Lync, Microsoft’s unified communications platform, combining voice, web conferencing and instant messaging, is reportedly poised to become the next billion dollar business at Microsoft. It’s time you considered alternatives before Lync becomes engrained in your IT environment, much like SharePoint has for many companies.

Lync follows in SharePoint’s billion dollar footsteps
According to reports from Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2011, the company has high expectations for Lync, with several Microsoft managers telling editorial director of MSPmentor, Joe Panettieri, that Lync’s sales trajectory will make Lync Microsoft’s next billion dollar platform.

With Lync, formerly Office Communications Server, Microsoft is following a similar strategy to Microsoft’s SharePoint, another billion dollar plus business.

With Lync, as with SharePoint before it, Microsoft has built a set of applications that leverages Microsoft Office’s massive install base. Microsoft is now accelerating partner involvement to shift Lync from a set of applications to a platform that partners can manage and customize.

Microsoft expects to target the 10 million legacy voice over IP (VoIP) phone lines that Cisco currently controls, largely in the enterprise space. However, as Panettieri explains, Microsoft has the install base and partner channel to grow Lync in the small and medium business market.

Lync is available on the Office 365 cloud, but is expected to garner higher on premises interest, an attractive point for Microsoft’s managed service provider partners, driven by a more complete feature set on premises.

Consider alternatives before Lync arrives at your door
Lync only furthers your company’s reliance on Microsoft Office – a smart strategy for Microsoft.

As Microsoft partners get more involved with Lync, you’ll be getting briefings on the benefits of Lync in your business. Now would be a good time to start considering alternatives, especially a few in the open source arena, to be ready for Lync conversations with your friendly neighborhood Microsoft partner.

As Lync is growing by selling into the Microsoft Office install base, the first alternative to consider is Google Apps, a direct cloud competitor of Microsoft’s Office 365. While Google doesn’t yet offer a PBX, OnState Communications offers a cloud-based PBX that from the Google Apps Marketplace. It also stands to reason that Google will add some degree of PBX capabilities into Google Apps.

Twilio, a self purported cloud communications vendor, offers a platform to build voice and SMS applications using simple to use APIs. Twilio also offers an open source phone system through its OpenVBX offering. Twilio is targeted at developers while Lync is a ready to use platform for companies. However, systems integrators or managed service providers could take the Twilio APIs and build a repeatable solution that offers much of Lync’s capabilities.

While several open source PBX phone systems are available, the open source Asterisk project is by far the best known. Companies could consider Asterisk as a piece of a Lync alternative. However, Asterisk, as a PBX product, does not itself offer the full platform for voice, web conferencing and instant messaging as yet.

Perhaps the best alternative to Lync, especially for small and medium sized business, is a unified communications offering from the likes of Cisco or Avaya.

Earlier this year Cisco announced the Cisco Unified Communications 300 Series, aimed at companies with up to 24 employees. Cisco also offers the Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000, for companies with up to 300 users.

It would be interesting for a Cisco competitor, such as Avaya, to acquire Twilio and build a customer and developer friendly offering that rivals Cisco’s unified communications platform and Microsoft Lync.

Whatever alternatives to Lync you ultimately decide to consider, ensure that you’ve done this due diligence before Lync arrives at your company’s doorstep. Make no mistake, Lync offers value, but it also further entrenches Microsoft into critical pieces of your IT and communications environment.

I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”