Microsoft has launched Lync, the next generation in its unified communications family. The product has already been taken up by long-standing Microsoft partner, BT, and will be available to business customers at the end of the month.

Lync, which is set to replace Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) integrates instant messaging, presence, audio, video, webconferencing and voice with one interface. Simon Farr, head of marketing for collaboration and UC at BT Global Services said that the platform was being positioned as a viable alternative to PBX but he warned there was a lot to get right. "Voice and video have to be a reasonable quality to deliver the right user experience," he said.

One of the main differences between Lync and the OCS is a new management server. The Central Management Server removes settings for Live Communications Server and Office Communications Server from Active Directory so customers don't have to dive in to fiddle wuith Active Directory settings. The company has also introduced a range of other administration tools including a new control panel. The changes have "taken the OCS platform on to the next level," said Farr.

According to research commissioned by Microsoft, a ROI analysis of a Lync deployment suggests a payback period of 12 months. However, Farr said that companies will be circumspect about deployment. "We're working with customers on how they can integrate Lync inside enterprises companies have made their investments and don't want to be ripping and replacing systems. Organisations are looking for a sound business case to justify moves to unified comms," said Farr.

Microsoft is bullish about the possibilities. "Lync delivers on our vision to unify all of the modes of modern business communication, giving people a more collaborative, 'in person' experience with features like HD video, conference recording, and social features like status updates and activity feeds," said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Lync & speech group. "In addition to transforming how people communicate, IT departments are also looking to Lync to evolve their infrastructure and enhance or eliminate their traditional PBX systems, saving money and saving time."

Farr agreed that the traditional PBX was coming to the end of the line and changes in business practice were making companies examine their options. "We're seeing how demands for flexible working and home working are driving that change and the move to comms enabled business procedures." He highlighted the financial sector as an industry leading that charge. "We've seen quick adoption in the financial markets," he added. "And we've seen the use of unified comms in areas like oil exploration which have been keen to use video."