Hardware Review: PolyCom RealPresence Trio 8800 (Part 1)

Conferencing, Skype for Business, Third-Party Lync Products

We have a new device to review! It’s the RealPresence Trio 8800 from PolyCom.

I will do this in two parts. Today’s post will talk about the RealPresence Trio’s capabilities. Next post will cover our experience testing it in the office.

“RealPresence”? What’s That?

The RealPresence Trio is a conferencing system built for “amazing sound quality.” But it doesn’t just provide audio – you can add video, share content and link up devices like tablets.

The “Trio” part refers to its 3 products:

  1. A meeting console, or “smart hub.”
  2. A Logitech Webcam C390e. (Right now, this is the only camera with which RealPresence works.)
  3. And the Visual+ accessory unit. The Visual+ expands the RealPresence hub with content sharing & videoconferencing functionality.

RealPresence Trio from PolyCom

RealPresence works with Skype for Business and Lync Server 2013 at full capability. (RealPresence can work with a Lync 2010 server, but audio-only. Its video coding standard is too new for Lync 2010 to support.)

As you can see from the photo (credit to PolyCom), the smart hub looks a lot like the “Three-legged Spider” (my own name for conference room speakers). The hub’s panels are touch-sensitive – not only for the LCD screen, but on each speaker “leg”. For instance, touch the mute corner on any of them (visible in green above), and the speaker is muted.

The webcam can operate standalone, or connected to a TV/monitor. We’ll test it using the Panasonic LCD TV in our conference room.

The Visual+ facilitates content sharing – presentations, spreadsheets, video.

RealPresence Trio 880 FAQ (PDF)

What’s so Special?

Why should a business consider using the RealPresence though? They do have audio/video conferencing options.

Well, first off, the RealPresence Trio is very new. Which means latest-and-greatest tech.

1080p video at 30fps. Good clear video from the Logitech.

Built-in Power over Ethernet (PoE). Fewer cords is always helpful!

Exchange Calendar integration. The other day, a customer reported a little difficulty with their conference room. They had Skype for Business running in the conference room (but not on a RealPresence Trio device). Audio worked all right, and they could get video. But actually joining Skype Meetings proved problematic.

This is in fact one of the reasons we started looking at the RealPresence product. Its calendar integration for meeting joins should prove much simpler than the older device this customer used.

Audio. The big one. The RealPresence Trio shows some serious devotion to audio quality.

  • USB and Bluetooth connectivity for audio. You can use it as a conferencing device, or a speakerphone. Not just with Skype for Business either.
  • NoiseBlock – an audio technology “which identifies non-speech noise and mutes all microphones automatically.”
  • From the FAQ: “RealPresence Trio also uses its own echo cancellation capabilities, regardless of its operating mode. Trio is recognized as a USB echo cancelling speakerphone.”

I’ll try as many tests of this as I can. But I admit a slight bias here – we’ve used PolyCom phones and conferencing devices for some years now. In terms of echo and noise, they generally work well.

I’ll know more after the testing. But right now, I’d say the RealPresence Trio is a good chance if you:

  • Have workers out in the field, and need to hear from them regularly.
  • Operate out of multiple offices.
  • Have teams spread out geographically, who need to collaborate often.
  • Are moving to Skype for Business Server and want an audio conferencing solution that ‘just works’ with it.

Elements to Test

These are the elements I plan to test on the RealPresence.

  1. Video quality. As high as the Panasonic TV will go.
  2. Audio quality. I’m honestly not sure how to test this, but one of our designers works with audio-visual, so I’ll ask him for input.
  3. Content sharing stream. I’ve done a lot of desktop/app/presentation sharing through Skype for Business. Bandwidth and device quality influence how smooth & clear the stream is. We have plenty of bandwidth in the office…let’s see how the device measures up.
  4. Ease of setup. I’m asking the rest of our Skype for Business team for their input too.
  5. Ease of use for meetings. How long does it take to set up a meeting using RealPresence? Is the meeting join really one-step?
  6. Integration with Skype for Business and Exchange. How complicated is this part to set up? Do we need to do anything not documented?
  7. Will it BLEND? (No, not really.)

Anything you’d like us to test on the PolyCom RealPresence? If so, please comment or email the idea.

If you’re not already subscribed, don’t forget to sign up on the right! Otherwise you might miss the next post, detailing our test results. Nobody wants to miss that!

 

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Can You Remove the PIN from Skype for Business Dial-In Conferencing?

Conferencing, Skype for Business

One reader entered the following line on our December poll:

“Remove PIN requirement for audio only conferences”

Hmmm. Removing the PIN entirely? I’d never considered this before. Was it even possible?

Time to find out!

