Lync-Skype integration live now worldwide

Users will be able to communicate via audio calls and IM text chats

Microsoft has completed the first phase of the integration between its enterprise unified communications (UC) Lync server and its Skype consumer IM and IP telephony network.

The company announced on Wednesday that it's now possible for Lync and Skype users to contact each other, engage in IM text sessions and communicate via audio calls. Video conferencing integration will be delivered later.

Microsoft disclosed its Lync-Skype plans last year, and in February demonstrated the interaction between the two products for the first time, promising global availability of the first phase of the integration in June of this year, a deadline it has now met.

The interoperability works both for companies that have Lync 2010 and Lync 2013 installed on their own servers and for companies that use it as part of the Microsoft-hosted Office 365 suite, whose other components include Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. Skype users must have the latest client software for Windows or Mac OS.

Lync is used by more than 90 of the Fortune 100 companies, and the product provides voice communications for 5 million enterprise users, while Skype has 300 million active monthly users, according to Microsoft.

Enterprises can benefit from the integration in two main ways, said Henry Dewing, a Forrester Research analyst. First, Lync users will be able to communicate with customers, partners and other outside parties who use Skype. Second, Lync customers will be able to have some users on Lync and others on Skype.

"The federation of Lync and Skype will enable closer communications and the sharing of presence and availability data, making communications more efficient," Dewing said.

Security and compliance concerns about using Skype -- a consumer service -- from enterprise IT leaders shouldn't be major at this point, he said. Microsoft owns both products and has been working on the integration for a while, and even before the $8.5 billion acquisition in 2011, Skype had been strengthening the service for workplace use, releasing a version of called Skype for Business, Dewing said.

At L'Occitane en Provence, the French skincare and beauty products company, the Lync-Skype integration has been in demand by its users, according to Stephen Roux, the company's infrastructure manager. L'Occitane standardized on Lync years ago for telephony, video conferencing, IM and presence.

"In a perfect world everybody would use Lync but that's not the case. We have to interact with partners and customers, and most of them are already using Skype, so it makes a lot of sense for us to be able to communicate directly with Skype users from our Lync infrastructure," he said. "It will make our users more productive."

Of course, in a really perfect world, there would be universal interoperability among IM networks, but that is far from the case. Despite some improvements over the years, like the development of the XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) protocol, many IM networks remain walled gardens, Skype being an example.

In a setback to interoperability, Google, which had been an advocate and backer of XMPP, supporting it in its Talk IM service, recently announced that its new IM and audio/video product Hangouts has been built using proprietary technology and doesn't offer server federation based on the standard protocol.

Lync Server, the version of the product that is installed on customer premises, supports XMPP and has some capabilities to interoperate with proprietary IM networks, like the ones from AOL and Yahoo, as described in Microsoft documentation. However, Lync Online, the hosted version in Office 365, doesn't offer this interoperability.

However, even the existing federation between Lync Server and the IM networks from Yahoo and AOL are being phased out, according to a spokeswoman for Microsoft, who said the agreements with those two providers "are winding down."

"Service will continue with Yahoo through June 2014 for customers licensed with the Microsoft Lync Public IM Connectivity User Subscription License (PIC USL)," she said via email, adding that the PIC USL is no longer available for purchase for new or renewing agreements.

"Customers with licenses purchased prior to this date will be able to continue to federate with Yahoo until the service shut down date or their license expiration. Federation with AOL will continue through June 2014 for existing customers," she said.

For now, Lync customers can at least count on the interoperability with Skype.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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