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!

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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.

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How the Edge Server Fits into Skype for Business

“What’s the Edge Server do?”

One of our team members fielded this question while on-site the other day. He’d just finished describing the Skype for Business topology we proposed for the customer’s business (hybrid deployment, across 3 offices). One of the users piped up right afterward.

Now to his credit, my co-worker answered the question immediately, and (from his impressions) to the user’s satisfaction. He’d mentioned it to me only in passing. But, me being me, I seized on it as a good post idea.

We’re all about educating users here. In case another user at that customer site, or a future customer’s, still has questions? Let’s take a detailed look at what goes into an Edge Server.

(Please note: We will not discuss Reverse Proxies or Load Balancers in this post. If you want to hear more about these, I’m happy to dedicate a post to each. Please comment if so.)

The Edge Server’s Primary Role

The Edge Server grants Skype for Business access to users outside the internal network. These are mobile users, remote users, federated users (e.g. partners, vendors), and sometimes even customers.

Without the Edge Server, these external users can’t send or receive IM, take phone calls, or join in Online Meetings.

How does it do that? Essentially, by acting as an IP intermediary. It translates external IP addresses into internal IP addresses to facilitate the external user connections. As such, the Edge will need routable public IPs assigned to it (or non-routable private IPs, if you use NAT).

Skype for Business Servers
That’s our Edge Server right there. No, that one.

Main Components of an Edge Server

Each Edge Server runs four main services.

  1. Access Edge. This service gives users a trusted connection for inbound & outbound SIP traffic. Like a private road through the Internet.
  2. Web Conferencing Edge. This service allows an external user to join Online Meetings running on your Skype for Business Server. A virtual “ticket to the show,” as it were.
  3. A/V Edge. This service enables audio/video, application sharing, and file transfer for external users while in said Meetings. That way you’re not missing out on any parts of the conversation.
  4. XMPP Proxy. Finally, this service sends & receives XMPP messages (eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) from federated partners. It makes sure external users can still talk with federated users.
    • NOTE: This is not required for all Edge Servers. You may need an XMPP gateway running on the Front End as well.

Other Servers Edge Communicates With

Front End. Obviously, the Edge Server will communicate the most with the Front End (Standard or Enterprise Edition). Otherwise external user connections would just vanish!

Office 365 Cloud. If you’re running a hybrid configuration, the Edge Server will have to communicate with Office 365 servers. Edge will treat the Office 365 tenant as a federated partner, so make sure SIP Federation is enabled.

Exchange UM Server. Edge must communicate with Unified Messaging, in order for external users to get their voicemails.

Persistent Chat Server. For topologies supporting Persistent Chat, the Edge Server will need to communicate with its server. Access Edge needs to facilitate external users joining chats.

Reverse Proxy, Firewall, Load Balancer. Together with the Edge Server, these servers/tools create the “perimeter network.” They protect your network from unauthorized access (e.g. malware), while letting authenticated users through.

Edge Server Functionality
A Microsoft diagram illustrating some of the Edge Server’s functions. It keeps busy. Image courtesy of Microsoft.com.

Is One Edge Server Enough?

For most offices, yes. One Edge Server can handle 12,000 concurrent users. But for high-availability topologies, you can collocate Edge Servers.

Reminder: Don’t Forget about Mobile User Access

When configuring an Edge Server, make sure you’ve addressed mobile users. We’ve had to reconfigure Edge Servers which were set up properly for most remote users…but mobile apps didn’t have access the moment they left the office.

Every Time You Use Skype for Business on the Road, Thank Your Edge Server

Among our customers, IM is the most-used Skype for Business tool benefiting from the Edge Server. But inviting customers or vendors into an Online Meeting is the most valued benefit.

“You mean they can actually join the meeting too? Just like each of us?” Yes, they sure can! Thanks to the Edge Server. Show it a little love.

(I’m not actually sure how you’d do that. Do servers appreciate it when you clean their fans?)

Did you have a question about what Edge Servers do, or how they do it? Please comment or email your thoughts.

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PSTN Calling Has a Not-So-Pleasant Surprise for International Callers

While researching a full Skype for Business pricing update, I spoke with a co-worker. He told me something I didn’t know about Office 365’s PSTN Calling. Specifically, a surprise hidden in how Microsoft handles international call rates.

It is possible to find out about this organically. But (and I’m saying this as a writer) the language is obtuse. Essentially, it boils down to…

For international calls, Office 365 PSTN Calling has a nasty surprise. If you’re not careful, the plan will charge you extra fees on top of your monthly rate.

Let’s go through how this happens.

What PSTN Calling Does

PSTN Calling gives Office 365 Skype for Business users the ability to make calls to/receive calls from the PSTN. Like a cellphone plan (the non-unlimited ones), you get a certain amount of minutes for domestic and international calls.

What’s not obvious is that international calls are also subject to per-minute additional rates, depending on how many calls you make.

