Tag: Unified Communications

How the PSTN Gateway Fits into Skype for Business

Entry #7 in the “How it Fits” series is…the PSTN Gateway!

Like the Reverse Proxy, a PSTN Gateway isn’t a dedicated Server Role in Skype for Business. However, that doesn’t mean it’s optional. In fact, it’s critical if you want to use Enterprise Voice.

Without one of these three options – PSTN Gateway, IP-PBX, or SIP Trunk – you can’t call out of the office. Nor can anyone calling you reach you.

PSTN Gateway Guard

I don’t let anyone pass unless they have a PSTN Gateway. Or a treat.
Photo by Szymon Fischer on Unsplash.

This post will explain why, and how to deploy a PSTN gateway for your Skype for Business Server.

The PSTN Gateway’s Primary Role

In a Skype for Business topology, the PSTN Gateway translates signals between VoIP and PSTN networks. This allows internal VoIP phones to connect out into the vast worldwide analog phone network. And vice versa.

Why would you need to do that? It’s due to the signal types used for voice calls.

The PSTN, or “Public Switched Telephone Network” uses analog signals to transmit your voice. However, Skype for Business uses a digital signal for its transmissions. Same with every other “Voice over IP” system.

These signal types are markedly different. If you tried to listen to a digital IP signal as-is, you’d get an ear-splitting howl!

That’s where the PSTN Gateway steps in. By converting one signal type to other, it allows for seamless voice communications.

It’s not the only solution—you can also use a SIP Trunk for the same purpose. I may do a post on SIP trunks as well, but for now, we’re focusing on the PSTN Gateway.

Main Components of the PSTN Gateway

  1. PSTN Interface: The necessary hardware/software to communicate with the external PSTN network.
  2. VoIP Interface: The necessary hardware/software to communicate with the internal IP network.
  3. Listening Port: The gateway has to listen for signals from the Mediation Server. When creating a topology, you set the port for said listening. Default installs use port 5066 for TCP, and port 5067 for TLS.
  4. DNS Load Balancing – In order to work in Skype for Business Server, a PSTN gateway must implement DNS load balancing. Since it may connect to a pool of Mediation Servers, it has to load-balance calls across the pool evenly.

Other Servers a PSTN Gateway Communicates With

Mediation Server. PSTN Gateways and Mediation Servers have a peer relationship. They’re both translating signals, within the topology and outside the network, to facilitate your conversations.

PBX. If you still have a legacy PBX, the Gateway can inter-operate with it. The Gateway essentially links the VoIP-enabled users into the PBX.

Skype for Business Voice Topology with PSTN Gateway

Example of PSTN Gateway working with Mediation Server. Illustration courtesy of Microsoft Docs.

How a PSTN Gateway Works in a Hybrid Environment

Let’s say you want to move users to Skype for Business Online, but you’ve already invested in an on-prem PSTN connection. Like a SIP Trunk or PSTN Gateway. Can you re-use that investment in any way?

Yes! You can configure Skype for Business to home users in the cloud, while still routing their voice calls through your existing PSTN connection. There are two ways: Use Cloud Connector Edition (CCE), or modify the on-prem deployment for hybrid PSTN.

The FlinchBot blog has done a good job outlining these scenarios: Skype for Business Hybrid deployment with On-Premise PSTN using Cloud PBX. Part: 3

I realize that Skype for Business Online has a retirement date. This option will not be viable very soon. Still, it’s useful to know, in case you need to take a similar approach with regard to Teams in the future.

The PSTN Gateway in Skype for Business & Teams

Obviously, the PSTN Gateway comes into play in an on-prem deployment. What’s the gateway’s equivalent in Teams? It’s Direct Routing: Voice Calling in Teams

From the Teams page:

“Microsoft Direct Routing enables people to use existing phone numbers with Direct Routing in Teams Phone System for a complete calling experience that includes dial tone.”

