Q&A on Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is here! It was released to General Availability (for Office 365 customers) on Tuesday. I’ve already seen several reviews of the chat platform. Links to some reviews are below.

Of course we have to weigh in; what kind of Skype for Business blog would I be if I didn’t? However, this is not just another review. I was able to trial Teams internally after the release, and thought I’d do something different.

By going through the information I’ve scoured from the Web, Twitter conversations, and my internal Teams trial, I have come up with several Teams-related questions. Questions which I shall answer!

Here are the questions. You can jump to any answer just by clicking the one you want. Let’s go!

Questions about the New Microsoft Teams

How is Teams organized?
Is there a mobile app?
What are the advantages (if any) over Slack?
Can we use Teams without an Office 365 account?
Will we get a free version of Teams? How about a consumer version?
What’s the cheapest option: Slack, HipChat, Workplace, or Teams?
How’s the bot?
What kind of integrations are available?
What’s the biggest drawback?

How is Teams organized?

Teams keeps it simple, in terms of organization. Each Team has Users invited to it. Teams may set up Channels to contain their conversations. You have the option of Public or Private Channels. Within the conversations, users can share files, video calls, a Wiki, etc.

Hierarchically, it’s like this: TEAMS > CHANNELS > USER CONVERSATIONS

There’s also an Activity Feed accessible from the left-column bar at all times. It shows your @mentions, replies, etc. Very much like Workplace’s News Feed.

Teams Activity Feed

Is there a mobile app?

Yes, but Microsoft did something a little funny with this one. The Teams app is the most advanced on Android—there you can make video and audio calls. iPhones and Windows Phones don’t have this yet. I’m sure it’s coming, but for now, Android users win out on Teams features.

What are the advantages (if any) over Slack?

I find two main differences, which you could call ‘advantages.’

One: Threaded conversations are native in Teams. (Slack did add this recently.) For those who are used to Slack’s message format, this might take a little adaptation time. But for those used to forums or sites like Reddit, threads are familiar territory.

Two: The Office 365 Integration. That eliminates extra cost, extra user accounts/licenses, and installation time. It’s one more tool in the toolbox.

Want a more direct comparison? TechWyse Blog did a great infographic comparing Teams and Slack:
Teams vs. Slack – TechWyse

Can we use Teams without an Office 365 account?

Nope. Not even to try out. I used a test user from a customer’s Office 365 account to try Teams.

This makes me sad, honestly. Teams is good enough to work as a standalone product. But I guess that’s not part of Microsoft’s strategy anymore (and we just have to live with it).

Will we get a free version of Teams? How about a consumer version?

No. No plans for this at all.

Microsoft: ‘We do not have any plans for a free or consumer offering of Teams’ – VentureBeat

That could change of course. I would like it if it changed. Slack made clever use of a free version to bring customers on, and Microsoft won’t even try a similar approach? It could even be an easy avenue into Office 365.

What’s the cheapest option: Slack, HipChat, Workplace, or Teams?

The numbers are very close here. Workplace is competing on price, but we’re talking a few dollars’ difference per user.

Here are some numbers from each service. I’m going to assume a standard account type, for 100 users.

  • Workplace: $3/month per user (for the first 1,000 users)
  • HipChat Plus: $2/month per user
  • Slack: $8/month per user
  • Microsoft Teams: Depends on Office 365 account level. Office 365 Business accounts range from $6-15/month per user. Office 365 Enterprise accounts range from $8-35/month per user.

As you can see, it’s really close. Teams could end up “costing” more than the others, but you’re also getting Office 365 bundled.

How’s the bot?

T-Bot is ready to help you on load. He’s (she’s? It’s?) really quick to respond too. I fired a few standard questions at T-Bot, and he gave exactly what I needed. Much like Slackbot, Slack’s own bot (who admittedly has a cuter avatar).

Unfortunately, T-Bot lacks a sense of humor. I tried some silly questions and a philosophy question. Poor T-Bot got confused and sent me to the FAQ.

What kind of integrations are available?

Plenty! Teams comes with 150 third-party integrations available at launch. More will come.

To integrate a service into a Channel, click the plus icon in a channel’s top nav. You’ll see a popup window with available integrations.

Integrations Available in MS Teams

I integrated Asana, our project management system. It took one login and about 20 seconds.

Integrating Asana into Teams

That’s one fewer tab I need to keep open right there.

What’s the biggest drawback?

This one deserves its own section. Because there is one big drawback to Teams…and no, it’s not the Office 365 bundling. It’s an operational flaw that many users have already come across. And it’s already hurting Teams adoption.

The Damaging Flaw: No External User Access

You cannot invite external contacts to use Teams.

Teams FAQ on Guests

I have a Skype for Business user account. But it’s Server-based, not O365-based. Thus my trial account couldn’t see it, and I could not send messages “out.”

This is the biggest issue I saw people having with Teams. It just befuddles me. Limited only to O365 users? No possibility of inviting someone into a chat, even temporarily? None.

Annoyed by this? You’re definitely not the only one:
How can we make Teams better? – External Access and Federation

Adding external users to teams – MS Tech Community

This WILL hurt Microsoft. As I said, some potential users are already swearing off Teams in favor of Slack, where they can chat with external users. Now, maybe losing market share will compel Microsoft to enable external users…but a lot of people aren’t holding their breath.

MORE TEAMS LINKS:
Teams is Microsoft’s Most Intriguing Productivity App Yet – Engadget
Microsoft Teams goes live with new email integration, enterprise bots – ZDNet
Teams, Microsoft’s Slack rival, opens to all Office 365 users – TechCrunch
Microsoft’s Teams is almost an excellent Slack-killer, and it’s now live for O365 – Ars Technica

Teams: Feels like an Evolved Skype for Business Persistent Chat

Teams isn’t just competing with Slack. It also competes with HipChat, Workplace, and to some degree, its own Skype for Business Server product!

