Transcript for Microsoft Lync for Mid and Small Markets: DataLink and Carmichael
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. I'm Jim Burton and I'm joined today by Jens Madsen with DataLink Networks and Asim Faiz from Carmichael. We are at the Lync Conference. Clearly, these gentleman are obviously involved with Microsoft and by the way, they are also an HP partner. One of the things I found fascinating is that we all think about Lync and how Microsoft started off with it being for the large enterprise customers. In fact, when they started they only went after people 2,500 users and above. Well, I actually know a little secret – that Microsoft has sold a lot of products that are in the mid-market and small-market. A lot of people don't think that is happening, but there is a really thriving market out there. That is why we have this podcast today, because we can talk about that and how it happened.
Why don't we start off a little bit about your company and then you can lead us into your relationship with Carmichael and we will get into your feedback too.
Jens Madsen: Sure. DataLink Networks – we are an HP partner; we are a Microsoft partner. And we are, in general, an IT shop doing a lot of integration and also maintaining customer's networks. We have been working with Carmichael for the last 8, 10 years, being their preferred IT infrastructure provider. Over the last five years, DataLink has invested heavily in the voice technology. We were one of the first partners in Southern California that got Lync certified. That has been one of our new practices that builds on top of our virtualization and exchange practice. And we kind of got into the telecommunications aspect of it.
Jim Burton: What was your practice around before? What were you using for your voice communications?
Jens Madsen: We have dabbled a little bit with a couple of smaller companies for voice, but really it gave up on voice. We didn't feel that we were strong enough to provide good solutions. Really our bread and butter was around the data center. We always had a very healthy Exchange practice. So when one came out, OCS 2007 R2, really was the first product where we could really carry a good dial tone on. That’s when we started looking at the Microsoft product set and saw that it looks like there is a future here. We made a bet on it and we are happy with that.
Jim Burton: Great. So Carmichael, you have obviously been on a long journey with this company. And obviously they have given you good products and services. It is really interesting to see how a data guy gets into some of the voice communication. That is pretty exciting. It has always seemed to be the other way around. Tell us a little bit about your journey and how you selected the process that you went through to select both Lync and bringing HP into the equation as well.
Asim Faiz: Well, the main catalyst for us deciding where we wanted to go with unified communications was back in 2012 when we had the superstorm Sandy. We were virtualized as far as our servers were concerned and our desktops were, but we didn't have a voice solution. We had dial tone. We were shut out of our building. We had no electricity for five days. We were able to mobilize our desktops to a hotel, but we weren't able to move our voice. That really hurt us. We communicated over cell phones, emails, some of them were delivered, some of them were not. It was very, very difficult. Even though we were able to show our clients that we are up and running, we weren't able to talk to them.
After that we had to look at our options; whether staying on the legacy PBX was the way to go or not. We talked to DataLink and we told them that we needed some options. It was good timing. They brought Lync to the table. And we looked at Lync. We looked at other options as well. After seeing what Lync can do for our unified communications we decided to go with Lync. Today, god forbid if ever another Sandy stops by, we are prepared to be mobilized and still be operational.
Jim Burton: That is amazing. You had all of that bad weather this winter. I am surprised you haven't had a couple of days where it would have been helpful to be in a remote location. Like here, in California or in Las Vegas as opposed to being home.
Asim Faiz: Yes. I'm glad to be here.
Jens Madsen: Carmichael has always invested heavily in HP. We have used HP storage and HP blade servers for the private cloud that we are running on HP. We are highly virtualized on terminal servers. That did bring a couple of problems as well, running Lync on terminal servers. But that really was the fit. Where it came into Carmichael and Lync 2010 came in and we used it as a remote desktop tool. That is how it kind of progressed into the voice we operated into 2013 and then we brought SIP trunks in for dial tone.
Asim Faiz: So we slowly, as we integrated, we started Lync using as IMs and desktop sharing. And now we are bringing voice to it. It is natural to our users so they don't feel they have to go through a change overnight. They are adapting very, very well and they like all the cool features that it has and how quickly they can get the message across, get in touch with their colleagues and see what they are doing, see if they are in the office or not. It has delivered a lot of good features for us.
Jim Burton: You mentioned that you are an HP partner and you have been an HP customer for a long time. I'm kind of curious as to how that relationship was as you were going through the process and the support that they gave you and what they are like to partner with.
Jens Madsen: Well HP brought them up to the table. One of the requirements we had to do was to bring all the new MPLS network between the 12 sites that Carmichael has. There was some need for some new routing equipment at two locations. We have traditionally been using Cisco on the wide area network, but they priced themselves out of the deal. HP came in and gave us loan equipment to actually do a full demo on the new MPLS network. We knew that this technology would work. We are also running a backup VPN network. There are some questions about how well would the compatibility be between HP routers and the existing Cisco routers at the branch offices. And getting that VPN up and running as our backup network. And so far so good.
Jim Burton: There are two sides to every story. What is your side?