The two calling plans are (per month):

  • DOMESTIC: 3000 minutes in the US and Puerto Rico, 1200 minutes in the UK
  • INTERNATIONAL: 3000 minutes in the US and Puerto Rico, 1200 minutes in the UK, and 600 international minutes.

Pay attention to that last line. 600 international minutes. That’s per user, but it’s still not a whole lot—10 hours’ call time per month. It’s also pooled at the tenant level…which means it’s possible for one department to make a bunch of international calls & use up another department’s minutes!

If you go over 600 minutes calling overseas, or if you only have a Domestic plan and want to call internationally, you’re kind of stuck. No more international calling for you until next month.

Making International Calls
“Wait, what country am I calling? Do we have any minutes left?”
Photo by Kait Loggins on Unsplash

Further details are on the PSTN Calling page.

PSTN Consumption Billing: What’s This?

An alternative to the call plans is PSTN Consumption Billing.

What is PSTN Consumption Billing? Office 365 Help

This is a subscription to give you, for lack of a better term, “call credits.” If the Domestic & International call plans are monthly cellphone plans, Consumption Billing is a pre-paid phone.

You pre-pay a certain amount, held by Microsoft, which is used when callers make international calls (or calls outside their current PSTN Calling plan—it’s possible to use both).

O365 users can either pre-pay a full one-time amount, or pre-pay a minimum balance with an “auto-recharge” option. Auto-Recharge kicks in whenever the minimum balance is used up, refilling it from your payment method.

Now, Consumption Billing isn’t cheap. The minimum balance for less than 250 users is $200. If you wanted to pre-pay the full amount for the same number of people instead, you’re looking at $1,000!

If you don’t have Consumption Billing and you’re on the Domestic plan? International calls will not connect.
If you don’t have Consumption Billing and your users use up the international minutes in their plan? Skype for Business can’t dial out until the next month starts.

Which O365 Plans Offer PSTN Calling?

PSTN Calling is available to the Enterprise plans – E1, E3, and E5. These are the plans you’d want if you’re giving users full voice capability anyway.

Let’s do a stack of Office 365 subscriptions necessary to call anyone, anywhere. We’ll assume 50 users, all on O365 E3 licenses.

PSTN CALLING STACK

  1. Office 365 E3 – $20.00/month x 50 = $1,000
  2. Cloud PBX – $8.00/month x 50 = $400
  3. PSTN Calling Add-On (International) – $24.00/month x 50 = $1,200
  4. [OPTIONAL] PSTN Consumption Billing Subscription (Minimum) – $200.00
  5. Total:
    • With Consumption Billing added: $52.00 x 50 = $2,800.00/month
    • International Call Plan only: $52.00 x 50 = $2,600.00/month
      +International Calling Rates (varies)

(If you used E5 plans, Cloud PBX would come included. But the cost rises from $20.00/month to $35.00/month. Just FYI.)

So we’re looking at $2,600-2,800/month for 50 users to call anywhere. What’s that last part though? Depending on your users’ activity, ‘International Calling Rates’ could come to zero each month. Or you could suddenly find hundreds of dollars added to your bill.

What Happens with International Calls (When You Go Over Minutes)

I’ll break down how it works. Let’s say Shelly in XYZ Corp’s US Operations needs to communicate regularly with their overseas manufacturing facilities. These facilities are located in Germany and China. Shelly has the full PSTN Calling Stack we listed above.

  1. In one month, she spends about 9 hours talking with the Germany & China facilities. For that month, she didn’t exceed the International call plan, so her cost remains at $52.00/month.
  2. The next month there’s some problem with production. Shelly has to make some extra calls to straighten everything out. In the process, she makes 10.5 hours’ worth of international calls.
  3. Shelly has gone over her plan’s limit. What will Microsoft charge her for the overages?
    • Shelly’s calls to Germany (30 minutes)
      International Dial-Out Rate/Minute – $0.021 x 30 = $0.63
    • Shelly’s calls to China (30 minutes)
      International Dial-Out Rate/Minute – $0.04 x 30 = $1.20

Sure, these aren’t run-for-the-hills numbers. But this is one user. Multiply it over 50 (or 100, or 1,000…) and those overages will add up pretty fast.

Plus, the rates aren’t locked. They may change at any time. That means one month’s international bill may suddenly go up, beyond last month’s. Especially if you use Consumption Billing only—the dial-out rates are used for every minute on those calls.

PSTN Calling Extra Rates

Download the current table for international dial-out rates here (PDF). [Current as of July 12, 2017.]

I should point out a big caveat before finishing up though. If users are homed in the same country, even though one person is traveling internationally, their calls to co-workers are considered domestic.

A Thousand Tiny Costs Adding Up

Extra fees on international calls isn’t a huge emergency. Some of you already knew, or at least came across it before. Nevertheless, it’s an important topic about which to blog.