Here’s why I think that. The Channels, available under Teams (which are either Public or Private, as set by administrators), are basically enhanced chat rooms. Skype4B’s Persistent Chat has a very similar structure. Private messages are essentially Instant Messages. You add voice to existing Conversations. They’re even called the same thing in both Skype for Business and Teams. “Conversations.”

The other Skype4B functions—voice, meetings, IM‐were covered in Office 365’s Skype for Business Online offering. Teams adds the Persistent Chat function.

Now, that’s not a bad thing in itself. As I’ve said many times, I love using chat. But I can’t help thinking Microsoft has miscalculated here. They’re trying to replace one product with another, but hobbled it by not allowing external user access. The MS Walled Garden rears its ugly head.

We’ll see how many people decide to climb over it or not.

Do you have a Teams question nobody’s answered yet? Send it in! Add a comment or email it over. I’ll happily update this post with it. Or create a new one, if the question merits.

And please share your Teams experiences too! I’m certain we’ll come back to Teams, soon enough.

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3 Ways to Start Conversations With Skype for Business Auto-Contact Links

A reader comment drew my attention to this post from way back in 2011: 3 Ways to Start Conversations With Lync Auto-Contact URLs

They asked a simple question: “Could you do this (set auto-contact URLs) with a Skype for Business ID?”

Yes, you can! What’s more, you have more parameters to work with in Skype for Business. I found several sources to help us out here, with lots of good detail. Links at the end of the post.

I’ll follow the same format as my original post. If you’re curious about adding Skype for Business links in places like emails, on a webpage, etc., this is how you do it.

#1 – Call a Skype for Business Number From Your Browser or Email

In the previous post, I mentioned the “TEL:+12223334444” link format. You use “TEL:” plus the country code (1 for the U.S.), plus the area code, plus the number. No spaces and no quote marks. The HTML structure look like this:
<a href=”tel:+12223334444″>Call 222-333-4444</a>

This format still works! In fact it’s near-universal; almost every app that can facilitate VoIP calls will recognize it, including Outlook. The TEL: link works on mobile as well.

(You might see a popup window asking you which app you want to open the TEL: link.)

Open Link in Skype for Business from Auto-Contact Link

Though we do have a caveat here. The sheer number of VoIP-enabled apps – Skype for Business, Skype (Consumer), WhatsApp, Viber, Google Hangouts, Facebook – means your computer may not associate TEL: links with Skype for Business by default. If not, and you want it to, you may need to reset the association. Here’s how to do that.

On Windows 10, this is done in Settings, under System. Click “Default Apps”, scroll down, and click “Choose Default Apps By Protocol.” Scroll until you see the “TEL” protocol. If Skype for Business isn’t the default already, click the app that is and choose it in the popup menu.

On Windows 7/8, go to the Control Panel. Choose Default Programs, and then Set Default Programs. Locate Skype for Business in the list (it may be under “Lync (desktop)”). Click the “Choose Defaults for This Program” and check TEL:.
Reference: Changing the default app used to open tel: links on Windows – MarkWilson.co.uk

#2 – Auto-Contact Link to a Skype for Business Account Name

Now we come to the reader’s original question…initiating a call using a Skype for Business ID instead of a phone number.

Can you do this with a Skype for Business user account name? Yep! But not with the TEL: link format. And the IM: format doesn’t work too well anymore (I think it’s deprecated).

Instead, we’ll use “SIP:”.

You’d code the link like a regular email link. SIP: goes in place of the MAILTO:. Other than that, it’s exactly the same.

<a href=”sip:buddymike@yourdomain.com″>Call Mike with Skype4B</a>

NOTE: Skype for Business’ default response to SIP: links is NOT to start a call. It’s to initiate a new Conversation. Starting a call only takes one click from there, of course. But I don’t want to mislead anyone.

This is the best way to use Skype for Business account names on websites or in emails. From the Conversation window you can start voice, video, sharing, etc.

But when it comes to meetings, there’s an even simpler way.

#3 – Auto-Contact Link for Conversations or Meetings

Links using SIP: work to start a Skype for Business Conversation. If you want to post/share a link to a Skype Meeting though, you don’t even need a special link format. You just need the meeting’s URL. To get that…

  1. In Outlook, click New Items > Skype Meeting.
  2. The New Skype Meeting window opens. Enter whatever details & attendees you want. Before clicking Send, copy the “Join Skype Meeting” link from the meeting invite.
  3. Paste the link into any email, chat, or webpage you want. Meeting links normally look like this:
    https://meet.yourdomain.com/skype.accountname/2394FS3J
    (I inserted random numbers at the end; they’re normally an auto-generated meeting ID number.)

When clicked, the computer will either open a Skype Meeting window, or take you to this message:

Open Skype Meeting Page from Auto-Contact Link

One click to the Skype for Business Web App. Either way, you’re able to access the Skype Meeting.

Auto-Contact Links Help You Get More Use out of Skype for Business

As promised, here are the sources for this post.

Depending on your computer and Skype for Business configuration, your TEL: and SIP: links may respond slightly differently. You should still get the same result; Skype for Business spawning calls and Conversation windows. I’m giving you a just-in-case warning.

This one capability illustrates a lot of how much the communications world has changed since I wrote that 2011 post. In less than 6 years, the pace of Technology exploded Voice over IP across millions of devices. Almost every computing platform out there can click one of these links and make a call.

With links in TEL: and SIP: format, you’re extending Skype for Business out even further. Customers can click a link on your website and talk to a support rep or VP in seconds. Pretty handy for a link, isn’t it?

Do you use TEL: and SIP: links with Skype for Business? In what capacity? Please comment, email, or tweet us at @PlanetMagpieIT.

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Do You Really Need PSTN Conferencing?

“I have a question. Do we really need to add PSTN Conferencing on?”