Software performing the role, as you’d expect in a cloud service. Now, you don’t have to use Direct Routing while using Teams; you can use one of Microsoft’s Calling Plans to make/receive calls too. Direct Routing exists if you have existing numbers and want to stay with your current telecom provider.

Where to Get a PSTN Gateway Appliance

As it’s not a Server Role, you’ll have to install an appliance to act as your PSTN Gateway. However, “where to get one” isn’t as easy a question to answer as it once was.

Why? With Teams rising and more businesses moving to cloud-based VoIP, the need for PSTN gateway devices has dropped. As such, some manufacturers have stopped making them.

Not all though. Sangoma makes VoIP gateways, as does Audiocodes. We’ve used both in deployments, and they will do the job.

PSTN Gateways Plug You Into the Global Phone Network

“Do you want to use a SIP trunk or a PSTN gateway?” I remember a co-worker asking one of our earlier Skype4B customers this, back in late 2015. Of course the customer didn’t know the difference.

After we explained though, they opted for the gateway. That customer is still on Skype for Business, in the same topology with the same gateway, today. Without the PSTN gateway, they’d have gone out of business years ago…because no one could ever call them!

The Mediation Server facilitates voice calls for Skype for Business users. A PSTN gateway makes sure those callers can understand each other.

PSTN gateway connectivity

The gateway is open! Go forth into the wide open PSTN!
Photo by Ágatha Depiné on Unsplash.

What do you think will happen to technology like the PSTN Gateway, as the cloud expands?

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The Skype for Business Insider Year in Review – 2019 Edition

Hello readers! We interrupt your holiday-shopping, end-of-year-system-checks madness for the final Skype for Business Insider post of 2019.

You may have noticed that posting frequency went down this year. That’s due to the indefatigable demon we know as “Lack of Time.” This demon plagued me pretty much every day.

I apologize for the frequency drop. Don’t worry though—I can explain!

2019 Year in Review

2019 was a pretty good year for PlanetMagpie. Our Texas office is growing, we completed several new websites (and have 3 more in the works), and we added several new Support customers.

We expanded the number of services in our cloud data center—mostly related to data security and automated backups for customer accounts. (I don’t need to tell you how much the cyberattack risk has grown this year!)

We even got a new office dog! Meet Homer.

Homer Office Dog

You can see more of him, and the other dogs, over on our Instagram.

Unfortunately, all the activity left us behind on some internal projects…including this blog. It’s not going away! Don’t worry. We still have many topics to address.

Speaking of, let me address the big one. What, in my mind, constitutes the biggest change in the growing Teams ecosystem this year.

The Big 2019 Teams Announcement

We saw something in 2019 that flabbergasted me. I had to check the announcement source three ways to make sure it wasn’t a prank.

It wasn’t. We are getting a Linux client for Teams!

Linux Client for Teams – UserVoice

Now, we’re a Microsoft support shop. Almost all of our customers use Windows machines. The rest use Mac first, and Linux a distant second. Still, I see this as a huge step forward in “Linux on the Desktop” business acceptance.

Besides, I know many of you use Linux and wanted the Teams client. It’s still in beta, but you got it!

What’s Coming in 2020 for the Blog

I have two major goals for this blog next year:

  1. Document the full experience of moving from Skype for Business Server 2015 to Skype for Business Server 2019. We’ve provisioned some resources for this already; just need to fight the Time Demon for the necessary time.
  2. Major updates for existing posts. Some of the popular posts need a little polish. Others need big changes, in light of tech developments since their publication. I don’t plan on removing any how-to posts; people still visit for Lync-related material, so I want them to find what they need.

It looks like we’ll begin to see the “big wave” of Skype for Business-to-Teams migrations next year as well. I’m watching customers for any useful information encountered during migration.

Final Thoughts for the Year (Your Feedback Welcome)

Now, my last & most important item of business. What Skype for Business/Teams-related topics would YOU like us to cover?

