Westcon bolsters UC play with Lync move

Distributor Westcon Convergence has extended its portfolio with a fully rounded Microsoft Lync proposition based on a single ‘Lync in a box' server supported by an ecosystem of Lync-focused vendors.

Westcon first signalled its MS Lync strategy in December last year when it rubber stamped a distribution agreement with Active Communications Europe, creator of the ACS Lync Appliance. Westcon has since geared up for a big UC launch with ACS at its core and elevated its position within Microsoft as the first pan-European distributor of its ‘Lync in a box' programme. As a result of these efforts Westcon is close to achieving Microsoft's Gold Communications Competency with over 30 of its staff already Lync trained.

Westcon registered more details on its Lync initiative during two webinars and early interest was high with 250 people taking part. The official launch on July 17th at Microsoft's HQ in Reading, Berks, also proved popular with 140-plus delegates descending on the software giant's UK home to gain first-hand insights into Westcon's channel strategy and the components of its Lync-centric UC solution proposition.

The final piece in the vendor ecosystem fell neatly into place just days before the launch when Westcon announced details of a distribution agreement with snom. Other vendors in the mix include Jabra, Plantronics, Audiocodes, Polycom, Acme Packet and Net. According to Peter Wheeler, Head of UC Sales, Westcon has been working hard behind the scenes but now it is time to put Lync in front of a wider audience. "We have been building our Lync solution ecosystem over the past year," said Wheeler. "Now we are making a noise about the proposition. Our Lync Discovery event signals Westcon's belief that the time is right for partners to get involved in a market that IDC says will grow at a CAGR of 18 per cent."

Wheeler also cited research that indicates a 300 per cent rise in the availability of Lync-optimised devices and 30 per cent year-on-year growth in the market for MS Lync. "Microsoft gained three per cent share against its UC competitors in the last 12 months," noted Wheeler. "This reinforces our belief that Lync is likely to become a key player in the UC market. We now have a full UC portfolio, are raising awareness and will educate partners as the first EMEA distributor with a Lync offering."

Guy Koster, European Director of Product Management and Product Marketing at Westcon Convergence, has witnessed increasing demand for the Microsoft Lync solution and was instrumental in assembling the best-of-breed portfolio of solutions and services for the European market. He commented: "People often ask me what makes Lync different to other UC solutions. Gartner defines UC as delivering a ‘communications-enabled business process', and Lync arguably comes closest because it sits at the core of familiar Microsoft desktop productivity applications, providing the collaboration glue that unifies them."

While Lync represents a potential game changer in its IT-centric approach to the UC market, the need for multiple vendors within an ecosystem could potentially complicate deployments of the overall solution. But that's not the case with Westcon, claims Koster. "Our goal was to simplify the deployment experience by creating an ecosystem that allows channel partners to engage with Westcon not only for Lync products, but also for our portfolio of pre-sales, marketing, partner enablement, training and support services," he said.

You cannot fail to be impressed by Lync's inherent versatility and slickness of operation. It has been developed from the ground up as a comms and collaboration platform that integrates tightly with other MS Office applications, and according to Tony Cocks, UC Channel Development Manager for Microsoft, the voice element is ‘absolutely where it should be'.

Apart from voice Lync also offers presence, video, IM, collaboration, document sharing, audio conferencing, skills-based presence and much more, so it is perhaps surprising that less than one per cent of Microsoft's UK partner community are certified to provide Lync as part of their portfolio. According to Wheeler this uncluttered area of the market presents significant opportunities for businesses that already supply comms and video solutions.

Gateways enable customers to take a migrationary approach to adopting Lync if they do not want to replace their existing estate right away. This is a trend that Microsoft has particularly noted and it enables the end user to enhance their experience with Lync-optimised end points such as high class handsets and headsets, all of which are available from Westcon. Lync's high level of interoperability means that it can integrate with all legacy PBXs, enabling a wider deployment of the solution. Lync also integrates with Sharepoint, Exchange, Windows Server, Forefront and CRM applications, among many others, meaning that its interoperability has greatly improved. Lync also uses Exchange as a voicemail platform that operates hand in hand with mobile phones.

The cost savings that customers can achieve by using the Lync solution are equal to its high levels of functionality. Expenditure on conferencing for example can be wiped out at a stroke, while the productivity benefits associated with presence put the working environment into a new context. Lync's developers are constantly creating new contexts in which it can operate, such as third party operating systems like Apple, Android, Nokia and Blackberry, with Skype integration on the cards.

Marco de Jager, responsible for Business Development within Active Communications, promotes the ACS Appliance as being 110 per cent MS Lync. He noted: "We looked at ways to add value to Lync so we created this single experience by simplifying Lync as part of the Outlook and Office suite. ACS Lync Appliance combines all of the servers on a single box, making it simple to install. It also incorporates additional features such as centralised call forwarding and automatic user management."

Active Communications began life as a UM firm 20 years ago. Now it boasts a hat full of Microsoft credentials as a Lync 15 Systems Integrator and Developer with MS ISV status. The company's knowledge is built into its appliance meaning that partners gain immediate access to the MS UC Competency. "The ACS Appliance enables partners to become the UC expert for their customers, providing resellers with easy proof of concept, additional revenue and margin on peripherals," he explained.

Koster noted that the agreement with Active Communications Europe is significant for Westcon's convergence business practice. Since sealing the deal Westcon has been busy acting on its initiative and building its Lync proposition that enables partners to install and maintain the solution.

Koster said: "Our goal was to provide an all-encompassing portfolio of products and services that enables resellers to both simplify and accelerate Lync deployments at scale. We believe we've created a compelling proposition that will continue to evolve. Now is a great time to invite channel partners to join us on this journey and exploit the exciting UC business opportunity that Lync represents."

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