My co-worker spent months working with Office 365 before he came across the international call rate structure. “Bit of a surprise,” as he phrased it. The customer whose Office 365 tenant he was setting up when he found it? A 200-plus-employee tech hardware manufacturer with an overseas satellite office.

They had no idea what was in store.

What’s your experience been with PSTN Calling for international calls? I’m especially curious if anyone’s run up against the call limits already.

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MS Teams Updates: Guest Access, Educational Resources, and a License Rumor

Hope all of you had a great 4th of July!

Just a quick post today, while we continue work on some bigger stuff.

Microsoft Teams has come up on social a lot lately. Some important information administrators should know, whether or not you use Teams now. So let’s recap.

External User/Guest Access: Still Waiting

First up – no, Teams didn’t get Guest Access in June. We’d all hoped for it, but a Microsoft rep posted on UserVoice to expect delays.

External Access and Federation – MicrosoftTeams.UserVoice.com

Teams Guest Access Status Update

Guest Access will allow non-Office 365 users to join your Teams channels. I commented the other day that this will end up as a make-or-break element for Teams adoption. Judging by the comments on this thread, it seems I was right. We’re already seeing comments like:

  • Too long of a wait, going with Slack.
  • We couldn’t keep waiting.
  • We have to move on.

I’d like to see Teams have a fair shot at the collaboration marketplace. But Microsoft’s delays aren’t helping anything.

Teams Education: 2 New Resources

Next, something nicer for new (or future) Teams users. Two educational resources have launched to help you get the hang of Teams: Microsoft Teams Education Resource Collection – Padlet.com. This one appears to focus on educational Teams use.

Microsoft Teams Survival Guide – TechNet. More a collection of existing resources really…but an extensive one.

License Auto-Adjust Rumor

Finally, I’ve heard a troubling rumor. I cannot confirm it yet, though I’m trying. If it turns out to be false (and I sort of hope it does), then I’ll remove this section from the post.

The rumor I heard involves Teams use changing your Office 365 license level.

Here’s the scenario alluded to. Person A is an Office 365 user with Teams (let’s say they have an E1 license). Person B is an Office 365 user, but doesn’t have Teams (they have the ProPlus license).

  1. Person A sends a Teams invite to Person B. Or shares some content from one of their Teams channels with them.
  2. Instead of Person A getting an error message, Person B’s Office 365 license changes. It self-adjusts to a level that includes Teams (e.g., Business Premium).
  3. Person B sees the Teams invite/share.
  4. Person B may not be aware of the license change…until they get the next bill.

Right now, Teams is included for these subscription plans:

  • Office 365 Business Essentials
  • Office 365 Business Premium
  • Office 365 Enterprise E1
  • Office 365 Enterprise E3
  • Office 365 Enterprise E5
  • Office 365 Education
  • Office 365 Education Plus
  • Office 365 Education E5

That leaves out:

  • Office 365 ProPlus
  • Office 365 Business
  • Office 365 Government (G1-G5)
  • Office 365 Home
  • Office 365 Personal
  • Office Home & Student 2016
  • Skype for Business Online Plans

(Granted, most of the users on these plans won’t see much of a need for Teams.)

Why the exclusion? It has to do with Exchange. Teams requires Exchange Online available in the Office 365 account. Microsoft requires it for adding connectors – links to external services, like Twitter or Trello.

Since those Office 365 plans don’t come with Exchange Online by default, Teams isn’t included either.

Again, I hope this was just a rumor. Maybe someone experienced a glitch and spread the word out of frustration.

If you have heard anything about this license auto-adjust, please comment and update me! I’d love confirmation, one way or the other.

If it’s false, then we can all breathe easy.
If it’s true, then it’s something we should all know about.

Until next time, everyone! I promise, we have some good Skype4B material coming up.

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Poll Results: Some Organizations DO Still Use Lync Server!

We’re working on a big post (again!). It’s directly in response to a reader comment, and deals with a critical part of Skype for Business adoption.

In the meantime, as I promised, here are the results of the Lync Polls I conducted.

On-the-Blog Poll Results

Lync Server Poll Results June 2017
(I’m obscuring actual vote numbers on request.)

58% of the blog poll votes went to “We moved to Skype for Business Server.” No big surprise there. Several votes went to Office 365’s Skype for Business Online, too.

What I found curious was that 25% said they still use Lync Server!

Spiceworks Poll Results

If you’re a Spicehead too, here’s the URL for the voting results over there:
https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/2003305-are-you-still-using-lync-server
All responses voted for: “No, we moved to Skype for Business”

Thanks to everyone who voted.

So, what do the results tell us? Most Lync users moved to Skype for Business, and are doing just fine.

A larger-than-expected percentage still use Lync Server though. I did get a little feedback on this…the main reason? Corporate inertia. Management doesn’t want to invest the time & money to move from Lync to Skype for Business.