This question came from a prospective customer, during our planning stage for a Skype for Business/Office 365 rollout.

I was not present at the meeting; my co-worker told me about it later. When I heard the question, it made me think a moment. DID you really need PSTN Conferencing?

Let’s explore the idea, shall we? Who knows, it might figure into your own Skype for Business planning!

What PSTN Conferencing Does

First, a little about the PSTN Conferencing feature.

The Skype Meeting tool allows people to join a meeting space using their computers, or an app on their phones. Then they can share voice, video, a desktop, a whiteboard, etc.

But what if you don’t have an app or computer available? Or you’re on the road with no Wi-Fi? How do you join the meeting?

PSTN Conferencing lets you dial into the meeting with your phone. Just call a specific number and you’re in the meeting. The PSTN Conferencing feature enables you to create the dial-in number (or numbers) within Skype for Business.

How PSTN Conferencing Works in Skype for Business Online

In Office 365’s Skype for Business Online, PSTN Conferencing is an add-on. You have to buy it from within Office 365 Admin on a per-user licensing basis.

Set up dial-in or PSTN conferencing for Skype for Business – Office Support

The add-on costs $4/month per user (unless you’re on Office 365 E5). That’s $48/year per user. If you have 100 users who need PSTN Conferencing, you’re looking at almost $5,000 per year, every year.

Now, not every user needs a PSTN Conferencing license. Only those who plan to schedule Skype Meetings or lead them will need one. Regular attendees don’t.

How PSTN Conferencing Works in Skype for Business Server

In Skype for Business Server, the feature is actually called “Dial-In Conferencing.” You need two things to make it work: a Mediation Server and a PSTN Gateway.

Enterprise Voice Calls
Hello? Is the dial plan on?

The Mediation Server is required for Enterprise Voice, and a PSTN Gateway translates signals between Enterprise Voice and a PSTN or PBX. If you want to call out, you’d need both of these anyway!

You also need to configure a dial plan, access number, and conferencing region. Once Skype for Business is deployed, that’s relatively simple to add in. The full requirements are listed in TechNet: Plan for dial-in conferencing in Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet.

(You can also use a third-party solution for PSTN Conferencing, if your Skype4B Server deployment isn’t set up like this. Communiqué makes one, for instance.)

We’ve had Dial-In Conferencing installed on our internal Skype for Business Server (and Lync Server before that) since deployment. I’d never thought about it as anything other than “just a part of the system.”

But as I think about it, I realize I’ve never actually used the dial-in number. Even on my phone, I’d use the app. Does anyone else?

I asked around the office. Only one person had ever used the dial-in number, twice while driving/stuck in traffic. Aside from that, we didn’t actually need Dial-In Conferencing!

How Many People Use PSTN Conferencing to Dial In?

As mentioned above, PSTN Conferencing’s core functionality is to provide a number for calling into conferences/Skype Meetings.

Here’s the question: Who will you have calling into your conferences?

Think about the purposes behind your conferences.

  1. Team status updates?
  2. Project discussions?
  3. Sales/New customer meetings?
  4. Management roundtables?

I could go on, but one thing’s clear – many purposes exist for having a conference. But do all of them require external dial-in access? No.

In fact, only #3 above would benefit from dial-in access. And that’s only if…

  1. You’re meeting with a non-local customer who doesn’t have Internet access.
  2. A regular phone call won’t suffice, and again, no Internet access available.
  3. Nobody has Skype for Business, or Skype, installed on their computers/phones.
  4. The Skype for Business Web App isn’t working.

PSTN Conferencing May Age Out of Use, in Time

Of course you’ll want to have phone numbers where customers can reach you. That’s what Enterprise Voice (and Cloud PBX) are for.

But a conferencing dial-in number suddenly seems like less of a priority. Besides, if an external user or customer did need to join your meeting, you still have the Skype for Business Web App.

I guess it comes down to Phone vs. App. What do you prefer – calling phone numbers, or using an app? It’s only my observation, but more and more people are leaning toward App.

Which makes things like PSTN Conferencing an add-on of the past.

When deploying Skype for Business, examine your user base. Consider what kinds of Skype Meetings you’ll hold, and who will attend. It may be that you can rely on apps—and not need the time/cost of installing PSTN Conferencing.

Do you still use PSTN Conferencing? What are your thoughts? Please comment or email.

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Skype for Business vs. Workplace by Facebook

Time to continue our “VS.” series! This time, let’s do a comparison of Workplace by Facebook to Skype for Business.

(Previous post: Skype for Business vs. Google Hangouts)

I was introduced to Workplace during research for The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business). Here’s an excerpt from that post, talking about Workplace:

The Workplace app does almost exactly the same things as Microsoft Teams and Slack: chat rooms, groups, external users, video, etc. It’s just made by the Facebook team. Pricing is cheaper than Slack, which makes sense if Workplace wants to grab users from other platforms.

Some good (and bad) points:

  • Workplace accounts are different from Facebook accounts. That’s good; separating work and play means better privacy overall.
  • Workplace has a Trust Center posted, like Office 365: Workplace Trust Principles. Good for you guys!
  • Workplace debuts with a handicap though—Facebook’s dubious privacy practices. It’s a separate system, but Workplace does run off Facebook’s servers. Some businesses will shy away on reputation alone (and I can’t honestly blame them).

I requested a trial. Curiously, I was prompted to select a time for a Live Demo, instead of a download link or registration page. Which gave me a nice overview of the platform before sending me a link to my new Workplace. After playing with it for a few days (and bugging my co-workers with random “Just testing!” calls), I think it’s time for my review.

