A Trio of Technical Teams Tips

treasure hunt photo

Today I’m going to meander through Teams. Let’s see how many useful tips I can dredge up!

These are several questions which arose in my mind while playing in Teams. Both in the client, and in its Office 365 backend. As a result, I cannot promise a logical flow of information.

But it’ll be an adventure! And you might just find something useful.

1. How do I chat with an external Skype for Business contact when I’m on Teams?

A common question. One that will slowly become redundant, as well. But still quite useful for now!

As longtime Skype for Business users, we know the term needed here: Federation. The Office 365 admin must enable federation between your Teams tenant & your contact’s Skype for Business (Online) tenant.

Thankfully, we have fewer headaches setting up federation than we used to on Lync. The steps for doing so are right here: Allow Users to Contact External Skype for Business Users – Office Support

Essentially, you add their domain to the “Blocked or Allowed Domains” list in the Skype for Business Admin Center. Wait 24 hours. Make sure the firewall isn’t blocking your ports. And voila!

(If the external contact is on Skype for Business Server user though, this won’t work. Such contacts are not part of Office 365, and as such, are considered “external users.” Teams still doesn’t support external users. Microsoft, we’re waiting here!)

2. When should I use the Teams browser app/desktop client?

Teams has several client apps!
Get Clients for Microsoft Teams – MS Docs
A browser-based Web app, a desktop client, and mobile apps. So which do you use?

The Web app has one major limitation:

“At this point, the web client does not support real-time communications (i.e. joining meetings and having one-to-one calls).”

The mobile apps CAN facilitate audio calls. However, they don’t allow for adding or discovering teams.

This makes the desktop client essential if you want to use all of Teams’ tools. The mobile apps are a close second, and the Web app a close third.

I would presume that Microsoft will add real-time communications into the Teams Web app as the Skype4B integration proceeds. But for now, we have a distinct difference between the two.

3a. Teams Settings: How to Preserve Messages

Then I found myself in the Teams backend. Now, this is not just one single menu in Office 365. Teams’ controls, like most other O365 apps, are spread through its admin menus. Not impossible, but you sometimes have to hunt for things!

Fortunately, one such setting isn’t hard to find. Namely, the option to allow users to delete their Teams messages or not. Why do this? Simple—regulatory compliance. Turning message deletion off preserves all Teams messages in the cloud. This eliminates one potential source of lost communications…which can really gum up compliance audits!

  • Open Office 365 Admin Center.
  • Click Settings.
  • Click Services & Add-Ins.
  • Select “Microsoft Teams” in the list.
  • Open Teams’ Messaging menu.
  • Click the “All users to delete their own messages” switch to turn it OFF.
    Users Cannot Delete Teams Messages
  • Click Save.

This is turned ON by default. If you don’t have to worry about compliance requirements like SOX, you’re fine. If you do, better turn this off. (We check this with all Office 365 customers.)

3b. Teams Settings: How to Make Groups into Teams

(Ooh, bonus tip!)

I already had a Team set up in my demo account. But as I wandered, I came across the Office 365 Groups menu. Hmmm, I wondered. What’s the difference between an O365 Group and a Team anyway? Aren’t all Teams Groups, and all Groups Teams?

The answer is no. Creating an O365 group does NOT automatically make it a Team. To make a Team from a Group, you must go into Teams and add the Teams functionality to the existing group.

Here’s how to do this. (These steps assume you already created the Office 365 Group.)

  1. Within Teams, select the Teams menu. Click the “Add Team” button at the bottom.
  2. Click “Create Team.”
  3. You’ll see this window. What we want is at the bottom (highlighted in red): “Add Microsoft Teams Functionality.”
    Add Teams Functionality
  4. Click this link. You’ll see a list of groups that don’t have Teams functionality added yet.
  5. Click the appropriate group (you’ll see I clicked my “PM Tester 2 Group”).
    Choose Your Team
  6. Click the “Choose Team” button.
  7. Teams does its thing, and poof! A new Team now shows up. Proceed to add people & channels as you like.
    New Team Created

Plenty More to Discover in Teams

I realize the tips in this post might look a bit random. Honestly, that’s because they are. Like many of you, I’m feeling my way around Teams every chance I get. We still use Skype for Business Server in-house, so I’m sneaking off the reservation to play around in Teams. All for the sake of this blog!

Do you have a Teams question to which you can’t find an answer? Please share it with us! Let’s find you a solution.

 

P.S. – To the readers who asked me to do a Fuze vs. Skype for Business comparison? Unfortunately I have not been able to secure a demo from the folks at Fuze. I did comb through its feature set, reviews, and industry sources. Took plenty of notes. But without a demo, it would not be an authentic comparison.

If you would like me to publish those notes anyway, I’m happy to do so (with that caveat). Please comment or email your thoughts.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

The Skype Operations Framework Turned into FastTrack’s MyAdvisor!

I look away for one minute and Microsoft changes out the entire Skype Operations Framework.

Now the SkypeOperationsFramework.com URL forwards to: https://fasttrack.microsoft.com/microsoft365/capabilities?view=voice

Go ahead, click it. See for yourself. (But do come back—we have more to discuss!)

In light of the coming transition from Skype for Business to Teams, it seems Microsoft has begun to phase the SOF content into a new format. Unfortunately, we’re at early stages right now. Finding things is a little confusing.

MyAdvisor Resource Guide

I went through the MyAdvisor pages. Here’s what I could dig up. Hopefully it helps you out as we continue the transition.

Current URLs for MyAdvisor/Skype Operations Framework Content

If you arrive at FastTrack via the old SkypeOperationsFramework.com URL, you’re plopped right in the middle of FastTrack. You’ll need another click to reach MyAdvisor.

This is where SOF users should go first. MyAdvisor focuses on Cloud Voice for Teams and Skype for Business (for now). It contains deployment scenarios, feature guidance, a training library, partner references, and the Network Planner. Like SOF, it personalizes deployment guidance based on your input.

The old “Get Started” SOF page does still exist, partially, within MyAdvisor. You can even reach the “Get Deployed” and “Cloud Migration” Customer Journeys:
Get Deployed Customer Journey
Cloud Migration Customer Journey

However, the only way to reach these pages is through the old SOF links. They do not appear linked on current FastTrack pages. (You’ll find more of said links in my last SOF post.)

If you’re involved in either of these journeys now, save all the information you need from these pages! I suspect they will vanish soon.

Now, a few Teams links.

SuccessWithTeams.com now forwards to Microsoft Teams Documentation and Practical Guidance. As you’d expect from the title, the new page has documentation and guidance on Teams, including the transition from Skype for Business.

They’ve also made it harder to download the Teams client! You can still reach the download from FastTrack, but it’s several clicks down. Save yourself the time and go straight to https://teams.microsoft.com/downloads.

Finally, we have a new FastTrack page: Get Started on Your Microsoft Teams Journey. A transitional resource, built solely to help those moving from Skype for Business to Teams.

Evolving Guidance & Training Resources – Is Bigger Better?

The whole thing looks like a glorious mess, doesn’t it? Some instructional material does remain the same; I’ll clarify what in a moment. As well as what’s murky or missing (as best I can tell).

