Cisco forces manufacturer's hand; company adopts Microsoft Lync

Cisco forced the hand of Creation Technologies to adopt Microsoft's Lync communications platform for conferencing, and now the company has the package on its roadmap to replace disparate, isolated PBXs in the future.

The Burnaby, B.C., Canada, electronics manufacturing company had been using a combination of Cisco's MeetingPlace Express communication and collaboration gear in combination with Microsoft Outlook for its conferencing needs, says Raegan Gibb, Creation Technologies' IT operations manager.

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But when the company started testing Outlook 2010 and Office 2010, it found that Cisco could not support them and likely would not support them when they became general available, Gibb says. (Cisco will stop supporting it next spring.)

To replace the conferencing capabilities of MeetingPlace Express, Creation Technologies adopted Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) in conjunction with Office and Outlook. Mostly it's used for audio conferencing and desktop application sharing, with some videoconferencing supported by Web cams, he says.

The change let Creation Technologies shed its use of WebEx videoconferencing services, saving the company thousands of dollars per month, he says. In mid-2010, the company got the new version of OCS which was renamed Lync.

With Lync clients on about 1,600 PCs spread over 13 sites in Canada, the U.S. and China, end users can set up conferencing themselves by dragging and dropping other users' names into the set up GUI. This ad hoc, self-setup, makes the technology less intimidating to them. "People do more collaboration now," he says. "Before there was a barrier to booking a call."

He doesn't have hard numbers but at any given time there are 3 to 10 conferences going on within the company that involve 15 to 30 employees, he says.

Most of the conferencing is conducted locally and under the direction of two Lync servers at different sites in Canada, he says. But for conferences between sites bandwidth of corporate Internet links have been boosted on favorable terms with carriers in Canada (Telus) and the U.S. (tw telecom). Managed VPN connections secure the sessions.

In some cases when employees work from home or travel a lot, their primary phone is their laptop, a headset and a Lync software client. They receive local phone numbers from service provider ThinkTel who direct the calls via SIP trunk to the Lync servers, which route them to the called parties.

As a long-term objective, Lync will become the central PBX for the company, although there is no capital plan to do so. It will replace disparate PBXs dedicated to individual sites, many of which came along with acquisitions, Gibb says. The vendors include Nortel, Panasonic, Toshiba and Nitsuko, and even Cisco VoIP gear.

Just the replacement cost of handset would be significant, he says. Users would be reluctant to abandon them altogether and go with headsets and computers, although the technology would allow for doing this.

Users are still getting used to having videoconferencing capabilities, so use continues to grow, but audio conferences, application sharing and instant messaging remain the most sought Lync features.

The plan calls for shifting smaller sites with just a few employees entirely over to Lync-supported voice, essentially fork-lifting the old systems, and Gibb is convinced Lync is mature enough to handle that role. "Making it work and the features are not an issue," he says. "That stuff works really well."

The real barrier to adoption may be psychological. "It's a big stretch to no phone and just a headset," he says.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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