So what kind of experience does Workplace give us? Is a “Facebook for Work” app what we need? What kind of pricing are we getting? Features? Let’s find out!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Skype for Business Workplace By FB
Instant Messaging Work Chat (Messenger on Steroids)
Voice Calls Voice Calls within Work Chat
Video Calls Video Calls within Work Chat
Conferences/Online Meetings Conferencing
Federation Multi-Company Groups
Presence Status  Presence Indicator
Response Groups Groups
Persistent Chat Work Chat
Runs On-Prem (Server)
or SaaS Option  (Office 365)
Runs as Cloud Service
with Mobile Apps

 

Workplace setup assistance
A Workplace post to help you with setup.

Before we get into the details on similarities & differences though, there’s an elephant in the (chat) room. Privacy.

The Privacy Question

Workplace does come from Facebook. And Facebook is famous for its, shall we say, cavalier attitude about user privacy.

You Should Go Check Facebook’s New Privacy Settings – WIRED (06-02-16)

The question is, does Workplace protect users’ privacy? As a business product, it does have a legal obligation. So far, I’ve seen no indication that it will gamble with user privacy. But given its creator, we must still wonder.

In the Workplace FAQs, we find several questions devoted to privacy and confidentiality. Like this one.

Who owns the information that employees create?
Like other cloud-based enterprise software, the employer does.

Pretty straightforward answer. Only time will tell what changes may appear in Workplace’s approach to privacy. As well as what the market believes about Workplace privacy.

The Similarities: Features, Familiar UI

In terms of features, both platforms are very similar. Workplace’s Work Chat mirrors Skype4B’s Instant Messaging. From there, you can add voice, video, or other people with a few clicks. Just like in Skype for Business.

I was able to test the calling function, but not video (think my cam’s broken). Calls in Workplace came through as clear as any Skype for Business call.

Familiarity is a big factor in both platforms. Workplace feels & acts almost identically to Facebook. Skype for Business feels & acts a lot like Skype (in some respects!). I must credit both Facebook and Microsoft on this. Familiarity is a big part of good user experience—it helps adoption, shortens the learning curve, and improves overall satisfaction.

Workplace by Facebook screen
Looks like Facebook. Is actually Workplace.

As you can see from the screenshot, Workplace’s interface is feed-based. Skype for Business’ interface is contact-based. So long as the user knows where to go for communications, the interface works. In this respect, Workplace has a leg up over other chat competitors, like Slack and HipChat.

The Differences: Pricing, On-Prem vs. Cloud, Apps

The biggest difference I see (at least right now) is that Workplace is cloud-only. No local deployment option exists. Not surprising, but for those who prefer deploying servers on-prem…Workplace is a no-go.

The pricing difference stems from this same disparity.

Workplace charges only by active users. Skype for Business Online does something similar through Office 365 user accounts. But Skype for Business Server does not. The server pricing is up-front, in the form of licenses and implementation costs.
Workplace just turns on and charges you for X users each month.

Their price point is lower than Microsoft’s Office 365. In fact, even considering Slack’s pricing, Workplace is the cheapest per month:

  • Office 365 Business plans run from $5/user/month to $12.50/user/month. The Enterprise plans run from $8/user/month to $35/user/month.
  • Slack charges $8/user/month for Standard, and $15/user/month for Plus.
  • Workplace starts at $3/user/month for the first 1,000 users ($2/user for the next 1,000, and $1/user after that).

Seems pretty obvious that Facebook wants to compete on price as well as features. Using such a low per-user pricing model is an attempt to leapfrog both Slack and Microsoft. Like its other platforms, the company may aim to grow Workplace at break-even (or even at a small loss) until it reaches juggernaut status. Then they can raise prices all they want.

It’s worked for them before; I must admit that. But only time will tell us if this pays off for Workplace’s adoption.

Finally, Workplace features third-party app integration. Facebook learned from its ecosystem of consumer apps & games, and built an API that will let developers build add-ons for Workplace too.

Apps & Permissions – Workplace Docs

You can do this with Skype for Business as well, to some degree. There are many third-party apps which extend the Skype for Business system. (We’ve reviewed a few here on the blog – search around!)

Microsoft even maintains a registry: Skype for Business Apps, though it is incomplete. In terms of third-party integration, Workplace has a bit of an edge here. Like Slack, it appears designed to work with other apps from the start.


Final Words: Workplace Has the Chops, But Will Businesses Bite?

Facebook is moving into an already-populated space, where competitors have had years to build up their audiences, and trying to take it over. Nothing inherently wrong with such a practice—disruption feeds innovation.

But I can’t help thinking Workplace will never get out from under Facebook’s privacy question. If there’s a data leak, or Workplace data “accidentally” shows up in Facebook ad deployments? Then Workplace is DOA…and thousands of businesses are in serious trouble.

A final note: Workplace is still the new kid on the block. I will revisit this topic again later, after the market’s had time to chew through Workplace more, and we see what kind of management path Facebook takes with it.

Which do you prefer using—Workplace by FB or Skype for Business? Are there situations where you prefer one over the other?  Please comment or email me what you think.

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How to Resolve a Communication Issue Between Skype4B Online and Skype4B Server

Back again, with a reader comment about communication issues. The other day, Marcos commented:

“Is there an incompatibility issue when establishing communication between organizations using SFB Online vs on Premise? We are using Online, however we cannot reach contacts outside our organization that use on Premise.
Is there any additional set up needed on each side?”

Yes, there is. Skype for Business Online and Skype for Business Server can (and should) communicate between one another. But you do need additional setup to connect them. I don’t know how much configuration Marcos did, but for sake of completion, I’ll proceed as if no configuration has taken place.

Communications between a Skype for Business Server, and Skype for Business Online, are what Microsoft calls “business-to-business communication.” To enable it, you’ll have to do three things.

  1. Enable business-to-business communication for users in the Office 365 Admin Center (Skype for Business Online)
  2. Configure federation with Skype for Business Online (on-premise Skype for Business Server)
  3. Update firewall settings (both ends)
Office Chats
“Can you hear me?” “I can’t hear anything.”  “Are you muted?”