But first, let me elaborate on something. FastTrack has existed for a while now. (See this 2016 article: Microsoft FastTrack: Partner Friend or Foe?)

Microsoft decided that it should consume the SOF. Two big resources melding into one. FastTrack and SOF are “evolved” up to Microsoft 365/Azure/Dynamics 365 in the process. Which IS in keeping with Microsoft’s cloud-first, service-based approach.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen what happens when you do this…the result can end up a labyrinthine, hard-to-navigate swamp. The Teams transition intrigues me. This part of it makes me wary though.

What’s the Same – Training Material, References, Cloud-First Direction

The style may have changed, but most of the substance is still there. With the FastTrack MyAdvisor (and FastTrack in general) you can expect:

  • Lots of resources for training & reference
  • Guiding paths for onboarding and supporting new users
  • Angling you toward specific products – before, it was the cloud or hybrid versions of Skype for Business. Now it’s the cloud-first Microsoft 365, Azure, or Dynamics 365.
  • Partner match-up. I do like that it takes advantage of the new Partner Center.

MyAdvisor Features Chart

In the same vein, we see a greater emphasis on Teams. More documentation now is great for admins and power users…it calls back to the Skype Operations Framework’s original purpose. Still, the shift produced some major changes.

What’s Different Now – Cloud Emphasis Stronger, Hybrid Disappearing

Obviously, the biggest difference is that FastTrack does not focus solely on Skype for Business. MyAdvisor does centralize on “Cloud Voice” (adding Voice and Conferencing to Teams). However, I find this line from the first FAQ question a little off-base:

“The Skype Operations Framework (SOF) provided guidance to help customers and partners roll out and operate Cloud Voice capabilities. This framework has now evolved into Practical Guidance for Cloud Voice as part of FastTrack.”

The SOF did much more than talk about Cloud Voice. They had whole pathways mapped out for doing hybrid Skype for Business deployments. Well beyond just the Cloud Voice aspect. I may be splitting hairs, but reframing like this just rubs me the wrong way (and I’ll bet I’m not the only one).

Secondly, FastTrack is focused on MS 365, Azure, and Dynamics 365 (in that order, I’d say). The MyAdvisor page is actually hard to reach organically…you have to do this:

  1. On the FastTrack homepage, click “Microsoft 365” in the nav bar.Cloud Voice Icon
  2. Scroll down to the “Supported Capabilities” section. Click the “Voice” icon.
  3. Scroll down on the “FastTrack-supported capabilities” page until you see the blue “MyAdvisor” box.
  4. Click the box. The MyAdvisor page will (finally) open.

As I said before, we should remember that the whole resource library is in transition. Now that MS plans to move Skype for Business into Teams, and push Microsoft 365 to the front of its sales efforts, the whole FastTrack site will update rapidly. This entire post may end up out-of-date by January!

FastTrack Q&A – Where to Find What

I need documentation on Teams. Where do I look?
Head over here: Microsoft Teams Documentation

What about Skype for Business training material?
The MyAdvisor will direct you. You can also search through the Microsoft Tech Academy.

I had a SOF certification. What happened to it?
According to MyAdvisor’s FAQs, it’s still intact and valid. Log into FastTrack with the same Microsoft Account credentials, and you should see it.

We heard about Skype for Business becoming Teams. What do we do?
We’re early in the game on that one. Best thing to do now is keep on top of the process. Microsoft just released a roadmap PDF showing the schedule & order of Teams receiving Skype4B features: Roadmap for Skype for Business Capabilities Coming to Microsoft Teams – MS Tech Community

I was following the old Skype Operations Framework for our deployment. We’re in the middle of things. What do I do?
First, talk with your Microsoft rep. They should have some direction to give you.

You can also go to one of these pages (depending on which Customer Journey path you took) and download the available assets:

I cannot guarantee these will remain live, so grab the assets while you can!

We’re looking at deploying Skype for Business Server soon. Will this FastTrack help me?
Yes, from a planning standpoint. Use the MyAdvisor tool to find the most current guidance content. (But check back on it regularly, as this content will change soon!)

Where Will the FastTrack Behemoth Guide Us?

In my Skype Operations Framework 101 post, I said the SOF was a useful roadmap if you were going cloud-only on Skype for Business.

Now that we know Skype for Business will absorb into Teams, this new FastTrack resource feels constricting. “Hybrid” is gone; now we have “side-by-side” Skype4B/Teams configurations that are marked as “steps in the journey.”

I came across a rather funny closing note. Over in the SOF section of SkypeFeedback.com, the latest post says simply, “Waste this App.”

It appears Microsoft is doing just that.

What do you think about the FastTrack absorbing the Skype Operations Framework? Please comment or email me your thoughts.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Device Reviews: Sennheiser Presence UC ML, SP 20 ML, SD Pro 1

As I said the other day, Sennheiser kindly sent us some headsets for testing. Not just the MB 660 though…no, we got several more!

More than I could review on my own. So I passed the others to co-workers. I asked them to use the headsets for a few weeks, and then give me their impressions.

Here are the results. Since I have three devices under review in one post, I’ll compress each review a little bit.

Presence UC ML: The Road Warrior’s Headset

SPECS: The Presence UC ML is a single-ear Bluetooth headset for mobile use. It’s the “pack of gum” type that sits right on your ear. It comes with a USB dongle for plugging into a computer. The ML version is rated for Skype for Business, though the entire Presence line will cooperate with mobile phones.

The Presence UC ML features multi-device connectivity, SpeakFocus (your listener hears your voice instead of traffic sounds), and up to 10 hours call time on 1 charge.

Sennheiser Presence UC ML

USER’S EXPERIENCE: I gave this to Mike, our Creative Director. Mike tried it on his Macbook, but it didn’t want to work. He could receive calls with it, but his voice never rose above a whisper. I don’t know if this was due to his using a Mac, or a configuration issue. (When I can get him to bring it back, I’ll try the dongle out on my Windows laptop.)

Using it with his phone however was a whole other story.

“Using this [the Presence UC ML headset] was superior to my phone,” he said. “Between holding the phone to my ear and using the headset, the headset was clearer in every respect. Plus I didn’t have any pressure on my ear. I actually forgot I was wearing it!”

Mike rides a motorcycle to the office. I’d called him one day and chatted for a moment about a project. Moments later he walked in the door. He’d put the Presence on inside his helmet and talked to me while riding. I didn’t even know he’d done that until he told me. His voice came through so clearly—while inside a motorcycle helmet speeding down the freeway—that I thought he was still at home!

BEST FOR: The Presence UC ML is very much an on-the-go headset. It’s compact, light, and keeps up good clear sound for hours. Road Warriors, we have your headset.

PRESENCE UC ML – Sennheiser

SP 20 ML: The Speakerphone/Hockey Puck

SPECS: The SP 20 ML is a Skype for Business speakerphone. Like the Jabra SPEAK 410, it’s a large speaker that sits on the desk/conference table. Except it does much more.

