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To Microsoft or Cisco? That is the (UC) question

Servers, Storage and Networking | Posted on December 7, 2012 by Jason McNeill

At the risk of oversimplifying, one of the biggest points of contention when it comes to deploying or expanding a unified communications (UC) solution comes down to a question of direction: Which way should you go: Microsoft or Cisco – or both?

At Softchoice, we believe you can’t make technology decisions without a solid understanding of where you are today and where you want to go. Whether you do this yourself, or leverage our expertise in this area, we believe the answer is using an assessment-led process to determine the ideal technological approach.

Specifically, selecting the right vendor for a unified collaboration platform involves a navigating a confusing path of what you already have implemented, how much of it you have rolled out, what you have rights to (from a Microsoft standpoint) and a host of other non-quantitative considerations, such as brand relationships, existing skill sets in your organization and end-user preference.

Whether an organization is currently set up as a Microsoft or a Cisco shop, or has a mix of both, each will have its own needs and each will be required to take a deep look to determine the best path forward.

Based on the technology capabilities alone, it’s no longer the same clear-cut choice it may have been previously. Both Microsoft and Cisco tout solid, holistic offerings organizations can use for all their UC needs, including voice, telephony, IM and presence.

Each vendor has also made leaps in recent years to amend what might have once been considered deal breakers. For instance, Microsoft often positions Lync, rightly so, as a software solution, not a hardware one. Meaning, regardless of what phones are currently sitting on the desk you can use the technology.

With a gateway, you actually register many Cisco and Avaya handsets. There are lots of permutations for what is and isn’t compatible and leveraging AudioCodes many more translations may be possible, but you may want to be wary of variances in functionality. The net of this is that Lync plays exceedingly well as a voice and telephony solution provided the hardware running Lync and the bandwidth available on the network are sufficient.

Similarly, Cisco made headway with its acquisition of Jabber, adding a major flexibility play to its IM and presence technology, which stacks up well next to Microsoft’s own highly-extensible platform. Cisco is combining the software IM/voice/video features of Jabber with the web conferencing and social features of WebEx to round out their complete collaboration solutions.

On top of the strength Cisco and Microsoft display on their own as a holistic offering, they are also designed work together. Cisco even has an entire website, complete with video, dedicated to exploring how Lync software is easily integrated with Cisco for a powerful voice and conferencing platform.

So, from an IT perspective, how are you supposed to proceed if UC is on the top of the priority list? Does Microsoft, Cisco, or a hybrid approach make the most sense? Here’s two quick steps to get you started down the right path.

Step 1: Assess your current environment

The first step is taking toll of your existing environment and users. IT leaders should have a deep understanding of legacy infrastructures, and more importantly, how it is being used. To accomplish this, you need to get out of the office, and get in front of your “real life” users. Find out how existing UC investments are actually being used (or not), and find out who is using them (from CEO’s to interns). For other tips for a great UC deployment, see our Top 10 list. When you decide you need help, Softchoice has a robust suite of assessments that get you farther down the path than going it alone.

Step 2: Define the ideal state

Next, once you understand your current state, you want to define your future. What are you primary goals with UC? What specific changes and gains are you looking for? What kind of business will you be in the next 12 months or in the next three years? Have a look at our article on trends in UC technology and things you may want to be considering in the future. Not every business will need a total UC overhaul – and not every user inside the business will have the same needs as others.

The bottom line: determining which UC provider to go with is not a cut and dry decision. Organizations need to acknowledge from the outset that the answer won’t be clear and to come to the best conclusion, deep analysis is needed.

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