How to Enable Business-to-Business Communication in Office 365 Admin Center

(Please note: You’ll need Office 365 Admin privileges to make this change.)

  1. Sign in with your Office 365 admin account at https://portal.office.com/adminportal/home.
  2. In the Office 365 admin center, go to Admin Centers > Skype for Business.
  3. In the Skype for Business admin center, select Organization > External Communications.
  4. To set up communication with a specific business or with users in another domain, in the drop down box, choose “On only for allowed domains.”
    • If you want to enable communication with everyone instead, choose “On except for blocked domains.”
  5. Under Blocked or Allowed Domains, click the +. Add the name of the domain(s) you want to allow.
  6. If the domain you want to enable is another Office 365 account, make sure their admin repeats the above steps, entering your domain.
  7. If you’re using the Windows Firewall, Skype for Business opens the required ports automatically.  If not, see “Firewall Settings” below.
  8. Wait up to 24 hours before testing. (That’s how long it can take to populate changes across all the Office 365 datacenters.)

More information available here: Allow users to contact external Skype for Business users – Office Support

How to Configure Federation with Skype for Business Online

Unsurprisingly, you use federation to enable on-premise communication with Skype for Business Online. However, we will also have to make a change in Office 365 Admin for this too.

Step 1: Set Federation for Skype for Business Online on Edge Server. All we need here are two cmdlets, entered in Skype for Business’ Management Shell.

Set-CSAccessEdgeConfiguration -AllowOutsideUsers 1 -AllowFederatedUsers 1 -EnablePartnerDiscovery 1 -UseDnsSrvRouting

New-CSHostingProvider -Identity SkypeforBusinessOnline -ProxyFqdn “sipfed.online.lync.com” -Enabled $true -EnabledSharedAddressSpace $true -HostsOCSUsers $true -VerificationLevel UseSourceVerification -IsLocal $false -AutodiscoverUrl https://webdir.online.lync.com/Autodiscover/AutodiscoverService.svc/root

Step 2: Configure Skype for Business Online for a Shared SIP Address Space.  This step is more complicated. You’ll have to establish a remote session with the Skype for Business Online tenant, from your on-premise Skype for Business Server.

How? With this: Skype for Business Online, Windows PowerShell Module

You’ll need to download & install the module on your server. Then, you can establish the remote session by entering these cmdlets:

Import-Module SkypeOnlineConnector
$cred = Get-Credential
$CSSession = New-CsOnlineSession -Credential $cred
Import-PSSession $CSSession -AllowClobber

Okay! All that work to establish a remote session.   Step 3:  Enter Configuration Cmdlet.  Just enter this cmdlet:

Set-CsTenantFederationConfiguration -SharedSipAddressSpace $true

That’s all.

More information available here: Configure federation with Skype for Business Online – TechNet

Firewall Settings

If you’ve configured both Skype for Business systems, but still receive error messages when communicating, chances are you need to update your firewall.

First, make sure your firewall allows client computers to access the following FQDNs:

  • *.api.skype.com
  • *.users.storage.live.com
  • graph.skype.com

Double-check that all necessary ports are open, regardless of which service you’re using. We often run into Skype4B Server deployments where the internal video ports (50020 to 50039 UDP and TCP) are open. But some of the external video ports were not–3478 UDP in particular. (Total external video ports are 443 TCP, 3478 UDP, & 50000 to 59999 UDP and TCP.)

If more advanced configuration is needed, here’s a list of Office 365 URLs and IPs. It should identify the pertinent information needed to update your firewall settings.
Office 365 URLs and IP Address Ranges – Office Support

Here’s the same list, for Skype for Business Server’s Edge Server.
Edge Server environmental requirements in Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

Communication Established. Proceed with Work.

Once federation is set up between the two services, your users should be able to chat, call, have video chats, whatever they like.

Marcos, I hope this helps you out!  As well as any other reader who’s having trouble with communications between Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online.

(If that’s you, or you have a similar issue going on, please comment or email your experience. We try to help whenever possible!)

Next time, we resume our VS. comparisons, with the newer collaboration platforms mentioned in The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business).  Join us then!

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Webinar – Learn How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance

Join Us for a Free Webinar on February 9 at 11am PST

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled blogging for a special announcement!

Next Thursday, February 9, PlanetMagpie President Robert Douglas will take part in a webinar, hosted by Exinda, makers of QoE monitoring solutions for Microsoft applications (including Skype for Business.)

What’s the topic? Skype for Business performance. Namely, how to squeeze the highest performance possible out of your Skype for Business deployment.

  • What are the biggest performance issues?
  • Should you use a hybrid deployment?
  • What Microsoft says about preparing your network for Skype for Business
  • And more!

The webinar starts at 11am PST/2pm EST. It’s free to attend.

EDIT: Thanks to Exinda for such a great webinar! You can watch the webinar recording on-demand at this page: How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance – On-Demand Webinar

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The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business)

In a recent Spiceworks survey, 59% of respondents said that “Sensitive files/information should not be shared via collaborate chat applications.”

Business Chat Apps vs Email
Image courtesy of Spiceworks.com.

So, 59% think chat rooms aren’t secure. A little more than half. Healthy caution; nothing wrong with that.

But you know it’s going to happen. Someone asks a co-worker for help, not realizing they’ve asked for some Intellectual Property. The co-worker pastes it into the chat window.

What then? Does everybody gasp at once? Scramble to delete it?
Or do they just shrug and keep chatting, believing the chat room itself has enough security to protect the IP?

Chances are, they do the latter. The question is, which business chat apps DO have the security to protect data shared within them?

That’s what we’re tackling in this post. A comparison of 6 popular business chat apps at the security level.

The Source: A 2017 Spiceworks Survey

The Spiceworks survey that started all this is here: Business Chat Apps in 2017: Top Players and Adoption Plans

I came across it in my daily reading. (Hey there Spiceheads!) A group of IT Pros gave their thoughts on 6 chat apps – Skype for Business, Slack, Google Hangouts, HipChat, Microsoft Teams, and Workplace by Facebook.

