How the Redis Cache Fits into Skype for Business Server

Ever heard of a ‘Redis Cache’? If not, you’ll need to read this post.

I was researching comparisons between Skype for Business and HipChat (the Data Center version) for an upcoming blog post. Along the way, I discovered that HipChat uses a Redis cache in its server-side deployments. A Redis cache…wow, hadn’t even heard that name for a while. Then I realized I hadn’t addressed the topic on this blog at all!

Don’t worry; the Skype for Business vs. HipChat comparison will come soon enough. For now, let’s talk Redis.

What is a Redis Cache?

Redis is a data structure store. According to this Introduction to Redis, you can use it as an in-memory database, cache, and message broker. It’s available for Linux and OSX natively, but Microsoft does maintain a Win-64 port of it (we’ll see why very soon).

HipChat makes use of Redis for caching. It has a Postgres server for database storage; the Redis cache helps to improve message availability and quality.

 

HipChat Deployment with Redis Cache
A HipChat Data Center deployment, with Redis Cache. Image courtesy of Atlassian.com.

Can you use a Redis cache in Skype for Business? Yes! It can serve as a data store for Skype4B’s SDN Interface.

What’s that? According to a quote from John A. in MSDN Documentation:

In a pool configuration, Skype for Business SDN Interface needs a data store to share call states for concurrently ongoing calls or for configuration settings among multiple SDN Manager instances, which can be a Redis No-SQL key-value store.

Setting up a Redis cache system – MSDN

How the SDN Interface Works

SDN stands for Software Defined Network. In the case of Skype for Business, it provides an interface for call diagnostics and QoS. In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  1. The SDN Interface collects call data while Skype for Business Server is active.
  2. The SDN provides this data to other services on the network (e.g. network controllers).
  3. The other network systems add in their own network traffic data.
  4. The data pool is analyzed for media quality.
  5. Analysis results are used to resolve quality & performance issues on the Skype for Business servers.

Think of it like a tune-up constantly running in the background. Its goal? Better performance on calls. It’s part of the reason why Skype for Business calls seem ‘clearer’ over time.

How to Set Up a Skype for Business SDN Interface (with a Redis Cache)

You don’t have to use a Redis cache to set up a Skype for Business SDN. A SQL Server will also do the job. But the setup process is the same, either way.

Fortunately, we have a well-documented set of installation instructions right here:
Installing the SDN Interface – MSDN

As you can see in this screenshot, the Redis cache is one of three options for the SDN Interface’s SDN Manager topology.

Skype for Business SDN Manager Setup

Please note: You must have a Redis server set up BEFORE you set up SDN Interface! To set up Redis on a Windows server, use the Windows port on GitHub: Redis on Windows – GitHub.

Redis Cache is Still Available for Skype for Business – But Maybe Not for Long

Now we know. Redis is an available cache option for Skype for Business Server, designed to help its SDN Interface tune media stream performance over time. It’s part of an engine, running in the background, making every Skype4B call better.

Before I go, one caveat: The current Redis port version on GitHub is fairly recent. However, I saw a comment that indicated Microsoft may have decided to archive it. That doesn’t mean Skype for Business users can’t use it, or it will become vulnerable…it’s on GitHub, after all. Other developers will contribute.

However, that does place Redis in something of a limbo. At least as far as Windows Servers are concerned. Redis is open source; it will continue to have a Linux/OS X version for a while.

Perhaps Microsoft is taking another direction with Skype for Business Server 2019. Only time will tell. Once we find out, I’ll make note here, of course.

Does your Skype for Business Server use a Redis cache?

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How to Use Teams Slash Commands (and Where They Come From)

Teams is getting slash commands!

Microsoft announced several updates for Teams this week.

Most blog posts I saw emphasize the new integrations. While indeed helpful, that wasn’t what caught my eye. Nope…that was the introduction of slash commands!

Those of us who’ve been online for a long time know these already. But in case you aren’t familiar, let’s go through what slash commands are. I think you’ll find them an incredible timesaver.

What is a Slash Command?

A slash command is a short typed phrase, preceded by a slash (/), which causes a specific action within an app. They’re meant to make some everyday functions quick & easy to activate, without your hands leaving the keyboard.

The most common slash command is likely “/away” which sets your status to Away. They can do much more than that, however! When used in a chat app, slash commands let you join a channel, invite other users into a channel, mark yourself as away/busy/available, and dozens of other things.

Where Slash Commands Come From

Slash Commands have been around for a LONG time. I first used them in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms back in the 90s. These pages have lists of the slash commands you could use in IRC.

List of Internet Relay Chat Commands – Wikipedia
Basic IRC Commands – IRCBeginner

IRC Slash Commands
Examples of IRC slash commands, with use cases. Very Web 1.0 chic, huh?