For those in such a situation, if you want to move to Skype for Business? You have several ways to demonstrate its value to Management.

  1. Start up an Office 365 trial in one department (maybe IT?). The fastest method, and the closest to Server deployment. Then you can show Management how the workflow benefits from it.
  2. Federate your Lync Server with a colleague’s or vendor’s Skype for Business Server. Might take some asking around, but eventually you’ll find one. That way you can show the differing experiences between Lync and Skype4B.
    • We actually convinced a customer to move to Skype for Business this way…just by using our own Skype4B Server. I’m not opposed to doing so again, if it’ll help you!
  3. Ask to sign up for a Microsoft Teams trial. It’s obviously not the same, but it’s a simple way to show how Microsoft has updated their software since Lync.
  4. Request a live Skype for Business demo from an IT agency. May not change anything, but at least Management gets to see the Skype for Business UI at work!

Lync Users: Lync Server 2013 IS Still Supported, So You’re in Good Shape

If you’re honestly happy with Lync Server, then more power to you! Just keep the server secure and up-to-date. Lync Server 2013 will receive mainstream support until April 2018. It doesn’t reach end of life until April 2023.

We’ll have the next big post coming up as soon as possible. Don’t forget to join us again next week!

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Teams Updates and a Lync Poll

Yes, we’re talking both Teams and Lync today. Old and new.

First, the Teams part. Microsoft continues to expand Teams’ capabilities as the weeks progress. I saw a tweet yesterday from Randy, of the “Randy’s Lync and UC Blog,” talking about the MS Teams May 31 update in his latest post.
Microsoft Teams Update 31st May 2017 – Randy’s Lync and UC Blog

Naturally, I went & had a look.

Current MS Teams Updates, as of June 8

The Teams May 31 update included:MS Teams Settings

  1. Invite people to Teams via chat: Sending non-Teams-users a message will automatically email them with a New Message notice. The email also includes a Teams signup invitation.
  2. [Coming Soon] Manage app behavior on startup: Adding 3 new settings to the Microsoft Teams Settings/Application window. These settings give you options for launching and closing Teams.
    • Teams launches automatically when the computer starts.
    • Teams launches automatically, but stays in the background. (Teams defaults to starting in the foreground otherwise.)
    • Teams keeps running even if you close the window.

Randy reported that he already saw this update in his Teams app. Checking Twitter, I found the same thing for most other users. So I’d consider this a ‘live’ feature.

Yesterday, June 7, saw another update. From the Microsoft Teams Release Notes:

  1. Improved files experience: Look and feel for your OneDrive file library in the Files app is updated to match the Files tab in Teams’ channels. Cosmetic stuff.
  2. [Coming Soon] Group Chat Naming: Gives you the ability to name a group chat even before you send any messages. When you create a new chat, you’ll have an Expand icon, which when clicked, shows you a name field. Using this, you can fork an older chat into a fresh conversation, and differentiate between the two.

I don’t see this naming option yet, so it is still coming. Seems useful though…how many of us have needed to revisit an old topic? Different names give us an easy way to start fresh, without starting over.

Now, we are in June. So I hope the external-user access functionality is almost ready…

Poll: Still Using Lync Server?

Let’s close out today with a poll.Teams, Skype, or Lync?

I read through my social media yesterday, checked some notes…and a question hit me. I saw a post about someone still using the Lync app on their Mac, even though the company had moved to Skype for Business last year. (They apparently didn’t know about the Skype for Business on Mac client.)

I thought, “How many people are still using Lync Server in 2017?”

I would hope the answer is “very few” or “none.” But this one tweet illustrated otherwise. So I dug around, looking for statistics on current Lync usage. As in, businesses or organizations still using Lync Server 2013 in recent months.

I used to sing the praises of Lync Server on this very blog. And for the time, I was justified–the software had immense power, enabling almost every possible communications medium.

Technology waits for no one, however. Nowadays the Lync system is out of date and a bit troublesome to use now. Especially when you have multiple alternatives (all of which are more recent and safer to use!): Skype for Business Server, Skype for Business Online, MS Teams, even Slack or Workplace.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find many hard numbers on current Lync usage. At least so far. No big surprise; even Microsoft pushes anyone still on Lync to upgrade.

So let’s gather some! I’d like to ask you, our readers, what you’re using. Please select a result from this poll.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 07-06-2017 09:10:00
end_date 21-07-2017 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Are you still using Lync Server (as of June 2017)?

(Comments are welcome, of course.)

I’ve posted a similar poll on Spiceworks, if you’re a Spicehead like me: https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/2003305-are-you-still-using-lync-server

I’ll pool all the resulting data in a future post. In the meantime, thanks for responding!

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Attendant Pro Review: The 2017 Edition

New Features, More Power in Latest Attendant Pro

Last year I did a two-part review of Attendant Pro, made by Landis Computer. Those posts remain some of my most-trafficked.