Sennheiser SP 20 ML

The SP 20 contains its own battery, which it charges via the USB cable. It has both a USB connector and a 3.5 connector, which allows it to plug into a computer, tablet, even your phone. The SP 20 has call control and volume buttons on its top surface. Skype for Business will auto-detect the device with no configuration necessary.

USER’S EXPERIENCE: This one I tested myself. I used it for some basic one-on-one calls, three- and four-person conference calls, and even played some music for a while. (Okay, until my co-workers started throwing crumpled-up paper balls at me.)

The SP 20’s sound clarity is stellar. Not just for hearing other people, but for my voice reaching them as well. We had a conference call with a colleague in Illinois, and he sounded so clear I almost forgot he wasn’t in the same room!

I credit the sound quality to the fact that the SP 20 uses more of its surface area for speaker/mic coverage. You see this in the photo above. Not only is the top surface working as a speaker/microphone, so is the underside of the lip.

That said, all this speaker surface does come with one warning: the SP 20 ML is VERY sharp at picking up sound. As such, turn it up to 100% at your own risk. We had a conference call where one of our callers kept leaning into their own speaker when talking. We could tell each time…because their voice got so loud that the sound hurt!

BEST FOR: Small office conferences. The SP 20 ML does one thing, and does it very well. I’d expect sound quality for such devices to improve over time. But they really pushed for clarity with this one.

SP 20 ML – Sennheiser

SD Pro 1: The Call Center Workhorse

SPECS: The SD Pro 1 is a wireless single-earpiece headset which connects to a cradle. It’s part of Sennheiser’s SD series. The SD Pro 1 has a noise-canceling microphone on a boom arm. The headset incorporates call controls directly on it; you can answer or end a call, mute, and adjust volume with a tap.

The SD Pro’s battery gives you 8 hours of talk time (in wideband mode; 12 in narrowband mode) per charge. To recharge, you just put it back on the cradle.

Please Note: There are TWO versions of the SD Pro 1. One is rated ML, one is not. We had the one NOT rated ML.

Sennheiser SD Pro 1 Side View

The wireless range on the SD series headsets ranges from 180-590 feet. As I understand, our tests only took the SD Pro 1 from one part of the office to another, representing about 100 feet. Still, no reported static or dropped calls.

USER’S EXPERIENCE: I gave this headset to Hannah, our Office Assistant. She manages most of our incoming calls, as well as customer follow-up and scheduling.

Perhaps fittingly, Hannah gave me her impressions in a phone call. I’ll record them here in question/answer format.

  • Sennheiser SD Pro 1 Front View“How would you rate the headset in terms of comfort?”
    Answer: 8/10. Sometimes it starts sliding off my head and I have to keep readjusting it. Could be I have a weird shaped head. But that’s okay, it’s pretty comfortable.
  • “When using the headset with Skype for Business, do callers sound as clear as a regular phone call, less clear, or clearer?”
    Answer: As clear as a regular phone call, definitely.
  • “If you use the headset with your phone via Bluetooth, do callers sound as clear as holding a phone to your ear, less clear, or clearer? What about another Bluetooth headset – worse or better?”
    Answer: I did try this, and it does sound as clear as holding the phone to my ear. I have used another Bluetooth headset before—this one is pretty much the same.
  • “How easy are the headset’s controls to learn & use?”
    Answer: They are pretty easy to learn. I always forget which direction to push the switch to raise the volume though!
  • “What would you say to someone considering this model of headset?”
    Answer: It is a great headset, with easy controls, but you have to be aware of how it will interact with your phone systems. I have to click certain buttons in a certain order to be able to answer a call in the way that I prefer to have it answered.
  • “What drawbacks have you come across while using the headset?”
    Answer: If I don’t answer the call with the correct button order, the call does not display on my monitor correctly. This gets irritating, because then I have to transfer calls on the phone [my desk phone] instead of doing it via Skype on my computer. Slows down the transfer process a bit. That is probably the only issue I have.

BEST FOR: Call center and front office workers. The SD Pro 1 does well with just about any phone system, but I’d recommend you use it with non-Skype for Business systems (Cisco, Shoretel, etc.). If you’re on Skype for Business, the SD Pro 1 ML should do the trick.

Why do I recommend this headset for call center workers? Because of the cradle. The SD series headsets all use the same cradle. Which means it’s easy to charge any SD headset on any cradle. Even someone else’s! (Though you might want to ask first.)

SD PRO 1 – Sennheiser

The Right Headset Depends on You (But these are all good choices!)

Now that the communication platforms available to businesses are growing like crazy, headsets like these become essential. You don’t even need a desk phone anymore…just the right software on your computer, and a nice headset.

I’d feel comfortable recommending each of these to a customer. Which one would depend on the customer’s individual needs. Do they focus on conferences? The SP 20 ML. Are they always on the go? The Presence UC ML. Just need a general headset for a bunch of office workers? The SD Pro 1.

You can find all of these headsets over at Headsets.com.

Do you have one of these Sennheiser headsets? Please comment on your experience!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Where Skype for Business & Teams Are Going (According to Ignite)

Microsoft Ignite has come and gone. It has left us with many new announcements, products to anticipate, and changes to prepare for. Particularly when it comes to Skype for Business.

In today’s post, I’ve collected some impressions from Ignite’s announcements. These are only related to Skype for Business and Teams.

1. Confirmation of migrating Skype for Business Online into Teams.

FAQ – Journey from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams

By the time Ignite started we all pretty much knew this was coming. Still, it’s good to have confirmation.

merging photoTeams will become the default communications client for Office 365 users. It will gain audio conferencing, VoIP backend capabilities like Microsoft’s new “Phone System,” and other features to bring it to parity (and maybe beyond) with Skype for Business.

In the process, Microsoft will rebrand Unified Communications into “Intelligent Communications.” Not sure if I like this one, though. We don’t need yet another round of “Guess the Brand Name Now!”

2. Confirmation of new Skype4B Server – Skype for Business Server 2019.

IGNITE 2017 FROM THE FLOOR – SKYPE FOR BUSINESS SERVER 2019: Bibble-IT.com

“No Directors. Meh.”

Too funny not to link that one. Ben Lee over at Bibble-IT provides us with a great breakdown of the Skype for Business Server 2019 session. What I found notable (besides the “No Directors”) is this slide:

Skype for Business Server 2019 Slide
Photo credit to Bibble-IT.com.

So long as you have Windows Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016, you can migrate from Lync Server 2013 straight to Skype for Business Server 2019. Since some larger organizations still use Lync Server, I’d say this is a wise move. They really should upgrade anyway.

3. “What should we use?” All the developments are leading to more confusion!

Microsoft Tries to Stem its Self-Made Collaboration Tool Confusion – ZDNet

Ignite presenters did try to identify which tool you should use in certain situations. For instance, if you’re working with co-workers regularly on core business projects? Teams is your tool of choice. Someone outside the office? Back to Outlook with you.

I don’t think this will help too much. They still have Yammer in the mix, even though Teams will get a major boost from absorbing Skype for Business and the forthcoming Guest Access. Wouldn’t it make more sense to phase Yammer out entirely?

