Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams: The 2017 Update

In 2015 we did a pricing post for Skype for Business topologies. It’s time to revisit and update those numbers.

(The previous pricing post, if you’re curious: Pricing for Skype for Business 2015: 3 Scenarios)

A reader pointed out that the original post is now 2 years old. A lot’s happened since then! The introduction of Teams, Skype for Business Online growing, Microsoft’s focus shifting to Office 365 in general…

I thought about revising the post. But since we do have new tools to consider, and Office 365—not to mention the entire cloud landscape—has changed a lot, a new post made more sense.

The Skype for Business Topology Scenarios We’ll Use

In my original post, I used the following scenarios to illustrate pricing:

  • Scenario 1: 25 users. Office 365 account/Skype for Business Online.
  • Scenario 2: 25 users. Full on-premise Skype for Business Server 2015.
  • Scenario 3: 25 users. Hybrid deployment. Office 365 for primary Skype for Business services, on-premise Skype for Business Server for Enterprise Voice.

For the 2017 version, we’ll modify these scenarios as follows. As before, all users are business users.

  • Scenario 1: 25 and 50 users. Office 365 account/Skype for Business Online.
  • Scenario 2: 25 and 50 users. On-premise Skype for Business Server 2015.
  • Scenario 3: 25 and 50 users. Hybrid deployment. Office 365 for primary Skype for Business services, on-premise Skype for Business Server for Enterprise Voice.
  • Scenario 4: 25 and 50 users. Microsoft Teams, no Skype for Business Online.
  • Scenario 5: 25 and 50 users. Microsoft Teams, plus Skype for Business Online.

Scenario 1: Office 365

Office 365 ServicesPretty much every Office 365 plan has some level of Skype for Business functionality available. These are three such options.

Office 365 Business Essentials Plan: $5.00/user per month
Office 365 Business Premium Plan: $12.50/user per month
Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan: $35.00/user per month

(I put E5 in because the E5 plan includes advanced Skype for Business features like Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing. If you want to use Skype for Business as a replacement phone system, you’ll need E5.)

With 25 Users: Essentials Plan costs $125/month. Premium Plan costs $312.50/month. E5 Plan costs $875/month.
With 50 Users: Essentials Plan costs $250/month. Premium Plan costs $625/month. E5 Plan costs $1,750/month.

This scenario works for: Small/new businesses. Cloud-based businesses.

Scenario 2: Skype for Business Server 2015 (On-Premise)

Skype for Business Server TopologyAs I did in 2015, I’ll assume 1 Front End in the On-Premise scenario. This front end does require a license.

25 Users:

  • 1 Front End Server License (MSRP) – $3,646.00
  • 25 Standard User CALs – $36.00 each, or $900 total
  • 25 Enterprise User CALs (Conferencing & desktop sharing) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total
  • 25 Plus User CALs (Voice & call management) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total

Total: $10,746.00
(3-year license. Includes support from Microsoft.)

50 Users:

  • 1 Front End Server License (MSRP) – $3,646.00
  • 50 Standard User CALs – $36.00 each, or $1,800 total
  • 50 Enterprise User CALs (Conferencing & desktop sharing) – $124.00 each, or $6,200 total
  • 50 Plus User CALs (Voice & call management) – $124.00 each, or $6,200 total

Total: $17,846.00
(3-year license. Includes support from Microsoft.)

In order to enable voicemail in an on-premise topology, you will also need an Exchange Server, plus user licenses for each voicemail box.

  • 1 Exchange Server (Enterprise) License – $4,051
  • 50 Standard User CALs (MS Open License) – $5.00 each, or $250 total
  • 50 Enterprise User CALs (MS Open License) – $55.00 each, or $2,750 total

Total: $7,051.00

This scenario works for: Businesses who need to store data on-premise for security reasons, or who require features unsupported within Office 365. Businesses who prefer controlling their own servers. Enterprises.

Scenario 3: Hybrid (Office 365 with a Skype for Business Server for Enterprise Voice)

Skype for Business HybridIn this scenario you could use either E1 or E3 for Office 365. I’ll use E3, assuming you want full hybrid capabilities.

