By Shelly Marston, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Lync

In my role on the Lync Marketing team, I look after Lync Meetings — audio, video, and web conferencing — and the video workload. So I was particularly attentive in Tony Bates’ keynote at Lync Conference 2013 a month ago, especially to the commitment of delivering interoperability with third-party video teleconference (VTC) vendors in the next 12-18 months. As I met with customers, partners, and analysts at the show, they all wanted to better understand what this will look like when delivered and what is available to them today. With Enterprise Connect 2013 starting today (Mar 18-21 in Orlando), I thought it was a good time to share the details of those conversations with you. I’ll do my best to answer their questions and more below, as well as provide some context around why this topic is important.

Interoperability: An Overview

Interoperability is a means or mechanism that allows disparate systems to work together.

Historically, point-to-point video and video conferencing capabilities in the enterprise have been delivered by hardware-based video teleconference (aka VTCs) or telepresence systems. Enterprises that have embraced these traditional video conferencing solutions over the last 5-15 years are likely to have invested significant budget for hardware and maintenance. These deployments are commonly a single vendor’s solutions resulting in assets from Polycom, Cisco/Tandberg, or other vendor VTCs deployed in conference rooms distributed across the enterprise’s locations.

These same enterprises, now ready to deploy Lync as a unified communications platform, are looking for ways to preserve their capital investment in these systems by using the VTCs as audio/video endpoints accessible to and from Lync. Alternatively, some customers may have an active video conferencing user community and plan to augment their solution offering with Lync. Others view Lync as a legitimate replacement to VTCs or telepresence. They might choose to leverage interoperability between Lync and VTCs/telepresence systems in the interim while migrating end users from the hardware estate to Lync.

These concepts are not unique to video. There are obvious parallels to Lync interoperability with legacy telephony solutions. In order for customers to deploy Lync Enterprise Voice, the ability to communicate with the existing telephony estate may be required — from IP-PBXs to Gateways to Session Border Controllers — whether as an interim solution or for long-term coexistence. As a result, we have grown the UC Open Interoperability Program (UCOIP) to include more than forty SIP Trunking providers and dozens of infrastructure providers across the telephony spectrum.  

To some extent, the scenarios specific to video are a reflection of the unified communications maturity curve and the journey our customers take when deploying and adopting Lync in their enterprises.

Video Interoperability with Lync Today

So how do customers achieve video interop today?

Microsoft supports the Microsoft Lync Video Interoperability Program (VIP) which tests and qualifies partners’ video solutions to provide interoperability with Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and Lync 2013 to provide a premium experience for customers. The program offers support, via the Lync Partner Engineering team, to third parties as they navigate the technical documentation and understand the finer details of the signaling and media implementations in Lync 2013.

This allows partner companies who participate in VIP such as Polycom, LifeSize, Vidyo, and Radvision (Avaya) to deliver solutions that allow video interoperability between Lync and VTCs. Many of these partners will also be attending Enterprise Connect 2013, so feel free to visit to their booths for more details.

What about Cisco?

Customers with Cisco/Tandberg VTC investments frequently ask me if Lync 2013 interoperability with Cisco/Tandberg is possible today. And if so, how?

Microsoft has, by referring to the guidelines of the Video Interoperability Program (though Cisco is not participating in the VIP), advised Cisco on the specifics of Lync 2013 signaling and extension updates required to support the new features and leveraging H.264 AVC for higher quality experiences.

A basic assessment concluded positively that interoperability between Lync 2013 and Tandberg VTCs with Video Communication Sever (aka VCS B2B UA) was achievable with minor modifications of the VCS. With Lync 2013, transcoding is no longer required. Hence, there is no need for the expensive Cisco Advanced Media Gateway. In this new interoperability mode, the codec used natively by both systems is H.264 AVC resulting in a higher quality video experience for the end user than was the case with Lync 2010 interoperability. H.263 is no longer required.

I sincerely hope Cisco continues this partnership by submitting its solution for further testing and/or qualification in the Video Interoperability Program. When customers ask me what they can do to promote progress in this regard, I suggest that they encourage Cisco to participate in the VIP.

"Built-in" Video Interoperability

I am energized by what the future holds for Lync 2013 video interoperability!

As announced by Tony Bates at Lync Conference 2013, Lync will support video interoperability, with Cisco/Tandberg VTCs specifically, within 12-18 months. With this capability “built in” to Lync, third-party gateways or MCUs (including Cisco VCS) will no longer be required to achieve interoperability.

Interoperability “built in” to Lync will:

  • Reduce complexity
  • Eliminate the need to purchase and/or maintain additional equipment
  • Provide more choice to enterprises as they deploy and adopt Lync as their unified communications platform

Ultimately, we think this will help customers achieve the above goals I mentioned in the overview, while simultaneously unlocking the full potential of Lync!

For others, interoperability will be a “means to an end” for an interim period as they consider transitioning to Lync 2013 clients and Lync Room Systems. Lync Room System is a great option for new investments, such as new conference rooms or where there is a need to increase capacity. Between Lync mobile apps and Lync Room System, we have delivered a comprehensive suite of clients with the most to offer across IM, presence, Lync Meetings, and P2P audio/video capabilities.

If you’re attending Enterprise Connect 2013, stop by our booth! You’ll see the new Lync — including our new Lync Room System solution — and have an opportunity to question the experts. I hope you enjoy the show, and I look forward to continuing this dialogue in the coming months!