4. Announcement of Azure Advanced Threat Protection for Teams.

Introducing Azure Advanced Threat Protection – Microsoft Enterprise Mobility and Security Blog

Advanced Threat Protection is a protection mechanism for MS services like Teams. Billed as “a security layer that operates following the successful bypass of these controls [standard protections like firewalls],” it essentially monitors users and alerts on suspicious activity.

Frankly, this should have been baked in from Day 1 on Teams. Being a channel-based communications environment, Teams encourages open discussions. Gaining access to the channel means gaining access to its backlog…which could easily contain sensitive information. Extra protection at the channel level is pretty much mandatory.

5. Reports of Guest Access for non-MS accounts working in Teams.

Guest Access – Microsoft Teams at UserVoice

Something I noticed in conjunction with Ignite. A few commenters said they could enable Teams Guest Access for non-O365 users. Other commenters disagreed, unable to do so themselves. Microsoft has stated that MSA (Microsoft Accounts) are next anyway, so I’m inclined to doubt it. (Though I do want them to hurry up!)

6. Future PSTN Deployment Options posted.

@DarylHunter posted this image on Twitter a few days ago:

PSTN Calling Deployment Options

It maps out, naturally, which PSTN deployment options you have, depending on the Skype for Business or Teams service used. This is where Phone System (formerly Cloud PBX) starts to show up. Good visual for planning out the next couple of years.

If you’re curious about the other, non-Skype4B/Teams announcements, head to PCMag.com:
12 Big Announcements from Microsoft Ignite – PCMag

Teams Will Change…But Will It Grow?

Big changes are coming up! Teams and Skype for Business Online combining, one more Skype for Business Server version (though I suspect that will be the last), and more Teams-related development. Pretty much everything we expected to see, given the leaks beforehand.

This is in keeping with Microsoft’s “cloud first” approach. It’s also a way to make use of existing Skype for Business technologies. What Microsoft needs to keep in mind is that their competitors in this space – Workplace, Slack, HipChat, and so on – are agile and eager. They will outmaneuver Teams if they can.

Just adding features isn’t enough. The Teams team needs to respond to user issues, and work on customer improvements. Otherwise, even as big a change as absorbing Skype for Business won’t help much.

How will you prepare for these Teams changes? Please comment or email me your thoughts.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams: The 2017 Update

In 2015 we did a pricing post for Skype for Business topologies. It’s time to revisit and update those numbers.

(The previous pricing post, if you’re curious: Pricing for Skype for Business 2015: 3 Scenarios)

A reader pointed out that the original post is now 2 years old. A lot’s happened since then! The introduction of Teams, Skype for Business Online growing, Microsoft’s focus shifting to Office 365 in general…

I thought about revising the post. But since we do have new tools to consider, and Office 365—not to mention the entire cloud landscape—has changed a lot, a new post made more sense.

The Skype for Business Topology Scenarios We’ll Use

In my original post, I used the following scenarios to illustrate pricing:

  • Scenario 1: 25 users. Office 365 account/Skype for Business Online.
  • Scenario 2: 25 users. Full on-premise Skype for Business Server 2015.
  • Scenario 3: 25 users. Hybrid deployment. Office 365 for primary Skype for Business services, on-premise Skype for Business Server for Enterprise Voice.

For the 2017 version, we’ll modify these scenarios as follows. As before, all users are business users.

  • Scenario 1: 25 and 50 users. Office 365 account/Skype for Business Online.
  • Scenario 2: 25 and 50 users. On-premise Skype for Business Server 2015.
  • Scenario 3: 25 and 50 users. Hybrid deployment. Office 365 for primary Skype for Business services, on-premise Skype for Business Server for Enterprise Voice.
  • Scenario 4: 25 and 50 users. Microsoft Teams, no Skype for Business Online.
  • Scenario 5: 25 and 50 users. Microsoft Teams, plus Skype for Business Online.

Scenario 1: Office 365

Office 365 ServicesPretty much every Office 365 plan has some level of Skype for Business functionality available. These are three such options.

Office 365 Business Essentials Plan: $5.00/user per month
Office 365 Business Premium Plan: $12.50/user per month
Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan: $35.00/user per month

(I put E5 in because the E5 plan includes advanced Skype for Business features like Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing. If you want to use Skype for Business as a replacement phone system, you’ll need E5.)

With 25 Users: Essentials Plan costs $125/month. Premium Plan costs $312.50/month. E5 Plan costs $875/month.
With 50 Users: Essentials Plan costs $250/month. Premium Plan costs $625/month. E5 Plan costs $1,750/month.

This scenario works for: Small/new businesses. Cloud-based businesses.

Scenario 2: Skype for Business Server 2015 (On-Premise)

Skype for Business Server TopologyAs I did in 2015, I’ll assume 1 Front End in the On-Premise scenario. This front end does require a license.

25 Users:

  • 1 Front End Server License (MSRP) – $3,646.00
  • 25 Standard User CALs – $36.00 each, or $900 total
  • 25 Enterprise User CALs (Conferencing & desktop sharing) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total
  • 25 Plus User CALs (Voice & call management) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total

Total: $10,746.00
(3-year license. Includes support from Microsoft.)

50 Users:

  • 1 Front End Server License (MSRP) – $3,646.00
  • 50 Standard User CALs – $36.00 each, or $1,800 total
  • 50 Enterprise User CALs (Conferencing & desktop sharing) – $124.00 each, or $6,200 total
  • 50 Plus User CALs (Voice & call management) – $124.00 each, or $6,200 total

Total: $17,846.00
(3-year license. Includes support from Microsoft.)

In order to enable voicemail in an on-premise topology, you will also need an Exchange Server, plus user licenses for each voicemail box.

  • 1 Exchange Server (Enterprise) License – $4,051
  • 50 Standard User CALs (MS Open License) – $5.00 each, or $250 total
  • 50 Enterprise User CALs (MS Open License) – $55.00 each, or $2,750 total

Total: $7,051.00

This scenario works for: Businesses who need to store data on-premise for security reasons, or who require features unsupported within Office 365. Businesses who prefer controlling their own servers. Enterprises.

Scenario 3: Hybrid (Office 365 with a Skype for Business Server for Enterprise Voice)

Skype for Business HybridIn this scenario you could use either E1 or E3 for Office 365. I’ll use E3, assuming you want full hybrid capabilities.

25 Office 365 user accounts, E3 plan – $500/month, or $6,000/year.
Skype for Business Enterprise Voice is installed on-premise.
1 Front End Server License (MSRP), required for Enterprise Voice – $3,646.00
25 Plus User CALs (for Enterprise Voice) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total
Total (for 1 year): $12,746.00

50 Office 365 user accounts, E3 plan – $1,000/month, or $12,000/year.
Skype for Business Enterprise Voice is installed on-premise.
1 Front End Server License (MSRP), required for Enterprise Voice – $3,646.00
50 Plus User CALs (for Enterprise Voice) – $124.00 each, or $6,200 total
Total (for 1 year): $21,846.00

This scenario works for: Businesses with an existing Exchange Server or Office 365 accounts. Businesses who already use Hybrid Cloud for other systems.

Scenario 4: Microsoft Teams, no Skype for Business Online

This is a bit of a misnomer. Every Office 365 plan that includes Teams, also includes Skype for Business.