Please share your ideas & requests in the comments.

We at PlanetMagpie hope everyone has a safe & happy holiday this year! We’ll see you back here in January, ready to tackle the big 2020.

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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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Skype for Business Q&A on Privacy

Privacy in Skype for Business

They'll never know it was me! Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash.

I’ve always meant this blog to serve as a resource for Skype for Business use. Both for users and for administrators…leaning a bit more toward administrators. Not today though. Today I’m leaning over to the user side, to answer common questions about privacy in Skype for Business.

Where did I find these questions? You asked them. Yes, you, right there.

Like I do (at least) monthly, I went through Google Search Console to examine this blog’s data. In the Queries data, I found a large group of fully-formed questions. People asking simple, direct questions about Skype for Business.

Questions everyone from basic users to admins might have. Questions that I can answer in just a few lines. Thus they don’t need their own posts…but they do need answering.

Solution: Group them together! Write up a resource post where you can find several answers in one spot. Which brings us here. This is the first group of questions I found. They all have one thing in common: Privacy.

Group Post 1: Privacy Questions & Answers

These are the 5 most-asked privacy questions on Skype for Business. My answers come from our own experiences deploying & supporting hybrid and on-prem Skype for Business Servers.

—-

“Are Skype for Business calls recorded?”
Only if you record them. The Monitoring Server does collect data on call connections & quality, but not their contents.

Dog Chatting on Skype4B

It can’t tell you that you’re chatting with a dog, for instance.

—-

“Are Skype for Business conversations private?”
Yes. Skype for Business encrypts the pipe between users’ conversations, as well as from each client to the Skype for Business Server.

However, you can potentially have eavesdroppers (though it’s very unlikely). It depends on your deployment type.

  • On-Prem: Your Server Administrator can view conversations.
  • Hybrid/Cloud: Microsoft CAN technically view conversations, though they’ve stated that they don’t.

One important caveat: Conversations between Skype for Business users and Skype-C users have one extra privacy risk. Even if you control privacy on the Skype for Business side, you don’t control the Skype-C side’s privacy. I documented this back in 2016: The Privacy Risks in Skype for Business-to-Skype Conversations.

—-

“Are Skype for Business conversations recorded?”
Since this one mentioned ‘conversations’ and not ‘calls’ I’ll split up the answer.

VOICE: Only if you leave a voicemail. Otherwise, see above question on recording calls.

TEXT/INSTANT MESSAGING: These conversations are saved in your Conversation History, as well as the Conversation History of all parties involved.

“Recorded” in the sense of the NSA collecting data on you? They apparently like to do that to everyone. Good news is, with proper security for an on-prem deployment, the chances of your conversations showing up in an NSA vault go down to pretty much zero.

—-

“Does Skype for Business track you?”
If you are logged into the Skype4B client on your devices, yes…to a certain degree. Skype4B does track your activity within its infrastructure.

  • The client tracks your Presence status from the last active client.
  • The client tracks your location, also by last active client.
  • There is also the Monitoring Server. This tracks users’ activity, call details, and system health.
    • A Monitoring Server is not required; admins can choose not to install it. But most would go ahead & do so, as it provides extremely useful data on communications stability & troubleshooting. We recommend Monitoring for all deployments.

If you’re worried about an Orwellian-esque sensor constantly following your movements…you’re thinking of Apple. Skype for Business doesn’t do that. Like any good communications software, it responds when someone triggers a conversation.

Privacy in Skype for Business

They’ll never know it was me! Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash.

—-

“How does Skype for Business know when you are away?”
Device activity! Skype4B clients monitor the last activity performed on the last device you used while logged in.

They look for mouse movements or keyboard presses on desktops, and taps/swipes on phones. After a certain interval (set by your Server Administrator) without any such activity, Skype for Business assumes you are ‘away from desk’ and changes your status to Away.