(Wow, this makes me feel old.)

Nowadays you’ll find slash commands used in major chat platforms like Slack, HipChat, and now Teams!

Slack clearly copied the most popular IRC commands, and expanded on them. You can see the similarities in their slash command list: List of Slack’s Slash Commands
I always had the sense that Slack’s founders were old IRC users like me.

HipChat’s slash commands are a little more involved. But they appear no less easy to use: Keyboard Shortcuts and Slash Commands – HipChat

Even Google Hangouts has some, but they’re mostly limited to fun animations.

Teams joins an illustrious tradition by introducing slash commands. So which commands do Teams users now have?

List of Slash Commands in Teams

Start using slash commands by typing a slash in Teams’ “Search or type a command” box. A list of slash commands will pop up below it for your selection/reference.

empty office chair photo
Status: /away.
Photo by Reinis Traidas
  • /activity – View someone’s activity
  • /available – Changes your Teams status to “Available”
  • /away – Changes your Teams status to “Away”
  • /busy – Changes your Teams status to “Busy”
  • /call – Initiate a call
  • /dnd – Changes your Teams status to “Do Not Disturb”
  • /files – See your recent files
  • /goto – Go to a certain team or channel
  • /help – Get help (with Teams; not the ‘lie on the couch’ kind)
  • /join – Join a team
  • /keys – View keyboard shortcuts
  • /mentions – See all of your mentions (handy if your Teams channels are really busy!)
  • /org – View an org chart (yours or someone else’s)
  • /saved – View your saved list
  • /unread – See all of your unread activity
  • /whatsnew – Check what’s new in Teams
  • /who – Ask Who (a new app that lets you search for people by name or topic) a question

This is the list that comes up in Teams now. We may see more slash commands added over time.

How to Use a Slash Command in Teams

Most slash commands are standalone—they don’t need anything other than the command name to work. But it’s good to know about slash command syntax as well.

After typing a slash command in Teams, you can add parameters after it. These can be other users’ names, or switches that specify the command’s target. Not unlike adding parameters to PowerShell cmdlets.

Let’s go through some examples:
/away – Let’s say I want to mark myself as Away, but I want to make it clear that I’ve got my cellphone with me. I could type the following:

“/away Got my cell if you need me”

Like Skype for business’ Presence, right? Unfortunately status messages like these are not displayed in Teams yet. It is on the roadmap though, so I wanted to point out how easy this is.

/goto – Let’s say I want to open the “Business Development” channel. When you enter slash commands like /goto, a list of available options will appear below the command field. You can either type out the location you want, or click to select it from the list.

Goto Slash Command in Teams
Oh look! There’s the Business Development channel. One click and I’m on my way.

/invite – Want to add someone into your channel? The /invite command lets you do so without leaving the channel. Just type /invite “TheirUserName” and done!

Like Keyboard Shortcuts (but Better), Slash Commands Speed Up Working in Teams

Think of slash commands like shortcuts. They let you skip several mouse clicks and loading screens. You just type out a word, add whatever parameter you want, and Teams does the rest.

The old IRC nut in me very much appreciates having slash commands once again. This was a surprise to see on the Teams update list—but a welcome one!

What do you think about having slash commands in Teams?

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How the Reverse Proxy Fits into Skype for Business

You asked for more “How It Fits” posts last year, and I’m happy to oblige. Today we’re discussing…the Reverse Proxy server!

Reverse Proxy is also part of the Skype for Business perimeter network, like Edge Server. The two act in concert, in fact, which made it an easy second choice for this series.

Now, one important thing: Reverse Proxy is NOT an official Skype for Business Server Role. You’ll need another device/appliance to serve as your Reverse Proxy. Fortunately, many good options exist; Microsoft has provided a list of reverse proxy servers to help. We’ve tried the MS Web Application Proxy and F5’s BIG-IP. Both worked very well for our purposes.

The Reverse Proxy’s Primary Role

A Reverse Proxy server facilitates external user access to some Skype4B tools. Like the Edge Server, it aids users outside the internal network: mobile users, federated users (e.g. partners, vendors), and customers.

How? It works by publishing some Skype for Business services to the public Internet, and regulating access to them from outside the perimeter network. I’ve listed which services in the next section.

Main Functions of a Reverse Proxy Server

Here’s the list of Reverse Proxy functions in a Skype for Business Server deployment. You’ll see that they all deal with external users, be they permanently remote or a standard user out of the office.