However, if your focus is on Teams and not Skype for Business, you can get away with a lower-cost Office 365 plan. I would recommend E1—you don’t get the fully-installed Office apps (just the online versions), but you do get email and video conferencing.

Office 365 Enterprise E1 Plan: $8.00/user per month

With 25 Users: E1 Plan costs $200/month.
With 50 Users: E1 Plan costs $400/month.

This scenario works for: Startups & small businesses with remote workers. Businesses and Organizations whose employees travel frequently.

Scenario 5: Microsoft Teams + Skype for Business

Microsoft Teams LogoOnly the Enterprise plans make sense in this scenario. If you want Teams and Skype for Business available, you’ll want as many of their advanced features as you can get (within budget).

Office 365 Enterprise E1 Plan: $8.00/user per month
Office 365 Enterprise E3 Plan: $20.00/user per month
Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan: $35.00/user per month

With 25 Users: E1 Plan costs $200/month. E3 Plan costs $500/month. E5 Plan costs $875/month.
With 50 Users: E1 Plan costs $400/month. E3 Plan costs $1,000/month. E5 Plan costs $1,750/month.

This scenario works for: Larger cloud-friendly businesses. Businesses with distributed teams/remote workers.

Remember: Office 365 Pricing is Monthly. On-Premise Pricing is One-Time.

monthly budget photo
Photo by cafecredit

On-prem always looks more expensive up front. But you’ll have to factor Office 365’s monthly costs into the budget if you go that route. Always bears repeating.

I used 25 and 50 users here because it’s easy to see how the pricing changes for doubled users. Few businesses have exactly 25 or 50 users, of course. You’ll need to adapt the numbers to your own user count. Hopefully I’ve made it easy to do so.

Don’t forget, you’ll still need hardware to use Skype for Business and/or Teams! If nothing else, a good headset for each client, and a high-quality video camera for any conference rooms. (The camera in most devices works fine for users’ video calls.)

Here’s a couple headset recommendations if you’re looking:

(Don’t worry, more device reviews are coming!)

These pricing numbers are accurate as of today, September 20, 2017. Now that we have a new version of Skype for Business Server coming, they may change in the coming months. Make sure to confirm with Microsoft (or your IT partner) before clicking Buy!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Skype for Business News: Skype4B Becomes Teams (Maybe), Teams Gets Guest Access (Sort Of)

If Microsoft wanted to stir up controversy before the Ignite 2017 conference…they sure succeeded!

Last week the Skype for Business community got two major announcements. One appears accidental. The other was not. But both have certainly drummed up a lot of speculation, confusion, and derision.

Not without cause either. Let’s take a good hard look at what we know, and what we think we know, about Microsoft’s future plans for Skype for Business and Teams.

Teams Absorbing Skype for Business?

Hallo Teams, Goodbye Skype? – MS Tech Community

First, the accidental announcement. On September 7, sharp-eyed Office 365 users caught this screenshot after logging in.

skype for business now teams
Image courtesy of Petri.com.

It was quickly removed after social media lit up.

Later the same day, Microsoft posted a message to the O365 admin portal, saying the company planned on “upgrading” Skype for Business to Teams over the next year. They specified that since it’s early-stages for such a move, the change is opt-in, and no one needs to do anything.

Then it removed THAT message a few minutes later.

Further calls for Microsoft to elaborate, to my knowledge, have gone unanswered.

Tony Redmond at Petri.com speculates that this could mean a new client, melding Teams’ chat functions with Skype4B’s voice & IM tools. If this is indeed moving forward, a “universal” Teams/Skype4B client does make a lot of sense.

Others expressed concern that folding Skype for Business into Teams would end up becoming a mess that wrecks both platforms. Still others decried what they see as Microsoft throwing them yet another branding curveball.

I think they’re ALL right.

If true, this was a damaging leak for Microsoft. It belies a migration path few asked for, and clearly some do not want. Either Microsoft has some explaining to do, or they’re about to take two well-received communications systems and smash them together. Because they can.

This really wasn’t the change I anticipated. I expected the reverse would happen: Skype for Business would absorb Teams’ chat and group functions. Replacing Persistent Chat (which, though I love it, is probably the least-used S4B tool).

All that said, there is one point with which I agree. Most of the other communications platforms out there – Slack, Cisco’s Spark, Fuze, HipChat – use short, easy-to-remember brand names. “Teams” as a brand name, is shorter and easier to recall than “Skype for Business.”

Maybe Teams’ initial success prompted Microsoft to explore expanding its brand. We’ll see pretty soon.

Teams Gets its Guest Access! (Sort of. Eventually?)

A full quarter after Microsoft had originally planned to release Teams guest access…it’s arrived.

Kind of. Maybe.

Microsoft Adds Guest Access to Teams – ZDNet

Microsoft announced the new Guest Access feature on September 11. According to the existing details, here’s how Guest Access works.

Stage 1: Anyone with an existing Azure Active Directory account (e.g. an Office 365 user) can now be added as a Teams guest user. (Occurring Now)
Stage 2: Anyone with a free Microsoft Account (MSA) can be added as a Teams guest user. (Coming Soon)
Stage 3: Anyone with a valid email address can be added as a Teams guest user. (The ideal, but I don’t know when this is happening!)

What kind of reaction did this get? Take a wild guess. No, worse than that.

I went over to UserVoice to see what others had to say:
External Access and Federation: Microsoft Teams UserVoice

UserVoice Teams Guest Access

The thread has exploded with almost-universal cries of disappointment. At time of this post’s publication, there are 563 comments. Just over 80 of them came in after the Guest Access announcement. Nearly all of those are negative.

People are trying & failing to enable Guest Access. Reporting big bugs (failure to add guests on mobile, for example). Pointing out that this is NOT what the users asked for.

My thoughts? I agree. This is not what users asked for. This is not Guest Access. It’s just a type of federation.

If adding guest access were only a case of a few bugs, I’d understand. Teams is a cloud offering; that means a huge variety of possible use cases. A few bugs aren’t a big deal.

However, this isn’t just bugs. This is a major stumbling block. Microsoft has taken Teams, a rapidly-growing product, and put the brakes on its growth.

They have effectively told users, “No, you will invite who we say you can invite, when we say you can. You don’t like it? What are you going to do, leave Office 365?”

And the thing is, that’s exactly what they will do. If a big part of users’ Office 365 experience doesn’t work how they work, they WILL leave the service and go elsewhere. Slack already lets you invite whomever you want. Same with Teams’ other competitors.

If I were Slack, Google, Fuze, or even Cisco, I’d work furiously to make some productivity-related software available to my chat customers. Integrate with a cloud email provider (or create one). Partner with LibreOffice or a cloud-based office app service.

You’ve already got a good assortment of chat/voice/video tools. Add productivity tools, and you’ll give Microsoft’s user base an option that actually caters to their needs.

(I don’t say this to drive people away from Teams, or Skype for Business. I say this because it’s probably the only way to make Microsoft listen!)

