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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
How to Activate:
In the main Attendant Pro screen, look down at the bottom right corner.
You’ll see three icons—Total Calls Today, Average Time to Answer, & Average Time to Handle Call. Click whichever you want.
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:
Open Attendant Pro Options.
Choose an active Recording Mode with the top dropdown menu—On Demand, Always Record (Can Stop), Always Record (Can’t Stop).
Click the “Select Upload Folder” button. Choose the folder where you want call recordings to go.
Check the box next to “Compress to MP3.” Click OK.
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:
Open Attendant Pro Options. You should be on the “General” tab (if not, click it).
Look in the group of dropdown menus for “User Interface.”
Click the dropdown and you’ll see four choices: Lync 2013, Skype for Business 2015, Skype for Business 2016, and Microsoft Teams.
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!
**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.
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.”
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.
In the Skype for Business client, click Tools –> Options.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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*.
*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:
For 32-bit Skype for Business on a 64-bit Windows OS:
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).
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!
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.
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.
Once 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:
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:
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.”
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!
Well, since I’m thinking about it, why not? Let’s see what I can find on compliance!
What Do I Mean by Compliance?
Compliance is a term for your business meeting certain legal requirements. When it comes to communications, compliance means maintaining records of conversations, in case legal entities (e.g. government) need to review those records in an audit or lawsuit.
That means the records must include chat logs, voicemail, voicemail transcripts, and emails. Anything your employees used to communicate and direct business activity.
Several compliance standards exist: SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley), HIPAA, EUMC (EU Model Classes), ISO 27001, etc. If you have to meet one, keeping those records is now a legal requirement. Only option you have is, which solution do you go with?
There are far more potential solutions out there than I could cover in one blog post. For today, I’m covering four communications tools: Skype for Business (Server and Online), Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Let’s see how they stack up.
How Slack Meets Compliance Regulations: Compliance Reports
Good news, Slack users. Your choice of chat app has built-in compliance…and it has since 2014.
Compliance Reports is part of the Slack Plus plan. It’s available to Team Owners. The catch is, it’s NOT enabled by default. You have to request Slack enable it. (The procedure to do so is in the blog post.)
Also, Compliance Reports is NOT retroactive. Once it’s active, it begins archiving channels, private messages, edit history…from that point forward. So if you’re already using Slack, and want to add in Compliance Reports? Better copy out all the old conversations, just in case.
How Skype for Business (Server) Meets Compliance Regulations: Archiving Menagerie
Ah, my old friend. How’s your compliance?
Very good, thank you. Just needs some setup.
First, the Exchange Server. Exchange has well-developed compliance features. So much so that Exchange 2016 will archive some Skype for Business content within its own In-Place Archiving feature:
“You can archive instant messaging conversations and shared online meeting documents in the user’s primary mailbox. The mailbox must reside on an Exchange 2016 Mailbox server and you must have Skype for Business Server 2015 deployed in your organization.”
Next, Persistent Chat’s Compliance service. Once activated, this service maintains an archive of Persistent Chat messages, as well as activities. When people join/leave chat rooms, upload/download files, etc.
Setup is relatively simple. You only need to use one cmdlet, configured by identity or instance.
AdapterType – Lets you specify the adapter type (XML default).
OneChatRoomPerOutputFile – Lets you specify that separate reports to be created for each chat room.
AddChatRoomDetails – Records details about each chat room in the database. Disabled by default, since it can inflate the database with lots of activity.
AddUserDetails – Records details about each chat room user in the database. Also disabled by default, for the same reason.
Identity – Lets you scope compliance settings for a particular collection (Global, Site, Service levels). Global is the default.
RunInterval – Dictates the amount of time before the server creates the next compliance output file (default: 15 minutes).
Thirdly, Archiving Server.
Does your Skype for Business deployment include an Archiving Server? If not, and you have compliance requirements, you should do so right away. (Here’s how to deploy an Archiving Server if you don’t have one yet.)