First: How to Control PINs in Skype for Business

You enter a PIN when joining a Skype Meeting via Dial-In Conferencing.  It’s your authentication – letting you “in the door.”

Like most Skype for Business functions, PINs are controlled by policies. You can modify the global PIN policy through the Skype4B Control Panel, like this:

  • On a computer that’s a member of your domain, open the Skype for Business Server Control Panel.
  • In the left navigation bar, click “Conferencing”, and then click “PIN Policy”.
  • On the PIN Policy page, click the “Global” policy.
  • Click “Edit”, and then click “Show details”.
  • Here you can edit several PIN characteristics:
    • Minimum PIN Length (default is 5 digits)
    • Maximum Logon Attempts (a check box, automatically determined by default). If you select the check box, you can enter a maximum number.
    • Should PINs expire? A check box for enabling of disabling PIN expiration lets you decide. You can also select the number of days after which PINs expire.
    • PIN History – should users reuse their PINs?
    • A check box for allowing Common Patterns of digits. If you don’t select this, you’re preventing common patterns like “12345” or “44444”. IF you do select this, users can use common patterns for PINs.
  • When you’re done modifying, click “Commit”.
PowerShell PIN Policy

PowerShell warning when changing the PIN length

Or you can use one of the following PowerShell cmdlets.

Get-CsPinPolicy: Returns information about the client PIN.
Grant-CsPinPolicy: Assigns a client PIN policy to a user or group.
New-CsPinPolicy: Creates a new PIN policy.
Remove-CsPinPolicy: Removes an indicated PIN policy.
Set-CsPinPolicy: Modifies an existing PIN policy.

Next: Any Help from TechNet? How about Blogs?

All of this material you’ll find referenced in the Skype for Business section of Microsoft TechNet. Naturally, that’s where I went to look first.

TechNet is a maze sometimes. This search was no different. But I did find several useful resources which detailed working with PINs:
Manage dial-in conferencing in Skype for Business Server 2015
Manage PIN policies for dial-in conferencing in Skype for Business Server 2015
Set a user’s dial-in conferencing PIN in Skype for Business Server 2015

I saw a couple potential loopholes in PIN policy you could exploit, to make PIN use simpler. For instance, setting the global PIN policy to a small number of digits, and not setting user- or site-level policies. Or enter the same PIN for everyone and distribute it.

PINs as a Point of Security – Disable It? Not Likely.

Lock Tumbler NumbersHowever, trying to “cripple” PIN policy undermines a point of security. A PIN is there to protect something – whether that’s your ATM card or your weekly Skype Meeting. As such, I don’t recommend trying to avoid PIN use.

Besides, I found nothing in these TechNet docs which indicated you could turn PINs off. Subsequent Google searches yielded nothing helpful.

What about an add-on? I’ve reviewed a few Lync/Skype for Business add-ons here in the past. Maybe an add-on exists which could modify PIN use on conferencing.

Alas, several frustrated searches later, I was forced to concede. I pored through Office 365 documentation, support threads, and blog posts. Nothing.

So far as I can tell, it is not possible to completely disable PINs from use during dial-in conferencing.

Now, again, that’s not a bad thing. It provides extra security for everything from voicemail access to Skype Meetings. And it is faster than typing in an email & password on your phone!

Other Authentication Standards Growing – Which Will Win Out?

I was left to ponder the original request. What motivated the reader? The convenience of skipping a step? Did they use another authentication method instead?

People are getting used to other authentication methods, both in the office and when mobile. Fingerprint scanning, biometrics, “invisible” backend authentication processes like certificates, etc. More are on the horizon—driven by hackers and malware and the increasing need for securing personal information.

It’s entirely possible that future Skype for Business updates will offer alternate authentication. We’ll just have to wait and see!

Thanks for the poll response! It was an interesting line of thought to pursue. What do you think? If you could remove the PIN requirement from Dial-In Conferencing, would you? Would you prefer replacing it with another authentication method? Please comment or email your thoughts. And join us again next time!

 

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Presence is Dead? I Think Not!

Instant Messaging (IM), Skype for Business, Unified Communications

A tweet on Tuesday led me to an interesting NoJitter article:  The Death of Presence – NoJitter

It’s a thought-provoking read. The author asks a potent question – “How valuable is Presence, really?”

The article talks about a new technology from Cisco, called Spark. Cisco has decided not to include Presence in Spark. Deeming it “irrelevant”.

Well, what is Spark then?

According to CiscoSpark.com, it’s a messaging platform with “everything you need to work together everywhere.” File sharing, phone calls, IM, video meetings…hmm, sounds a bit like Skype for Business! (And Slack, and Google Hangouts…)

Except without Presence. Now, my immediate thought was, “Cisco will use this to differentiate themselves. That’s why they did it.”