  • Connect to meetings or dial-in conferences using simple URLs (e.g., “meet.yourdomain.com”).
  • Download meeting content.
  • Expand distribution groups.
  • Get user-based certificates for client certificate based authentication. In other words, authorize some mobile clients to access the Skype for Business Server.
  • Download files from the Address Book Server, or to submit queries to the Address Book Web Query service.
  • Obtain updates to client and device software.
  • Allows mobile devices to automatically discover the Front End Servers offering mobility services (e.g., “lyncdiscover.yourdomain.com”).
  • Enables push notifications from Office 365 to mobile devices.

Some IT admins would argue that a Reverse Proxy’s final function is to frustrate them! That’s because it handles switching between ports on the same IP address, when traffic moves from the public Internet to the internal network. Here’s an example image.

Reverse Proxy Diagram
Image courtesy of Perficient Blogs.

You see the Reverse Proxy translating from TCP port 80 facing external, to TCP port 8080 facing internal. Same IP, different ports. Helps with security…but it’s a pain on a certification exam!

Other Servers Reverse Proxy Communicates With

Front End Server/Front End Pool. The Reverse Proxy communicates primarily with your Front End Server. It is publishing some of the Front End’s services out to the public Internet, and funneling in requests from external users to use those services.

Director/Director Pool. If your Skype for Business topology has a Director, the Reverse Proxy will publish its external Web services (e.g. Autodiscover) as well.

mobile user photo
Someone got locked out while outside the network!
Photo by GirlieMac

Edge Server. The Reverse Proxy also sits in the perimeter network, between the external and internal DMZs. It and the Edge Server have distinct roles, but the two must act in concert.

Without the Edge Server authenticating some external users, the Reverse Proxy could accidentally provide a Skype4B mobile service to the wrong user (or not at all!).

Load Balancer. Depending on where you use load balancing, the Reverse Proxy may need to talk to yours. Otherwise it could deprive some external users of the access they need. I’ll address this in the Load Balancers post.

Firewall. Since the Reverse Proxy uses two sets of ports matched to IP addresses, your firewall needs to play nice with it. Otherwise you’ll have some very locked-out (and upset) users outside the office!

Is One Reverse Proxy Server Enough?

In most cases, one Reverse Proxy per Skype for Business topology is enough. I checked with a co-worker regarding one hybrid deployment we did early last year. This customer has satellite offices and job site trailers…their external users easily outnumber internal users about 4 to 1. Yet they only have one Reverse Proxy, and report no bandwidth issues or delays.

That said, I can think of two situations where two or more Reverse Proxies may make sense:

  1. A high-availability global on-prem deployment.
  2. More than one perimeter network exists in your organization.

Reverse Proxy is What Makes Skype Meetings Happen Anywhere

Since the Reverse Proxy is not a Skype4B Server Role, I’m not sure what will happen to it with the Teams merger. It could continue to provide the same external publishing & regulation function as it does now. Teams would certainly need such services for guest users and remote workers. I’ll keep it in mind as we hear more about Teams.

Additional Reverse Proxy Resources:
Reverse Proxy 101 – Perficient Blogs
Edge Server System Requirements in Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet
Plan for Mobility for Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

In the next “How it Fits” post I’ll address Load Balancers. What Skype for Business/Teams tool should I do after that? Please comment your choice!

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17 Reasons to Hold Off on Using Teams for Voice Calls (Until Mid-2018)

After reviewing the new calling capabilities added to Teams last month, I have to say…moving to Teams in the next few months is a bad idea.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Introduction of new calling features is great! However, we have holes in the deployment. Holes which put Teams in a precarious situation. Its feature set expanded…but not enough to take over for Skype for Business.

In case you missed the December announcements: Microsoft added calling tools to Teams, so that Teams users could make & receive phone calls from within the client. In order to use these tools, you need two Office 365 services:

  1. Phone System (formerly known as Cloud PBX). This comes with E5 licenses, but you can buy it as an add-on to other plans.
  2. A Calling Plan (formerly known as PSTN Calling). We covered Calling Plan rates (and an international surprise) back in July 2017.

You would need these services to make/receive calls in Skype for Business Online as well.

Calling Features in Teams Now
Some of Teams’ new calling capabilities.

Adding voice calls to Teams makes perfect sense—it can’t absorb Skype for Business without them. But this wasn’t a complete move. The next batch of updates won’t come until mid-2018.

Meanwhile, Teams is stuck in a sort of productivity limbo. It’s able to do some things Skype for Business can do…but not enough of them. Phone calls through Teams, coming from Skype for Business (or any full-featured VoIP provider), will frustrate users and slow down work.

Let me illustrate why I’m taking this position. I know it may not make sense for a Skype for Business blog…but I promise, there’s a good reason!