Ignite Has Some Explaining to Do

We are less than 2 weeks away from Ignite. 115 of the planned sessions involve Teams. 80 sessions involve Skype4B (many of which overlap).

These presenters have some explaining to do. I hope we get some solid answers.

Are you going to Ignite? If so, please make note to share your experience with us in the comments! I’m sadly unable to attend, but you can bet I’ll keep track of the results.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Device Review: The Sennheiser MB 660 Headset

We’ve reviewed Jabra and Plantronics equipment on this blog already. Time for something new!

We know Jabra and Plantronics make Skype for Business-friendly headsets. But who else? As Unified Communications spreads across the business world, there’s plenty of need for headsets, speakerphones, and so on.

Time to look for some additional options. Other headset products we could offer customers. Who did we come up with? Sennheiser!

The German company is famous for high-quality headphones. But it turns out they have a big line of office headsets too. After speaking with them about our interest (and this blog), they kindly agreed to send us some products for testing.

Up first is the Sennheiser MB 660 UC headset.

Sennheiser MB 660 UC

Initial Impressions

When I took these out of the box, my immediate thought was, “Woah, Big Daddy headset here!”

Unboxing the MB 660

The MB 660 is a Bluetooth Active Noise-Canceling (ANC) headset with a dongle. It takes the form of over-ear headphones. On first glance you wouldn’t even realize they have a microphone built in…but they sure do!

Since I had this headset on loan (thank you to Sennheiser rep Doug for arranging it), I upped my testing to ‘intense’ level. Certain elements only come out after prolonged usage. That wasn’t possible for the MB660s, so I tested as thoroughly as I could.

I’m happy to say that the MB660 not only put up with everything I threw at it, it shone in several areas. Let’s see which they were!

MB 660 Headset Features

The MB 660 UC is one of Sennheiser’s higher-end headsets. Which should explain why the following feature list is so long.

Touch-sensitive panels on the earcups. The right earcup has a touch-sensitive panel on its exterior side. With various gestures you can activate a bunch of functions:

  • Volume up/down
  • Play/Pause music
  • Answer (or reject) calls
  • End, hold, mute/unmute calls in progress
  • Talk Through – This one’s neat. Tap the panel twice to pause music and open the external microphones. This lets you hear what’s going on around you without taking the headphones off or disabling ANC. Perfect for when someone wants to talk to you.

MB 660 Instructions

On/Off function built into cups. Instead of an ON/OFF switch, you control power by changing the earcups’ position. Twist them flat and the headset’s off. It will even announce it a second later. “Power Off!”

ANC switch with 2 levels. A switch on the right ear cup controls Active Noise Canceling. At one point I had full ANC enabled, and heard a low hissing sound. Nothing loud…think background noise. I took the headset off—and found that the office A/C had turned on! With the headset off it was its usual roar, but the MB660 muted it down to a low hiss.

The MB660 ANC Switch

Built-in microphone. It’s not on a boom – the mic is a tiny spot on the right earphone, roughly parallel to the mouth.

The MB660 Mic

Auto-Announcements. There’s a voice assistant in the headset, for announcing basic commands. Power On, Phone 1 Connected, Call Ended, etc.

What I found funny was that the voice assistant has a mild British accent. (I was kind of expecting a bold German accent. “Ausschalten!”)

Bluetooth on/off. There’s a simple ON/OFF switch for Bluetooth on the right earphone. If you’re using the dongle or plugging the headset into a phone directly, you can just switch Bluetooth off & save power.

Charging from USB. The headset came 50% charged. Charging to 100% took about 90 minutes. Charging from dead to full takes about 3 hours.

The MB 660 has crazy battery life…up to 30 hours. Despite multiple-hour use every day for 2 weeks, I only needed to charge it (via a standard micro-USB cable) twice!

Wireless NFC and Bluetooth connectivity. The MB 660 incorporates two types of wireless connections: NFC and Bluetooth. NFC works with the included dongle, and with NFC-enabled devices (e.g., some phones). Bluetooth is for everything else.

It will pair with multiple devices simultaneously. I plugged the dongle into my laptop, and paired the MB 660 to my phone via Bluetooth. Two devices connected to one headset. I then switched between both several times, both playing music and making calls. The headset jumped from device to device with only a quarter-second delay.

In terms of signal strength, it was great on Bluetooth and NFC. I walked across the office, and even outside, to test it. I didn’t hear any jitter or breakups in my calls (or music – amusingly, “The Sound of Silence”).

Musical clarity. If you’ve ever used Sennheiser headphones, you’re aware that they make good music-listening headphones across the board. Music isn’t the primary purpose of these MB660s, but they still sound great playing tunes. I had to keep the volume down fairly low…this guy will pump out some serious sound at high volume!

Talking

Now, the most important part of this review. How do the MB 660 UCs stack up for call quality?

In short, superb. Calls sounded focused within my head, not gathered around my ears. Voice mails came through as clear as they do from my Jabra headset.

I had a co-worker call me while I was listening to music, so I got to test the “Talk Through” feature. Just one press to the right earcup’s panel, and the music receded into the background. I talked with my co-worker for several minutes. (Ended up pausing the music after a few seconds though. I could hear my co-worker just fine, but it was a good song, and I couldn’t listen to both!)

In another test call, we used our phones. My co-worker used the Sennheiser Presence UC ML headset. He reported that my voice sounded “fuller” in his ear than what voices normally sound like when he uses his cellphone.

Finally, I used the tests given by Troy Thompson on this Quora thread: How can I make a test phone call? – Quora

  1. Plantronics Audio Tuning Wizard: Call quality was exactly what I’d expect for an IVR (a little distant, but clear).
  2. Echo Back Line: Didn’t play back my voice, but I could enter numbers and hear the tones echoed back right away.

The Fit

The MB 660 is different from most other office headsets. Instead of a lightweight pair of ear pads on a thin band with a mic arm, these are beefy over-ear cups with a thick band. Like Sennheiser’s famous HD line of headphones.

The earcups are, in my non-audiophile opinion, a little odd. They’re at a sharp angle, with narrow spaces for the ears. Felt a little strange against my face. But, they did convey one advantage—a good seal for the ANC.

MB660 Earcups (Over-Ear)

The headset sat a little rigidly on my head, but the ear cups created essentially a curtain between my ears and the outside world. Coupled with the ANC, I could pretty much tune everybody out and enjoy the quiet.

I left them on for a whole day, regardless of whether I had a call or music going. After an hour or so, I began to feel the ear cups pressing on the sides of my face. Never got to ‘painful,’ just a tad uncomfortable. Now, this is a brand-new headset. Some ‘head squeeze’ is expected. It should ease up over time.

(After wearing these for a week, the ear cup pressure lessened more so. I’m aware of the cups, but they’re not uncomfortable anymore.)

Issues

No technology is perfect, unfortunately. Even this vaunted headset had a couple (thankfully minor) frustrations.

