Microsoft announced its plans today to buy Skype for $8.5 billion. Skype is obviously a behemoth in consumer VoIP and desktop video conferencing, but it has been trying to claw its way into the enterprise over the past year. It exhibited at Enterprise Connect–formerly VoiceCon–for the first time this year, boasting enterprise customers such as Netflix in a keynote address.
Is Microsoft the perfect vessel for Skype to finally break into the enterprise?
Maybe. Enterprise unified communications (UC) pros have been consistently ambivalent if not outright skeptical of Skype’s ability to be a true enterprise UC player–and that includes IT pros using Skype in their environments today.
David Gurlé, vice president and general manager of Skype Enterprise (Skype’s enterprise business unit), told me in January that Skype has no intention of competing with incumbent UC vendors, such as Cisco and Avaya:
“We are not in the substitution market. We are in the complementary market,” he said. “It’s kind of an overlay across other communications infrastructure and application that people have deployed.”
But that is likely to change under Microsoft, which holds a large chunk of the overall UC market with its Lync 2010 server and legacy Office Communications Server (OCS) footprint. Microsoft spokespeople declined to comment specifically on how Skype might fit into Lync, which has its own desktop video software, but Microsoft’s press release offers a taste of what’s to come:
Skype will support Microsoft devices like Xbox and Kinect, Windows Phone and a wide array of Windows devices, and Microsoft will connect Skype users with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live and other communities. Microsoft will continue to invest in and support Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms.
It seems pretty clear why any UC vendor aligns with Skype: access to its user base.
This is why Logitech LifeSize recently announced its federation capabilities with Skype video conferencing a few weeks ago. Avaya, which plans to federate with Skype later this year, is also after its half-a-billion registered user base. No word yet from those vendors about what the acquisition will mean for these relationships.
Aside from the fact that Skype has been a juicy acquisition prospect for some time, Microsoft obviously sees the value in owning Skype’s massive user base. The dividends are probably much higher for Microsoft on the consumer side (especially federating Skype with its Xbox Live community and Kinect products), but don’t count it out for the enterprise. UC pros are looking for some quality, reliability and support reassurances before embracing Skype. Say what you will about Microsoft’s track record with product development (yes, we’ve heard the “Blue Screen of Skype” jokes–and love them), but it has a huge install base and has earned a heck of a lot more trust from UC pros than Skype has.
UPDATE: An Avaya spokeswoman says Avaya will continue to “honor that agreement” to support Skype for its customers.