Server Administrators can set this ‘Away Interval’ anywhere from 5 minutes to 360 minutes, site-wide. We generally keep it to 5 minutes or 10 minutes for customer deployments.

—-

“Does Teams record your calls/conversations?”
This question came up as well. Since people have just as much right to question Teams’ privacy controls as they do Skype for Business, I included it.

Teams does log your chat conversations. Since Teams is primarily text-based, and since most conversations take place in channels, it makes sense to keep records of those chats. You as the participant may access the logs. Teams Administrators within your O365 tenant can as well. Microsoft doesn’t scan or collect them either.

If you want to record a call or meeting, you have the option. The process is near-identical to Skype for Business recording: Record a Meeting in Teams – Office Support

Skype for Business Does a Good Job on Privacy

All in all, Skype for Business maintains a solid reputation for protecting your privacy. We’ve deployed it for thousands of users now, and received zero tickets on data leaks or breaches. I asked two of our customers if they thought their Skype for Business deployments risked their privacy. Both said no, not at all.

I take that as a vote of confidence. Hopefully you can too.

Thanks for reading! The next “Group Post” will discuss how to change several common Skype for Business elements. Join us back here next time for those.

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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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How to Choose A Business Chat Platform (2019 Version)

It’s time to add chat to your communications tools. Which chat platform should you adopt? Teams? Slack? Something else?

First off, take a breath. Your search has brought you to the right place. In this post we’ll go over the available chat platforms, discuss the pros & cons of each, and identify the criteria for you selecting your best option.

Chances are you’re looking at chat platforms for one of these reasons:

    • Users are clamoring for a chat option
    • Need to get users off Skype (Consumer)
    • Time to replace less-advanced communications platforms
    • Worried about a data breach through user behavior (this one’s not limited to chat, of course)

Unless there’s another reason – if so, please share it in the comments!

Let’s address all of these reasons in one handy guide. I’ve put anchor links below for quick reference, but I recommend you read the entire guide. Only takes about 8 minutes.

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Clarify Your Chat Goals

First, before anything else, you’ll want to identify what you need from the chat platform. What it must do for you from an IT standpoint, and what it must do for the business’ communications.

Consider factors like these when identifying. These have all come from our own customers’ initial discussions about chat and/or voice offerings. Some contradict others, so make sure to decide which is most important.

  • Easy transition from another communications system
  • Easy adoption of a brand-new platform
  • Omni-device (apps for every major OS)
  • Focused on Windows devices
  • Security is paramount for all devices & data
  • Security should not get in the way of ease of use
  • Works within an existing cloud subscription we have (e.g. Office 365)
  • Stands alone, needs no additional subscriptions or hardware
  • Works in the cloud
  • Works on-premise
  • Has a monthly fee, flat or per-user
  • Pay up front, no monthly fees
  • Has voice and video options built-in
  • Video is equally important to chat
  • Voice is equally important to chat

I’ll refer back to this list several times, so keep it in mind. Next up, we must narrow our focus. This is for business use; therefore, we need to look at only business chat offerings.

Focusing on Business Chat Offerings

This guide will focus on chat platforms where chat is the centerpiece product.

That’s why I won’t look at platforms like Fuze and Zoom here. I’m also leaving off consumer-targeted chat platforms, like Discord and Telegram.

No knock against any of these, of course. I like Telegram, but I don’t use it for business. For purposes of this guide, I’m focusing on chat platforms targeted for business use.

In order to qualify, they must meet these criteria:

  1. Meant for business users
  2. Security-conscious
  3. Stable
  4. Manageable
  5. Good support options available
  6. Work within existing office environments

That leaves us with a handful of platforms. Each very similar to one another. All crazy usable. All with at least decent security, mobile apps, and lots of integrations. So how do you choose?

Let’s start by identifying the elements you should consider.

ChatOps Adoption – Elements to Consider

Will your users accept a chat platform? Will your current IT infrastructure play nice with one? What about security? These are all important elements to consider…long before you trial anything.