Software Review: Attendant Pro Part 1
Software Review: Attendant Pro Part 2 – Quick Access Shortcuts

Landis got back in touch the other day, asking if I could review the latest version. “Of course!” I said. (Might have said that out loud too…)

Why not? It’s a great add-on for Skype for Business users. Especially those who must manage a lot of calls, like receptionists or call centers. If there’s a new version, that means more features to work with.

Attendant Pro Logo

I’ve submitted my feedback to the Landis team. The following review is edited from that feedback (all IP & related data removed, as I always do). Yes, it’s time for the big review I promised!

What Attendant Pro Does

For the 5 of you who haven’t read my original review yet (click the links above to see them!), Attendant Pro gives the Skype for Business user a console wherein you can take calls, set up scripts for fast actions (like transfers to specific people), and even control Skype for Business through special hotkeys called Quick Access Shortcuts.

As I said then, it’s “Do call management simple, do it right.”

Attendant Pro Main Window

The latest update dropped on May 4, 2017: Attendant Pro Q2-2017 Update

That makes 4 updates since my last review. In that time, Landis has added quite a few features. Features to keep up with Microsoft’s own Skype for Business-related releases…and in one case, surpass them.

New Attendant Pro Features: MP3 Recordings, UI Selector, Analytics

Last time Landis posted videos to describe the features. This time, we have posts on the Attendant Pro Blog describing the new features.
Attendant Pro June 2016 Update
Attendant Pro Sept 2016 (Q3-2016) Update
Attendant Pro Jan 2017 (Q4-2016) Update
Attendant Pro Q2-2017 Update (May 2017)

(The video playlist for Attendant Pro is right here, in case you want another look. Still helpful! Attendant Pro for Skype for Business (Office 365, Lync) Training – LandisComputer YouTube

There’s a huge assortment of features…Transfer Advisor, Dynamics 365 (CRM) integration, color coding…but I’d like to talk about three in particular. The Analytics Dashboard, MP3 Call Recording, and the UI Selector.

Analytics Dashboard

What it Does: Records & displays KPI data on call activity. Analytics are collected within the app and displayed in Excel; no extra server or Office 365 license required.

User Benefit: Businesses can collect the call data, and use to improve services or make predictions. Which makes this feature particularly valuable for call centers. (Remember the line you always hear when calling Customer Service? “This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes…”)

These reports/graphs are enabled out of the box:

  • Today key performance indicators
  • Date Range key performance indicator
  • ACD Activity Chart
  • Transfer Type Chart
  • Incoming versus Outgoing Calls
  • Call Volume by Hour
  • Call Volume by Day

Analytics Dashboard

How to Activate:

  1. In the main Attendant Pro screen, look down at the bottom right corner.
  2. You’ll see three icons—Total Calls Today, Average Time to Answer, & Average Time to Handle Call. Click whichever you want.
  3. Excel will open & display an Analytics Dashboard file.

(Analytics are enabled by default. But if yours aren’t working for some reason, you can reactivate them by checking the “Enable Call Detail Recording” box under Options > Reporting.)

MP3 Call Recording

What it Does: Compresses call recordings into MP3 format.

User Benefit: Attendant Pro previously recorded calls in WAV format only. Which is good for clarity, but not so good for file size. MP3 is more efficient, especially with large call volumes.

How to Activate:

  1. Open Attendant Pro Options.
  2. Select “Recording.”
  3. Choose an active Recording Mode with the top dropdown menu—On Demand, Always Record (Can Stop), Always Record (Can’t Stop).
  4. Click the “Select Upload Folder” button. Choose the folder where you want call recordings to go.
  5. Check the box next to “Compress to MP3.” Click OK.

UI Selector

What it Does: Lets you change Attendant Pro’s User Interface with a click.

User Benefit: You can match your UI to the system used—Lync, Skype for Business, or Teams. As Paul from Landis put it, this makes Attendant Pro “feel less like a separate program, and more like an extension of [users’] current workflow.”

How to Activate:

  1. Open Attendant Pro Options. You should be on the “General” tab (if not, click it).
  2. Look in the group of dropdown menus for “User Interface.”
  3. Click the dropdown and you’ll see four choices: Lync 2013, Skype for Business 2015, Skype for Business 2016, and Microsoft Teams.
  4. Click to select the user interface you want. Click OK at the bottom. Marvel at how similar Attendant Pro now looks like your favorite chat platform!

UI Selector in Attendant Pro

**This is the feature surpassing Microsoft. Landis’ app now gives you control of the UI…does Microsoft do that?

Final Note: Call Quality

You might think using Attendant Pro would hurt call quality. Another app, another layer through which the data stream filters.

I’m happy to say, that is not the case. I did several test calls, in several different situations, all of which I’d used for calls previously. Here’s the list of my test calls.