This section caught my eye, talking about chat room security:

“In terms of security, the results show less than one third of IT pros are concerned about business chat apps introducing security risks. For example, 32% said messaging apps put corporate data more at risk of being hacked, and 29% said they pose a security risk that is difficult to manage.
“However, that doesn’t mean caution can be thrown to the wind. Nearly 60% of IT pros believe sensitive files/information should not be shared via group chat apps. In other words, IT pros aren’t overly concerned about the security risks as long as their employees use chat services wisely.”

Using chat services wisely. Agreed! When it comes to IP, take care to keep it safe. So, which of those 6 is the most secure chat platform? Can we rank them? Let’s find out.

The Big Three: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype for BusinessSlack Logo

SLACK & MICROSOFT TEAMS—The Bitglass Blog put together a review of Slack’s security vs. Microsoft Teams’.
Microsoft Teams vs Slack Security – The Bitglass Blog
They’ve done their homework; it’s definitely worth a read.

Slack and MS Teams are pretty much neck-and-neck in terms of their security. Teams has greater regulatory compliance, but Slack already delivers on at-rest and in-transit encryption. Adding external users is a risk on both services.

Microsoft Teams LogoThis of course makes me happy! I like seeing Slack and Teams in competition…like iron sharpening iron, they should continue to make each other better. That they both have good security on their chats is yet another benefit to users.

(I talked before about Slack and MS Teams – when it was called Skype Teams – back in October.)

 

SSkype for Business LogoKYPE FOR BUSINESS—Our favorite, naturally. And in terms of security, it’s our favorite for good reason.

Persistent Chat is a server within Skype for Business Server, and uses SQL Server for its database. Hardening the SQL Server and configuring security on the Windows Server on which Persistent Chat runs will provide high-grade security for the chats.

In addition, a Persistent Chat administrator controls memberships, file uploads, and the domains from which users can join. There’s a lot of granular control. It’s safe to say that if you’ve secured your Skype for Business Server, your Persistent Chat rooms are pretty darn private.

Now, what about the others?

The Other Three: HipChat, Google Hangouts, Workplace by Facebook

HipChat LogoHIPCHAT—HipChat is run by Atlassian, makers of Jira and Confluence. Their Security of HipChat page indicates 256-bit SSL encryption on your chats & files. It even tells you where HipChat hosts its data – on Amazon Web Services, which employs its own security.

However, HipChat has had a couple issues. In 2015, hackers stole usernames & passwords from HipChat. Atlassian responded with fixes of course.

But in February 2016, a Redditor pointed out a HipChat flaw with downloading files if you have a link, without logging into HipChat. I haven’t used HipChat much, so I don’t want to disparage it, but I am left a little uncertain on its security after reading these accounts.

 

Google Hangouts IconGOOGLE HANGOUTS—Okay, let’s talk Google. The search giant is famous for collecting data on its users. But it tries to maintain their privacy, at the same time. Hangouts uses encryption to protect your chats and files.

How Hangouts Encrypts Information – Hangouts Help

A few things I note on this page:

  • Direct peer-to-peer. Good; cuts down on overhead and helps keep the chat private.
  • 128-bit encryption. Not 256-bit like HipChat. You’d think Google would go higher on its encryption level…
  • No mention of end-to-end encryption like Slack and Microsoft Teams. In fact, Google avoided the question when asked in May 2015.

Verdict: Google Hangouts is convenient and fun to use. But it’s not the most secure business chat option.

 

Workplace by Facebook LogoWORKPLACE BY FACEBOOK—Up until now I hadn’t even looked at Workplace. It’s very new, and as such, I’m keeping expectations low.

The Workplace app does almost exactly the same things as Microsoft Teams and Slack: chat rooms, groups, external users, video, etc. It’s just made by the Facebook team. Pricing is cheaper than Slack, which makes sense if Workplace wants to grab users from other platforms.

Some good (and bad) points:

  • Workplace accounts are different from Facebook accounts. That’s good; separating work and play means better privacy overall.
  • Workplace has a Trust Center posted, like Office 365: Workplace Trust Principles. Good for you guys!
  • Workplace debuts with a handicap though—Facebook’s dubious privacy practices. It’s a separate system, but Workplace does run off Facebook’s servers. Some businesses will shy away on reputation alone (and I can’t honestly blame them).

It’s too soon to tell what kind of adoption Workplace gets. As such, I don’t want to say this is a good or bad choice in terms of security. It looks like they’re doing all the right things security-wise…but we’ll have to see how it unfolds.

The People Side of Chat: Use a Secure Business Chat App, but Exercise Caution All the Same

From all this, we can conclude that “the Big Three” are pretty secure chat apps. “The Other Three” do take some security steps, but using them may risk your business’ intellectual property. If security is a big concern, stick with the “Big Three.”

Even on secure chat apps though, prudence is called for. There’s the technical side of security, and the people side. As a good security practice, you should only share sensitive data over channels you know are secure. And only when it’s necessary.

Enjoy Business Chat Apps Responsibly!

Readers know I’m a big advocate for group chat. It’s fast, easy, nobody gets bothered by a phone ringing, no participant limit, and there’s a record for conversations.

So long as that record, and all files sent to colleagues within the chat app, are kept secure. It’s easy to presume security, and chat with everybody on the team as if it’s always there. It’s not so easy to verify security after-the-fact.

Which business chat app do you use? Why that one? Please comment or email your thoughts. I would hope that none of my readers have ever experienced a security breach due to a chat app…but if you have, I’d like to hear your account too.

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3 Ways to Make Sure Contact Photos Display in Skype for Business

Today, let’s tackle a tiny-but-frustrating issue…Skype for Business contact photos.

