Microsoft today announced a move from Lync to Skype for Business. While most believe this is a simple rebrand and some lipstick on the clients, I believe it’s a signal of a whole lot more.
This first round will essentially be a rebranding and UI tweaking exercise to make the two look more similar.
In the coming months I expect that new versions of Skype and Lync start to share codecs, since the existing solution of transcoding at the Lync edge server is simply not scalable. Skype already has Lync’s H.264SVC codec embedded and presumably that will allow a more “native” Skype-Lync video experience. Instead of the edge servers doing signalling AND codec transcoding they can do just signalling – a huge reduction in load. Below is a simplified view of the changes:
Doing the same for share, control, participant lists etc – is a much, much bigger hurdle.
The “pitch” from Microsoft is that the merging gets business access to hundreds of millions Skype users. Depending on who you poll, anywhere between 350m and 500m. Getting Skype and Lync to talk more seamlessly in order to have consumers talk to enterprise will largely be run over by WebRTC which Microsoft has also put their weight behind, including the H.264AVC codec. With WebRTC anyone with a browser can participate, and that opens the entire system up to billions of users with broadband connections…. and Skype looses its hold. “Why should I have to download Skype, or give up my SkypeID in order to click to call my bank? Shouldnt I just click the call button on their website?”
At some point the two clients from Microsoft will have to merge in a single client, and then, much more ominously, a single system…. Why would Microsoft want the complexity and expense of two? Remember Messenger? Merging two systems is much easier said than done… for both Microsoft and customers.
The bigger question is which system dies and which lives. For the one that dies, how painful is the transition? The choice is obvious which has to go away:
In the age of ubiquitous consumer services like Skype, Facetime, Hangouts etc, everyone can participate there is no notion of setting up islands of capability and having to force users to “federate” those islands so they can talk to each other. Its cloud-scale stuff. Just connect and go.
With Lync, the opposite is the case. Businesses can set up Lync installations and then have to explicitly connect to other systems such as other companies’ Lync implementations. This series of individual systems is deployed by individual companies, or in “cloud” data centers. They’re build on Live Communications Server which was released in 2003. Thats over 10 years ago. They all, individually need to make sure they’re patched, upgraded and secure in order to realize the collaboration dream.
This is not the new-world. The next-gen applications have no such notion. Even as one of the oldest consumer services, you hop on Skype, and you can talk to anyone else on Skype. You’re not running a “Skype server” that you need to connect to everyone else’s server.
Skype is no panacea – Skype itself is an island, where folks like BlueJeans have made money helping them to connect to other systems, but that’s another topic for another post.
A move from an individualized per-company Lync world to something where you have a true cloud service with elastic scale and management is where Microsoft has to go. They have to move from Lync to Skype in order to be competitive.
The announcement today heralds that sort of massive platform change for Lync, and massive change for those who use it. Changing platforms is not easy.
Opportunities for Cisco
In the meantime, folks like Cisco have been doubling down and working on true cloud collaboration offers for a while now. Cisco hired Skype’s ex-CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg, who had strong opinions on where the world was going a few years ago. They’ve had the #1 cloud collaboration platform for years, and in fact that plstform represents the second largest SAAS platform globally behind Salesforce.
Cisco has already opened it’s multi-workload cloud “Meeting room” platform to even support traditional systems so that you can join a full experience on all the new cool devices and your old Polycom room systems… For years already you could also get full UC capabilities (not just a subset) from the cloud with their cloud HCS solutions…
Cisco announced the next step in the revolution of Cloud Collaboration.. on November 18th and demoed their already-working platform…while Microsoft just gets started revamping Lync to be a true Cloud app. Remember, “Merging two systems is much easier said than done… for both Microsoft and customers.”