The 17 Calling Features Missing from Teams – As of January 2018

Brian R., an author at the No Jitter blog, put together an exhaustive list of call features available between Teams’ new Phone System, Skype for Business Online, and Skype for Business Server with Enterprise Voice.
Teams Phone System: Back to Call Feature Drawing Board – No Jitter

I looked at some other sources to verify this, including the Office 365 Roadmap. Brian most definitely did his homework…the post is superbly thorough!

crashed rocket photo
Oops. Forgot a few things.
Photo by tobo

His list does tell us which calling capabilities are now in Teams. Here are the major ones: Call Forwarding/Hold/Transfer, Voicemail, Do Not Disturb, Suggested Contacts, and E911.

However, in the same list we also see some painful limitations to Teams’ calling rollout. Several features are still missing. Features that I discussed with our team.

We all agreed – these missing features would prohibit Teams adoption for pretty much all of our customers.

Here are several which stood out. Along with why they put the brakes on Teams voice call adoption.

  • No Consultative Transfer. One of our customer’s front desk personnel rely on this feature. They currently use Skype for Business Online. Without it, they would dump the whole service tomorrow.
  • No USB Devices. Which cuts headsets like my Jabra Motion Office out right away.
  • No IP Phones. Every Polycom phone we’ve deployed becomes useless. How is anyone supposed to make calls?
  • No Transferring Calls to PSTN Numbers. Want to transfer a call to your cell? Too bad!
  • No Boss/Delegate. Without this one feature, two of our customers could not function day-to-day.
  • No Call Waiting or Music on Hold. These don’t even have an ‘expected’ date. Is Microsoft just dropping them for Teams?!

Brian marked a total of 17 features as, “expected mid-2018” or “expected late 2018.” 26 other features are simply marked “No.” As in, “No, these features are not coming to Teams. Don’t hold your breath.”

I hope the ‘Expected’ features are deployed in the promised time frames. That would at least give users something to wait for!

Teams Still Handles Chat. Don’t Rely on It for Voice Calls Just Yet.

Can your business still use Teams? Of course! It still has its chat and conferencing capabilities. If you’re already on Teams, you can proceed normally. Maybe try out the new calling tools, if your tenant has Phone System and a Calling Plan.

But relying on it as a phone system is premature. It’s not ready for that yet. Not until all of the above features (and a few more besides) are implemented and working.

We’re STILL waiting on Guest Access anyway…

Which feature would you NEED to have to use Teams for chat and voice?

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What to Do When Skype4B Conversations Take Weeks to Appear in Outlook

You have a normal conversation in Skype for Business via Instant Messaging. The next day, you need to check the status of a task. You recall you mentioned this task in yesterday’s conversation. Better go check it in Conversation History.

Outlook is already open. You click the Conversation History folder and…wait, where’s the conversation? The last one you see is dated 2 weeks ago!

We ran up against this issue with a customer’s Skype for Business deployment. They had a server deployment, up and running since 2016. The Conversation History “delayed appearance” only started this past fall. Even more confusing, it didn’t occur for all users.

Work Conversation in Skype4B
“I KNOW I talked to Beth yesterday…”
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

The Cause: A Low Threshold for Conversation File Size

We checked all the obvious things, of course. But those were all clear. Only after testing & reviewing the Conversation History logs that did appear, followed by some MS research, did we find the cause.

Lync Server 2013 had an issue with long conversations. If a conversation’s history file ended up over 1MB in size, Lync Server could not upload the file to Exchange Server. This bug persisted into Skype for Business Server.

So if you end up having a long conversation with co-workers, plus a few images & documents shared around, your conversation grew past the server’s (tiny) 1MB limit!

The Solution: A Fix for Lync/Skype for Business Server, Then an Exchange Server Workaround

Microsoft did release a fix for this: KB3101496. It’s a security update issued November 10, 2015. Link to the update below.

This isn’t the only fix though. In fact, it might not even work for you. Not to worry…if it doesn’t, we have an alternative! The clever engineers posting on this thread determined it:
Lync 2013 Conversation History not taken from History Spooler by Outlook 2013 when bigger than 1 MB – TechNet

It’s an edit to an Exchange web.config file. Though from the thread and our own experience, we advise approaching the problem in this order:

  1. Apply the update first. Wait a few hours to determine if it took effect.
  2. If the update doesn’t work, use the following workaround.

Conversation History Bug Fix (KB3101496):

Security Update MS15-116 and MS15-123 for Lync 2013 (Skype for Business)
If your Skype for Business Server doesn’t already have this through Microsoft Update, you can download it here.

If Conversation History in Outlook doesn’t start updating within a few hours (happened for us after Hour 3), then try the web.config workaround.