Will your users adopt?

A chat platform’s useless if nobody wants to use it. You may have fielded requests for chat already…if so, you’re good! If not, you’ll want to check their thoughts.

The solution? Survey your users. A simple email, or SurveyMonkey form. I’ve written out a few questions you can use in it.

  • If the company adopted a new chat platform, would you use it to communicate with co-workers?
  • Which chat platform would you prefer using?
    • [List the options you’re considering]
  • Do you use a chat app personally?
    • [e.g. Telegram, Discord, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp]
  • How do you think chat would help you in your daily routine?
  • Do our customers use a chat platform in their work? If so, which?

If users vote the idea down, well, less work for you! But if you get a positive response, and these days I expect you will, then you can move to the next element. Compatibility.

Which chat platforms work with your current infrastructure?

Most office networks will work with a cloud-based platform like Slack or Teams as-is. Check your max bandwidth though—you might overtax a smaller pipe.

An on-prem chat offering will obviously require hardware & network changes. That’s a trade-off you’ll have to make, depending on budget & company policy.

Which features are necessary?

While most chat platforms have the same feature sets, they’re not all equal. For instance, Teams still doesn’t support private channels. If that’s something your users want, then Teams is (for now) off the list.

Identify the features your users would like the most, either through the survey or through conversations. These features come up frequently among our customers:

  • Private conversations/channels
  • Talking with customers on an existing platform
  • Use chat app on phones (or blocking chat apps on phones)
  • Web-based only, app-based only, or both?
  • Voice call function built into chat
  • Integration with specific third-party services already in use

Pay Attention to Security

If I’d written this guide in 2016, this would be the biggest section. Think about it%—every chat user types out company IP in text format, every day, in a cloud-based medium that’s saved someplace you don’t control.

Fortunately for all of us, security around ChatOps has improved immensely since then. Every platform we’ll examine here has documented their security protections. Here are a few reference URLs to help your case-building:

That said, ChatOps adoption still requires some security updates on your network’s end. Pay attention to these adoption aspects as potential security risks:

  • MOBILE APPS—Handy, but they can leave chat conversations susceptible to data theft. Chats are not audio clips; they’re whole conversations in text form. Someone steals your phone, they could have a ton of your IP in their hands. As such, use 2FA on mobile apps, or limit who can use the mobile app at all.
  • GUEST ACCESS—Important to keep guest access regulated. Teams’ Office 365 account requirement helps with this, but also throws up a roadblock for ease of use. Slack is a little better with guest access, limiting adds with admin controls.
  • THIRD-PARTY INTEGRATIONS—If your users connect a third-party service with poor security, it can create a data leak. Make it clear that IT needs to know about integrations, and vet them first.
  • PRIVACY—Who owns the data? Most platforms will unequivocally say, “You do.” Still helps to check their TOS. Especially if you have GDPR to consider.

Remember Backups

If you choose a cloud-based chat platform, make sure to incorporate its logs into your backups. You may not think you’d need to back up chat conversations when they’re already in the cloud. However, if you’re using chat for work, remember…those conversations contain important information!

With a backup running, you’ve made sure you know where chat logs are stored (and you can retrieve them). I did a post on this for the SpinSucks Blog recently.

Open the link and then come back. We have a lot more to cover!

———

Now that we have a clearer sense of what to watch for, let’s break out the best business chat platforms, one by one, and weigh them.

The Major Chat Platform Options

There are four ‘major’ chat platforms in use today. The most popular, the one you hear about all the time, is Slack.

With good reason. Slack is a titan of chat—near-infinitely flexible, stable as you can get, friendly with just about every device out there, and designed to support business users. Some businesses run their whole operation through Slack. The company supporting it is stable and plans to go public soon.

Slack Chat Window

The famous Slack window. Names obscured for privacy, of course.

Choose Slack if:

  1. Ease of use is paramount
  2. Your company do not already have an Office 365 tenant subscription
  3. You use Linux on some user devices

——

Next up, Microsoft Teams.