But I gave it some more thought. I can see the case made against Presence here.

Despite its omnipresence throughout the Microsoft software ecosystem, Presence is often ignored when trying to communicate with someone. The notion of, “I need this information from Steve, right now!” outweighs “Is Steve available? Need to ask him a question.” At least in many people’s minds.

There are situations where Presence does not add to communications either. A single office environment, for instance. Everyone’s right there. A quick email, call or visit solves the problem.

However, I think Presence’s problem is one of familiarity, not laziness. I’ll explain with a story.

The Secret to Loving Presence: Relating It to Workday Stresses

Late last year, I tried a change in my Skype for Business training sessions. Before that, I would explain each Presence status type, and then relate it to the contacts in the contacts list. It worked, but people were more interested in the Call Options discussed afterward.

Instead, I tried jumping from explaining “Available” to explaining the difference between Busy and Do Not Disturb.

(Reminder: people can still contact you when you’re set to Busy. They cannot contact you when set to Do Not Disturb.)

The first time I mentioned this, I noticed an employee’s reaction. We’ll call him Bob. Bob sat in the training with his phone in hand, thumbing through something on it. Emails, texts, I didn’t know. I did know he looked bored sitting there.

But when I mentioned people not contacting you when set to Do Not Disturb, he lifted his head. “What?” he said, interrupting me. I repeated myself, talking directly to him for a moment.

This got his interest. He listened intently for the rest of the training.
Why? Because he realized the power Presence has.

Those messages probably distracted him all day, every day – a constant stream of “I need X! I need Y!” If he could shut those off, even for a little while? It would mean quiet. Wonderful quiet time. Time to accomplish things. Time he could control.

"Status Green. I am Available."

“Status Green. I am Available.”

So, I made a point to include this Busy/Do Not Disturb difference in all my future trainings. And sure enough, people kept responding to it.

They liked how Presence related to their workday stresses. Helped them mitigate some. How using it really did help them to get stuff done.

Presence Also Helps When Co-Workers Aren’t In the Next Cubicle

Other situations make Presence valuable too. Specifically, when your co-worker isn’t right next to you, or you can’t look at them. Branch offices, remote workers, international teams, call centers, etc.

When people are spread out, they can still communicate (thanks to technologies like Spark and Skype4B). But the real-time nonverbal interaction – eye movement, body language – is not there. Same if we can’t look around, like people in a call center. (I have friends in a couple. They tell me things…)

So we must rely on other cues to navigate the workday.

Presence makes for an excellent cue. It’s visual, it’s immediately recognizable, and with the “What’s happening today?” line filled out, it’s actionable at a glance.

Good Thing to Consider, But Presence Isn’t Done Yet

I’m glad for this NoJitter article. And for Cisco’s move, even though I find it a little premature. It pays to reconsider the tools we use, to see if we can get more value out of them. If we can’t, or we don’t see any need, then maybe it’s time to move on.

But I think Presence has plenty of life left in it.

How often would you say you actively use Presence in your organization? Please comment or email. I’m curious just how much Presence is helping you…or not!

 

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Making Sure You See Skype for Business Notifications – No Matter What!

Instant Messaging (IM), Skype for Business

So far we’ve received a few responses to last week’s question – would you like fewer/more detailed posts each month, or is the current once-a-week schedule good for you?

Right now it’s about even. So please keep the responses coming in!

In the meantime, let’s see if we can help some more Skype4B Insider readers.

A few of you voted on our December poll, citing notifications for improvement. For instance, one reader had this to say:
“Number one complaint is notification of incoming IMs should stay up until people see them. Fading away is not the way to go.”

More control over notifications, at the user-level, I could definitely agree with. One time I missed a Persistent Chat room announcement for 2 days! Co-worker was less than pleased.

I did give some advice in our March 2015 post titled, Make Lync Stop Bugging You – How to Shrink its Powers of Distraction.
That was on how to turn OFF notifications, like the jaw-clenching-level annoyance of Lync 2013’s “DING!” sound.

You can always change the default sounds Skype4B makes from the Ringtones & Sounds window. Two of the available ringtones mimic the old rotary phone dial-tone–great for those of us who remember running across the house to answer it!

However, if we want to strengthen those notifications instead, we head back to Skype for Business’ Options window. But to a different section – “Alerts”.

Catch Yourself – Change WHERE Notifications Appear

In the Alerts window, under General Alerts, you’ll see a question: “Where should alerts appear?”

