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Unified Communications Coming on Strong

UC deployments appear to be up, and Cisco maintains its market lead, but Microsoft is making gains, new research finds.

I've recently been working with Steve Taylor of Webtorials on a survey of a few hundred IT professionals sponsored by session border controller manufacturer Sonus Networks to gauge the acceptance of unified communications among enterprise organizations with a particular focus on Microsoft's Lync UC platform. The full report won't be published for a few weeks, but Taylor allowed me to divulge a few of what we found to be the more surprising data points that popped out.

In December 2011 I wrote the "State of Unified Communications 2012" report for InformationWeek Reports based on a survey that asked a number of similar questions and found some major differences. Most striking was the percentage of respondents who had deployed or were planning to deploy UC. In the InformationWeek survey, we found that 36% had deployed UC, with another 31% planning to do so within 24 months. With the Webtorials survey population, we found 21% reporting "full deployments" and 53% reporting "partial deployments"; another 16% were starting or would soon be starting their planning. Given the different survey populations, you can't do a real apples-to-apples comparison, but things seem to be looking up for UC.

The two surveys got strikingly similar responses when we asked who was the "primary champion" or "played the greatest role in developing the strategic vision for UC." In both cases, the CIO or IT manager/director was identified by more than 60% of respondents (61% in Webtorials and 67% in InformationWeek); the telecom manager/director was picked by 13% of Webtorials respondents and 6% in the InformationWeek group. So it looks as if users are recognizing there's more to UC than just voice and unified messaging.

In the Webtorials survey we also asked which vendor or vendors organizations were using for on-premises voice systems now and which they planned to use in the future. The top three for current deployments were Cisco (64%), Avaya (41%) and Microsoft (28%); the other PBX vendors came in with less than 10% each. When we asked about future plans, Cisco's share grew to 67%, Microsoft pulled into second with 38%, and Avaya dropped to third with 27%. With the exception of ShoreTel, which showed a modest gain (from 2% to 4%), all the other PBX vendors saw their shares decreasing.

To get a clearer picture of user preferences for the various components of UC, we asked respondents to name their current and planned vendors for a number of those functions, including basic UC (such as IM, presence and unified messaging), videoconferencing, collaboration (Web meetings and desktop sharing) and enterprise social capabilities (internal corporate user profiles, directories and skill search). In almost every case, the top pick was either Cisco or Microsoft. The exception was videoconferencing, where Polycom came in a close second to Cisco (44% to 43%) and Microsoft taking third at 22%. In virtually every case the other (that is, "non-Cisco") PBX vendors saw their respective shares slipping between "current" and "planned" installations. It also appeared that Cisco was favored in the more telephony-oriented categories, whereas Microsoft was favored for functions like IM, presence and enterprise social networking.

When we asked about current and planned use of Microsoft for voice, 13% reported using it "extensively" or "quite a bit" today, and those choices doubled to 26% for the future. Some 53% said they don't use Lync for voice at all today, but that percentage dropped to 31% for the future. When we look at IM and presence, Lync has 45% in those two categories, now and in the future.

What we took away from this is that UC is increasingly becoming a two-horse race between Microsoft and Cisco, with users showing a decided preference for one or the other for different UC functions. Clearly, recognition of Microsoft as a "voice" supplier is growing, as only 14% agreed with the statement "I didn't know that Microsoft could support PBX functions." However, Microsoft still has a way to go to prove its voice chops, but the company clearly has a strong foothold in many of the core areas of UC.

We're still plowing through the data analysis, but sign up on the Webtorials' registration page and you'll get a note when the final report is published.

Michael Finneran is an independent consultant and industry analyst.

Michael F. Finneran, President of dBrn Associates, Inc. is a consultant and industry analyst specializing in wireless, mobile unified communications, and fixed-mobile convergence. With over 30 years in the networking field and wide range of experience, he is a widely ... View Full Bio
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