Teams’ recent growth indicates that people who are new to business chat go for it the most. Not surprising either; it has a short learning curve, Microsoft’s weight behind it, and free options. It isn’t perfect; Teams loses to Slack on a few points (Linux clients, adaptability). However, its incorporation of Skype for Business voice & video tools enhance its appeal.

Teams Chat Window

Choose Teams if:

  1. Your company has an Office 365 tenant subscription, with accounts for the majority of users
  2. You primarily use Windows devices
  3. You want an easy transition from an existing communications system

——

Thirdly, we have Skype for Business Server.

The only on-prem offering in the majors. For security-conscious mid-markets and enterprises, this is THE chat platform of choice. It requires more up-front investment, but a search of this blog alone will tell you how much communications power Skype for Business provides.

Skype4B Contact List

(You might wonder why this is on here, when I made chat the centerpiece. Many would consider Skype for Business Server a voice product, with chat & conferencing added. Be that as it may, we use the IM tool more than any other in our office. So do most of our customers. Besides, this IS the Skype for Business Insider Blog. So it’s included.)

Choose Skype for Business Server if:

  1. Data/IP security concerns are high
  2. You must meet regulatory compliance such as GDPR or SOX 404
  3. You have 150+ users
  4. You previously used HipChat Data Center and need to switch

——

Rounding out the major platforms is Google Hangouts Chat. I find this offering a little TOO simplistic, and Google’s privacy shenanigans may dent Hangouts’ appeal. But it’s still popular, cheap, and sports a similar integration level to other G-Suite offerings as Teams.

Google Hangouts Chat

Image courtesy of G-Suite.

Choose Hangouts if:

  1. You already use G-Suite for your company’s email
  2. You do not have an Office 365 tenant subscription
  3. You have users who like using Skype Consumer in the office (Hangouts is similar, making a transition easier to accept)

The Challengers/Alternative Chat Platforms

Maybe the major platforms don’t appeal to you for whatever reason. You’re not a Microsoft/Google fan, or you want to test out several options before making a decision. I love testing myself, so if you’re in the latter camp, welcome! Here are a few ‘challenger’ chat platforms to whet your appetite.

These are chat platforms not as popular as the above options, but still chat-focused and business-oriented. I haven’t done official reviews of these yet; as such, please take the following information as general advice.

First up is Twist. Made by a team already known for a popular to-do app, Twist takes a one-topic-per-thread approach to chat. It focuses on simplicity, sticking to chat as its core and leaving the rest to third-party integrations. Not many of those yet, but they already put in a Zapier integration…clever.

Twist Chat Window

Image courtesy of TechRepublic.

Choose Twist if:

  1. You haven’t used chat in the office yet & want to try it out
  2. You’ve already tried one of the major platforms, and users complain of confusion or overwhelm
  3. You need to keep price low (their Unlimited tier only costs $5/month per user)

——

Next up is Mattermost.

Our sole on-prem Challenger. This one’s not trying to compete with Skype for Business though…they’re competing with Slack. Right up to compatibility with Slack’s third-party integrations. It’s probably one of the most extensive open-source projects I’ve come across.

This platform has teeth. A hefty feature set, good documentation, and an unapologetic targeting toward the DevOps community. That may make it a little more technical than some businesses want. Even so, it’s worth a look.

Mattermost Chat Window

Image courtesy of Mattermost Documentation.

Choose Mattermost if:

  1. You’d like an on-prem offering, but can’t/don’t want to pay for Skype for Business Server
  2. You like to tinker with the tech
  3. You support open-source projects
  4. You’re a tech company and want a chat platform that can keep up
  5. You previously used HipChat Data Center and don’t want to move to Skype for Business

——

Thirdly we have Wire. I’ve seen this one on the fringes of chat discussion, but know very little about it. Wire places a heavy emphasis on security. End-to-end encryption, secure guest rooms, and so on. I think this is an excellent position for a challenger chat platform to take. If they can back the claim up (and I’ll look for that in a review), then I expect this one to grow.