Exchange Server Web.Config Workaround:

  1. Access your Exchange Server. Make sure you have write permissions.
  2. Navigate to the Exchange installation directory, e.g. C:\Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange Server.
  3. Open the version folder.
  4. Open the ClientAccess folder.
  5. Open the exchweb folder.
  6. Open the EWS folder.
  7. Edit the web.config file found here.
  8. Within the <appSettings> node, add the following line:
    <add key=”XmlMaxBytesPerRead” value=”1000000″ />
  9. Restart your IIS server.

Again, wait a few hours. The conversations should start trickling into Conversation History, in groups of 10 or so. You may need to restart Outlook & the Skype for Business client a few times to get everything.

Sometimes Conversation Logs Delay Their Appearance. Call Them Out on Stage with These Fixes!

This is an issue which can fly under the radar. Our customer saw no error messages, and had no Outlook crashes related to it. They only noticed when someone did exactly what I portrayed earlier—tried to check a previous Skype4B conversation via their Outlook Conversation History.

Take a second to review your Outlook Conversation History. Hopefully this bug doesn’t affect you…but it doesn’t hurt to check!

Have you experienced a Conversation History “delayed appearance” in Outlook, or something similar?

 

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2018 Begins, OCS Ends

Welcome to 2018!

We’ll have a full post up soon. Before that though, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a milestone coming very soon.

OCS 2007. Office Communications Server. The first iteration of what has now become the Skype for Business ecosystem. This landmark software (problematic as it was) will at last reach End of Life on January 8.

Office Communications Server End of Life Roadmap – Office Support

damaged speaker photo
Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

I seriously hope nobody still uses OCS! But if you (somehow) still do, you’re in dire need of an upgrade. End of Life doesn’t mean the software suddenly shuts off. But it does mean you’ll have no support on which to fall back if there’s a problem.

The Best Upgrade Path for OCS Users

For OCS users (as well as older Lync 2010 users), the fastest upgrade path is the best one. Since OCS-grade server hardware won’t comfortably support Skype for Business Server, you’d have to buy new hardware anyway. That would put you on this upgrade path:

OCS → Lync Server 2010 or 2013 → Skype for Business Server 2015

Instead, I recommend moving to the cloud. Set up a new Office 365 tenant with Skype for Business. Fewer steps, shorter launch time, MUCH cheaper up-front licensing cost…and you can use Teams!

2017 Reader Poll Results

Let’s cap this post with the poll results from December. For Poll 1, asking readers what they use for business communication now, the #1 answer by far (25 votes) was: Skype for Business Server. A distant #2 (10 votes) was: Cellphones.

For Poll 2, asking what changes do you see your organization making in 2018, the #1 answer (10 votes) was: Moving to Office 365/Microsoft Teams. Close after that (9 votes) was: No Changes.

Good results! I like that so many readers appreciate their Skype for Business Servers. Thanks to everyone who voted.

Hope everyone had a safe New Year, and great things in store for 2018. I know we have great things planned for the blog, so join us back here next time!

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Skype4B Insider Poll: What Does 2018 Have in Store for Your Business Communications?

Once again, we find ourselves at the end of a busy, change-packed year. The whole Unified Communications market reshaped itself in 2017…and we’ve got much more coming. Let’s take a look over all of it.

The Tide of 2017 UC Changes

  1. Microsoft Teams entered the market, and took off
  2. More Skype for Business competitors entered the market & gained popularity (e.g. Workplace)
  3. Office 365 continued to gain new tools, and improvements to existing ones
  4. Microsoft decided, instead of integrating Teams functionality into Skype for Business, to fold Skype for Business into Teams!
  5. Skype for Business Server users got a consolation prize in the form of one more server version: Skype for Business Server 2019
  6. The birth of “Intelligent Communications” as Microsoft advanced their all-cloud service offering for end users
  7. New devices flooded in – headsets, softphones, full conferencing systems, etc.

We did several Office 365 Skype for Business deployments: most Hybrid, though one was fully Cloud-Based. So far only one customer has expressed interest in Teams. They are currently trying it out among a handful of personnel.

I’ve enjoyed some great conversations with Skype4B vendors this year. Doug at Sennheiser, Lisa & Adam at Polycom, Alex at Event Zero, Matt at Landis Computer…always glad to talk with you. Hope next year brings all of you some great developments!

2017 Reader Poll – Your Business Communications Now and in 2018

I realized I didn’t do an end-of-year poll in 2016. My oversight! Let’s rectify it with a reader poll right now. Let’s hear what you have to say about business communications.

 

What do you use for business communications (phone, IM/chat, video, online meetings) now? Please select all relevant answers.

 


What changes do you see your organization making to their business communications in 2018?