Asim Faiz: It is very true. We haven't had down time since we went live with our new MPLS. It was a six-month journey where as locations were being wired up for fiber and we start putting them on the new HP routers, we now have all 13 locations up and running. We haven't been down a minute.
Jim Burton: One of the things that I find fascinating when you look at a case study and we haven't really gone through it that way here, but what a lot of other customers want, and I'm certain channel partners as well as users, what a fellow user would want to know is the lessons that you learned in the process so that they can make sure that they look out for them. What I found is that while there are always problems and someone can say, “well, this is an issue…” Well, that issue probably isn't going to be there because someone solved that problem that you may have had. It is always good to hear things like well, “it took us a little more time than we thought,” or, “we needed more resources here.” What kind of lessons learned did you have in this process?
Asim Faiz: As far as end users are concerned, yeah, timing was a factor. We wanted to be up and running a lot sooner. We ran into some obstacles as far as the deployment of the hardware. You can shed some more light as to what the challenges you ran into. As a user it was just a matter of timing. It took us a year since we started and we are finally finished with the entire deployment of Lync and the new MPLS and the new equipment in place.
Jim Burton: Yeah. It’s a complicated world.
Asim Faiz: It is a complicated world until you actually get into it.
Jens Madsen: Technically, we didn't have major problems. We are highly virtualized. We are running the work on virtual servers on a private cloud using Hyper V. The problems we ran into a little bit was supporting and running on terminal servers. We still have a little bit of work there to do with stuff like click-to-dial and how media is being handled by the terminal servers. We are convinced that we will find the solution for it. The other thing that is important is selection of end point devices. Don't just give users any phone. We went through a couple of different phone models before we actually decided on the phone to give to users.
Jim Burton: What did you end up with?
Jens Madsen: We ended up with Polycomm VBX phones. We started out with the CX line, but there is a lot of call transfers going on at Carmichael, and the transfer button was buried under two sub menus. It is very important to select the right point of end point devices.
Jim Burton: Good. We started this off talking about how you are working in a mid-market. I would like to hear from both of you. We will start on where is the market that you address? Where is the sweet spot for you?
Jens Madsen: The sweet spot for us really is the 200, 250 seats up through about 5,000 seats. That is our typical client. We do a lot of stuff in both government and we do a lot of stuff in education. Education is very receptive to Lync, especially because of the price points they are getting from Microsoft. Education is very exciting right now. Smaller companies that like Carmichael has 13 branch offices and are scattered around the country, this solution fits very nicely. We are taking all cover out of any branch offices. There is not going to be any punch lines in any of the branch offices or PRIs. We are simply going to use two SIP trunks. One out of L.A. and one out of New York, and then a redundant data network between all of the sites.
Jim Burton: Thirteen branch offices – how big is Carmichael and what does this look like from a Lync deployment?
Asim Faiz: Carmichael is about 200 employees nationwide with 13 offices. Our headquarters is in California. They have about 110 employees; the rest of the 90 are in the other 12 branches. The deployment, it was very, very seamless. They helped us very, very much. They did a lot of knowledge transfer. They trained us. They gave us some good seminars what is Lync about and how you can use it. And they gave us some case models – here is how some other clients of theirs are using it and that gave us a lot of ideas on how we can utilize it. There was a point where contacting people either by phone and/or by emails and even the way that our old PBX worked it was always a two step process. You would call somebody if that was the person you had to talk to, good. If not, you had to be transferred to somebody else. Now that has all changed. Now I can directly connect with that one person and also know before I contact them what they are doing with Lync presence. That has really, really helped us quite a bit. It has reduced time in getting in touch with the person and know exactly what they are doing before you reach out to them. That’s really helped us.
Jim Burton: This has been enlightening because I mean even though I know better I still am kind of stereotyping both Microsoft and HP as big iron. I mean they are big, big companies. Big solutions that they are providing. Like I said, Microsoft started off at 2,500 users and above. To hear that they have come down it is obviously a solution for that. Same thing that you, as a customer, 200 employees, multiple locations, it is a solution that works for you too.
Asim Faiz: Right.
Jens Madsen: I think working with a partner like DataLink really gives the customer that personal attention that you may not get already from Microsoft or from HP. We as partners can easily find the right persons or the right resources within these big silos that Microsoft and HP are.
Jim Burton: I always like to end this because we go through a lot of stuff, we are going through it very quickly – is there anything else you would like to say? I am trying to ask the provocative questions to help educate the people that are watching this. Anything else you would like to add to what we just talked about?
Jens Madsen: I think even if you are in SMB and you only have these 200 or 300 users, Lync is still a viable option. It doesn't have to fit a Fortune 500. That is what we have found.
Asim Faiz: I will second that. If you are a small company between 200 to 500 employees, I would tell you don't be scared to take on that journey. Take the first step. I did it. I didn't care what obstacles I run into. I took the first step and today I am here.
Jim Burton: Good combination of partners. Well, thank you gentlemen. I appreciate it very much.