Wire Chat Windows

Image courtesy of Wire.com.

Choose Wire if:

  1. Your company places a high value on security for all communications
  2. You need a backup communications option for emergencies (Wire offers a “Wire Red” service for this)
  3. You’re in the EU and would like a chat platform based there

——

Finally, we have Glip. I only came across Glip a few days ago! It’s a chat offering from RingCentral, the cloud-based phone service. We work with them for some customers, though none mentioned Glip to me.

From reviews I read, Glip is apparently popular with marketing agencies. I think the ‘unlimited guest users’ feature has something to do with that. The in-client document collaboration too. I’ll look into that myself.

Glip Chat Window

Image courtesy of RingCentral Blog.

Glip doesn’t appear to have any “stand-out” features. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from Slack or Twist, right up to third-party integrations. Pricing’s similarly cheap too. It’s an alternative, if you want to explore.

Choose Glip if:

  1. You already use RingCentral
  2. You’re comparing several chat offerings at once

Chat Pricing

“What do these platforms cost?” That’s what Management will want to know first, right?

I did the legwork on pricing too. This wouldn’t be a complete guide without it. I divided the platforms into Cloud-Based and On-Prem. You’re either paying a small monthly fee per user, or paying up front for server hardware & bandwidth.

Monthly Cost (Cloud-Based)

  1. SLACK – Standard tier is $6.67/month per user, Plus tier is $12.50/month per user. Plus does come with better support and more administrative options.
  2. TEAMS – Free, though I recommend getting an Office 365 subscription if you don’t already have one. Three options I’d recommend considering when Teams is your main focus: Business Premium ($12.50/month per user), E1 ($8.00/month per user), and E3 ($20.00/month per user).
  3. GOOGLE HANGOUTS CHAT – Part of G-Suite for business users. Business tier is $10/month per user, though the Enterprise tier ($25/month per user) comes with more security.
  4. TWIST – $5/month per user. For business, don’t even consider the Free version; it comes with a 30-day limit on viewing past messages. With Unlimited, you can always access the full message history.
  5. WIRE – Sliding-scale, starting at €6/month per user. Enterprises go down to €4/month per user. To use their Wire Red emergency collaboration service, you must contact their Sales department.
  6. GLIP – Like Twist, there’s a Free tier and a Standard tier at $5/month per user. In this case, the difference is the total time allocated for shared video; Free accounts get 500 minutes total, while Standard accounts get 1,000 minutes/month per user.

Up-Front Cost (On-Prem)

  1. SKYPE FOR BUSINESS (SERVER) – Cost comes in initial deployment. No monthly recurring fees for the software, but you may pay for a SIP trunk mostly depending on configuration. Check my Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams post for details.
  2. MATTERMOST – Free to download & use (it’s open source). You’ll need a server to host it of course, like Skype for Business Server. The Mattermost team does charge for Enterprise accounts though, starting at $39/year per user.

Try Out Some ChatOps Platforms Before Deciding

Okay, you’ve read all the material in this guide. Your users do want to use chat. You have go-ahead from C-level. Time to start the last part of the search—testing.

Make sure to try out at least two chat platforms. Not just yourself either; invite a handful of tech-savvy users to trial the chat with you. (That way you’re not talking to yourself the whole time. It gets lonely…trust me.)

While many of the same visual elements are the same for all these options, how they work with their own features, and how they interoperate with other tools, can make a big difference in your overall experience. We’ve had customers hate Slack but love Teams (and vice versa). One customer absolutely loved Skype for Business Server’s IM tool. It all depends on the office environment and user tastes.

Using a chat platform in your business can save a ton of time, and make everyone more productive to boot. I hope this guide helps you select the right one!

What chat platform did you end up going with? Please share!

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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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