  • Internal Network, to Skype for Business Contact (P2P)
  • Internal Network, to Skype for Business Contact (on Cell)
  • Internal Network, to non-Skype for Business Contact
  • External/Outside Network (Wi-Fi) to Skype for Business Contact (P2P)
  • External/Outside Network (Wi-Fi) to non-Skype for Business Contact (on Cell)

All calls originated from this laptop: ThinkPad P40 Yoga, Windows 10, Skype for Business 2016

Difference? Nothing at all. Same call strength & clarity. Attendant Pro’s Analytics Dashboard showed the exact same times, proving zero lag between the client and the call. Attendant Pro is a “single pane of glass” both in terms of call management, and response time.

Already THE Call Manager, and it Keeps Getting Better

IMPORTANT: If you previously used Attendant Pro and want to upgrade to the latest version (1.0.6337.15048 at time of posting), make sure you uninstall the old version first. I wound up with two versions on my machine, without realizing it! This may not happen to you, but just in case.

Also, this may cost you your preconfigured Quick Access Shortcuts. Take a screenshot of each beforehand, so you can quickly recreate them.

At this point, I feel confident in saying Attendant Pro is THE call manager for Skype for Business. This is the gold standard. It even works with Teams, too, which can only help drive further adoption (and more features!).

The customers we’ve set up with Attendant Pro always comment on how simple the interface is. One even asked if this product “really worked,” because they thought it looked “too simple.” We only had to show her a few Quick Access Shortcuts. Her eyebrows indicated how (pleasantly) surprised she was.

To try out Attendant Pro, visit https://www.landiscomputer.com/attendantpro/.

EDIT: I heard back from Matt Landis, owner of Landis Computer! I’d asked him where his company plans to go with Attendant Pro in the future. He gave me this quote:

“Looking to the future, one area we plan to focus on is continuing on the track of making Dynamics 365 / CRM, Skype for Business, and Cloud PBX one seamless and integrated experience. Not CRM call pop, but Dynamics merged into Skype for Business’ call handling experience.

Also, we continue to invest heavily in making Attendant Pro have a Skype for Business look & feel that is fresh and clean, so users can just turn on the power features as they need them.”

Thanks Matt!

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Troubleshooting Reference for Skype for Business File Transfer Issues

In my last post, I mentioned a co-worker alerted me to problems with file transfers in Skype for Business failing.

I did promise to do a post on her situation once we resolved the issue. Well, we resolved it!

I documented the troubleshooting steps we took. Many didn’t help our problem, but they might help yours. Like most technical issues, what fixes one instance may not fix another.

The Problem: Skype for Business Locks Up When Files Sent to the User

From the co-worker’s original email:

“Almost every time someone sends me a document through Skype [for Business], it locks up. I have to shut it down through Task Manager. It’s happened since Lync, and was never fixed. Not sure what it is, but maybe you could find something on it?”

A very specific circumstance. What happens if she sends files through Skype4B? According to her, it would work sometimes, but not always.

File Transfer Troubleshooting Steps

First, make sure file transfers are enabled for the user! I covered this in the last post, under the “When to Turn File Transfer Off” section. All the troubleshooting in the world won’t help if your user has file transfers disabled.

Now, assuming file transfer is enabled (it was for the co-worker), let’s proceed with troubleshooting.

Step 1: Check the Logs for Errors

On a Windows system, you’ll find system logs in the Settings (Windows 10)/Control Panel (Windows 7/8).

The Skype for Business client also records logs, if you have it set up to do so. Here’s how to check that.

  1. In the Skype for Business client, click Tools –> Options.
  2. The Options window will open, showing the General Options. In the third box, titled, “Help your support team help you,” you’ll see two logging options. One is a dropdown menu titled, “Logging in Skype for Business” with three choices: Off, Light, and Full.
    • This was pre-set upon install, but you can change it with a click. We set all customers to Full by default.
  3. Where do you find these logs? In the Tracing folder. You’ll find this at “C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\[16.0 or 15.0]\[Skype for Business or Lync]\Tracing.
  4. The other logging option is a checkbox for, “Also collect troubleshooting info using Windows Event Logging.” This tells Skype for Business to feed logging data to Windows’ event logs.

Turn on Logging in Skype for Business

Event Logs for Skype for Business

We pored through these logs. I found several instances of Skype4B starting properly, closing properly, one or two “Error: Improper Shutdown” messages…but no explicit file transfer issue. The shutdown errors could have been the file transfer freezing Skype—but they could also have come from my co-worker force-quitting after the freeze.

Once we knew her logs were running, we tried a test. I sent her two files via Skype4B Conversation – a simple image, and a big Word document. Of course, Murphy’s Law being what it is, they worked perfectly!

While we waited for another instance of the error, we tried the next step.

Step 2: Run Diagnostics

Next, we ran DirectX Diagnostics (dxdiag.exe).

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This has nothing to do with Skype for Business. Why even try? Normally I wouldn’t have…but my co-worker said something that prompted us to. She said she recalled the screen flickering when the freeze occurred. Not always, but often enough that she remembered.