 

These polls will run until January 3rd, 2018. Then I’ll go through the results, like usual. Your feedback (and sharing the post around) is appreciated!

Is your answer not listed? Please leave it in a comment below (or email me here if you prefer).

Happy Holidays! Join Us Back Here in January

This blog grew more than ever before in 2017. For that, I owe all of you, our readers, a big Magpie thank you!

happy black lab photo
Photo by m01229

(Don’t worry, no muddy paws come with it.)

As always, if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in 2018, please share it with us.

We’ll see you back here in January. Until then, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Will This Become the “Teams Insider” Blog?

Short post this week. I’m preparing a year-end poll for next week, so make sure to stop by before you head out for the holidays!

The Blog Title Will Not Change as Teams Grows (But We’ll Have More Teams Content)

An astute reader sent me this question…

“Now that Teams will get all of Skype for Business’ features, will you focus on Teams in the future?”

They didn’t sound terribly worried…just wanted some clarification. After all, we did change the blog name from “Lync Insider” to “Skype for Business Insider” in 2015, when the software changed.

However, we’ve decided to keep the blog as it is. For two reasons:

  1. While Teams IS gaining importance & market share, it’s still limited to Office 365 users. Skype for Business doesn’t have the same limitation. It will still need attention & support.
  2. Skype for Business will live on as Skype for Business Server 2019. (I’m very much looking forward to that!)

That said, we will have more Teams posts on the blog going forward. You’ve seen (and hopefully enjoyed) the Teams-related posts this year. As the software matures, I’ll continue to play with it, test out new features, look for solutions to issues, etc.

Bridge to the Future of Skype4B
Bridge to the future, for both Skype for Business and Teams!
Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

I’m also talking to some of our vendors & partners for additional device reviews. Those remain some of the most popular posts. Plus I like trying out the cool hardware.

New Domains for Teams Fans

Following the blog’s renaming, we picked up a new domain to match it: skype4businessinsider.com. Now that Teams is here to stay, we wanted to do the same for Teams fans.

I’ve just purchased two new domains:

  • MSFTTeamsInsider.com
  • MSTeamsInsider.com

They aren’t pointed to the blog just yet. But they will be shortly.

If you’re a Teams fan, you can use these URLs to reach the blog, just like you would skype4businessinsider.com. Please share them around!

Teams Gets Calling to External Phones Already!

I’ll close out today with a link:
Microsoft Teams gets calling to external phone systems functionality – ZDNet

The first part of Teams gaining Skype for Business functionality has just arrived. Now Teams users can make calls from within the Teams client! You will need the Phone System add-on (formerly Cloud PBX) and a Calling Plan (formerly PSTN Calling). Otherwise your calls won’t go anywhere.

No Call Park yet. Or calling from Teams to Skype Consumer. Oh well, something to look forward to!

Don’t forget to check back next week for our year-end poll. Until then…
What do you think about Teams getting external calls so quickly?

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3 Ways to Protect Teams Users from Malware-Infected Files

safe and secure photoThe more Teams grows, the more we need to keep its users safe. Fortunately, we keep gaining ways to do that.

Office 365 continues to gain security enhancements. We’ve just had one such enhancement released for MS Teams users. In light of the development (which I’ll clarify below), I thought I’d talk a little about how to protect Teams users from malware.

I’ll break this into three parts. Two parts on Office 365 configuration, one on user education (because that’s just as important!). The end result? Some extra background protections in your Teams channels, smarter users, and fewer malware risks.

Part 1: Enhance the Default O365 Anti-Malware Protection

O365 comes with anti-malware protection built in. It’s managed, like many other security tools, through the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center.
(You can also use the Exchange Admin Center. You’ll reach the same screen under Protection/Malware Filter.)

Now, you don’t HAVE to change the default anti-malware settings. But I personally think the default values are a little too lax. If you too find them insufficient, here’s how you bump them up.

  1. Log into Office 365 Security & Compliance Center. You must use a Global Administrator or Security Administrator account for this.
  2. Click Threat Management in the left nav.
  3. Click Policy. You’ll see the Policy sections.
  4. Click the “Anti-Malware” box. You’ll see the Anti-Malware Policy box.

    O365 Anti-Malware Policy Settings
    The default anti-malware policy. Observe the details on the right.
  5. Click Edit (the pencil in the toolbar) or double-click the Default policy. A new window will open.
  6. Click Settings on the left.

    O365 Anti-Malware Settings Options
    Default anti-malware policy settings.
  7. Read through these settings. Change what you feel will benefit your organization. For instance, activate the Common Attachment Types filter to block suspicious file types (e.g. NotaVirus.vbs, ImportantDocumentHonest.reg).
  8. Click Save when done. The window will close, and the Default policy’s details will update.