  • Bluetooth Switch is Hidden: You have to take the headset off to get to the Bluetooth switch. When on the head, the earphones roll back a little (to better fit the ears). This tucks the switch behind the band.
    Bluetooth Switch Exposed
    Bluetooth Switch Covered
  • Discomfort: Very much a subjective issue. As I said, in just a week the headset lessened its pressure on my head. I got used to wearing them. However, your experience may differ. Especially if you’re not the type to wear big over-ear headphones anyway.
  • Touch-Sensitive Panel Confused by Streaming: I did find one problem here, though it could easily be a configuration issue. To play/pause music, you tap once on the right earcup panel. This did not work for me while listening to a Pandora stream. But it did work fine with a music player app, so it could just be a mishap with the stream.

The Verdict: MB 660s a Super Choice for Long-Stretch Use

I got a little spoiled by the MB 660s. I can walk around the office while on the phone, using my Jabra headset. But with the MB 660s I could do that AND keep distracting noises out via the Active Noise-Canceling!

This headset is a great option for people who need to keep a headset on for long periods of time. Here are 3 examples of people who’d get a lot of value out of the MB 660 UC:

  • MOBILE WORKERS — For two reasons. The Active Noise-Canceling, and the fact that it does not have a mic boom.
  • MEETING-FRIENDLY MANAGEMENT — Attend a lot of online meetings? These are good for high quality and frequent wear.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE — The MB 660s might seem like too much for customer service reps. However, I think of all the times I’ve called customer service, and we could barely understand one another. It didn’t matter what the other person used to call me…I always understood them with the MB 660s on.

I’ll let Doug from Sennheiser have the final word:

“I see this [the MB 660 UC] as a crossover product. A Bose killer in some aspects, in regards to the traveling business person who likes quality music and noise isolation on a plane, but also a true productivity tool for those road warrior calls, regardless of the environment.”

You can pick up the Sennheiser MB 660 UC at several online vendors for about $450. Here’s one such vendor:
Sennheiser MB 660 Bluetooth Headset with Noise-Canceling Microphone – Headsets.com

I do have some more Sennheiser equipment to test. We’ll cover it in another post (maybe two).

What’s your experience with Sennheiser headsets (not headphones)? Please comment or email your thoughts.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Gartner Rankings for Cisco UC and Skype for Business – Which is Better?

What’s this? Cisco UCaaS rated HIGHER than Skype for Business? How?!

Amazing as it might seem, that is how Gartner recently ranked them: Gartner’s Magic Quadrant 2017 for Unified Communications

Their 2017 UC rankings have Cisco at #1 overall. Skype for Business is tied with Mitel on Vision at #2.

Why is Cisco #1? How did they beat Skype?

Yes, I’m feeling a little territorial. Most of our customers who already have some form of VoIP in their office are using Cisco. And given what they ask from us, they want off of it!

I went looking into this ranking, and wound up taking a little journey. A journey well worth blogging about, as you’ll soon see.

How Gartner Ranks Unified Communications Services

I went looking for reasons why Cisco is still rated above Skype for Business. In the process I found that Gartner has a pretty good approach. They rank many different IT services in several categories, using a series of specialized research factors.

A central factor is Gartner’s research methodology. They collate data from multiple sources and use it to graph services. The X-axis is “Completeness of Vision” and the Y-axis is “Ability to Execute.”

Gartner organizes its results into four categories: Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries, and Niche Players. Leaders rank highest on Vision and Execution. Challengers rank high on Execution, but low on Vision. Visionaries have good Vision, but poor Execution. Niche Players are low on both.

Unified Communications research
Image courtesy of Gartner.com.

This is what they have for 2017’s UCaaS (by brand):

  • Leaders: Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel
  • Challengers: Huawei, NEC, Avaya
  • Visionaries: Unify
  • Niche Players: ALE, ShoreTel

Now, Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute are themselves value judgments. They’ll require experience data and testing. How does Gartner arrive at such judgments?

The second slide tells us:

“Gartner evaluated UC vendors that offer enterprise equipment, software and services around VoIP, video, web conferencing, telephony, messaging, applications and UCaaS solutions.”

I would not consider a UCaaS solution complete if it didn’t have all of these elements. So, good on Gartner for making sure they’re included.

But this itself led to another curiosity. In the Cisco slides, Gartner described the available Cisco UC services it considered for Magic Quadrant. From Paragraph 2 on the first slide:

“Cisco’s UCaaS Spark offers messaging, calling and meeting space that support workstream collaboration.”

Spark, huh? What’s so great about Spark?

Cisco Spark 411

Reading this made me realize I haven’t taken a thorough look at Spark yet. I’ll have to do a detailed Spark/Skype4B comparison at some point.

In the meantime, we have our good buddy Matt Landis’ Cisco Spark Review to cite!

What it does do:

  • Instant Messaging
  • Organizes by Rooms
  • Video Calls
  • Screen Sharing (but no ability to transfer control)
  • Upload files
  • Delete messages

What it doesn’t do:

  • Audio calls only (unless you use a Cisco phone)
  • Presence status
  • Archive video calls or screen sharing
Cisco Spark vs. Skype for Business
“Why do our sales projections look like pyramids?”
Image courtesy of Cisco.com

(In fairness, I have not tested Spark out yet. This little mini-review is only for reference.)

Gartner factored Spark in with Cisco’s other UC offerings, such as Unified Communications Manager. Interesting…so in order to present a full UCaaS solution, and thus compete head-to-head with Skype4B, they had to bundle some things together.

Well, I’ll take what I can get.

Spark is More like Teams

From Matt’s review and subsequent reading, Cisco Spark seems more like Microsoft Teams than Skype for Business. In fact, I found a G2 Crowd comparison that puts them neck-and-neck. Teams edges ahead in ease of use & status updates, but Spark pulls ahead on search and file sharing.

Which at last brings us to another reason why Cisco ranked higher. This is the 2017 magic quadrant. It gathered data from 2016, and maybe early 2017. Teams was not in General Availability for most of that time. Spark was.

So a full, direct comparison just wasn’t possible. Gartner ranked on the basis of available solutions at the time. That’s nobody’s fault…just how the market worked out.

Gartner Deserves Credit for Its Work (I Just Think One “Leader” is Better than the Other)

Now, I don’t want to come across as mad at Gartner or anything. Some fellow Spiceheads mentioned that the Magic Quadrants inform their purchasing decisions. Good! Their results represent lots of research.

Cisco comes across as a walled garden. (And an expensive one.) Trying to control all forms of communication, limiting the hardware you can use, not playing too nicely with other systems. (The number of times we’ve had Skype issues because of someone using a Cisco phone…)

We’re big on Skype for Business not just because it’s some of Microsoft’s most useful software. But also because it plays nice (or nicer!) with other systems. When you pick up the phone to call someone, it shouldn’t matter what type of phone they’re on. Skype, Cisco, Mitel, RingCentral, iPhone, Android…the call should connect without hiccup.

At least from our experience, when you’re using Cisco UC? Hiccups happen often.

What’s your experience with Cisco Unified Communications? Please comment or email.

Next post we’ll have some fancy new device reviews. Make sure to come back for those!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

A New Skype for Business Server Version IS Coming!

Permit me a little celebration.

dog playing photo
Photo by carterse

Mary Jo Foley over at ZDNet broke some wonderful news. There is still life in Skype for Business Server after all!