That could indicate a video issue. Quick, easy (and built-in) way to check for those is DirectX Diagnostics.

Running DirectX Diagnostics is simple on any Windows PC. Click Start, and enter “dxdiag” (no quotes) into the search box. Click the “dxdiag.exe” result.

The DirectX Diagnostics tool opens up, and runs a scan on your video and sound components. If all’s well, you’ll see results like this:

DXDiag Screen

Which we did. On to the next idea.

Step 3: Third-Party Block

If file transfer is enabled, and the client appears not to have any serious problems…was something ELSE blocking Skype for Business file transfers?

I turned to Almighty Google to check. Soon enough I found a possibility—Malwarebytes. If Malwarebytes Home or Premium is running, it could see Skype for Business file transfers as a malware vector, and block them.

The solution? Updating the Skype for Business client. More on that in a moment.

There’s also a workaround: adding Skype for Business as a “Web Exclusion” within Malwarebytes*.

  • Open Malwarebytes.
  • Click the Web Exclusions tab.
  • Click the “Add Process” button.
  • Enter the Skype for Business .EXE file path.
  • Save, and restart the computer.
Malwarebytes Web Exclusion
Web Exclusion set for Skype for Business in Malwarebytes Premium.

Skype for Business 2016 freezes on a computer that has Malwarebytes is installed – Microsoft Support

*IMPORTANT: This does NOT work on all versions of Malwarebytes. Check your version.

We use a corporate site license for our Malwarebytes, so users don’t have admin control on their local machines. Including my co-worker’s. Next!

Step 4: Video-Based Screen Sharing Getting in the Way?

I came across this troubleshooting idea in a very roundabout manner. Several support threads and some comment-sifting brought me to a comment on a Jeff Schertz blog post from 2015. The post is on Video-Based Screen Sharing (VBSS), an improvement to Skype for Business’ screen sharing capabilities.

The post itself is stellar. But how does it relate to file transfer freezes? That comes from a comment left by “Tsuyoshi” in March 2016. They gave a way to disable VBSS via two registry edits. Jeff added them to the post under an update at the bottom.

For 64-bit Skype for Business on a 64-bit Windows OS:
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Lync]
“EnableP2PScreenSharingOverVideo”=dword:00000000

For 32-bit Skype for Business on a 64-bit Windows OS:
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Lync]
“EnableP2PScreenSharingOverVideo”=dword:00000000

Value must be set to zero.

According to some other commenters, VBSS had interfered with file transfers on their computers. Disabling it, as with this registry edit, fixed the problem.

We tried it. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. But we did finally get an error message related to the file transfer freeze!

When we saw that? Well, we knew what to do then.

Step 5: Does the Skype for Business Client Have All its Updates?

Spoiler: This is what solved the problem.

As with pretty much all software these days, you need to keep Skype for Business up-to-date. Windows as well (as we’re unfortunately seeing with the WannaCry ransomware attack).

surprised dog photo
OH NO! Photo by mdalmuld

We have Group Policies in place to control updates & patches. But it turned out that this co-worker had recently replaced her computer with a new one. We’d imaged her last computer, and loaded the image onto the new one.

In the process, she somehow missed out on the latest updates.

Once we found that out, we quickly applied all available updates related to Skype for Business. I don’t know which of these two updates fixed the file transfer issue…but one of them did!

  1. Skype for Business Update KB3115087 (June 2016)
  2. Security Update for Skype for Business KB3191858 (April 2017)

Full List of Recent Skype for Business Updates (in case you need them!)

After a reboot, we repeated the tests. Every file, from Word to PDF, came through without a trace of freezing. We have a very happy co-worker right now.

Step 6: Uninstall/Reinstall

When all else fails, try uninstalling the Skype app entirely & reinstalling fresh. Tedious and frustrating, but like updates, sometimes it’s critical.

We did not need to uninstall/reinstall Skype for Business in this case. But I’m putting it in as the last step, because that’s where it should be in troubleshooting efforts. If a simpler option is available, take it.

Supporting Skype for Business is complex. This should make it a little easier.

I wrote these in steps for easy reference. They aren’t necessarily linear, or even necessary to all troubleshooting cases. For instance, about a year back we had a customer with a consistent error—every time he left a Skype Meeting, the client would crash. Checking the system logs immediately told us the cause: severe delays in the client’s responses. Which led straight to an uninstall/reinstall.

Whether you’re a frequent reader or you just dropped by from Google, I hope these steps help speed up your support process!

What Skype for Business support issue did you have the hardest time with? Please comment or email. (Venting is OK…so long as you fixed it!)

By the way, I’m still testing the third-party app I mentioned in the last post. A review post is forthcoming, but I want to run the app through its paces first.