 

Part 2: Activate Advanced Threat Protection (ATP).

Advanced Threat Protection adds more to O365’s anti-malware protection. Essentially, it identifies malware-infected files and locks them. Preventing users from downloading or opening said files, and releasing the malware.

ATP was just released to General Availability for SharePoint, OneDrive, and Teams. Microsoft says it will deploy to all E5 Office 365 tenants over the next few weeks. (Other Enterprise subscriptions can buy ATP as an add-on.)

Helpful stuff. However, it’s not enabled by default. You must flip the proverbial switch once it’s ready. Here’s how to do it.

(Prerequisite: You must have Audit Logging enabled. Instructions for doing so: Turn Office 365 Audit Log Search On or Off – Office Support)

  1. Log into Office 365 Security & Compliance Center. You must use a Global Administrator or Security Administrator account for this.
  2. Click Threat Management in the left nav.
  3. Click Policy. You’ll see the Policy sections.
  4. Click the “Safe Attachments” box. (If you don’t see this yet, it hasn’t activated for your O365 tenant. Come back tomorrow.)

    Safe Attachments Box for ATP
    Advanced Threat Protection for Teams, right here.
  5. Check the box for “Turn on ATP for SharePoint, OneDrive, and Microsoft Teams.”
  6. Click Save.
  7. Get some coffee & wait. ATP will populate for all user accounts within 30 minutes.

Once ATP is active, you should see a new option for viewing detected malware files. It’s under Threat Management/Review…a box labeled “Protection Status.” From there you can view reports on any infected files grabbed & locked down by ATP.

More details about the Protection Status reports here: View Information about Detected Files – Office 365 ATP For SharePoint, OneDrive, and Microsoft Teams

 

Part 3: Train Users to Watch Out for Malware-Infected Files Anyway

These systems do a lot to keep us safe. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Malware will keep trying to find a way in.

Maybe on an infected USB drive someone brings into the office. Maybe a new ransomware app sneaks under O365’s radar. Whatever the entry vector, assume your users are cyberattack targets and act accordingly.

Teach them how to recognize the signs of a malware infection. What a phishing email looks like. How to verify suspicious files (without opening them). The more users know about malware, the less likely you are to have any trouble with it.

 

A Little More Security for Teams. A Little Easier Breathing for System Admins.

Obviously there’s more you can do outside the Office 365 tenant. Firewalls, desktop-level anti-malware, etc. So long as they don’t interfere with one another, you’re just improving overall security.

Since we don’t have full Guest Access for Teams yet, now is the right time to enhance your malware protections. Before someone from outside your nice safe network drops in for a chat!

Have you experienced any malware in Teams?

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Where Skype for Business Fits in Digital Transformation

Has your company undergone digital transformation? If you implemented Skype for Business, then the answer is (partly) Yes.

Since the holidays are here, I thought back over the business year. Much has happened. We’ve had several big Skype for Business deployments. Businesses converting from old phone systems to VoIP. As I’ve said before on the blog, that’s not a small step. Many related systems within a business have to change—to transform—in the process.

Chances are you’ve heard the term “digital transformation” before. I had too, but wasn’t always clear on its meaning. (Truth be told, I’m still not clear. But I think that’s because I keep finding definitions!) I thought, “Digital transformation couldn’t occur without changes in communication. How does Skype for Business fit?”

Let’s figure this out, shall we?

What is Digital Transformation?

The term “Digital Transformation” gets bandied about frequently nowadays. It’s apparently been around a while, but someone coined & popularized the term in the past few years. (Like the whole “cloud” thing. We started hosting servers for customers several years before the term “the cloud” became popular!)

We have several possible definitions. I like the definition given by Dion Hinchcliffe, a technology strategist, in this 2016 InfoWorld article:

Digitization was “paving the cowpath,” using digital tools to automate and improve the existing way of working without really altering it fundamentally or playing the new rules of the game. Transformation is a more caterpillar to butterfly process, moving gracefully from one way of working to an entirely new one, replacing corporate body parts and ways of functioning completely in some cases to capture far more value than was possible using low-scale, low-leverage legacy business.

That gives us a standard in one hand, and Skype for Business in the other. How would a business use Skype for Business/Teams to “replace corporate body parts and ways of functioning?”

Nine Ways Skype for Business (and Teams) Enables Digital Transformation

Looking back over some of our customers’ Skype for Business deployments, I came up with several major points. How they “replaced body parts” and the results they gained. Here are 9 illustrated examples.

A. Replacing the old desk phone with a smarter phone/headset/both. One of our deployments still had 25-year-old phones in their offices! Old, old PBX. Installing wireless headsets instead allowed the workers to move away from their desks more often.