Archiving Server maintains an archive containing:
Peer-to-peer instant messages
Conferences (meetings), which are multiparty instant messages
Conference content, including uploaded content (for example, handouts) and event-related content (for example, joining, leaving, uploading sharing, and changes in visibility)
Once this three-part setup is complete, your Skype for Business Server is keeping track of its conversations. Add a good backup system, and you should be fully compliant in case of audit (or litigation).
How Skype for Business (Online) Meets Compliance Regulations: Trust and eDiscover in the Cloud
As Microsoft says in the Office 365 Admin’s Security & Compliance menu:
“It’s your data. You own it. So we’ve developed features that let you take charge of how and when it is stored, used, and retained or removed.”
I view Skype for Business Online the same way I do Slack. The records themselves are archived and available. However, since Office 365 products are cloud-based, eDiscovery becomes much more important. You’ll need to locate & extract content as-needed in the event of an audit.
For instance, the Content Search tool will search mailboxes, public folders, Skype for Business conversations, and more. Then you export the results (in different formats, like a PST for each mailbox or individual messages) and incorporate the files into your audit process.
How Microsoft Teams Meets Compliance Regulations: Information Protection…But is it Complete?
The Teams FAQ reports that Teams does retain all messages. We also have this:
What forms of information protection does Microsoft Teams support?
Archiving, Content Search, eDiscovery, legal hold, and audit logs are available via the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center for chats and channel messages, OneNote content, OneDrive for Business files, and SharePoint content.
Now, that could just be out of date. The FAQs are maintained, so they’re likely the latest-and-greatest information. Especially since Teams is an Office 365 product, which is compliant with several industry certifications anyway. The same eDiscovery tools available to Skype for Business Online, are available to Teams. At least according to Microsoft.
My Verdict: All Will Meet (Most) Compliance Regulations As-Is
In terms of compliance “thoroughness,” I’d rank these in the following order:
Skype for Business Server. The most work to set up, but the most control over archiving.
Slack/Skype for Business Online. Less work involved, since most of the archiving is done for you, and retrieval features are available. That said, these do use cloud services, which places (most of) the data outside your network.
Teams. I put this one last because it’s still so new. It does fall under Office 365’s Trust Center guidelines, and does facilitate archival. But since it’s in early adoption stages, the need to verify compliance hasn’t come up in large numbers yet. Will Teams fully satisfy legal compliance for the businesses who use it? I think it will…but we may have a few businesses hitting bumps when they begin an eDiscovery process.
How big of a factor is legal compliance in your communications choices? Please comment or email. I’m also curious to note which type of compliance hits your business the most (if you’re able & willing to share, of course).
A tug-of-war is brewing among Microsoft users. (I wouldn’t call it a ‘war’…we’re all reasonable folks, right?)
The question is, which app do we use: Skype for Business, Teams, or both?
Different Apps for Different Communications
Looking at them in terms of approach, Teams and Skype for Business are quite different.
SKYPE FOR BUSINESS: A server-based or cloud-hosted platform meant to replace phones, give the office full Meetings capability, and connect a suite of communications tools to Office apps & email.
TEAMS: A cloud-hosted chat-based communications tool (with extras, like Online Meetings), adding onto the existing toolset. Also connects with Office apps.
Ostensibly, each element in those descriptions would influence a business’ decision to adopt. You might even consider using both, given their respective strengths.
Problem is, there’s also lots of overlap. Too much to make a decision easy.
If you’re looking at Teams and currently use Skype for Business:
You might think, “We already have most of the tools. Why add more?”
Hearing from users who have both, we know that they experience 2 sets of notification alerts. They’re often confused over which tool to use for calls or meetings. They also have 2 sets of conversation history to deal with (1 stored in Outlook, the other in Teams’ channels).
If you’re looking at Teams and don’t use Skype for Business:
You may ask, “Do we want to try out this chat app instead of Slack/Hipchat/Workplace?”
Teams is good to start with, IF you already use Office 365. But even then, you’ll still need a phone for PSTN calls. You can use cellphones of course, but those offices with phones already (either PBX or VoIP) can’t power them with Teams.
This leaves users with a befuddling choice. One we’ll address later in this post. But first, let’s imagine a scenario…what if you combined the two?
Is Integration Possible? Yes…But the Form it Takes Determines Usability
Because Teams and Skype for Business overlap so much—on chat, PC calls, online meetings—the biggest difference between them is the few features the other DOESN’T have.
If you were to enhance one of them, including all of the other’s features? They would look like this.
Teams Enhanced: Calls can go anywhere (including the PSTN). Chats and Meetings with internal & external users, in the same number of steps. Presence status indicates when someone is active on their computer, not just in Teams (Displaying Status in Teams – MS Tech Community).
Skype for Business Enhanced: Persistent Chat acts more like Instant Messaging. Total control of chat within Skype for Business client. Closer/native switching between Persistent Chat & other services (e.g. conferencing).
Could the two integrate? Yes. Would that result in the ‘enhanced’ versions I mentioned? Possibly, depending on the avenue taken.
Neither seems easier than the other, from a development perspective. But both are desired. Users see two types of communications platforms, each missing something the other has, and want those other features.
Teams Could Not Replace Skype for Business (but Skype for Business Could Improve by Integrating Teams)
In terms of integration/replacement between Teams & Skype for Business, I’m going to make another prediction. I predict that SOME form of integration will occur between them within 2 years. Could be as simple as linking Presence; could be as dramatic as merging the two services entirely.
I like Matt’s approach. It patches Teams into Skype4B, acting as a replacement Persistent Chat. As chat is one of my favorite features, this would give Skype for Business a big usability boost.
I looked at the Office 365 Roadmap for any indication of where Microsoft’s going with Teams. Unfortunately, I found nothing specific about Teams feature add-ins or integrations. If anyone from Microsoft wants to weigh in, I’d love to hear it!
So ends my thoughts on integration. But before I finish up, let me address the choice you’re waiting on. When you’re faced with Skype for Business vs. Teams, which is the better choice?
Which Should You Choose, Skype for Business or Teams? Here’s How to Decide
Your existing business communications will contain a number of factors. Weighing these factors will help you decide which platform to use.
These questions should identify those factors. They presume that you are not currently using either Skype for Business or Teams, but want to choose at least one.
Number of cellphones: What percentage of employees have cellphones now (for business use)?
Are office (desk) phones already in use? Yes/No
If Yes, do they use a PBX or Voice over IP?
Does your business have more than one office, remote workers, or both?
What is your staff’s preferred communications method (besides email)?
Do you use Office 365? Yes/No/Planning To
Use Teams if you gave the following answers:
Percentage is close to 100%
No, or Yes if #3’s answer is Voice over IP
If #2 is Yes, Voice over IP
Remote workers, or both
Instant Messaging, Skype (consumer), texting, or chat (and you don’t already use Slack or Workplace)
Yes, or Planning To
If your answers are different, use Skype for Business. You have communications needs Teams cannot (at this time) fulfill.
Above all, Teams needs the ability to communicate with users outside your organization. Without this, it’s fundamentally hamstrung and unable to mature. It IS coming, but we’ll see how well it works when it arrives.
I hope this is helpful. But always factor in your current IT systems & network capacity when deciding!
What enhancement (if any) would you like to see in Microsoft Teams? Please comment or email your thoughts.
More than once, the first call we get from a new Skype for Business customer involves bandwidth. Namely, the customer doesn’t have enough of it.
Lack of bandwidth manifests in frustrating ways with Skype for Business: video freezes, abrupt Skype Meeting departures, sudden voice garbling (I’ve heard this called “demon wailing”), and the always-irritating dropped call.
When customers call with these issues, they often think Skype for Business is broken. It’s not…it’s just bandwidth-choked. Additional configuration, or a better Internet connection, and voila! Skype is doing great!
Bandwidth allocation is critical to Skype for Business planning. You’ll need to calculate bandwidth needed for each user before deployment. (You can do it after deployment, but it’s messier. Not recommended.)
What’s the Minimum Bandwidth Needed?
According to Microsoft, the minimum bandwidth requirements for Skype for Business (Server) deployments are:
Provision the network links to support throughput of 65 kilobits per second (Kbps) per audio stream and 500 Kbps per video stream, if they are enabled, during peak usage periods. A two-way audio or video session uses two streams, so a simple audio/phone connection will require 130Kbps to cover each stream. Video will likewise use 1000 Kbps total to carry an upstream and downstream connection.
To cope with unexpected spikes in traffic and increased usage over time, Skype for Business Server media endpoints can adapt to varying network conditions and support three times the throughput for audio and video while still maintaining acceptable quality.
For those of us who live in the real world, those are obviously minimum numbers. Day-to-day Skype4B usage needs more available bandwidth to comfortably handle office communications.
Calculating bandwidth requirements is an early step in the Skype for Business (or Office 365) deployment process. Before you calculate though, you’ll need to map out the user requirements. Can’t determine bandwidth for all users, if you don’t know how many users you’ll have on the system!
To determine user requirements, list out all these factors:
Number of sites
Number of users
User types: Desktop, mobile, in-office, remote, audio-primary, video-primary, heavy chat, light chat, administrators, etc.
Estimated traffic numbers (based on the number of simultaneous users)
Okay, now we have some idea of scope. Let’s start on bandwidth.
Choose your Bandwidth Calculator
I went scavenging for the existing bandwidth calculators. I expected to find one…but I found three! Each serves its own specific purpose, though you can use all of them together to weigh your options.
The numbers I entered are based off existing Skype for Business customers. I changed a few to avoid any risk to their security. As a result, the bandwidth requirements don’t 100% match real-world usage. Just so you’re aware.
Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator/”The Monster”
First and foremost is the Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator spreadsheet.
Interactive spreadsheet stepping you through the bandwidth numbers needed.
This thing is a monster. It’s the digital equivalent of an airplane’s cockpit – dozens of switches, all jumping out at you simultaneously.
Make sure you download & read through the User Guide as well. It points out several notable things:
Only WAN bandwidth is modeled. LAN bandwidth isn’t factored in.
Each Site only has one WAN link in the calculator.
A “central Site” is assumed to have a PSTN connection, and hosts either a Skype for Business Server Front End pool, or a Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition.
The calculator doesn’t account for situations where users are using the PSTN at another location (e.g. branch site) for some or all of their calls.
This could come about due to a dial plan configuration, or a PSTN failure at the users’ local site. Such a situation tends to happen when a critical failure occurs; make sure you consider those when planning.
I entered 2 central sites and 1 branch site, all on-prem. A 50Mbps Internet connection for the San Francisco Site, and a 5 Mbps connection for Ventura (Oakland is associated to San Francisco). The central Sites have a total of 70 users and 3 administrators; Oakland has 15 users. WAN link speed is 50 Mbps; half of that is allocated to RTC traffic, for experimentation’s sake.
RESULTS: On the Aggregated Results tab, I see that Skype for Business only needs 703 kbps (1%) of the San Francisco WAN link, and 2580 kbps (5%) of the Internet connection. At the Ventura site, it needs 1066 kbps (4%) of the WAN, and 2528 kbps (25%) of the Internet connection.
(In reality, it will likely need more bandwidth than that…particularly for smooth video conferencing. But I now have a hard-number baseline for my bandwidth estimates.)
Spiceworks and TechNet users recommend the Exchange Client Network Bandwidth Calculator for O365 bandwidth planning. This is also a downloadable Excel spreadsheet. It’s dated—the latest Outlook version listed is 2011 for Mac—but it’s much simpler and faster than Skype for Business’ calculator. I didn’t even need a user guide (which is good, because it doesn’t come with one!).
I entered 1 Site, Heavy use, with 5 users on Outlook 2011 for Mac, 35 users for Outlook 2010 Online, and 20 users for OWA 2010. Results?
Less than 1 MBits/sec needed. I think most office connections can do that.
It even gives expected peak usage times too.
Again, this calculator is out of date. But something’s much better than nothing, and the results from this make for an at-a-glance foundation while you’re estimating traffic.
Please consult the best practices and references also listed on the above-linked page. They recommend doing a pilot deployment as a test. We often set up 5 users in Office 365 pilots; it’s enough testing to find and fix any bandwidth issues before site-wide deployment.
Teams Bandwidth Calculator
This is for Microsoft Teams, not Skype for Business. But it’s a much simpler tool than the Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator. Just enter in some user numbers, choose an expected traffic level for discrete services (such as Conference Video Usage), and hit Calculate. Each row represents one Site.
With Teams, my numbers indicate that I’d need 3.566 Mbps. Also quite doable.
An interesting point here: The numbers don’t quite match up, but we see that Teams wants more bandwidth than Skype for Business does. I think this occurs for two reasons:
Teams contains many of Skype for Business’ highest-bandwidth tools – Video, Meetings, and Calls.
Notice that the WAN impact is very small; 0.058 Mbps. Teams uses Internet bandwidth much more than WAN. I believe that’s because Teams interconnects with other Office 365 services in real-time. As such, it needs a higher bandwidth allocation to “keep talking” with Microsoft servers and other client computers.
As such, I find this Teams calculator particularly useful. It’s less specific, but it’s really fast and bone-simple to use. Good way to get the network planning ball rolling.
(Can we get something like this for Skype for Business too? It would save so much time…)
Use Bandwidth Calculators Early & Often in the Skype for Business Deployment Process
One last thing: If you’re wondering about bandwidth requirements for a conference room system? The SmartTech Knowledgebase has kindly posted a detailed answer. Their estimate reflects their own SMART Room System product, of course. But that only lends credence to their 20 Mbps bandwidth requirement. Good to know if you’re equipping a conference room with Skype for Business.
The great thing about calculators like these? You’re not wedded to the first result. Test different numbers of users, activity requirements, etc. Running a half-dozen possibilities gives you more detailed bandwidth projections for the future.
Test several models out. It only takes you a few minutes per calculation (even with “The Monster”). Then you can continue, better-informed, with the deployment process.
How do you prefer to calculate bandwidth requirements? Please comment or email. I’d love to get some more tools for comparison testing, if they’re out there.
Let’s do a quick rundown on the new features first. I’m glad to see Skype for Business Online users getting these…even though Skype for Business Server users have had them for a while.
What the Auto Attendant and Call Queues Do
Auto Attendant is an automated system to answer and route inbound calls using dial pad inputs and speech recognition. You’ve encountered these plenty of times, when calling ISPs, telecom providers, or enterprise companies.
“To speak with Sales, press 1. To access a dial-by-name directory, please press Pound.”
Call Queues route incoming calls to the next available live attendant in the order they are received. Same deal as Auto Attendants…in fact, I don’t recall any instance where I’ve encountered one without the other. Creating both together is standard practice for all of our Skype for Business (Server) customers.
“Yes, I know you were calling for Alice, but she’s on the other line right now. My name’s Bob, how can I help you?”
Doesn’t Skype for Business Server have these features?
The question a lot of people (including some of our readers) have asked. Yes, these calling features already exist for Skype for Business Server users.
In fact, we’ve discussed them a few times here on the blog. These are the Auto Attendant-related posts:
These features integrate with Cloud PBX. Which, as you’re aware, creates a telephony system in the cloud to replace your PBX-based on-site phone system.
Adding more calling features to the existing Cloud PBX – while it’s in use, no less! – would require a good chunk of engineering. Field testing them rigorously is necessary (hence the preview). Given all that, I understand the slow development pace.
What I don’t understand is why they weren’t integrated when Cloud PBX was first deployed. The functionality did exist, as part of Skype for Business Server’s voice routing capability.
Part of the O365 Adoption Strategy?
A comment on the original Microsoft announcement said something very important:
“Great news but the features still only work with on-line users and not with hybrid voice deployments.”
Still no Auto Attendant/Call Queues for hybrid deployments. So, it’s two-thirds of a launch?
That makes me think each new feature gets staggered out intentionally. Not (totally) because of development time, but because it gives them another announcement to trumpet. Each time pushing more users away from Skype4B Server, toward Office 365. Even Hybrid users will feel the push this time…and maybe next time too.
Lest you think this is just a rant (apologies for that), let me end with more useful information.
How to Create an Auto Attendant and Call Queues in your Office 365 Admin Center
As of this writing, you will need an E3 (plus Cloud PBX) or an E5 Office 365 account, to enable Auto Attendant and Call Queues.
Any outage is frustrating, whether it’s for 5 minutes or 5 days. If the outage lasts long enough, you’re faced with a decision: wait it out, or switch to a backup?
Wait, I thought. We have backups in place for data and servers. But if Skype for Business went down, we’d lose half our communications ability. Email may not even work. A backup communications method, waiting in the wings, would be a pretty prudent safeguard!
The Risk Factor in All Cloud Services: Outages Crash Productivity
These latest O365 outages remind us all of one thing: The Cloud can go down too. Slack had an outage on March 7 too, the same time as the earlier O365 outage.
Now, while some Twitter users joked about such outages actually HELPING productivity, the fact is that when you lose a tool you use for work, your real-time productivity is disrupted. You have to stop what you’re doing, coordinate with colleagues in some other method, send emails, make phone calls…
All of which is not the work you were doing.
Now, cloud service outages are not common. Many, Microsoft included, do have redundancies to minimize your loss of service. But even with 99.9999% uptime promised, the fact remains…the cloud is just a cluster of servers. It can crash. And take your productivity with it.
It’s a reality…which means we, as good IT pros, can plan for it!
How many of us have a spare server sitting in the datacenter, a row of darkness between all those blinking lights, ready to go if there’s a crash? Most of us, I’d bet.
How then do we “have a spare ready” for communications tools, like Skype for Business?
I’m not talking about phones though. If email goes down, it’s tempting to just grab your phone and start texting co-workers. But, hold on. There’s a major reason why your phone isn’t a good choice for communications backup.
A Backup Communications Method Should Be Equally As, or More Secure Than Your Standard Tools
Why isn’t a phone a good backup communications tool? Because you may inadvertently leak corporate intellectual property, or other sensitive data, when using it.
Remember mobile security. Platforms like Skype for Business contain their conversations within a bubble of encryption and authentication. Does your phone give you that? What about hackers & malware?
Instead, consider a backup communications method that operates securely at the outset. A protected space where you can have conversations, share files…accomplish the same things you do with your day-to-day communications tools.
For example, if you use Skype for Business Server, you could provision some Office 365 accounts to use Skype for Business Online or Teams. Same kind of environment, and you can flip over fairly fast. Outages aside, this is probably the first recommendation I’d make for businesses currently using Skype for Business Server.
But what if you use Office 365, and it goes down? Keeping a Skype for Business Server configured, but inactive in your datacenter, is too costly for a backup.
The most obvious solution is one of the other chat apps.
Which one? That depends on your current environment. To make the determination, ask yourself these questions:
Which of the available communications platforms will let us use our favorite communication tool, the fastest? (If group chat is popular, look to Teams or Slack.)
Is this secure enough for what we typically share? (Consult my post on chat app security for help there.)
Are my users more comfortable with desktop apps, or a web-based system? (Slack has a desktop & mobile apps. Workplace only has mobile apps.)
One more factor: Consider where the chat app is hosted.
“Well, it’s in the cloud, isn’t it?” Yes, but does the maker host the services themselves, or employ other cloud servers? Workplace, for instance, is hosted on the same servers as Facebook. So if Facebook goes down, there’s a good chance Workplace does too. (Oh, the outcry that would happen…)
However, HipChat is hosted on Amazon Web Services. If Amazon has an outage, then HipChat may have one too. That second-level vulnerability should factor into your decision.
Do You Have a Backup Communications Method? You’ll Want One When You Need It!
This is very much an “Emergency Planning” type of activity. Cloud outages are, like I said, uncommon. Office 365’s only had 10 outages in the past 3 years, most for less than 1 day. For millions of daily users? That’s not too bad.
We’re IT pros though. We plan for the worst, and remain pleasantly surprised when things go well. Even (especially?) when it comes to communications.