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Unified Communications Microsoft vs. Cisco: A Customer Experience

Recently, I had the opportunity to help a customer pilot Cisco Jabber 9.2 .x and Cisco’s full unified communications stack.  Subsequently, I helped that same customer rollout Microsoft Lync 2013.

Recently, I had the opportunity to help a customer pilot Cisco Jabber 9.2 .x and Cisco?s full unified communications stack. Subsequently, I helped that same customer rollout Microsoft Lync 2013. I want to share the customers? and my observations and experiences of the two products.

Before I get started, I probably should explain my stance and skewed perspective on both companies. I am not a Cisco hater and I will compliment them on some of their features. Admittedly, I am in love with Microsoft Lync but I am not afraid to point out issues if I see them. So I will try and keep it balanced but I will say that the experience drove the result rather than this blogger?s opinion.

Let?s start with some kudos to the Cisco team that sold the customer on going with Cisco unified communications in the first place. I will say that Cisco had a heavy advantage in the customer owned the licensing for the functionality already and the customer would have had to make an additional investment in Microsoft licensing. Cisco definitely demonstrates very well. Implementation in a real world customer is a bit more difficult.

Let?s start with the biggest complaint about Cisco ?not? unified communications, no continuity. When you buy your strategy, you have to make it work together. WebEx is a prime example. Really, WebEx next to traditional Cisco voice over IP is the gem in their offering. Meeting Place is thankfully on its way out but until the WebEx on premise server is fully functional and as of this writing it may be close to a first release, this whole functional overlap is very messy. Jabber, another acquisition, is really the step child of the bunch, in my opinion. Cisco is firing out releases to try and bring it up to speed. You have to make sure all your various parts and pieces have proper versions. Next you have to administer in different administration interfaces. Too many disparities inside the solution.

On the Microsoft side, for the most part it was built from the ground up so it truly feels unified. The one caveat to this would be the group chat functionality. It has taken a few releases to get it into the fold but in Lync 2013 I am happy to present it to the customer as a viable option. Overall, Microsoft is clearly ahead by starting with the right strategy.

Next is the complaint about having to manage a device centric infrastructure in the Cisco realm. Jabber is another device that has to manage along with the other Cisco devices assigned to the user. In comparison, Microsoft takes a user centric management approach that proves to be much easier on the administrator. Jabber overall isn?t going to be easy on the administrator.

I made reference to Cisco delivering a flurry of client updates to try and get the end client up to speed with features and functionality. They don?t seem to have a published or regular release cycle. I will give it to Cisco that the client has been pretty easy to package and deploy with Microsoft System Center. Now, some may argue that this is good because they are quick to market. Really, it is catch up and it means a lot of testing and validation if you are doing your due diligence as an administrator.

On the client side, one thing that Cisco did was to try and unify functionality across the many disparate operating systems that clients can be deployed across. For example, Apple IOS and Windows, etc. Microsoft has struggled with this same effort so I think both companies are on a level playing field here.

Continuing on the client side, Cisco?s disparity continues to show itself in stalling plugins from the WebEx site to create the integration to applications like Outlook. Microsoft also installs an add-on to integrate with Microsoft Lync. On the surface, the user experience with Outlook was not drastically different for Jabber and the WebEx plugin as compared to the Microsoft Lync integration. However, let?s do some simple math and logic. Choose to support two clients, Jabber and WebEx, as compared to one client with Microsoft Lync as well as continued support from the same company that makes Outlook, Microsoft, or a company in competition, Cisco.

On the subject of WebEx, I will take a moment to compliment Cisco on this acquisition. Functionally, this has been a nice addition to their collection of offerings. We implemented the online version of WebEx integrated with Active Directory Federation Services for authentication and I found that to be very slick. With that said, I don?t think that the user experience or functionality of WebEx exceeded that offered by Microsoft Lync. From the customer experience, Cisco?s approach to the process to ramp up on the online version of WebEx was very poorly executed. In my opinion, this poor customer experience was part of the disconnect between the two companies, WebEx and Cisco. Hopefully, that gets better for their sake. One major area that WebEx did fall short was the licensing and concurrent connections offered to the customer. I won?t go into details on the costs but I was shocked to what it would cost to maintain 1000 users with a max of 100 concurrent connects to WebEx. Those 100 concurrent connects were for the whole company not a per-meeting limit. Compare that to the default of 250 participants per meeting for Microsoft Lync. I am sure that each deal is priced differently but the proposed investment in the WebEx subscription easily paid for Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Lync on premise that was implemented offered more functionality. Here is a link to an article about the online comparison that I also found interesting, Lync vs.WebEx cost.

I will wrap up this blog entry with another link to Why Microsoft over Cisco. As you read this compete site by Microsoft, you will notice that the customer rollout experience reinforces many of the points found on the site. Of course, it also identifies points that this customer did not identify based on their rollout needs. Overall, I found the whole experience invaluable as unified communication consultant.

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