User images, Skype avatars, we have several names for them. They’re the little circular image that shows up in Skype for Business next to your name in the Contacts List.

Skype4B Contacts List

Contact photos also show up in Outlook and Office 365. There’s a reason for this: Contact photos are stored within Active Directory accounts. AD then populates the photos out to other Office properties, like Exchange, Skype for Business, and Office apps.

We had one employee whose Skype for Business contact didn’t show his photo. We’ll call him Mike. Now, we knew Mike had one, because we saw it in Outlook all the time. So why wouldn’t it show up in Skype?

(Backend information for reference: Exchange Server and AD on-prem, Skype for Business Server on-prem.)

Now, the solution for this wound up being something VERY simple.  If you want to just see the fix that worked for us, skip to “Troubleshooting Point 3” below. But I’m documenting the missteps as well, because you CAN fix contact photo issues using those methods, under different circumstances.

Troubleshooting Point 1: Is My Local Cache Not Working?

My co-worker confirmed that a contact photo did exist in Active Directory for Mike. I could see it in Outlook, but not Skype for Business. Was this a local issue?

We’ve blogged about local contact issues in the past:
Updating Lync Contacts: Using Active Directory to Store and Push Contact Photos (Part 1 of 3)
Updating Lync Contacts: Sync Error Fixes (Part 2 of 3)
Updating Lync Contacts: Server-Side Checks to Repair Contact Photo Display (Part 3 of 3)
How to Remove Old Federated Contacts from Your Lync Contacts List

Maybe my local client’s files were out of date, or corrupt somehow. Would that prevent Mike’s contact photo from displaying?

Some Google searches brought me to: QuickTip: Missing Pictures in Lync – SkypeAdmin.com. Mr. Caragol mentioned the local photo cache directory, typically located at:

\Users\your.username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\15.0 [or 16.0]\Lync\sip_yourusername@yourdomain.com\Photo

In it you should see a list of .cache files. Like this!

Skype4B Photo Cache Files

Each of these .cache files is actually a photo. Rename them to a .jpg and you’ll see…a contact photo.

Now, Mike’s .cache file didn’t show up on my computer. That meant either his contact photo didn’t exist, or it wasn’t reaching me. So I tried a sneaky tactic—grabbing a random image, sizing it to 96x96px, naming it sip_mikeXXX@planetmagpie.com.cache, and putting it in the Photo directory.

No luck.

Net I tried shutting down Skype for Business, renaming the UCSGroupsContacts.cache file (it’s one level up from Photo), and reopening Skype.  Thereby forcing a fresh download from the Skype for Business Server.  No change to Mike’s contact photo though.

Troubleshooting Point 2: Is the Contact Photo the Wrong Size?

In another search, I came across this app: Exclaimer Outlook Photos

The Exclaimer app helps you get people’s photos into “Outlook, SharePoint and Skype Easily,” according to their site. Plus it’s free. Why not give it a shot?

I installed Exclaimer and opened the app. It accessed our Active Directory and found Mike’s account. It asked me if I wanted to replace its contact photo with another photo. But then I noticed something – Mike’s photo in AD was listed at 64x64px. The other Skype for Business contact photos in my local cache were all 96x96px.

Was the photo’s size making a difference?

Nope. My co-worker accessed AD directly and confirmed that the photo Mike’s account contained was 96x96px. I don’t know if Exclaimer saw the wrong photo, or if we had a miscommunication. Either way, the size didn’t appear to prevent Mike’s contact photo from showing up.

Troubleshooting Point 3: Oh Wait, is the Contact Photo Enabled?

Here’s the forehead-smacking moment. After things looked fine on AD, we got a hold of Mike and asked him to verify that his options were all set correctly.

Mike uses a Mac, and didn’t have the new Skype4B client on it yet. He still used Lync for Mac 2011. He checked his Options. Guess what he found in the Photos Settings?

Lync Mac Photo Settings Off

That’s right. He was set to “Do not show my picture.” One click to select “Show default picture,” and boom.

Lync Mac Photo Settings On

Ta da!

Only a moment later I checked my Skype for Business client. Sure enough, Mike’s contact photo displayed. I checked my local Photo cache directory (from Point 1), and a .cache file now existed for him.

Sometimes the Simplest Solution is the Right One (but we must check everything else first!)

I’m 100% certain some of you reading this post have done this too. The obvious solution is far too obvious, so we must cover the less-obvious causes first. Afterward…oh. Well, darn, the obvious solution worked after all.

I’m still glad we covered the bases we did. It meant finding that some issues were not there. Plus it made for a nice blog post!

What frustrates you about Skype for Business contacts the most? Please comment or email.

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Migrating to Office 365? 3 Things Every Network Manager Should Know

This post comes to us from the folks at Exinda, makers of great QX (Quality of Experience) products. I’ll put links at the bottom. But first, enjoy the post!

This is it! After careful consideration, you’ve opted for the big leap to the cloud (or perhaps a hybrid option), looking to take advantage of the benefits of one of the most notable collaboration and productivity tools, Microsoft Office 365.

And while you’re expecting big gains from your migration – like anytime anywhere access to critical information and applications, seamless coordination between Office 365 tools and of course what every organization wants, predictable and manageable costs – migrating to Office 365 doesn’t come risk-free. Unless of course, it’s planned carefully.

The transition to the cloud is not a project that should be taken lightly. The planning and processes involved in migrating from an established infrastructure to a cloud environment is a major undertaking. If the right steps aren’t taken during your Office 365 migration process, you may compromise application performance substantially. All of those benefits you were hoping for will go straight out the window.

So, how do you make a seamless transition to Office 365 and maintain exceptional performance? Glad you asked. Here are 3 things every Network Manager should know.

1. Your Network Might Not Be Ready for Office 365

The leadership team has spoken, the team is waiting, let’s just get this application up and running before people start using another app! Rushing your Office 365 migration might seem like an attractive option, given all of the other critical tasks on your plate, but in the long haul it will cause more harm than good.