25 Office 365 user accounts, E3 plan – $500/month, or $6,000/year.
Skype for Business Enterprise Voice is installed on-premise.
1 Front End Server License (MSRP), required for Enterprise Voice – $3,646.00
25 Plus User CALs (for Enterprise Voice) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total
Total (for 1 year): $12,746.00

50 Office 365 user accounts, E3 plan – $1,000/month, or $12,000/year.
Skype for Business Enterprise Voice is installed on-premise.
1 Front End Server License (MSRP), required for Enterprise Voice – $3,646.00
50 Plus User CALs (for Enterprise Voice) – $124.00 each, or $6,200 total
Total (for 1 year): $21,846.00

This scenario works for: Businesses with an existing Exchange Server or Office 365 accounts. Businesses who already use Hybrid Cloud for other systems.

Scenario 4: Microsoft Teams, no Skype for Business Online

This is a bit of a misnomer. Every Office 365 plan that includes Teams, also includes Skype for Business.

However, if your focus is on Teams and not Skype for Business, you can get away with a lower-cost Office 365 plan. I would recommend E1—you don’t get the fully-installed Office apps (just the online versions), but you do get email and video conferencing.

Office 365 Enterprise E1 Plan: $8.00/user per month

With 25 Users: E1 Plan costs $200/month.
With 50 Users: E1 Plan costs $400/month.

This scenario works for: Startups & small businesses with remote workers. Businesses and Organizations whose employees travel frequently.

Scenario 5: Microsoft Teams + Skype for Business

Microsoft Teams LogoOnly the Enterprise plans make sense in this scenario. If you want Teams and Skype for Business available, you’ll want as many of their advanced features as you can get (within budget).

Office 365 Enterprise E1 Plan: $8.00/user per month
Office 365 Enterprise E3 Plan: $20.00/user per month
Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan: $35.00/user per month

With 25 Users: E1 Plan costs $200/month. E3 Plan costs $500/month. E5 Plan costs $875/month.
With 50 Users: E1 Plan costs $400/month. E3 Plan costs $1,000/month. E5 Plan costs $1,750/month.

This scenario works for: Larger cloud-friendly businesses. Businesses with distributed teams/remote workers.

Remember: Office 365 Pricing is Monthly. On-Premise Pricing is One-Time.

monthly budget photo
Photo by cafecredit

On-prem always looks more expensive up front. But you’ll have to factor Office 365’s monthly costs into the budget if you go that route. Always bears repeating.

I used 25 and 50 users here because it’s easy to see how the pricing changes for doubled users. Few businesses have exactly 25 or 50 users, of course. You’ll need to adapt the numbers to your own user count. Hopefully I’ve made it easy to do so.

Don’t forget, you’ll still need hardware to use Skype for Business and/or Teams! If nothing else, a good headset for each client, and a high-quality video camera for any conference rooms. (The camera in most devices works fine for users’ video calls.)

Here’s a couple headset recommendations if you’re looking:

(Don’t worry, more device reviews are coming!)

These pricing numbers are accurate as of today, September 20, 2017. Now that we have a new version of Skype for Business Server coming, they may change in the coming months. Make sure to confirm with Microsoft (or your IT partner) before clicking Buy!

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Skype for Business News: Skype4B Becomes Teams (Maybe), Teams Gets Guest Access (Sort Of)

If Microsoft wanted to stir up controversy before the Ignite 2017 conference…they sure succeeded!

Last week the Skype for Business community got two major announcements. One appears accidental. The other was not. But both have certainly drummed up a lot of speculation, confusion, and derision.

Not without cause either. Let’s take a good hard look at what we know, and what we think we know, about Microsoft’s future plans for Skype for Business and Teams.

Teams Absorbing Skype for Business?

Hallo Teams, Goodbye Skype? – MS Tech Community

First, the accidental announcement. On September 7, sharp-eyed Office 365 users caught this screenshot after logging in.

skype for business now teams
Image courtesy of Petri.com.

