Microsoft has often committed to feature parity between Lync online and on premise. While there seems to be significant progress in the next release of Lync 2013 there are some gaps.
Before technical/feature discussion a quick note on potential changes to plans. In the current Office 365 the Lync to Phone ability is included with Enterprise Plan E4 or a standalone Lync Plan 3. The E4 plan includes Office, Sharepoint, Exchange and Lync where Lync Plan 3 is Lync only. Just to be clear in either the 2010 or 2013 version of Office 365 you will need to contract with a voice provider who provides the PSTN connectivity. Currently the only certified provider is Jajah. The seeming change is to what plan allows you the right to buy PSTN connectivity.
Currently – purchase E4 or Lync Plan 3 and Jajah will enable PSTN dial in and out
Current draft document for 2013 – E4 and Lync Plan 3 and Jajah will enable PSTN dial in and out
It now seems that E4 no longer has Lync to Phone capability and a purchase of Lync Online Plan 3 will be required. Two large caveats on this; firstly it is only a draft document so things can change, secondly the potential pricing is not known. If you are building a business case for Lync online and would like the full capability offered by the online service check in with your MS account team or partner to confirm one way or the other.
Onto the technical differences between online and on premise that I can now see:
Persistent Group Chat – MS has integrated group chat into the main Lync client where before it was a standalone client. Extra servers and clients prevented most organisations deploying group chat functionality in 2010 but now I believe organisations will deploy and I think it will be a popular addition for the users. If you are online however it’s not available in this release.
Quality reporting – Lync/OCS has always had a strong set of reporting features which can go unnoticed by some but for me are a critical tool for a successful Lync deployment. They allow an IT team the ability to see what is happening on a technical basis but also for adoption teams you could see how the service was being taken up by the users. If you are online these reports are not available.
SharePoint Skill Search – not an essential feature but another nice to have within a Lync deployment, especially as Sharpoint and Lync are often deployed in the same project/programme. Not available online.
CAC/QoS – Network teams deploying Lync like the option of deploying call admission control and quality of service. These are not available online.
There are two questions that remain unanswered at the moment but are crucial to understand from a technical and strategic perspective:
1 – Does online only allow a single geographic instance? If this remains the case it is difficult to deploy a global organisation on Lync with the shared version of Office 365. Most global on premise deployments have at least two global locations and I’d say the majority have three covering Americas, Asia and Europe. The hybrid model may ease some of these issues but further detailed is required.
2 – Understanding how the hybrid model works will be a significant mile stone in understanding whether an online deployment with full Lync capabilities is feasible for a large organisaiton. The hybrid model allows an organisation to have a mixture of users online and on premise. MS state this will be enabled in Lync 2013 but I have yet to see the details. The devil is very much in the detail on this subject make sure you ask your MS account team for detail as soon as it is released.