Unified Communication is nothing new. For years now, large enterprises have been looking for ways to streamline their communication processes and during this time there have been two dominant players, Cisco and Avaya.
When it came to enterprise class unified communication, these two companies were and remained the go to providers. However, all this is about to change.
Microsoft has, for the longest time, had plans to disrupt this domination. To quote H.G. Wells, "Across the gulf of space...intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded [Cisco] with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against them."
The War of the UC World began back in 2007, when Microsoft launched Office Communicator, which replaced the much-loved Windows messenger service.
On 25 January 2011, Microsoft relaunched the service with a new name and new features. Microsoft Lync 2010 expanded on its predecessor's functionality to include VoIP and video conferencing. The stage was set for a move into the unified comms battleground.
However, it was not until May 2011 that the brilliance of Microsoft's plan came to light. It was on this date that Microsoft acquired that little-known company called Skype for a measly $8.5 billion. At the time, technology pundits were confounded. Why would Microsoft pay such a hefty sum for a company that had never once turned a profit?
The final piece of the puzzle was not in place until 2013, when Microsoft announced that Lync was to be integrated with Skype. It is easy to dismiss all of the above is a series of random events; but when one takes a step back and looks at the bigger picture, it becomes clear that Microsoft had an incredibly clear vision of where it wanted to go. Unified communications, which was once the preserve of only the largest enterprises with the deepest pockets, was now available to everyone.
From small and medium businesses, right down to private users, the world of UC was now attainable for all. With an army of new users, Microsoft has brought the war to Cisco and Avaya's doorstep; but it is not simply the democratisation of UC that Microsoft has in its favour. Thanks to the acceleration of cloud technologies, the world is becoming increasingly software dependent.
Cisco remains the king when it comes to hardware, but by their own admission lag behind in the software field. This is a critical differentiator between Microsoft and Cisco. The future of unified communication will be based heavily around integration. Businesses will be looking to integrate their UC platform deeper into existing applications; and if there is one company that is supremely placed to take advantage of this integration, it is of course Microsoft.
Even before entering the UC market, Microsoft dominated so many strands of business IT infrastructure. From operating systems and Exchange servers to productivity applications like Word and Excel, Microsoft had many of the pieces already in place to capitalise on the desire to tightly integrate business applications and solutions.
For the time being at least, Cisco and Avaya remain the top two players in the unified communication field. Both companies are likely to keep their current user base; but for those just beginning to consider UC as a viable option, Microsoft Lync will likely be an incredibly appealing solution - for large and small businesses alike. As things stand, Microsoft will inevitably rise to the top, leaving the hardware reliant relics in its wake.
To quote H.G. Wells once again: "This isn't a war...It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants
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