It was quickly removed after social media lit up.

Later the same day, Microsoft posted a message to the O365 admin portal, saying the company planned on “upgrading” Skype for Business to Teams over the next year. They specified that since it’s early-stages for such a move, the change is opt-in, and no one needs to do anything.

Then it removed THAT message a few minutes later.

Further calls for Microsoft to elaborate, to my knowledge, have gone unanswered.

Tony Redmond at Petri.com speculates that this could mean a new client, melding Teams’ chat functions with Skype4B’s voice & IM tools. If this is indeed moving forward, a “universal” Teams/Skype4B client does make a lot of sense.

Others expressed concern that folding Skype for Business into Teams would end up becoming a mess that wrecks both platforms. Still others decried what they see as Microsoft throwing them yet another branding curveball.

I think they’re ALL right.

If true, this was a damaging leak for Microsoft. It belies a migration path few asked for, and clearly some do not want. Either Microsoft has some explaining to do, or they’re about to take two well-received communications systems and smash them together. Because they can.

This really wasn’t the change I anticipated. I expected the reverse would happen: Skype for Business would absorb Teams’ chat and group functions. Replacing Persistent Chat (which, though I love it, is probably the least-used S4B tool).

All that said, there is one point with which I agree. Most of the other communications platforms out there – Slack, Cisco’s Spark, Fuze, HipChat – use short, easy-to-remember brand names. “Teams” as a brand name, is shorter and easier to recall than “Skype for Business.”

Maybe Teams’ initial success prompted Microsoft to explore expanding its brand. We’ll see pretty soon.

Teams Gets its Guest Access! (Sort of. Eventually?)

A full quarter after Microsoft had originally planned to release Teams guest access…it’s arrived.

Kind of. Maybe.

Microsoft Adds Guest Access to Teams – ZDNet

Microsoft announced the new Guest Access feature on September 11. According to the existing details, here’s how Guest Access works.

Stage 1: Anyone with an existing Azure Active Directory account (e.g. an Office 365 user) can now be added as a Teams guest user. (Occurring Now)
Stage 2: Anyone with a free Microsoft Account (MSA) can be added as a Teams guest user. (Coming Soon)
Stage 3: Anyone with a valid email address can be added as a Teams guest user. (The ideal, but I don’t know when this is happening!)

What kind of reaction did this get? Take a wild guess. No, worse than that.

I went over to UserVoice to see what others had to say:
External Access and Federation: Microsoft Teams UserVoice

UserVoice Teams Guest Access

The thread has exploded with almost-universal cries of disappointment. At time of this post’s publication, there are 563 comments. Just over 80 of them came in after the Guest Access announcement. Nearly all of those are negative.

People are trying & failing to enable Guest Access. Reporting big bugs (failure to add guests on mobile, for example). Pointing out that this is NOT what the users asked for.

My thoughts? I agree. This is not what users asked for. This is not Guest Access. It’s just a type of federation.

If adding guest access were only a case of a few bugs, I’d understand. Teams is a cloud offering; that means a huge variety of possible use cases. A few bugs aren’t a big deal.

However, this isn’t just bugs. This is a major stumbling block. Microsoft has taken Teams, a rapidly-growing product, and put the brakes on its growth.

They have effectively told users, “No, you will invite who we say you can invite, when we say you can. You don’t like it? What are you going to do, leave Office 365?”

And the thing is, that’s exactly what they will do. If a big part of users’ Office 365 experience doesn’t work how they work, they WILL leave the service and go elsewhere. Slack already lets you invite whomever you want. Same with Teams’ other competitors.

If I were Slack, Google, Fuze, or even Cisco, I’d work furiously to make some productivity-related software available to my chat customers. Integrate with a cloud email provider (or create one). Partner with LibreOffice or a cloud-based office app service.

You’ve already got a good assortment of chat/voice/video tools. Add productivity tools, and you’ll give Microsoft’s user base an option that actually caters to their needs.

