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Will a Collaboration IT Solution Enhance Your Business?

An Engineers’ perspective

Within a crowded market of enterprise collaboration solutions how do you pick the one that is right for you?

Understanding the difference between the various collaboration platforms available in the marketplace today can be a daunting task requiring extensive planning, testing, and user focus group introduction. Utilising market research you may whittle down your list of potential solutions to the market leaders Cisco and Microsoft, but how can you guarantee what solution best suits your business? This is where we come in. Forfusion is team of experienced, multi-disciplined Cisco and Microsoft professionals who are capable of helping you determine what solution is the best fit for you.

What is Collaboration?

In recent years the traditional unified communications field has matured to provide new forms of media for the purpose of interactivity between an organisations’ staff and customers. Moving from the traditional provision of voice and internal video communications, a modern collaborative unified communications solution incorporates multi-party voice and video conferencing, as well as enhanced collaborative tools such as desktop, application and whiteboard sharing. This increases the tools available to you to support your staff and customers and deliver a richer and more co-operative or collaborative experience.

Why would you choose an Enhanced Collaboration solution?

It’s true that the majority of communications are carried out using email or telephone calls, but how can you facilitate the face-to-face conversation? Meetings are great way of sharing and working together to deliver a more personal or co-operative experience, but getting everyone around a conference table is not always practicable or cost-effective. This is where an Enhanced Collaboration solution comes into its own, giving your staff the tools necessary to conduct meetings from their computer at their desks, homes, coffee shops, or wherever they are. The benefits are two fold, the productivity of your staff is increased and you can reduce your capital outlay for travel and the provision of meeting spaces.

What Collaboration Solutions are available?

With Cisco and Microsoft vying for the top spot in the collaboration market space it is no surprise that the solutions produced by these companies are leading the pack in terms of features and market share. Cisco provides the complete Unified Communication ecosystem with the Business Edition 6000 Unified Communications system, comprising Cisco Unified Communications Manager, IM and Presence, Unity Connection and WebEx, and it’s catalogue of Unified IP Phones, Telepresence endpoints and Jabber soft clients. Microsoft provides a modern desktop and tablet orientated collaboration solution with Lync and Exchange Unified Messaging, and a rich ecosystem of certified third-party applications and gateways, as well as telephony and video endpoints. With both manufacturers offering a competitive product suite how can you work out which solution is best for you? Let’s begin by exploring the product offerings.

Cisco Business Edition 6000

The Cisco Business Edition 6000 is virtualised software suite providing a variety of unified communications applications, for up to 1,000 users, which can be tailored to suit the needs of your organisation. At the foundation of the solution is the Cisco Unified Computing System C220 or C240 M3 server, accommodating either four or eight applications respectively, delivering a virtualisation platform utilising VMware ESXi. Upon this foundation the applications are deployed, beginning with Cisco Unified Communications Manager (Call Control), Unity Connection (Voicemail), IM and Presence (Instant Messaging and Jabber), and Prime Collaboration (Provisioning and Management); this suite can be expanded further with the Expressway (Remote Access), WebEx (Conferencing and Collaboration), Telepresence (HD Video), Unified Contact Centre Express (Contact Centre), Unified Attendant Console (Reception), and the Paging Server (System Paging Notifications). Various telephony and video endpoints are available in the form of Cisco IP Phones and Telepresence endpoints.

Microsoft Lync and Exchange Unified Messaging

Microsoft Lync is a software server application comprising multiple solution components under a single architecture. The solution supports virtualisation (Hyper-V or VMware ESXi) and the applications must be installed on Microsoft Windows Server 2012 or later. A typical solution comprises a Lync Front-End server (Call Control, Management, Conferencing and Collaboration, HD Video), and Edge server (Remote Access), Reverse Proxy IIS ARR server (Web Services), and Exchange Unified Messaging (Voicemail). The solution can be tailored to fit your user requirements scaling up to a theoretical 80,000 endpoints, however large deployments above a few hundred users or solutions requiring a highly available Front-End will require a Microsoft SQL server. The solution primarily utilises the Lync Desktop client, however a suite of third party telephony and video endpoints are available (including manufacturers such as Polycom, HP, Aastra, Snom, Crestron and SMART).

Which solution is right for you?

With each solution offering a similar product and feature set with a fully fleshed application ecosystem it can be difficult to decide which solution is right for you. The Cisco Business Edition 6000 embodies the one-vendor model, simplifying solution complexity and interoperability, providing an Enhanced Collaboration platform with Cisco Jabber and WebEx Cloud; whilst Microsoft Lync utilises a condensed application overhead to provide IM and Presence, HD Video and Collaborative Conferencing without multiple additional products and servers. With so many similarities between the systems it is better to focus on the key differentiating factors that may align the products with your particular business needs.

Cisco

Cisco have been operating within the Unified Communications market space since 1998 with the original acquisition of Selsius Systems, and have a long standing commitment to the sector. Acquisitions and collaborations with multiple brand leaders within the Unified Communications sector have bolstered suite of products and expertise available from Cisco, turning their solutions into the market leaders for voice, video and collaboration. This does not mean that Cisco are resting on their laurels, with recent expansions of the IM and Presence platform, WebEx and the VCS Expressway fuelling an expansion into the Enhanced Collaboration market sector and the introduction of the Cisco UCS suite providing a backbone for them to deploy packaged application servers; however a focus on the product portfolio is only part of the solution available from Cisco. Cisco focus on their in-house and partner support options to maintain a high quality of service when both deploying and supporting their solutions. This has bolstered their core offerings to produce a highly technical and trained network of deployment and support partners.

This provides Cisco’s customers with the knowledge that not only can they rely on the technical excellence of the Cisco product suite, but additionally that they can rely on the experience and technical capabilities of the Cisco partner network to design, deploy and support their solution. In addition Cisco are very active in updating and improving their product portfolio, allowing customers to assure their capital outlay for years to come.

Microsoft

Microsoft have been a long standing market leader in computer and server operating systems, office productivity suites and cloud computing. In 2007, Microsoft released Office Communicator Server (OCS), which rebranded to Lync in 2011, introducing Microsoft to the Unified Communications sector. Whilst Microsoft has not been operating within the sector as long as it’s peers, each iteration of OCS and Lync application server have increased the product feature and functionality, resulting in the current Lync 2013 edition. Microsoft have focused on the integration between Lync and the Windows desktop, with deep integration with existing Microsoft products such as Office, SharePoint, CRM and Exchange; this extends to the external application ecosystem with federation to Skype providing easier access to customers and third-party organisations. In addition, Microsoft have worked with their technology partners to create a diverse ecosystem of applications and hardware to compliment the core system offerings.

The product focus for Microsoft has been collaboration, with the prime goal of Lync to provide the medium by which colleagues and customers can share, debate and synergise. The solution has been designed to be user friendly, allowing end users to get on with their work and collaborate with a client that is easy operate. It is no surprise that the collaborative feature of Lync are the core deployment reason stated by Microsoft’s customers.

So what’s next?

With the competition heating up in the Unified Communications and Collaboration marketplace, it’s an excellent time to explore the options available. Forfusion can help you determine what solution fits your operating model and requirements. Contact us today to start your path to a more collaborative workplace.

 

Categorised Under: Unified Communications

16th Apr 2014