Old Phones
Not quite this old. But close!

B. Supplementing emails/Post-Its with chats/IM. Yes, we actually had a customer still relying on Post-It notes to convey information. (Even passwords. We quickly disavowed them of that particular practice!) Skype’s IM let them do this with quick chats. Big timesaver.

Skype for Business Chat in Office
Yes, they’re chatting on Skype. With one another.

C. Increasing the number of communication options others have to reach you. Nobody wants a phone call in the middle of a meeting. This is one hazard to Skype4B, as the client is on your laptop. However, Skype4B also gives people the option of sending you an IM or chat request instead. (Just make sure your Presence isn’t set to “Do Not Disturb!”)

D. Tracking more conversations. Since Skype for Business/Teams logs conversations, you have a running record. I can’t count the number of times I’ve relied on Conversation History for that last bit of information needed.

E. Separating communications from workflow (if needed). In our Lync Server days, one customer went all-in on the IM tool. They did financial consulting, so they needed to concentrate for long periods. A phone’s ring broke said concentration almost every time. Coupled with Presence, they could block distractions until they finished their workflow.

F. Democratizing meetings. Anyone can call a meeting in most cases. But with a tool like Skype for Business/Teams, meetings:

  1. Don’t have to be formal.
  2. Can take place from anywhere, anytime.
  3. Can take place over chat! (I like this option. Less intrusive.)

G. Plug customers into the same communications system. Federation and Guest Accounts speed up customers’ ability to get a hold of you. If your business deals with any type of emergency, those seconds count.

H. Introducing businesses to cloud services (via Hybrid deployments). We had a customer terrified of all things cloud. They were in a very old-school, slow-to-change industry. But their phone system was ancient and badly needed replacing. thunderstorm photoWe showed them the numbers on doing a hybrid Skype4B configuration…email on-site, O365 Skype, and some backups to our datacenter…and they bit. It gave them a pain-free way to embrace the cloud, not lose any stability, and gain modern communications tools.

I. Adding flexibility to all of your operations. Teams absorbing Skype4B only ups the flexibility everyone has. For example, a construction-industry customer wanted a way to review progress on their many projects. (Most of which were on remote job sites with limited bandwidth.) Without having to drive to one location, or limit to audio, or buy an expensive video conferencing system that wouldn’t work half the time.

Skype for Business took care of it (with some help from the RealPresence Trio). Teams is next on the deployment schedule; they’ve already talked about using it for “project check-ins” with on-site supervisors.

Pretty safe to say that Digital Transformation and Skype for Business go hand-in-hand. In fact, if I were to list out the elements necessary for digital transformation, this would be it:

  • Communication (Skype for Business)
  • Backups/Data Protection
  • Project Management (tools like Asana, Trello, etc.)
  • Cybersecurity Protection

Improving the existing way of working without really altering it fundamentally. Voila.

Where does Skype for Business/Teams fit as transformation continues?

Of course, 2018 will see businesses continuing along the path of digital transformation. Incorporating new ways to analyze customer behavior, change up their marketing, build software, and more.

We’re close enough to the end of the year for me to speculate a little. What kinds of technologies are coming up, and where does Skype for Business/Teams fit in with them?

Just scanning the headlines, I see technologies like Big Data, IoT, blockchains, and AI. (Tech never slows down, does it?) I’m going to leave Blockchain, AI, and Big Data aside. They don’t really affect Skype for Business, nor does it affect them. Instead, I’ll focus on IoT (Internet of Things).

Now, Skype-C already works on millions of mobile devices. Microsoft continues to sharpen the bandwidth requirements for audio/video calls through Skype-C, and Skype4B.

Could it minimize bandwidth enough to enable Skype for Business/Teams on IoT devices? Yes, in some form or another. It’s certainly possible to take a Skype Meeting on your fridge’s touchscreen.

I suspect Microsoft will try to make Teams usable on the IoT level. The question will be…would you WANT to use Teams on IoT devices?

I don’t know what you wear around the house. But I would NOT be considered “professionally attired” when standing in front of my fridge at 7AM. Chat with colleagues over Teams? No thank you. That particular “digital transformation” I’m okay skipping over.

Skype for Business/Teams works well as a Digital Transformation Foundation

Skype for Business/Teams remains in an excellent position to continue growth. Next year, and the year afterward. Basing your own digital transformation on it would serve you quite well.

Learn more about digital business transformation at: Online Guide to Digital Transformation – i-Scoop

Where does Skype for Business/Teams fit into YOUR digital transformation? Please comment or email your thoughts. Plans are good too.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers! Hope you have a safe trip, good times, and not TOO much food.

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