessons I’ve been trying to teach my kids is that nothing in this life comes free. Parental rewards must be earned (via good grades, behavior, etc.), yes. But everything in life comes with a price. Which is why ‘free’ games on the iPad also come with constant annoying ads for paid upgrades. Or why the true cost of that Samsung Galaxy smartphone they see on TV isn’t its $199 price, but the resulting $1,000 annual phone and data plan. Etc.
At its Lync Conference 2013 this week, Microsoft made some big announcements about where it plans to go in Unified Communications. The most important was that Lync and Skype, while kept separate for now, would be increasingly connected, products will slowly be merged together, starting with the ability by this June for corporate workers running Lync to directly call someone running the free Skype client. Microsoft also announced new voice, video and mobile capabilities for Lync.
Unlike some UC players that have gone on a major offensive against Microsoft, we aren’t troubled by this boost to Lync. Not everyone knows this, but Avaya offers a Lync plug-in called Avaya Client Applications for Microsoft Lync. This enables Lync users to connect to an Avaya Aura collaboration server for voice, video (up to 7,500 simultaneous voice/video/web users and 150,000 total provisioned users) and other real-time communications (watch a Youtube video demo here). Companies that want to make sure their telephone calls and video conferences are echo- and jitter-free are choosing Avaya Aura.
“Avaya’s ACA 6.2 plug-in is an ideal solution for customers who want to use Microsoft Lync for presence and instant messaging, but prefer the field-proven Avaya back-end infrastructure for telephony and collaboration,” explains Ira M. Weinstein, senior analyst and partner, Wainhouse Research. “Using the ACA plug-in, users place voice and video calls via the Lync user interface. Once initiated, the calls are automatically handled by the Avaya Aura solution. This solution lets customers choose the experience they want, without increasing complexity.”
As a leader in real-time collaboration, we’re not unduly wowed by Microsoft’s claim to have sold 5 million Lync voice licenses. With our UC product for SMEs, IP Office, alone Avaya has sold more than 10 million licenses. While Lync sales ‘grew’ 35% year over year, IP Office sales have grown 50% over the past two years. This doesn’t include the millions of other enterprise workers using Avaya for VoIP and telephony.
And remember what I was talking about at the top? Based on the halo effect of the free Skype and Lync’s coming integration with low-cost cloud services such as Office 365, you might think that Microsoft is the low-cost choice for UC.
And…you would be wrong. A soon-to-be-released report from Nemertes Research analyst Robin Gareiss entitled “Operational Cost Drives Stark Differences in First-Year Telephony, UC Costs” examined the important question: what vendors’ VoIP and UC solutions offer the best bang for the buck?
Nemertes’ study is admirably detailed. To obtain real-world cost data on IP telephony and UC, Nemertes conducted detailed interviews with IT pros from 31 companies. In addition, it surveyed several hundred additional IT professionals online, which, after running strict data validation and integrity checks, resulted in 180 valid responses.
The results? The total median first-year cost for IP telephony was $1,305 per endpoint. Avaya and Cisco were both about $1,100. Microsoft Lync, on the other hand, was the most expensive of the seven vendors by far, costing an average $2,482, or nearly DOUBLE the median calculated by Nemertes.
While the capital and implementation cost of Microsoft-based enterprise telephony were fairly competitive, Lync’s median operational cost ($1,912) was nearly 3x higher than the median ($704).
Customers of Microsoft attributed the higher cost “to challenges related to integration and sound quality,” according to Nemertes. “Often, Microsoft users start with Lync (and in some cases, OCS), using instant messaging and presence. But when they add voice and/or video, that adds complexity they often did not anticipate.”
By contrast, Cisco’s first-year operational cost was $505. Avaya and Shoretel, meanwhile, were virtually tied for the lowest operational cost for telephony, at $322 and $305 in the first year, respectively.
Operational cost is key, of course. As Nemertes puts it: “IT professionals rightly argue that they can get almost any vendor to come down on initial capital costs and often include assistance with the implementation. The big unknown, though, is how much the system will cost to operate on an ongoing basis.” That’s because when factors such as internal staff salaries and training, equipment maintenance and 3rd-party tools are thrown in, you get the clear TCO picture. And that picture ain’t pretty for some solutions.
Another reason why the relatively-youthful Lync telephony may be costlier to support, as our vice-president of marketing Enzo Signore pointed out to the Wall Street Journal: the probable “troubleshooting” that IT will need to do to ensure the Quality-of-Service workers expect.
For full Unified Communications including voice, video, etc., Nemertes found Avaya to have the lowest first-year TCO, at $406.45, a full 20% cheaper than Microsoft ($509.07)and 40% less than Cisco ($665.29).
It’s not just Nemertes. Constellation Research also recently conducted a study comparing the TCO of five vendors’ desktop video solutions: Avaya Flare Experience, Cisco Jabber and WebEx, Polycom RealPresence, Microsoft Lync 2010/2013 and Vidyo Desktop/Mobile. Due to video’s heavy bandwidth requirements (and the resulting high cost), analyst Dr. E. Brent Kelly focused on which vendor supported the most users with equivalent video and audio quality in different bandwidth/cost scenarios.
The result, again, was that the Avaya’s TCO was among the lowest for almost every scenario (and was second lowest overall). Microsoft was consistently higher than us, while Cisco was the most expensive by far in almost all scenarios – even factoring in a 60% street discount for Cisco.
Avaya was especially cost-competitive when businesses deployed our Multipoint Control Units (MCUs, aka video routers) in remote locations to slash bandwidth costs, as you see below:
My point is: what Microsoft is doing with Lync is interesting. But it’s still playing catch-up on the technical side, adding features that players like us and others have had for years.
And what might at first glance seem less expensive, especially to a Microsoft-centric IT shop, isn’t always true, when you take a good look at the numbers. Check out the analyst reports above. And then come over and try out our Avaya solutions – Avaya Aura on the conferencing side, IP Office for SMEs, Flare Experience and Avaya One-X for mobile and desktop, Radvision Scopia for video and more. If you don’t have money or time to waste, and want the proven reliability of the long-time leader in real-time collaboration, you owe it to your organization to take us out for a spin.