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What’s Involved in a Skype for Business File Transfer

Skype for Business on Mac finally got file transfer capability in April. Then, just last week, a co-worker asked me about a thorny issue they’ve had with file transfers intermittently failing. (I’ll cover this in its own post once we’ve fully diagnosed and fixed the problem.)

Both these items led me on a stroll through the technology behind file transfer in Skype for Business. I consider the ability to send/receive files a fundamental function…and I’m certainly not the only one. Comments on SkypeFeedback.com and Office 365′ Feedback Forums echo its importance among my fellow Skype4B users.

Let’s take a dive into what goes into file transfer, shall we? It doesn’t need much configuration…but like air, you notice when it’s not there!

Where Can You Transfer Files in Skype for Business?

File Transfer is a basic part of Skype for Business, both Server and Online. As the Skype admin, you control whether users can or cannot send files to one another, and through which tools.

The most common file transfer method is through Instant Messaging (or “P2P File Transfer”). However, you can also share files in a Skype Meeting.

File Transfer is enabled by default. But in case yours is turned off and you want it on, here’s how.

How to Enable File Transfer

What’s the fastest way to enable Skype for Business file transfer is…use a PowerShell cmdlet! Specifically, this one: Set-CsFileTransferFilterConfiguration – TechNet

Conferencing Policy OptionsOnce enabled, you can customize file transfer options through PowerShell, or through the Control Panel. I like the Control Panel myself.

File transfer in Skype Meetings is enabled by default, as part of the Conferencing Policy with the Set-CsConferencingPolicy cmdlet. If you want to turn it off, run the cmdlet with the “-EnableFileTransfer $False” parameter.
Set-CsConferencingPolicy – TechNet

Going back to IM file transfers, the main option you have in the Control Panel is whether to block all files (essentially disabling file transfer) or block specific file types. Predictably, you find this option under “IM and Presence” in Skype for Business Server.

Skype for Business won’t let you send certain file types, due to malware risk. Here’s the full list of files Skype for Business (Server and Online) blocks:

.ade, .adp, .app, .asp, .bas, .bat, .cer, .chm, .cmd, .com, .cpl, .crt, .csh, .exe, .fxp, .grp, .hlp, .hta, .inf, .ins, .isp, .its, .js, .jse, .ksh, .lnk, .mad, .maf, .mag, .mam, .maq, .mar, .mas, .mat, .mau, .mav, .maw, .mda, .mdb, .mde, .mdt, .mdw, .mdz, .msc, .msi, .msp, .mst, .ocx, .ops, .pcd, .pif, .pl, .pnp, .prf, .prg, .pst, .reg, .scf, .scr, .sct, .shb, .shs, .tmp, .url, .vb, .vbe, .vbs, .vsd, .vsmacros, .vss, .vst, .vsw, .ws, .wsc, .wsf, .wsh

IM File Transfer Options

Note the bolded examples. Nobody can send .exe files? That’s because they’re blocked by default! (Don’t try to ZIP it up either; Skype will see into the ZIP and refuse to send.)

Once file transfer is enabled and blocked file types are set, you’ll need to make sure the appropriate ports are open on the firewall. Standard configurations will open the ports necessary (but it’s always good to test!).

The default ports used by Skype for Business file transfers are:
(Server)
1024-65535 TCP
6891-6901 TCP

(Online)
443 TCP [Destination]
50040 – 50059 UDP and TCP [Source]
443 TCP, 50000 – 59999 TCP [Destination]
Allow:
*.infra.lync.com
*.online.lync.com
*.resources.lync.com
Office 365 URLs and IP Address Ranges

When to Turn File Transfer Off: When Compliance Demands

Surprisingly, there IS a situation where you would want to turn File Transfer off, and leave it off. When you have to maintain a regulatory compliance standard.

In Skype for Business Online, file transfers within Instant Messaging are considered a “non-archived feature.” That means the feature isn’t captured when you have an In-Place Hold set up in Exchange. Thus the data you would send via file transfer doesn’t get recorded…which can jeopardize compliance.

(Shared OneNote pages and PowerPoint annotations are also non-archived features.)

This option is controlled at the user level. In the Skype for Business Admin Center, under Users, you’ll find the option for turning off non-archived features. You’re supposed to “select this option if you’re legally required to preserve electronically stored information.”

Configure Settings for Individual Users – Office 365 Support

A more detailed explanation for this setting is at: Demystifying a User Compliance setting in Skype for Business Online – Curtis J..

File Transfers Take Some Consideration, But Carry High Value to Users

In most deployments, file transfer is “just another part of the process.” Given the pieces involved though, file transfers do merit a little extra thought during setup. Mostly to make sure they function correctly for all users. Because when they don’t, it doesn’t matter if it’s 50 users or one…you’ll hear about it!

The next post may be a little delayed. I have a special review in the works…a popular third-party app got an upgrade, and I get to test it out!

What’s your File Transfer story? Did you run into a strange problem, or need to change its default setup? Please comment or email. And join us again next time!

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