Below it are two dropdown menus. The Display on which to show alerts, and the Position. Position is a great way to catch yourself. By default, this menu is set at “Lower-right corner”. However, you can change the position to any corner of any screen you have.

s4balertsoptions

Try switching notification position to Upper-Right (where the Close button is). Or Upper-Left. If you’re missing IM notifications when they’re at lower-right, this should catch your eye more quickly.

Make 100% Sure You See the Notification – Using SuperToast

Changing a notification’s location doesn’t address the fade-out though. I looked in Control Panel for an option to change the fade-out timer, but found none. Then I came across this:
Can I change the default size, color, content, or behavior of the pop-up IM notifications I am getting? – FAQs about Skype for Business (Lync) IM

Which says, unfortunately, that we can’t modify the IM notification’s behavior.

At least not from within Skype for Business.

There is a third-party option. It’s from our old friends at Modality Systems – SuperToast!
SuperToast from Modality Systems

From their site:

If an instant message is not acknowledged within a certain configurable timeframe, or a call goes unanswered, the application [SuperToast] will notify the user by displaying the missed item in a pop up window. The notification remains on screen until the user clicks it away or clicks on the missed item in the case of an IM to re-engage.

There we are. Immediate and unavoidable awareness of a Skype for Business notification. If you miss IMs or calls frequently, SuperToast makes 100% sure you’re aware of them.

Plus SuperToast is free to use! (Basic version. They do have a paid Pro version. No, they didn’t pay me to say that.)

I grabbed a copy to try out. Here’s what its options window looks like.

supertoastoptions

Notifying you about IMs is on by default. But you’ll need to check the last box if you want it to notify you about missed calls. I tested it with a co-worker, and sure enough! Ignoring his IM notification prompted SuperToast to open the full IM window right in front of my OneNote.

May You Never Miss that Important Notification

That should help some readers keep on top of their notifications. It’s a little funny, writing a post about increasing Skype4B’s power of distraction less than a year after I posted about decreasing it. But hey, if that’s what you need, that’s what you get!

As the year rolls on, I’ll keep an eye out for more third-party Skype for Business add-ons. If I find enough I’ll put together a resource guide.

Do you have a Skype for Business add-on you’d like me to test? If so, please comment or email. Let’s talk about it!

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December Poll Results, and What to Expect for the 2016 Skype4B Insider

Office 365, Persistent Chat, Skype for Business, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

First off, I have to say Thank You to everyone who responded on the December poll. Not only did we get a healthy variety of answers, we had several emails from readers sharing how this blog helped them out last year.

Glad to help!

As I promised, let’s go through the poll results. See what we can tease out in terms of Skype for Business 2015’s reception.

December Poll Results: More Stability, Better Performance Needed

We had more than 60 responses to the poll. The #1 improvement request was “a stable, less bloated client”.

While we can all agree that stability is critical, I’m actually not surprised. Consider: Microsoft created Skype for Business 2015 from the merging of two disparate systems: Skype-C and Lync 2013. It was necessary to preserve the Skype-C user base’s expected features, as well as Lync’s broader capabilities.

I pretty much consider Skype for Business as “Version 1” of this new platform. It will, over time – hopefully not too much time! – grow more stable and sharper. (The bloat however, well, anyone’s guess.)

The next most-requested improvements were: RGS, Persistent Chat and Enterprise Voice (in that order).

RGS: I’m guessing performance is the major snag for most of you. If so, you’re not alone. We only use a handful of Response Groups (call flow after-hours, Support team, emergency reporting line, etc.). So far as I know, none have dropped calls or damaged audio clarity.Performance is Slow as...

However, I see both of these occur sometimes for clients. One in particular worked out of a high-rise office building, and shared Internet access with other businesses in the building. As a result their available bandwidth fluctuated. Like you’d expect, this caused some issues with dropped calls or poor audio quality–but only when Response Groups directed the calls. Normal calls were rarely affected. We wound up installing a backup Internet pipe to shore up their bandwidth, and the problem went away.

Persistent Chat: One Persistent Chat issue I have is with its performance. With our on-premise Skype for Business server, IMs are real-time. Same with calls. Video performance is good. But Persistent Chat…it draaaags. Sometimes I can’t even open a chat room. So for this one, I’m right there with you guys!

Enterprise Voice: I’m curious as to the issues readers have encountered here. Enterprise Voice does take some configuration up-front, but it’s one of our most stable Skype for Business services. If you voted for Enterprise Voice needing improvement, please comment or email with your setup details. I’d love to hear what kinds of hardware are used, available bandwidth, what kind of configuration you have, etc.

(As always, we will never share any of your Skype for Business details with anyone else for any reason!)

Along with these, we had several user-submitted responses. Things like IM notifications, Mac client features, and so on. Thanks for these! I’ve made note of all of them. Look for responses, and (hopefully!) some good solutions, in future posts.

Speculations on Skype for Business in 2016

Given all this feedback and Microsoft’s 2015 actions, I shall now speculate on what will happen in the Skype4B field in 2016.

We do have 2 new certification exams coming:
70-333: Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015 (beta)
70-334: Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015 (beta)

From the descriptions, these exams are quite thorough. One devoted to the ins and outs of Enterprise Voice, and the other to Skype for Business setup & configuration.

Office 365 Services from MSOne thing I note here is a relatively scarce mention of Office 365. It’s referenced twice on 70-333, on configuring integration with ExpressRoute or Edge integration.

This leads me to my first speculation: Microsoft will continue pushing a hybrid or cloud-only Skype for Business solution as a preferred option for businesses. The new features, like Cloud PBX, strengthen Microsoft’s hand in the VoIP marketplace. It makes perfect sense to update their certs…but we know which way they’re headed.

Of course, it doesn’t mean they’ll abandon Skype for Business Server and its clients.  The Skype for Business client for Mac is coming. I believe we’ll also see updates to all other clients. Stability improvements for sure; feature add-ons, I hope. (Deleting voicemails on my iPhone, please?)

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see a Linux client. At least not an official one. We’ve received comments on this very blog about Pidgin plugins for Lync services. I’m hoping to hear back from Mr. Andersson about his work, so I can test it out!

Which brings me to my final topic.

What to Expect from The Skype4B Insider Blog in 2016

For the past several years we’ve published 1 new post a week, usually on Wednesdays. One never wants a blog to go stagnant–then readers get bored and drift away. Now that it’s 2016, maybe it’s time for a change.

I’m debating a move to fewer posts per month (say 2), in favor of longer, even more technical instructions. Good solid posts, in the vein of Jeff Schertz’s and Matt Landis’ blogs.

Or we can stick with the current schedule. This one I’m leaving up to you, our readers.

What do you think? Would you like fewer and more detailed posts per month? Or are we good to continue on this schedule? Please comment or email your thoughts. If you have other suggestions for the Skype4B Insider, by all means, send those too!

And of course, don’t forget to join us again next week. Until I hear from enough of you (one way or the other), we’ll continue on our regular schedule.

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Why Won’t Skype for Business Screen Sharing Work Over 4G?

Skype for Business, Voice over IP

Welcome to 2016 at the Skype4B Insider! I’ll start off the year with responding to reader questions. (Seems reasonable, since you as readers are the most important part of the blog!)

Over the holidays I received not one, but two readers asking a question about 4G. They went (roughly) like this:

#1 – “When I try to make a call over 4G, the audio works. But I can’t share my screen.”
#2 – “When I try to do a video session on my phone in a meeting, it (Skype for Business) won’t let me. I’m on 4G.”

My mind went right to the same thing in both cases – Network Bandwidth.Cell Tower

A Question of Bandwidth

According to Wikipedia, the 4G standard’s peak speed is 100Mbit/s for “high mobility communication” (e.g. from trains and cars), and 1Gbit/s for “low mobility communication” (people standing or walking).

Of course, mobile providers control 4G with a heavy hand. “The Fastest Speeds! Unlimited Data! …Oh wait, you thought we really meant ‘unlimited’? That’s cute.”

According to Skype for Business’ Network Bandwidth Requirements page, the required bandwidth for video sessions varies depending on codec used. But it can require up to 4Mbps, just for the video!

Most of us wouldn’t use that much; audio calls work fine on only 100-200Kbps. But when you’re adding a few people into an Online Meeting, and someone activates screen sharing, your bandwidth requirement could shoot up to a level where 4G cannot cope. Whether from signal strength, or from the provider throttling it.

Our experience with 3G/4G is similar. When using Wi-Fi or Ethernet, full capacity is easily managed (on a Standard Edition with default bandwidth configuration). When using 3G or 4G, sharing capabilities are limited or unavailable, and video is choppy or fails.

If you control the 3G/4G pipe, then of course you can configure both the pipe and Skype for Business to accommodate higher bandwidth. Here’s a bandwidth calculator for Skype for Business, if you need help.

Sometimes 4G Just Doesn’t Behave

All that said, this isn’t the first time a 4G network refused to cooperate with Lync/Skype for Business.  In fact I documented the issue back in January 2014:
Issues With Lync 2013 – Known and Unknown (But Documented)

“Sharing and video call invitations fail on some mobile 4G networks”
Version: Lync 2013 Windows Store App, June 2013 Update
Explanation: On some mobile 4G networks, you may not be able to send or receive video in meetings and video calls or to see shared content in meetings. When you’re in a call or meeting, a notification will be displayed that video or sharing is available, but clicking Accept will result in a failure because the mobile network connection is temporarily lost.
Workaround: No workaround is available at this time.

Additional Reference: Difference between Lync Mobility Using 3G/4G and Wifi – TechNet Support

I checked again for a workaround (it has been a while since MS documented the issue), but found nothing. Overall, Skype for Business’ bandwidth management is much better than Lync Server 2013. But it’s still a powerful system with heavy requirements.

When Using 4G, Some Skype4B Options May Not Cooperate. Sorry!

Since this is an issue with 4G providers, we don’t have a simple solution. One software patch won’t fix bandwidth allocation for multiple mobile providers worldwide. In addition, since 4G is almost always limited by providers, Skype4B’s video/sharing requirements may exceed those limits by default.

It’s frustrating, I know. But using Skype for Business in an office environment, where you have configurable Wi-Fi or Ethernet, often trumps ISPs’ 4G.

Do you regularly use Skype for Business on mobile? How is your bandwidth configured in light of this? Please comment or email. I’d love to hear the different ways people have configured their Skype for Business Servers.

If you’re just joining us, welcome! Please share how you got here and what you’d like to see. Don’t forget to subscribe (signup box is at top right).

Next week I’ll go through the December poll results, and 2016 plans for the blog. Nobody wants to miss that!

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Skype4B Insider Poll: What Improvement Would You Make to Skype for Business?

Skype for Business

The end of 2015 draws near. We made it!Surveying Our Readers

And quite a year it’s been for technology. We’ve seen a lot of changes in 2015:

  • The debut of Skype for Business Server 2015
  • I changed the blog name to “Skype4B Insider” (Well, more like added a second name. You can still call this the Lync Insider if you want!)
  • Office 365’s expanded services (and usage)
  • The arrival of Windows 10

While PlanetMagpie does help businesses with Office 365, we like working with Skype for Business better. Lucky for us, that side of business has grown healthily this past 6 months.

  1. The Skype for Business Server install we did in-house went remarkably smoothly. Much smoother than the Lync Server 2013 install. (FYI: Both were Standard Edition.)
  2. Demand for Skype for Business consulting help continues to grow. We’re currently finalizing preparations for three new on-premise installations, simultaneously.
  3. The imminent arrival of Exchange Server 2016 compels some of our long-standing customers to upgrade. (Which is good – one of them still had a 2003 server running!)

Time for a Reader Poll – Voice Your Skype4B Opinion!

As this is the last Skype4B Insider post for 2015, I wanted to finish off with hearing from you, the readers. Last December I conducted a reader poll about Lync. Seems like a good idea to do another!

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 16-12-2015 09:13:00
end_date 05-01-2016 23:59:59
Poll Results:
What element of Skype for Business (both Server and Online) do you think needs improvement?

The poll will run until January 3rd, 2016.

Answer not listed? You can always email me here, or leave a comment below.

New Posts in January – Happy Holidays

A big thank you to all our readers! Both for your reading time and your questions & comments throughout 2015. If you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in 2016, please share it below.

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

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Lync Doesn’t Like a Recreated Active Directory User? How to Fix It

Lync Server 2013

A reader sent in a Lync Server/Active Directory support request the other day. I responded, but they solved it without much input from us (a credit to their fast troubleshooting skills!).

Afterward, we discussed their solution, and I asked if I could publish the issue. They said yes. So here it is!

Deleted a User from Active Directory & Recreated – Now Lync Won’t Accept

Alex’s email started with:

“I’m having an issue with a Lync 2013 server. I hope you can help me with it.”

“I had to delete a user account from the AD and my Exchange 2010. After that I made a new account for the user with the same login ID and email address. After that I’m not able to enter the user into the Lync 2013 server. Is there anywhere in the Lync 2013 I have to remove the user, or what can I do?”

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My initial thought was that both Lync and Active Directory had “ghost” user accounts now. The deleted user account still existed someplace, possibly within the Lync Front End server.

I asked Alex: “Did you remove the user from Lync, as well as AD? It’s possible that Lync retained a record of the user account from before, which it doesn’t now match up to the new account.”

“Look in Control Panel under Users. Remove this user, and recreate the user account. If that doesn’t work, you might try removing the user account from AD, Exchange and Lync in that order and re-creating it again. Tedious, I know, but that way Lync can re-establish its AD integration for the user.”

At this point Alex indicated that he’d resolved the issue. He’d done so “by changing the security settings on the AD account, so it is inheriting all security settings.”

Naturally I was curious for more details. How did he make the security change? Which specific permissions did he modify? Did he remove/recreate the user account first?

A Matter of Domain Administration

Alex was happy to provide. I’ve edited & reformatted his response slightly, below.

“On the domain controller, select the user’s profile. Select the Advanced view. Then I selected the Security tab, and could see that the group “Domain Admins” didn’t have any access to the account. I added the Domain Admins group, and then I made sure that all rights were inherited from the parent folder.”

“After this all my problem with Lync was solved. It also solved the problem we had with ActiveSync to Android Phones. ActiveSync to iPhone was working all the time, but not to Android before this operation.”

Makes sense. If the Domain Admins have no access to an account, they can’t authorize it for access to other services—like the Lync Server.

To check this myself, I went into our Active Directory through Active Directory Users and Computers. (This is not the exact way Alex indicated; I wanted to see if I could achieve the same end from another route.)

I made sure to select “Advanced Features” under the View menu. Then located a user, and opened the Properties window.

Sure enough, there’s a Security tab in this window. Click it, and you should see something like this:

userindomainadmin

(The login I used for this screenshot did not have full admin privileges; accordingly, it has grayed-out elements.)

This particular user is a member of Domain Admins, and has Full Control. Which means they are configured properly. If they were not, the highlighted line would not be present. Then I’d have to click the “Add” button and add permissions.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have an Android phone on hand to test the sync. But it’s always nice when a fix for one issue resolves another too!

If you do face a situation where you need to delete a user & re-enter them, I’d suggest creating a slightly different AD username first. That way you’re sure the new account has no “ghosts” lurking amid the servers. But if you do need to recreate the exact user account, I hope Alex’s quick fix helps you!

Thanks to Alex for agreeing to share his issue with us.

Have you encountered a similar issue between Active Directory and Lync Server/Skype for Business Server? If so, please comment or email. We’d love to hear the details!

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Office 365 E5 Debuts – With New Skype for Business Online Services

Skype for Business

Yesterday, on December 1, Microsoft debuted the new Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan.office365e5

I you’ve seen any of the prior announcements, you saw that E5 replaces E4 (though E4 is still available until June).

Why am I talking about this here? Simple. The new E5 plan includes not only Skype for Business, but some of Microsoft’s new hosted services: Cloud PBX, PSTN Conferencing and Meeting Broadcast.

These have existed in beta for a while now. And hotly anticipated—I mentioned them back in May! E5 is their big debut. Starting today, we’re all about to put them through their paces.

First, let’s review the new Skype for Business services in E5. Get a solid idea on what to expect.

The Skype for Business Services Added in E5

  • e5servicesCloud PBX: Cloud-based call management. Acts as a replacement for on-premise PBX systems. No need to manage a dedicated Enterprise Voice server.
  • PSTN Conferencing: Meeting attendees can dial in from almost any device. It even lets organizers dial out and pull attendees in – very handy if someone’s having connection issues. Or forgot the meeting was at 11!
  • Meeting Broadcast: Create virtual meetings you can broadcast online for up to 10,000 attendees. (Really not sure why you’d want 10,000 people in 1 meeting, but hey…)
  • PSTN Calling: Lets you provision standard phone numbers for making & receiving traditional phone calls. No calling plan with AT&T or Verizon required.

Let’s clarify something here. The PSTN Calling service is listed as an “add-on” on the E5 features page. It’s NOT built into the Cloud PBX by default. You’ll have to pay an extra $12/month per user ($24/month if you want international calling). That said, if you want to use E5, I’d say PSTN Calling is a must-have.

e5pstncalling1 e5pstncalling2
Now, as with all new services, there’s some operational information we need before making a decision. How much E5 costs, can we try them out, etc.

What You Need to Know About E5

E5 licensing is more expensive than E3 and E4 (like you’d expect). It goes for $35/month per user, or $420 a year. Really not bad, with all the features you get.

Rollout is not complete internationally! The PSTN Calling service is only available in the U.S. right now. According to a Windows IT Pro post from Tony Redmond, PSTN Conferencing depends on local telecom deals, so it’s not available in some countries (like Ireland) just yet.

A free trial is available. Remember, you have a 30-day free trial option on this (and any other) plan. You can sign up for it right on the
Office 365 E5 Signup page.

The timing works nicely – it’s the last month of the year, and Microsoft is finishing up the E5 services. Try it out for December, make a decision to start off with E5 in January 2016.

The Side Effect: Third-Party Skype4B Support Becomes Harder

One caution I did want to point out. If these new Skype for Business Online services work out, it means more movement to the cloud, and away from on-prem.

For some businesses it means an easier adoption of Skype for Business. That’s great–an excellent benefit for those businesses. Plus it’ll save on telecom bills.

For others, it means a loss of control over operations – control they may have to keep in-house due to legal compliance. That’s a troublesome snag and may hurt adoption.

But the more serious issue is: Where does my support come from?

Expanding the Skype for Business Online service transfers the impetus of support back to Microsoft. Away from third-party service providers. Of course, many service providers do support Office 365 installations, and do a good job of it. But the more Microsoft moves systems back under their own roof, the harder it will be to provide high-quality support for them.

This does shape your support experience. Which is why I bring it up now. Make sure to consider where your support will come from, before you sign up for Office 365 E5.

====
Now, a positive note on which to end! These new capabilities fulfill the promise Microsoft made months ago – making Office 365 into a complete phone system. On top of all the Office apps we use every day.

Let’s see how well they work!

Have you tried any of the new Skype for Business Online features while in beta? What was your experience? Please comment or email.

Also, if you’re planning to use E5, let me know how well it works for you. I’ll do a follow-up post later this month if I hear back from enough people.

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Skype for Business Cumulative Update 1 Hits: New SLA Feature, Plenty of Fixes

Skype for Business

At last! Skype for Business has a full-fledged Cumulative Update!

Like its Lync predecessors, CU1 contains a group of updates, some of which were previously available on their own. The CU’s KB number is 3061064. You’ll find its download page here: Skype for Business Server 2015 Cumulative Update KB3061064 – Microsoft.com

CU1’s KB page with installation steps is here: Updates for Skype for Business Server 2015 – MS Support

The esteemed Greig in Sydney Blog has a thorough rundown of the Cumulative Update (with my kind of dry wit) right here:
SfB 2015 CU1 Server Update – November 2015: Greig in Syndey

What Do We Have in CU1? Fixes, Removals and Additions

With Greig’s help, let’s look at some of the updates included.

  • There are updates for Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition’s Front End and Back End, Edge, Persistent Chat, Mediation Server (standalone), Director and Video Interop Server (VIS).
  • This is primarily fixes, such as an issue stopping Windows 10 Edge users from joining Skype Meetings via the Web App (3095143).
  • This update removes a feature! Server-side Conversation History is removed from branch site deployments. Boo! (Yes, it’s still available in main server deployments and local machines. This isn’t a big loss. Still, leave us our Conversation History!)
  • We have new PowerShell cmdlets:
    • Add-CsSlaDelegates
    • Get-CsGroupPickupUserOrbit
    • Get-CsServerPatchVersion
    • Get-CsSlaConfiguration
    • New-CsGroupPickupUserOrbit
    • Remove-CsGroupPickupUserOrbit
    • Remove-CsSlaConfiguration
    • Remove-CsSlaDelegates
    • Reset-CsNotificationQueues
    • Set-CsGroupPickupUserOrbit
    • Set-CsSlaConfiguration

What’s “SLA”?

SLA in the above cmdlets stands for “Shared Line Appearance“. This is a new feature, which allows Skype4B devices to share calls via workgroups. Useful for a call center or customer service. These cmdlets let you administer the SLA feature within Skype for Business.

SLA3140-1–Image courtesy of Kressmark.Blogspot.com.

Matt Landis has SLA setup details on his blog: Setting Up Skype for Business Shared Line Appearance – Microsoft UC Report

The Kressmark Unified Communications Blog also has a diagram & details about Shared Line Appearance from the Ignite 2015 sessions: MS Ignite BRK3140 – The Voice of Skype for Business: Kressmark Unified Communications

From Greig’s description and Matt’s write-up, SLA sounds quite promising for call management. However, SLA suffers from one flaw right now – it’s limited to Polycom VVX phones. I spoke with some fellow IT pros at our last Lync User Group meeting about these phones–apparently quite a snazzy line of multi-functional VoIP devices. Looking forward to testing one as soon as I can.

This also means the Skype for Business client doesn’t work with SLA yet. Problem. Yes, we still have delegates and Response Groups to manage calls through the client (they even get some fixes with CU1). But not bringing a new feature to the client software first strikes me as a little experimental. Something like, “Let’s try this new feature on a specific device group, see what its users think, THEN push it out to everyone else.”

Update Your Skype for Business Servers to Cumulative Update 1 As Soon As You Can

Microsoft Update won’t auto-install CU1; you must do so manually. Consult the CU1 KB page for the installation procedure. It varies depending on your server edition and how many servers you run.

If we run into any snags with our CU1 update, I’ll document it here. If you encounter any CU1 issues, please comment or email & let’s see what we can do.

Also, what are your thoughts on Shared Line Appearance? Must-have? Don’t-need? Let’s hear it.

Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! We’ll see you back here in December.

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    The Lync Insider/Skype4B Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft's Skype for Business Server 2015, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., MCSE in Communication and PlanetMagpie IT Consulting's Tech Writer.
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