This year’s Unified Communications show was pretty much like last year’s at least on the face of it. It’s another event defined by a buzzword; probably worth attending if you’re looking to by or sell unified communications, whatever that means. In practice you’ll find a wide choice of telephony headsets and IP VoIP endpoints (handsets) all under one roof.
Look a little closer, and this year every stand was flogging solutions involving Microsoft Lync. Microsoft what? In case you missed it, this is the new name for Microsoft Office Communicator, designed to sort out (unifiy) the bugger’s muddle they helped create with a every new IM and/or VoIP protocol released over many years. But because it’s a Microsoft product, everyone is falling over themselves to support it.
As far as I can make out, Lync is pretty much just Microsoft’s interpretation of SIP, with particular optional extension to the open standard considered by Microsoft to be mandatory. Unifying it with Skype isn’t on the cards, yet. Making some kind of sense of MSN Messenger and their various other IM protocols is; as is integration with Exchange Server for directory information.
Comapnies which once offered Asterisk in the cloud are now racing to offer Lync Servers, and as usual these are virtual products ultimately purchased from providers like SIPCOM, who actually have the hardware at the data centres and resell as a white-box product.
Another real hardware comany at the show was my old friends Snom, the German IP PABX makers. They’re offering a range of Lync compatible handsets, but with a significant twist. Microsoft recognises both “Lync Optimized”, and “Lync Qualified” handsets. Basically “Optimised” means you’re running a Microsoft Lync Client bastartised SIP stack, which won’t talk to much else. “Qualified” means you’re running standards-based SIP with the required optional extensions needed to talk to Lync Server. Snom offer both options, and have some dual-stack products that’ll register accounts with standard SIP and Lync at the same time. As handsets are a significant cost, going for the dual-stack option looks a much safer bet than throwing in with Microsoft. And here’s why…
Ask yourself the question – how long do you expect your company telephone system to last? Five years, ten years, twenty years? The longer the better. Now look again at Microsoft’s business model – they’ve got form. How long to their software products last before they’re considered to be junk, even my Microsoft? Well Windows 2000 lasted five years, Server 2003 lasted five years (Server 2000 even less), Windows NT 6 looks set to be replaced after five years too. In short, Microsoft is a software company and doesn’t see any point in supporting products longer than they have to – it’s software, after all – easy to upgrade, right? With that in mind, buying tens ot fhousands of pounds worth of Lync-only hardware might not be such a bright idea.
Another company I ran into at Integrated Comms 2012 was Draytek (UK), showing off their latest ADSL routers. I favour Draytek routers, and have done for many years. Sometimes this is hard, when new models with improvements lead to degredation and the technical documeation stops at a level just when it starts to get interesting. But put simply, they don’t have a lot of competition in the niche they operate it and their current products work really well and do a lot more than everyone elses, aspart from Cisco kit (which is expensive and needs a specialist to configure).
Their latest ADSL boxes are the 2830 and the 2850. The 2830 is an upgrade of of the 2820: new firewall and VLAN features and every port on the switch is now 1Gb. More intersting is the 2850, which has a VDSL modem built in. That’s FTTC (or BT Infinity) in case you were wondering. You can connect a 2850 to the wall, without using the BT Ethernet modem box you currently get to connect your “Home Hub”. You can also connect the BT modem to the WAN port on a 2820 or 2830 and configure PPPoE – it works just fine, and as you get one free this might seem unnecessary, but the 2850 is an all-in-one solution and when the FTTC market opens up or your BT modem breaks down.