Mary Jo’s article:
What’s Next for Microsoft’s Skype for Business Unified Communications Products – ZDNet

(She also linked to my Microsoft 365 post in the article. Many thanks for that!)

The Source: A Microsoft Ignite Session Listing

Mary Jo found an MS Ignite 2017 session discussion appearing to reference a ‘next version’ of Skype for Business: Plan your UC refresh correctly: Skype for Business on-premises vNext

MS Ignite Session Page

The MS Ignite conference occurs in mid-September. Major announcements of new (or updated) Microsoft products are not unusual.

So it appears Skype for Business Server will indeed get a new version! Possibly by end of year, but I’m thinking early 2018 is more likely.

Now, I’ve seen the term ‘vNext/v.Next’ a few times. Always attached to a Microsoft product, of course…ASP.NET vNext, SQL Server v.Next. What does it mean in this case?

I’ve come across a few general definitions. One is simply that “vNext” is a name given to a product when it’s in pre-release mode. “We don’t have a version number for this yet, so it’s ‘vNext.'” Another was that vNext referenced the latest version of .NET used to develop the apps. I tend to lean more toward the first definition—shorthand for a version number not finalized just yet.

Which means we’ll all have to wait & see what the next Skype for Business Server name will be. Personally, I hope it’s the most obvious choice – “Skype for Business Server 2017” or “2018.”

(Having to say ‘Skype for Business on-premises vNext’ would get old fast!)

What Else is Out There?

I looked at other Skype for Business-related sessions planned for Ignite. Here is the full list.
MS Ignite Session Catalog: “Skype for Business”.

Unsurprisingly, most reference Office 365. Video interop, large-scale deployments, bots, etc. All useful, of course, but not referencing Skype for Business Server.

Curiously, some of the Skype for Business Online services will have name changes too.

  • Cloud PBX becomes “Microsoft’s Phone System” – Good idea. Easier to understand for non-technical users.
  • PSTN Calling becomes “Calling Plan” – Bad idea. Easy to confuse with Dial Plans.

I also looked around on the Web for more instances of the new name. What do you know, I came up with a post from our friend Tom Arbuthnot…
Microsoft Ignite 2017 Session details Live: 34 Session related to Skype for Business including Server vNext

…who just yesterday replied to a comment, agreeing with the notion that “Skype for Business vNext” will be the next on-prem Skype for Business Server.

Whatever the Version Name, More Skype for Business is Great News!

The MS Ignite expo will take place in Orlando, FL from September 25-29. If you already have tickets, I’m jealous, and hereby request you share whatever notes taken relating to Skype for Business.

I can’t make it (much to my disappointment). But as soon as I can find out more about the next Skype for Business Server version, you’ll see it here!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

How Microsoft 365 Will Affect Skype for Business

Ladies and gentlemen, tech pros and end users, we have a new service from Microsoft. A big one…one that’s going to shake a lot of things up. Including Skype for Business. It’s called Microsoft 365.

Microsoft announced the new service last month, in an Office Blog post. They also highlighted MS 365 at the Microsoft Inspire 2017 event.

Frankly, this concerns me. Not in terms of user value, mind you. No, I’m concerned because I think this threatens the on-prem version of Skype for Business (Server).

Let me explain why.

The 411 on MS 365

Introducing Microsoft 365

To start off, let’s take a quick look at what Microsoft 365 provides. Right now it has two versions: MS 365 Enterprise and MS 365 Business.

Each MS 365 service wraps together Windows 10, Office 365, and Mobility & Security tools. You deploy it to a fresh computer, and the user has a full suite of tools to do their work (and stay secure). Administration flows through a centralized portal, just like Office 365.

There’s only one level of MS 365 Business for now. Enterprise has two levels: E3 and E5. As is typical for Microsoft service levels, E3 is missing a few advanced features like Cloud PBX, Cloud App Security, and Advanced eDiscovery.

These services are in preview. Testers are running them through their paces, teasing out bugs, trying out different deployments.

Where Does Skype for Business Fit Into All This?

Now, to the most important topic (at least on this blog)…Skype for Business. Is Skype for Business included in MS 365? Yes, via its integrated Office 365.

However, I discovered a mismatch in the services lists. On the MS 365 Business service list, you don’t see Skype for Business. But you do see Teams.

Teams in MS 365

Did that mean they stripped Skype4B?

No. It’s still included. To make sure, I watched the live demo available for MS 365 Business. By doing so, I confirmed that Skype for Business (not “Skype” as the presenter kept saying) was shown on the screen, and used in the demo.

Let’s switch over to MS 365 Enterprise. The two service levels, E3 and E5, parallel to Office 365 Enterprise. No surprise there. Skype for Business is one of the services that changes between E3 and E5. It is included in both versions. But PSTN Conferencing and Cloud PBX are NOT included in E3. Only in E5.

Cloud PBX in MS 365 Enterprise

Which means if you want all Skype for Business functions, you’ll need MS 365 Enterprise E5. Nothing less.

Will Microsoft 365 Work with Skype for Business Server?

Now, the big question. So far I’ve just verified inclusion for Skype for Business Online. Not the Server version.

I tried to find as many details as I could on MS 365’s friendliness (if any) with Skype4B Server. But since the service is still in preview (GA is expected toward the end of 2017), references were not forthcoming. So far, no explicit confirmation either way.

But I did find indications. One that said yes, MS 365 would work with Skype for Business Server. One that said no.

Indication of Yes
My Yes indication came up in the MS 365 Business demo. The presenter showed his Office 365 Portal screen for a few minutes, talking about options you can turn on & off. One of the options was, “Allow users to copy content from Office apps into personal apps” with an ON/OFF switch.

How does this relate to Skype for Business Server? Since the Server version of Skype for Business isn’t part of Office 365, it may be considered a ‘personal app’ in this case. Bit of a stretch, I know, but it’s a reasonable one.

Indication of No
However, I saw another indication from the MS 365 Business FAQs:

Active Directory Warning in MS 365
“Customers who use on-premises Active Directory must switch to cloud identity and management as part of their deployment.” Does not bode well for Skype for Business Server…

Skype for Business Server relies on Active Directory for its on-prem user management. Switching to cloud identity (Azure AD) doesn’t necessarily preclude Skype4B Server from operation; you can always reconfigure for a Hybrid deployment.

However, this looks like another way for Microsoft to prioritize its own O365-integrated Skype for Business. At Server’s expense.

Microsoft 365 is an “Uh Oh” for Skype for Business Server

axe photoIf you’ll permit me some fatalistic imagery…MS 365 is an ax poised above Skype for Business Server’s head.

Tying Windows, Office, and enterprise security into one big bundle IS a logical next step for Microsoft. All are available as services. Together they become a “complete system” for use on just about every modern PC.

From a business standpoint, there is some argument to retiring Skype for Business Server in favor of the online version.

Not saying I agree with this, mind you! Not everyone will move to Microsoft 365. The question of security alone will keep some businesses from adoption, at least in the short-term.

Use of other apps for communication, security, and productivity will also block MS 365—why switch when you have a working, up-to-date solution?

What are your thoughts on Microsoft 365? Please comment or email.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail