Tag: Office 365

One Version of Skype for Business Will Retire in 2021. The Other Version Won’t (Not Yet)

Skype for Business Online Retirement

No, not that kind. Photo by Elena Saharova on Unsplash.

Hello “Insiders!” I know I haven’t posted much lately. Went on a short vacation, and we’re now in the middle of 5 (yes, five!) website builds running at the same time

I’m also working on a couple big posts. The Time Lords willing, I’ll have them up before the end of the year.

In the meantime, let’s talk retirement.

Skype for Business Online Retirement

No, not that kind. Software retirement. Well, I guess it applies to some developers…
Photo by Elena Saharova on Unsplash.

Skype for Business (Online) Retiring in 2 Years

If you haven’t heard, MS will retire Skype for Business (Online) July 31, 2021. After that, it’s Teams all the way in Office 365.

No big surprise. We all knew it was coming. But what’s important for me to point out is that this retirement date only applies to the ONLINE version. The one on which Teams has chewed almost since its launch day.

That’s not the case for Skype for Business Server. Our good old on-prem version will stick around a while longer.

Skype4B Server Version Remains Supported Until 2025

Skype for Business Server 2015 mainstream support ends October 13, 2020. Extended support remains available until October 14, 2025.

Skype for Business Server 2019 will receive mainstream support until January 9, 2024. This is interesting though—its Extended support will also run until October 14, 2025.

Both versions of Skype for Business Server running out of support on the same date, a little more than 5 years hence. That’s still a good chunk of time to use the software.

Skype4B Conferencing

Let’s keep doing this.
Photo by Arlington Research on Unsplash.

Where does this leave you? A retirement date that far out, and only on one version, means nobody needs to run around in headless-chicken mode. Here’s some suggestions depending on your current Skype4B situation:

  1. If you’re on Skype for Business Server 2019 or plan to migrate there soon – Keep doing what you’re doing. Let us know if you need help with setup.
  2. Running Skype for Business Server 2015? Consider a move to Server 2019 next year. You’ll still have plenty of time with full support to get your money’s worth.
  3. If you’re on Skype for Business Online & considering a move to Teams – Weigh the schedule in light of your workforce. If you have a large employee base, start planning now. If you’re in a smaller company, no need to panic. Run the move when you expect a slower time (does anyone have those anymore?).

If you fall under C, this post has some points about doing a “Skypexit” that may help out: Microsoft Techdays 2019: Skypexit with Marten – Kressmark Unified Communications

You Don’t Have to Move off Skype for Business (Server) if You Don’t Want To

If it sounds like I’m still swinging in Skype for Business Server’s defense…well, I am. I like the platform for its power and its usability. It has a reliable history to boot. In fact, we still have one customer running Lync Server on-prem! (I think we’ve tried to move them off for what, 2 years now?)

What do you think of the Skype for Business Online retirement?

 

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How to Put Teams Users and Skype for Business Users in the Same Room

If your organization has decided to move off its Skype for Business Server deployment to Teams, you’ll hit an in-between period. A time when some users are on Skype4B, and some have moved to Teams.

Can they still communicate with one another during this period?

It’s possible…but it’ll take some extra configuration. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to do.

How to Make Skype for Business and Teams Talk to One Another

Before any Skype4B user can talk to a Teams user, the disparate systems have to talk to one another. Therefore, you’ll need to setup communications between your Skype for Business Server and your Teams tenant.

Teams-Skype4B Users Talking

Teams—Skype for Business connection in dog form.
Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash.

Most of the work’s done on the Skype side for this. You must change Skype for Business to work in “Native Interop” mode. Here’s some migration and interoperability guidance on the basics.

Essentially, any on-prem deployment must move to a Hybrid deployment. If you already run Skype4B in Hybrid mode, half the work’s already done. You can skip the Part 1 section below & move to Part 2.

But before you do that, let me call out a major communication limitation.

Limitations on Native Interop

Before we dive into the config work required, let me make this point. Users talking between Skype for Business and Teams will have ONLY TWO TOOLS to communicate:

  • One-to-one IM/Chats
  • Voice calls

That’s it. No video conference, no group chats, no emojis or file transfers. Not available.

If you have a long transition period, doing the config for this limited communication toolset may make sense. However, if you’re doing a fast cut-over (e.g., less than 4 months), then it doesn’t seem worth the time investment. I would recommend skipping it in that case.

Still here? Great! Let’s talk about making Teams and Skype4B talk.

Part 1: Setting Hybrid Mode with Azure AD Connect

If you’re not already familiar with Azure AD Connect, it’s basically a connection between your Skype for Business Server’s Active Directory and an Office 365 tenant. AD Connect synchronizes your users’ accounts in Active Directory with Azure Active Directory on O365, and vice versa.

This sets up the question of homing. If you created all of your users in your own on-prem Active Directory, then the users are ‘homed’ locally. If you have Teams users you created within your Office 365 tenant, those users are ‘homed’ in Azure Active Directory.

This is important for one reason: Interop between Teams and Skype for Business users only works if you home the user online.

Effectively, you’ll have to transfer all of your Skype for Business users up into the Teams O365 tenant. They’ll still use the on-prem server (in fact they won’t even notice the difference), but they have to live up there to talk to Teams users.

This post would run on forever if I detailed the whole AD Connect setup process. If you do need to set this up, please refer to these MS documentation pages:

Once you’ve verified AD Connect runs properly, you’ll be able to move Skype4B users up into Azure AD. Fortunately, this part’s not too time-consuming. You have two possible methods:

  1. Use the Move-CsUser cmdlet.
    • Example: “Move-CsUser -Identity username@yourdomain.com -Target sipfed.online.lync.com -Credential $cred -HostedMigrationOverrideUrl $url”
  2. Use the Skype for Business Control Panel.
    1. Select Users in the Panel window.
    2. Use Find to locate the users you need to re-home.
    3. Select the users, and click the Action dropdown menu. Choose Move selected users to Skype for Business Online.
    4. In the wizard, click Next.
    5. You may see an Office 365 prompt. Sign in using an administrative account. (Must end in “.onmicrosoft.com”!)
    6. Click Next two more times to complete the move.

Now it’s time for Part 2.

Part 2: Change Users’ TeamsUpgrade Modes

Every Teams user has a mode assigned to it. Same with Skype4B users. The default mode is “Islands” – meant to signify the user as either on the Skype for Business ‘island’ or the Teams ‘island.’

Skype4 for Business Users Island Mode

Hey guys? Can anybody hear me? …hello?
Photo by Will Langenberg on Unsplash.

Now, that won’t work if we want people talking between islands. Each & every user, on both sides, needs to have this mode changed for interop.

Other possible modes are:

  • TeamsOnly – For Teams users only
  • SfBOnly – For Skype4B users only
  • SfBWithTeamsCollabAndMeetings – This is called “Meetings First,” meant for using Teams’ meetings as an introduction to the platform.
  • SfBWithTeamsCollab** – This is the mode we want. It facilitates native interop.

In SfBWithTeamsCollab mode, users still use Skype for Business for IM, calls, and meetings. (If you used SfBWithTeamsCollabAndMeetings mode, your users would use Teams for meetings instead. Everything else is the same.)

To change users’ modes, we’ll use the Grant-TeamsUpgradePolicy cmdlet.

If you want to do this user-by-user, use this format:

“Grant-CsTeamsUpgradePolicy -Identity username@yourdomain.com -PolicyName SfBWithTeamsCollab”

If you want to do it for all users, use this format:

“Grant-CsTeamsUpgradePolicy -PolicyName SfBWithTeamsCollab -Global”

As I understand, that’s pretty much it. Changing this mode allows Skype for Business users to chat with Teams users, after all the prerequisites are in place.

Dogs Playing Teams - Skype4B Users

Hey Bob, glad we can talk again. Let me show you this meme…
Photo credit: Bennilover via Photopin

(By the way, this process also sets up the users to move completely to Teams. It doesn’t mean you have to move them, but you save yourself time this way.)

Teams, Can You Hear Us Now? Good!

I remember our team having some serious issues with Azure AD Connect, the first time we hybridized a Skype for Business Server. (In fairness, that was over 3 years ago. The tech and documentation have improved since then.)

Still, I urge caution if you need to deploy it in your existing on-prem environment. If possible, use a staging environment to test AD Connect setup first, so you’re comfortable. I believe that’s what we did.

What’s your status with Teams and/or Skype for Business? Using one or both? Comment below on your communication situation.

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Workplace Messaging Report by Mio Out – 2019 Stats on ChatOps Usage

Hey Skype for Business/Teams/ChatOps fans! Just wanted to do a quick post about a new Workplace Messaging Report. Mio released it after surveying over 200 companies on their messaging apps/ChatOps trends & plans. I saw it posted on Twitter, read through, retweeted a few times, and then raced over here to share it.

Full report: https://dispatch.m.io/mio-workplace-messaging-report/

A few highlights I thought pertinent:

  • 57% of respondents believed more of their users would abandon Skype for Business in 2 years!
  • Of the other platforms, 56% thought those users would move to Teams, 41% to Cisco Webex Teams.
  • The Webex Teams UI tied with Slack’s UI (31% each) for user preference.
  • MS Teams and Skype for Business are neck-and-neck in overall usage—61% for Skype4B, 59% for Teams

 

Workplace Messaging Report

Cue Darth Vader “Nooooo!”

Image courtesy of Dispatch.m.io.

This is all making me think I need to look harder at Webex Teams!

The report has a lot more data, including some surprising numbers on Cisco endpoints. It’s very well-laid out too…only took a few minutes to absorb it all. Go check it out.

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How to Preserve Unified Messaging

3 Ways to Keep Voicemail & Auto Attendant when Upgrading to Skype for Business 2019

Those of us who use voicemail in Skype for Business face a quandary.

We did get a new Skype for Business Server, as well as a new Exchange Server. But we’re missing one component: the Unified Messaging service in Exchange Server 2013/2016. Exchange Server 2019 will NOT have Unified Messaging.

The sysadmins reading this already know what that means. They can feel it as a sudden clench in the chest. Skype for Business’ voicemail needs Unified Messaging. Without it you’ll end up upgrading a part of the office’s phone system away!

Two, actually…the Auto Attendant’s gone too. No more, “Press 1 for Customer Service. Press 2 for Sales…”

What do we do? If your offices use Skype for Business on-prem and employ Unified Messaging for voicemail and/or Auto Attendant, it’s time for some alternative thinking.

Fortunately, we’re all IT pros. We’re good at creative solutions. That’s what we’ll have to do here, to preserve Unified Messaging.

The Path to IT Solutions

The IT professional’s configuration thought process. (Sure feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it?)
Photo by Jaromír Kavan on Unsplash.

Right now we have 3 ‘preservation’ options, each with different levels of expense & usable time. Time to run some comparisons!

Voicemail/AA Preservation 1: Keep Your Exchange 2013/2016 Server On-Prem

This is a way to preserve UM within the Microsoft infrastructure. It involves juggling between different versions of Skype4B and Exchange. Essentially, you upgrade your Skype for Business Server to 2019…but not your Exchange Server. It stays at its current version. Accounts and configuration intact.

You’ll need to undertake several processes. Changing the UM dial plan, voice policies, etc. It all depends on your existing Exchange Server’s configuration. Here are resources to help you:

VERDICT: The most direct solution. With a critical flaw – it has a lifespan. Exchange 2016 will run out of mainstream support in October 2020. Extended Support runs until October 2025, which lets you stretch things more. You’re still faced with the potential of higher support costs the longer you go.

This is the option I prefer, frankly. Even with the lifespan boundary. You retain the most control, and it requires almost no new hardware.

If you don’t run Exchange 2016 already, or the lifespan boundary doesn’t work, then we have Option 2.

Voicemail/AA Preservation 2: Switch to Cloud Voicemail/Cloud Auto Attendant (Hybrid Deployment)

Cloud Voicemail is Microsoft’s response to yanking Unified Messaging out of Exchange. It’s (predictably) a part of Office 365, and requires a tenant to operate. Same with Auto Attendant—now it’s a cloud service too.

Cloud Server Ports

Setting up Cloud Voicemail isn’t that complicated. You must have hybrid connectivity enabled first, of course. I’d even recommend doing this a week in advance, so you can test & verify successful connectivity.

To configure Cloud Voicemail, you’ll need:

  • Your Office 365 tenant account login/password
  • The domain assigned to your tenant
  • Administrative access to your Skype for Business Front End and Edge Servers
  • Administrative permissions on PowerShell
  • At least one test user account

Once you have those together, follow the steps here. It’s basically a handful of cmdlets: How to Configure Cloud Voicemail – Microsoft Docs

If you already have a hybrid deployment, using Exchange Online, Microsoft will transition you to Cloud Voicemail in February 2020.

Cloud Voicemail is not a 100% drop-in replacement for Unified Messaging though. According to ExPTA.com, Cloud Voicemail doesn’t include Play on Phone, call answering rules, text notification, or Outlook Voice Access. Doesn’t mean those won’t show up down the line, but for now, Cloud Voicemail’s sticking to the basics.

VERDICT: If you want to move to Exchange Server 2019, you’ll have to switch either to Cloud Voicemail or Option 3. Exchange 2019 doesn’t have the Unified Messaging service. This might help to gradually introduce Office 365 tools to the company. You also get Teams this way, which could provide a transition path for all staff…if you’re going that way.

Voicemail/AA Preservation 3: Integrate a Third-Party Voicemail/Auto Attendant Service with Skype for Business

This option essentially abandons using Exchange Online, Cloud Voicemail, and Office 365. Instead, you add in a third-party service to provide your users voicemail and/or an Auto Attendant feature.

We have a curious reversal on this track. It’s relatively easy to add in Auto Attendant…several third-party providers exist to do just that.

However, voicemail’s a little harder to add in. I came across two solutions that appear to work with Skype for Business Server:

As far as I know, we haven’t worked with either of these solutions directly in a Skype for Business topology. If you have, please share your thoughts in the comments.

VERDICT: If you do want to upgrade to Exchange Server 2019, but don’t want anything to do with Office 365, this is your only option to preserve voicemail and/or Auto Attendant.

Preserving Unified Messaging: Unfortunate, but Necessary.

I can understand why Microsoft chose to remove Unified Messaging. It falls within their “cloud first” mission, consolidating things like voicemail & Auto Attendant into the Azure/O365 ecosystem. (Must have taken a LOT of coding…)

That said, those of us who appreciate on-prem control now have another instance of “technical gymnastics.” Trying to find a new solution for a resurgent problem.

Unless of course you want to drop Unified Messaging? I can’t think of a scenario when a business would voluntarily drop its voicemail/Auto Attendant…but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Perhaps you’re considering the idea?

Auto Attendant Virtual Assistant

Maybe use a Virtual Assistant instead? “Hello, you have reached XYZ Corp. Press 1 for Sales…”
Photo by Fezbot2000 on Unsplash.

In terms of how these processes shake out…we do have a full Skype for Business Server 2019 installation planned this year. We’ll most likely use Preservation 1, maintaining our current Exchange 2016 server. (Exchange 2019 will have a separate test.) I will document EVERYthing as we go, and produce plenty of blog posts from that.

If you’re planning a Skype4B 2019 upgrade, which Unified Messaging preservation method will you use?

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The ChatOps War: The Battle Rages

Three major powers clash over and over. Challengers appear on the horizon. The productivity of millions hangs in the balance. Welcome back to the ChatOps War.

The Current State of ChatOps

Messaging apps. Online chat. Collaboration tools. Call them what you will. ChatOps (as I’ll refer to them here) have exploded across the business world in only a few years.

As with every new frontier, there’s a sort of ‘Wild West’ period. A few businesses pop up early, grabbing much of the attention & pushing growth forward. Then upstarts appear to claim slices of the pie. Big names in related industries wade in to crush the upstarts, early-stagers gear up…and everyone fights for market share.

That’s where we are now. Fighting stage. The War is on.

ChatOps War

Some battles are more intense than others.
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash.

Why take the time to examine it though? What’s the advantage in surveying the battle scenes? As long as people can use their preferred messaging app, everything’s fine…right?

While true, there are two reasons. One, not everyone can use the ChatOps platform they want to. More on that below.

Two, it takes time & effort to move a company onto any platform. Especially if they’re already on another platform! Migrations take time, cause user frustration, and drive up support costs (temporarily at least).

When you decide to move onto a ChatOps platform, you need to make sure it’s one that will:

  1. Stick around
  2. Do what you need it to
  3. Work well for your user base, AND
  4. Remain affordable.

Hence my reason for this post. Let’s see what’s happening in the ChatOps War.

Who’s On Top?

We have up-to-date information to start us off—a December 2018 survey conducted by Spiceworks. Love those guys.

Business Chat Apps in 2018: Top Players and Adoption Plans

The biggest move came from Microsoft Teams. It surged ahead in 2018, surpassing Slack to become the #2 collaboration tool in the business world. (Microsoft’s moves to place Teams front and center in O365 certainly contribute to Teams’ growth.)

Who’s #1? Skype for Business, of course. For now at least…its own cousin wants the crown.

Wrestling with Messaging App Choices

Watch out, he’s going for the nose! What would the ‘nose’ be in a messaging app?
Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash.

The Defeated

Workplace, Facebook’s entry into messaging apps, died out of the gate. It’s not a terrible chat offering, as I mentioned in my 2017 review. But it didn’t really hold its own against Slack or Skype for Business, and Facebook’s overall privacy problems kneecapped Workplace as well.

The Challengers Nipping at Heels

I became aware last year of several newer, standalone ChatOps services. I do plan more extensive reviews of the services later this year, but for now, let’s meet the ‘Challengers.’

TWISTTwist.com
This is a chat offering by the makers of Todoist, a popular to-do list app. You see this reflected in Twist’s structure: It’s somewhat like a group chat/email hybrid. Very similar to Teams in its Conversation-based structure. Twist’s makers tout its structure as superior to Slack, by using threaded conversations everywhere (thus making all communication easier to follow). It’s a subtle shift, but notable enough.

MATTERMOSTMatterMost.org
Mattermost acts a lot like Slack. With one MAJOR difference – it’s self-hosted. You run Mattermost on your own servers. It’s an on-prem chat platform!

The standard version is free, with a two-tier paid version that adds in Active Directory/LDAP integration, faster support, and several other useful tools. The Mattermost software runs on Linux, and has apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android…and of course Linux PCs.

Slack does have a Linux app, so this isn’t ‘Slack for Linux.’ It’s an open-source, on-prem alternative. Not quite as refined as Slack, but users report good experiences with it.

ZOOMZoom.us
Wait, Zoom? Don’t they just do video conferencing? Yes, and they do a pretty good job of it as I understand. But it turns out they have a messaging app bundled in too—Zoom Chat!

Zoom’s primary focus remains on conferencing, and rightfully so. The Chat app looks like Slack’s younger cousin. Useful, but meant as a supplement to the video tools. A good value-add.

———

These challengers for the most part have simpler feature sets and a nimbler approach to ChatOps. They’re definitely aiming for Teams/Slack’s heels as well. How much market share they win over will depend, I think, on two things:

  1. Which chat features/structures become the most popular among businesses
  2. Microsoft’s Teams expansion efforts
ChatOps Competitor

I will take your customers…and your treats!
Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash.

Skype4B’s Crown is Under Threat

At this point, Microsoft has forced Skype for Business almost completely out of the small business sector in favor of Teams. This will not get better. Skype4B will eventually lose its crown to Teams. We all knew this of course…but it’s here. It’s happening as you read this.

Enterprises still have the on-prem Skype for Business Server 2019 version, of course. I remain convinced that this will be the last on-prem version Microsoft will release though. By the time we’d roll around to a new server version—2021 or 2022—everyone using ChatOps will either be on Teams, Slack, or a challenger. They will all have full Enterprise Voice capability. Phones, video, and chat will all mesh together.

Now, let me give a prediction about Google Hangouts. You saw several ChatOps players in this post…but I’ll bet you noticed that Google Hangouts was not among them. That’s because I predict Google Hangouts won’t become a threat. Not to Skype for Business or to Teams.

The Spiceworks survey indicates that Google Hangouts use went up from 2016-2018…11% to 18% adoption rates, respectively. That’s because Google targets enterprise users with its Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet products. Moving away from smaller G-Suite customers and potentially alienating them. Thanks to challengers like Twist, Google can no longer make the ‘easier to use’ claim that kept them around.

I also think Google’s privacy concerns and business practices will scare off enterprises in next 2 years. The fact that Google split Hangouts in two, coupled with appealing value propositions from Teams, also throw some tacks on the road.

2019 Will Bring Winners and Losers in the ChatOps War

Now we know the state of the ChatOps War. But there’s plenty more to come!

2019 is a ‘Battle Year,’ where we’ll see promotion, feature adds/updates, rises and falls. I could easily see any of the following occur:

  • Microsoft shortens its Skype for Business sunset schedule (UPDATE: Microsoft announced that it will shut down Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021.)
  • Google buys Slack (please don’t)
  • A challenger like Twist or Mattermost starts eating into Teams’ market share, due to their independent-of-Microsoft nature
  • Former HipChat engineers come out with something new & exciting
  • Workplace and/or Hangouts quietly dies

This is something on which I’ll keep as close an eye as I can. Directly—we’re fielding Teams requests in the office, and at least one customer uses Slack. All from businesses under 100 employees.

Next post I’ll go into choosing your own chat platform. If you’re looking at all these options and wondering what the best choice is for your business? The next post will help you make that determination. Check back soon!

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The 5 Most Useful Skype4B / Teams Posts in 2018

Let’s start 2019 with a refresher. 2018 was a busy year, with new content and updates for older, more evergreen content.

In today’s post I’ve listed our the 5 most popular posts in 2018, by number of unique visits.

If you’re a new reader, welcome! I hope these posts help start you on the road to broadening your Skype for Business/Teams expertise. If you’ve been here a while, glad you’re here. There’s plenty more to come in 2019.

The 5 Most Popular Skype for Business Insider Posts in 2018 (in order)

Can You Turn Off Skype for Business New Message Alerts?
This one definitely struck a chord. Many readers commented about their desire to turn off New Message alerts entirely, or control their appearance. Short version: You have some control over notifications when on mobile. But on desktop, you’re kind of stuck.

Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams: The 2017 Update
In 2015, the original pricing post had thousands of visits within 7 days of publication. When I did this 2017 update, it too garnered thousands of visits up front, and then maintained a streak of traffic all through 2018.

It seems like Microsoft’s pricing shifts keep accelerating…and obfuscating. The post remains accurate, though I’ll put up another pricing post soon to incorporate Skype for Business Server 2019 and current Teams costs.

Working Dog on Hay Bale

Always good to take pride in your work.
Photo by Aitor Romero on Unsplash.

Making Sure You See Skype for Business Notifications – No Matter What!
This post talked about SuperToast as a method of guaranteeing you’d see Skype for Business notifications. It has limitations—no Mac version, no guarantee of Teams compatibility—but it does prove useful. Commenters did point out that some businesses ban third-party add-ons as a precaution (and a valid one), which can hamper SuperToast’s usability.

3 Ways to Make Sure Contact Photos Display in Skype for Business
Essentially, this is me documenting a troubleshooting progress I didn’t need to undertake. I explored a couple of options for making contact photos appear…both of which can indeed resolve a display issue. Just not in my case.

However, I want to note: in April or May of 2018, we had a customer with the same issue. Troubleshooting Point 1, purging an old local cache file & forcing a server refresh, DID resolve the issue. So my meandering helped!

Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services from Linux Computers / How to Access Skype for Business and Teams Services on Linux Computers
Yes, this is two posts. The second is a follow-up on the same topic…accessing Skype for Business/Teams services on a Linux device. If you use an Android device, you’re in the best shape possible. A few more options do exist, in varying stages of usability.

Some of these date back as far as 2014. It’s rather heartening to see older posts still helping users!

Where the Blog Is As Of Now – Some Post Updating, Planning Out a Strong Year

I’ve gone through and made updates to each of these posts. A little additional content, including information from reader comments or emails, etc. New readers will get the most benefit…but if you read one of these posts in the past, it wouldn’t hurt to give it another look!

Refresher on Skype for Business

Ahhh, refreshing.
Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash.

To give you a peek into my 2019 plans, here are some post titles on the roster:

  • Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams: 2019 Version
  • How the Mediation Server Fits into Skype for Business
  • The Path to Deploying Skype for Business Server 2019 (Series)
  • The ChatOps War: The Battles Raging
  • How to Preserve Unified Messaging

Have a topic you want to see covered? Leave it in a comment below, or drop me a DM on Twitter at @PlanetMagpieIT!

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The Skype for Business Insider Year in Review – 2018 Edition

Just like that, we’ve reached the last post of 2018!

I do have a post on the Mediation Server for our “How It Fits into Skype for Business” in the works. But since it’s already mid-December, I thought a ‘year in review’ post made more sense.

2018: Year in Review

  • After the Skype for Business/Teams Merger Announcement in late 2017, Microsoft moved fast. Teams reached feature parity in August.
  • Teams Growth Extraordinaire. New desktop client, upgrades to mobile apps. It even surpassed Slack to take the #2 enterprise chat spot, after Skype for Business Server.
  • The ChatOps War raged. The space has both broadened its user base, and lost some of its offerings (HipChat, Stride).
ChatOps War
Not quite this violent, but you get the idea. Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash.
  • The launch of Skype4B Server 2019 in October. We haven’t deployed it for internal use yet, but I know the IT Consulting team has done some testing. Initial impressions good.
  • 26 posts on this blog. Only a little growth this year, but that’s my fault more than anyone else’s. I’m still glad to see we get plenty of traffic, helping hundreds of thousands of people!

2018 wasn’t all great news though…

  • No Linux client for Teams.
  • O365 Outages/Crashes.
  • MS auto-moving new O365 customers to Teams (no access to S4B Online)
  • The announcement of Skype4B Server 2019 came begrudgingly. As I’ve said before, I suspect we won’t get any more on-prem versions after this.
  • We lost one of our office dogs. RIP Patches.
Patches Office Dog

Tumultuous, to say the least. But we’re IT pros. We make things happen no matter what.

What’s Coming in 2019 for the Blog

I know the posting schedule diminished a little this past year. Don’t worry; we’re far from done! Here are some planned posts coming up next year:

  1. A Skype for Business Server 2019 Install Series. We haven’t deployed Skype4B Server 2019 internally yet. But it’s on the docket. Once we do, I’ll blog about everything I can involving the setup, deployment, capabilities, and snags.
  2. Teams Integration/Sunsetting of Skype for Business Online posts. A monumental change coming…what will its aftershocks result in? We’ll all find out.
  3. Software & Device Reviews. I love doing these! Thanks to Yealink, Modality, and Plantronics/Polycom for sharing your hard work with us.
  4. Collaborations. I’d like to do more collaborations in 2019. We’ve done a few in the past here, and they came out great. Are you a fellow tech blogger? A Microsoft tech with years of experience? Let’s talk! Shoot me an email at chris.williams@planetmagpie.com.

No poll this time. But if you have thoughts about the state of Skype for Business/Teams, please feel free to share.

Merry Christmas to IT Pros Everywhere!

We at PlanetMagpie hope everyone has a safe & happy holiday! We’ll see you back here in January, refreshed and ready for another year.

As always, if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in 2019, please share it with us.

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Do We Still Need the Skype for Business Director? In One Instance, Yes!

The poor Director server role. No longer needed by Teams, its primary function usurped by Azure AD for Office 365…Microsoft’s march into the future seems to have passed right by it.

Now, this is not the first time Microsoft has left a server by the digital wayside. But I have a special place in my heart for Directors. I like the concept, and what it embodies, Looking at the Skype for Business/Teams ecosystem now, I thought Directors would join Microsoft Bob and Small Business Server on the trash heap.

But I found a little light instead…one instance where it does still make sense to deploy Directors in today’s world. Let’s find out what that is!

What a Director Does, and How Skype for Business Changed Around It

I first wrote about the Director way back in 2012: What’s the Director For?
I characterized it as a sentry on the castle walls. Permitting only legitimate Lync/Skype for Business users entry.
That’s what a Director does—it provides authentication for users, so the Front End Server/Pool doesn’t have to. The Front End carries on with facilitating calls, Meetings, etc. while the Director handles authentication.

Now, the Front End CAN handle authentication requests as well. It never needed the Director. Having a Director server/pool helped in two ways:

  1. Ease congestion on the Front End Server/Pool, which often translates to better call quality & Meeting stability.
  2. Defend against DoS attacks targeting the Skype for Business Server. Not a common threat, but a growing one in recent years.

So the analogy still holds. You can still use a Director as a sentry, defending your Skype for Business deployment.

The Director Role and Offloading Authentication in Skype for Business 2015 – IT Pro Today

Director as Authentication Sentry

You shall not pass! …unless you brought me a treat!
Photo by Kenan Süleymanoğlu on Unsplash

But what if the deployment structure changes?

Which is what Microsoft’s done. By first offering a Hybrid deployment option with Office 365, then introducing Teams and beginning to fold Skype for Business Online into it, Microsoft’s slowly pulling the rug out from under Directors.

What about authentication requests though? How will Teams and Office 365 manage all those requests in your tenants?

Skype for Business Hybrid and Teams: Director’s Role Usurped

Since Office 365 tenants handle authentication through Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure Active Directory, they don’t need on-prem authentication from a Director. But what about hybrid deployments?

In most hybrid configurations, authentication’s done through on-prem Active Directory and Azure AD. Azure AD syncs to your on-prem Active Directory server, providing a built-in failsafe. Directors become superfluous.

However, Directors are still mentioned as a possible hybrid topology component on Microsoft’s Plan hybrid connectivity between Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online page:

To configure your deployment for hybrid with Skype for Business Online, you need to have one of the following supported topologies:

  • A mixed Lync Server 2013 and Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment with the following server roles in at least one site running Skype for Business Server 2015:
    • At least one Enterprise Pool or Standard Edition server
    • The Director Pool associated with SIP federation, if it exists
    • The Edge Pool associated with SIP federation
  • A mixed Lync Server 2010 and Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment with the following server roles in at least one site running Skype for Business Server 2015:
    • At least one Enterprise Pool or Standard Edition server
    • The Director Pool associated with SIP federation, if it exists
    • The Edge Pool associated with SIP federation for the Site
  • A mixed Lync Server 2010 and Lync Server 2013 deployment with the following server roles in at least one site running Lync Server 2013:
    • At least one Enterprise Pool or Standard Edition server in the site
    • The Director Pool associated with SIP federation, if it exists in the site
    • The Edge Pool associated with SIP federation for the site

“If it exists.” In other words, the Director is not critical to these hybrid topologies.

What about Teams? Since Teams will absorb Skype for Business Online anyway, does Teams need a separate authentication server?

No. It’s not designed that way. Even if it was, as a fully cloud-based application, Azure AD will handle the authentication. A Director isn’t listed anywhere in the Teams dependencies for guest access…only Azure AD.

(Whether or not Azure AD handles guest accounts & user expansion WELL is up for debate…but we’ve talked about that already.)

Director on guard duty

Yeah, the fence keeps people out. But I still hang out here, in case someone climbs over it…
Photo by Elizabeth French on Unsplash

It’s safe to say that for Office 365 and Teams, Azure AD usurped the Director’s role. That leaves us with one other potential use: the upcoming Skype for Business Server 2019.

Directors Going Away? Not Quite. Not Yet.

The Director sees a tidbit of salvation in our next on-prem Skype for Business Server. Ever-knowledgeable Tom Arbuthnot hints at the Director staying in Skype4B Server 2019, citing it under the 2019 System Requirements on his blog: Skype for Business Server 2019 Public Preview, What’s New, What’s Gone? – Tom Talks

Edge Servers, standalone Mediation Servers, and Director: 6-core, 2.4 gigahertz / 16GB RAM / 8 or more 10000 RPM disks or SSD / Gig NIC/ dual Gig NIC for Edge

These may seem steep. But they’re almost identical to Front End Server requirements; the only exception is that Front End needs 64 GB RAM.

I can see many admins using requirements to justify dropping Directors from their 2019 deployments. In truth, our IT Consulting team hasn’t installed a Director in any Skype for Business deployments (on-prem or hybrid) since early 2017.

However, after some discussion and brainstorming, I realized the Director is in Server 2019 for a reason. One Skype for Business topology does exist where a Director helps.

The One Deployment Topology Where a Director (Still) Makes Sense: Director on Guard

Here’s my “Director On Guard” topology. The deployment must meet all of the following characteristics:

  • Enterprise business
  • Installing Skype for Business Server 2019
  • Fully on-prem
  • More than 2 office locations
  • 1,000+ users
  • The company has suffered a cyberattack in the past

Why these? I’m so glad you asked.

  1. An enterprise business will want the control and security they can exert over data trafficked within Skype for Business. This also gives them control over their phone system.
  2. More than 2 locations means branch servers to maintain the call network. More than 1,000 users means thousands of authentication requests every single day.
  3. A cyberattack? Nothing makes cybersecurity more important than suffering a cyberattack. (I wish this on NOBODY, but it’s a tragic reality of our world.)

In this case, the Director serves a purpose. It performs its original function of handling authentication requests, taking load off the Front End pool and preserving bandwidth. All worthwhile performance goals, which makes IT look good to the budget-conscious C-suite.

A Director also provides additional guard against cybercriminals. Post-cyberattack security improvements go a long way toward securing the network, and user workstations. The Director performs a similar role within the Skype for Business ecosystem—a central component of the enterprise business’ communications.

It’s doing its time-honored job…being a silent sentinel, ready to admit those who have authorization, and defend against those who do not. Hence my terming it, “Director on Guard.”

If we don’t get an on-prem Skype for Business version after 2019, it’s likely the Director role will fade with it. That’s okay…it’s done its job. But for now, don’t count the Director out yet. With cyberattacks on an upward swing, all systems need protection. Including Skype for Business.

Do you still use a Director in your Skype for Business deployment?

 

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Dissecting the Free Teams Offering

Microsoft has released Teams as a free offering. No Office 365 account required. But how viable is it as a standalone chat app?

That’s what we’re looking at today. I’ve setup a fresh Teams account for testing. We’re looking at how useful it is for everyday communications, what limits exist compared to Office 365’s Teams, and how this may or may not affect Skype for Business.

I will share this up front – I don’t think a free Teams harms Skype for Business at this stage. But it may harm another Microsoft property.

Setting Up a Free Teams Account

Normally, Microsoft requires you to use a Microsoft Account with its offerings. In the case of the Team free offering, they’ve relaxed this requirement. They only require “any corporate or consumer email address.”

I do have a Microsoft Account for my work email, of course. But I decided against using it for this test. Why? I read some comments on TechCommunity indicating a problem with registering a free Teams offering, and then later trying to set up Teams in Office 365. If you use an email associated with an Office 365 tenant already, or one you may associate in the future, Teams will try to set you up in Office 365 instead.

There’s also this comment by Microsoft’s Albert Chen, which references a one-Teams-only limitation for email addresses:

Albert Chen Microsoft Teams

The highlight reads, “Currently, each email can only sign-up for one Teams free organization, however you can be invited into both of them.”

We may just have a growing pain here. But I opted not to take the chance. Instead, I used a Gmail account I set up years ago for Google-related reports at work. That way I don’t cause any trouble if the office decides to move to Teams later on. (Which we might…)

Setting up “Teams Free” is very simple. Head to https://products.office.com/en-US/microsoft-teams/free and enter your email address. The setup is entirely guided and only takes a few steps, so I’ll skip detailing it here. Suffice to say it’s no more difficult than signing up for a new Skype Consumer account.

Once I’d completed setup, clicked the Get Started link in the welcome email, and downloaded the Teams desktop app? Off to the races!

Teams Welcome Screen

Features and Limitations in Teams Free

At first glance, Teams Free looks exactly like its Office 365 brother. To a large degree, they share feature sets. But, with any free offering, you’d expect some limitations…and Teams is no different.

What’s Available:
Unlimited Chat? Check.
Teams Channels (as many as you want)? Check.
Activity Feed? Check.

Teams Chat Options

There’s our old friend “Meet Now.”

File storage/sharing? Check.
Third-party add-ons? Check.
Audio and video calls? Check and check.

You have your choice of desktop and/or mobile apps. Even our little buddy T-Bot shows up. In terms of everyday chat and calls, Teams Free works just like Office 365 Teams.

What’s NOT Available:
According to the Teams Free page details, the free version does NOT have:

  • Exchange email hosting
  • Custom email domains
  • Full-version OneDrive, SharePoint, Planner, Yammer, and more Office 365 services
  • Scheduled Meetings
  • Meeting/call recordings

Finally, it has a file storage cap of 2GB/user (with a max 10GB of shared storage).

Most of these limitations make sense. Teams Free operates outside of the Office 365 ecosystem (technically), which means no direct access to shared services and email functionality. The rest seem meant to restrict the file storage needed on Microsoft’s side. As well as provide incentive to upgrade!

Teams Free

The Upgrade button is under “Manage Org” in your profile.

Teams Free’s Effect on Skype for Business: Negligible

We already know Teams will eventually replace Skype for Business within Office 365. Teams Free isn’t likely to hurt those plans…in fact it’ll likely help them, as freemium offerings have in the past.

My question is, will Teams Free hurt Skype for Business Server? I don’t think so. Consider the differences in setup, and the feature approach each takes.

Simpler Setup. The setup process for Teams Free roughly equates to Slack’s in terms of time. That is much faster than Skype for Business setup, but they have different audiences. Skype for Business Server addresses comprehensive communications needs for larger businesses. Teams and Slack, however, target smaller businesses who move fast & prefer chat apps just as quick.

Small-Business Features vs. Enterprise Capacity. Teams Free has a 300-user limit. Skype for Business Server does not. Companies using Skype for Business Server likely have regulatory compliance requirements. Teams users likely don’t.

If anything, Teams Free will hurt Slack’s user base. With a fresh, free offering, Microsoft may lure existing Slack users away from their paid accounts. The timing may even capture some soon-to-be-former HipChat & Stride users.

However, I can’t say Teams Free won’t hurt another Microsoft communications tool…

Will This Hurt Skype? That May Be the Plan

Microsoft’s offering Teams Free as a chat platform for everyone. They can send messages, call people, even do video. All it takes is an email address. Sound like anything else to you?

ChatOps War

Surprise takedown! Hey, aren’t you on my team…?
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Sounds like Skype Consumer to me. Which may be the point. Microsoft may want to reduce Skype Consumer’s use in the workplace by wedging in Teams Free.

In total, releasing Teams for free accomplishes three goals:

  1. Competing more directly with Slack
  2. Attracting more people & businesses to the full Office 365 suite
  3. Luring small businesses & some individuals away from Skype onto Teams

Why do Goal #3? I think because it feeds into Goal #2. Many businesses use Skype Consumer for day-to-day communications. It’s free, it works (well enough), and it’s simple to use. Now we have Teams Free, which meets all those criteria and even expands on the feature set.

Does this mean Microsoft will shutter Skype Consumer? It’s possible…but I wouldn’t hold my breath just yet. They have bigger moves to make.

Teams Free is Late to the Battle, But Don’t Dismiss its Power

There’s one more factor to consider in Teams Free adoption: Existing Teams users. Smaller businesses may opt to cancel their Office 365 subscriptions and move to Teams Free, if they don’t need all of the features full-version Teams offers. Add in Slack or HipChat/Stride users who didn’t want to buy into the Office 365 ecosystem before, and Teams Free may build up its user base via poaching.

The ChatOps War continues to rage. It’s already claimed casualties. Teams Free is up against entrenched opponents. But it presents a good-enough-for-most feature set and a stable platform. The coming months may see quite a leap in its adoption.

Are you using Teams Free in your business? Please share how well it works for you in the comments!

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6 Questions about Atlassian Discontinuing HipChat & Stride

By now you’ve likely heard about Atlassian’s shuttering of its HipChat & Stride products. The decision has many implications, from Atlassian’s future as a company to the ChatOps space worldwide.

HipChat Logo

Still smiling!

Other bloggers have asked important questions about this move. How will this affect Slack users? Will Stride users go to Slack or jump ship to Teams?

All valid questions. But in this post, I’d like to ask a few others. Questions which came up during my own reading. Some already have answers. Most don’t…those will come with time, as the shuttering takes effect & the market responds.

I’m documenting these 6 questions here for discussion’s sake. If you currently use HipChat or Stride, you have a decision to make before 2019. I hope these questions help you tackle it.

Any & all feedback welcomed…particularly from current HipChat/Stride users!

 

Six Questions We Need to Ask about HipChat & ChatOps as a Whole

The Developers Question. HipChat is, as I understand, popular with developers. Particularly developers who work on Atlassian products. Finding another chat platform is easy for a developer…but will Slack try to make them welcome? Developer discussions can get very technical, with code snippets and live testing on the fly.

Slack does have code snippet capability. But so does Teams. So does Google Hangouts, to a degree.

Atlassian-friendly developers will need an environment that contributes to their work, via app integrations and workflows. How well the Atlassian/Slack partnership works will make a big difference.

 

The Mid-Market Question. ChatOps products like Stride, HipChat, and Slack are popular among mid-market companies as well as enterprises. Yet I’ve seen enterprises as the exclusive focus for most of the current speculation.

In our own experience, this is where ChatOps are taking root. More mid-market customers come to us asking about chat platforms like Teams than the reverse (us introducing them to chat).

Will Slack actively court those mid-market companies? I know Teams does this. And you can bet other chat platforms will too.

 

Atlassian Logos

“Please don’t leave us too!”

The Question of Atlassian’s Other Products. I saw a few angry tweets after this announcement. HipChat/Stride users feeling betrayed. Not wanting to go to Slack; if they wanted that, they could have done so months prior.

Nothing says they have to move to Slack. But what if after the February cutoff, they abandon the entire Atlassian product base?

Teams does have Add-Ons for integrating Atlassian tools like Trello and Jira. You can also duplicate much of their functions with other Add-Ons or cloud services. Even so, this could end up hurting Atlassian’s overall product base. I would NOT encourage this (I like Trello!) …but it’s undoubtedly possible.

 

The “Work Processing” Question. I came across this in a CMSWire article covering the announcement. I quote from the section titled, “‘Work Processing’ Tools Emerging”:

Boyd noted that despite enterprise collaboration tools like Slack, Teams and Facebook grabbing headlines, a new generation of document-centered tools — Quip, Notion.so, Slite, Nuclino, and others — are gaining steam. He calls them “work processing” tools. They support shared documents with styled text, embedded objects (tables, videos, images), tasks and checklists and social affordances: threaded comments, internal notifications and messaging.

“In this approach,” Boyd said, “documents are not just dumb files with styled text, sitting in a cloud file system. Instead of relying on work chat communications, which are only structured by channels and search, work processing relies on a system of documents to structure company information and discourse. This can also be integrated with work chat, or may include work chat internally. A trend to keep an eye on.”

I fiddled with Notion.so a little. It’s similar to a Wiki, using Markdown and simple workspaces. Since it’s document-based, not chat-based, this sort of tool represents a totally different approach from Slack or Teams. (I may do a more in-depth comparison in the future; it’s got a certain appeal.)

These newer products may tempt people away from Slack into a leaner, more all-in-one workspace. It may become a wild card in adoption/migration.

 

The Privacy Question. I’ve mentioned HipChat Data Center when talking about the Redis Cache, and the Skype4B Quagmire. Like Skype for Business Server, one of its biggest advantages was the privacy benefits of on-prem deployment.

Now we have one less option for those companies who require on-prem data control.

You do still have Skype for Business Server 2015/2019, of course. But with its future uncertain, some might see switching off HipChat to Skype for Business as a risky bet.

“But Slack protects your data privacy too!” Correct! So does Teams. The issue here isn’t what privacy protections exist…it’s whether companies will accept cloud-based privacy vs. on-prem privacy they control. It’s a comfort issue, not a technical one.

 

Finally, the Mattermost Challenger. Mattermost competes with Slack, but is open-source. Any organization can deploy it, either in a private cloud or on-prem.

Here’s the kicker. Mattermost also integrates with other Atlassian products: Jira, Bitbucket, Trello. It not only competes with Slack, it can directly target the HipChat/Stride users Atlassian wants to shuttle over to Slack.

Setting up Mattermost requires a little more technical know-how than Slack, which may get in the way of courting HipChat/Stride users. Nevertheless, more tech-oriented companies may consider jumping ship to Mattermost instead.

 

Predictions for Post-Discontinuation (Feb 2019)

Abandoned ChatOps

Okay, I’m here for the meeting! …guys?

Photo by Yener Ozturk on Unsplash.

As I like to do, I’ll close with some predictions. In light of questions like these, what will happen after HipChat & Stride go offline in February?

  1. The majority of Stride users will switch to Slack with little fuss.
  2. A large portion of HipChat users will move to Slack as well.
  3. A small percentage of companies running HipChat Data Center will continue to do so, even without Atlassian support.
  4. Trello, Jira, and Confluence will all suffer drops in usage. Since users have to abandon HipChat and Stride, some companies will abandon all Atlassian products at the same time.
  5. Teams/Office 365 will see a small boost in user growth after February, from those HipChat/Stride users who don’t want/can’t use Slack.
  6. “Work Processing” tools like Notion.so will see growth on an organic basis. The HipChat-to-Slack transition won’t have much of an effect.

 

Additional Links:
Slack and Microsoft Teams: Is Enterprise Collaboration a Two Horse Race? – CMS Wire
How Slack and Atlassian Landed a Sharp Jab in Microsoft’s Ribs – CIODive.com
Atlassian-Slack Partnership FAQ

Do you use HipChat or Stride? What will your company do in light of the discontinuation?

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