Assessing the viability of your network and whether or not it can handle an Office 365 deployment should be your first step. Office 365 has specific network resource requirements needed to perform optimally. And while these specifications are clearly outlined by Microsoft, if you don’t have visibility into the current status of your network, these guidelines don’t really matter.

You need a full picture of your current network activity. What applications are using the most network resources? Do you have enough resources to allocate to Office 365 as well as your other key applications? Understanding your network as it resides today and how resources are used is essential prior to your deployment.

2. You Can’t Manage What You Can’t See

You’re passed the first hurdle, you’ve assessed your network, and you’ve followed Microsoft’s guidelines and allocated the network resources needed for your deployment. Your job is done right? Not quite.

It’s been a couple of weeks. How do you know if Office 365 is still performing well? With new users jumping on and off your network, the hottest new applications (or iOS updates) using up precious resources and old apps becoming obsolete – your network is in constant flux. Ongoing monitoring of your network activity is crucial.

You Can't Manage What You Can't See

You’ll need visibility into how well Office 365 is performing at any given time to ensure a seamless user experience and to avoid a dreaded flood of helpdesk tickets. You also need to be able to identify bandwidth hogs, unsanctioned applications (Shadow IT) and any other network activity that is or has the potential to impact performance.

3. With Great Deployment Comes Great Responsibility

After a few user complaints about lousy Office 365 performance, you’ve dived into your network to analyze activity. Lo and behold, various recreational and social applications are stealing network resources from Office 365! While knowing how users and applications are behaving on your network is enlightening, the information collected from monitoring is really only useful if you’re able to manage it.

With Great Deployment Comes Great Responsibility

You need the ability to control how your network resources are allocated and guarantee that there are always enough available for Office 365. To avoid a poor user experience, you also need to be able to set limits that will prevent non-critical traffic like recreational, social and media streaming from impacting performance.

Office 365 Needs Management to Deliver on Its Promises

A successful Office 365 migration is vital to your organization. To maximize the ROI of our investment, you need to ensure Office 365 delivers on its productivity and collaboration benefits. This requires exceptional application performance. With careful planning and the right tools, you can ensure every stage of your migration goes without a hitch and with a seamless user experience.


About Exinda

Exinda.comExinda’s application control solutions provide multi-dimensional visibility and control for end-to-end management of both the network and the cloud to help organizations guarantee the best possible quality of experience for business critical applications.

Exinda controls unsanctioned applications and ensures that sanctioned applications, like Skype for Business, Office 365 and SharePoint, perform reliably and consistently. Exinda has helped more than 4,000 organizations in over 80 countries worldwide improve quality of experience for business-critical applications in both public and private cloud.
www.exinda.com


Mark your calendars—Exinda and PlanetMagpie are teaming up for a webinar!  On February 9, our President Robert Douglas and Exinda’s Branko Miskov, VP Product Management, will host “How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance.”

The webinar is free to attend.  You’ll learn about network preparation for Skype for Business, how to tackle key challenges, and more.

Sign up here: Exinda Webinar February 9 – “How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance”

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The State of the Skype for Business Ecosystem

Back in May of 2015, we did a post on which Skype for Business version businesses should use.

Since then, Microsoft has launched several major enhancements to Skype for Business, changed its focus from Server to Online, and beefed up its cloud capacity.

While I think the 2015 post is still accurate in terms of its comparisons, the whole ecosystem has changed. The “scope,” as it were, has broadened. Now we have numerous clients, platforms, and capabilities to choose from…as well as multiple competitors trying to reach the same customers.

Accordingly, I think it’s wise to start 2017 off with a snapshot of Skype for Business’ current state. What do we have available, what should admins know about, what’s the competition like, etc.

(Note: I will update this post semi-regularly going forward. If you see something we’re missing here, please email it to me so I can include it!)

The Skype for Business Ecosystem (as of January 2017)

Platforms:

  1. Skype for Business Server
  2. Skype for Business Online
    1. Subscriptions include Cloud PBX, PSTN Calling, and PSTN Conferencing.
  3. Skype Meetings
  4. Skype Teams
  5. Skype Room Systems & Microsoft Surface Hub
Skype Meetings Settings
Wow, lots of Skype for Business tools!

 

Quick Reference: What’s the difference between Skype, Skype Meetings, and Skype for Business?

 

Clients:
Windows Client
Mac Client
iOS App
Android App (Google Play)
Windows Phone App
Skype Meetings (Web Tool)

Skype for Business Competitors

First, a caveat: This will not be a comprehensive list!

Since Skype for Business contains many different tools, competitors stack up for each. Some competitors target one type of tool (video conferencing), while others go for a more comprehensive communications platform (like Skype4B itself).

 

Targeted Tools:Office 365 Services
Google Hangouts
GoToMeeting
Join.Me
WebEx

 

Comprehensive Communications Platform:
Slack
Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager)
HipChat
WhatsApp (Getting more full-featured all the time, it seems…)

 

We’ve done some “competitor comparisons” on the blog, for your reference:

 

Looking at the Skype for Business ecosystem going forward
Image credit: Veronika Balasyuk

Potential for More Major Changes Coming This Year

This is where the Skype for Business ecosystem is, as of January 2017. What changes the year will bring, we cannot fully say. But we’ll blog about them all year long! (So don’t forget to subscribe. Top right.)

We do know some of Microsoft’s goals for the year. Skype for Business Advanced Analytics for one. Skype Room Systems – formerly Project Rigel – for another. (I have seen some of the products; they’re impressive!) And international expansions of Skype for Business capabilities as well.

Adoption level, competitor movements? We’ll see, won’t we?

 

What Skype for Business does your business have for 2017? Please comment or email.

Join us here next week for our first guest post of 2017!

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