(I don’t say this to drive people away from Teams, or Skype for Business. I say this because it’s probably the only way to make Microsoft listen!)

Ignite Has Some Explaining to Do

We are less than 2 weeks away from Ignite. 115 of the planned sessions involve Teams. 80 sessions involve Skype4B (many of which overlap).

These presenters have some explaining to do. I hope we get some solid answers.

Are you going to Ignite? If so, please make note to share your experience with us in the comments! I’m sadly unable to attend, but you can bet I’ll keep track of the results.

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Device Review: The Sennheiser MB 660 Headset

We’ve reviewed Jabra and Plantronics equipment on this blog already. Time for something new!

We know Jabra and Plantronics make Skype for Business-friendly headsets. But who else? As Unified Communications spreads across the business world, there’s plenty of need for headsets, speakerphones, and so on.

Time to look for some additional options. Other headset products we could offer customers. Who did we come up with? Sennheiser!

The German company is famous for high-quality headphones. But it turns out they have a big line of office headsets too. After speaking with them about our interest (and this blog), they kindly agreed to send us some products for testing.

Up first is the Sennheiser MB 660 UC headset.

Sennheiser MB 660 UC

Initial Impressions

When I took these out of the box, my immediate thought was, “Woah, Big Daddy headset here!”

Unboxing the MB 660

The MB 660 is a Bluetooth Active Noise-Canceling (ANC) headset with a dongle. It takes the form of over-ear headphones. On first glance you wouldn’t even realize they have a microphone built in…but they sure do!

Since I had this headset on loan (thank you to Sennheiser rep Doug for arranging it), I upped my testing to ‘intense’ level. Certain elements only come out after prolonged usage. That wasn’t possible for the MB660s, so I tested as thoroughly as I could.

I’m happy to say that the MB660 not only put up with everything I threw at it, it shone in several areas. Let’s see which they were!

MB 660 Headset Features

The MB 660 UC is one of Sennheiser’s higher-end headsets. Which should explain why the following feature list is so long.

Touch-sensitive panels on the earcups. The right earcup has a touch-sensitive panel on its exterior side. With various gestures you can activate a bunch of functions:

  • Volume up/down
  • Play/Pause music
  • Answer (or reject) calls
  • End, hold, mute/unmute calls in progress
  • Talk Through – This one’s neat. Tap the panel twice to pause music and open the external microphones. This lets you hear what’s going on around you without taking the headphones off or disabling ANC. Perfect for when someone wants to talk to you.

MB 660 Instructions

On/Off function built into cups. Instead of an ON/OFF switch, you control power by changing the earcups’ position. Twist them flat and the headset’s off. It will even announce it a second later. “Power Off!”

ANC switch with 2 levels. A switch on the right ear cup controls Active Noise Canceling. At one point I had full ANC enabled, and heard a low hissing sound. Nothing loud…think background noise. I took the headset off—and found that the office A/C had turned on! With the headset off it was its usual roar, but the MB660 muted it down to a low hiss.

The MB660 ANC Switch

Built-in microphone. It’s not on a boom – the mic is a tiny spot on the right earphone, roughly parallel to the mouth.

The MB660 Mic

Auto-Announcements. There’s a voice assistant in the headset, for announcing basic commands. Power On, Phone 1 Connected, Call Ended, etc.

What I found funny was that the voice assistant has a mild British accent. (I was kind of expecting a bold German accent. “Ausschalten!”)

Bluetooth on/off. There’s a simple ON/OFF switch for Bluetooth on the right earphone. If you’re using the dongle or plugging the headset into a phone directly, you can just switch Bluetooth off & save power.

Charging from USB. The headset came 50% charged. Charging to 100% took about 90 minutes. Charging from dead to full takes about 3 hours.

The MB 660 has crazy battery life…up to 30 hours. Despite multiple-hour use every day for 2 weeks, I only needed to charge it (via a standard micro-USB cable) twice!

Wireless NFC and Bluetooth connectivity. The MB 660 incorporates two types of wireless connections: NFC and Bluetooth. NFC works with the included dongle, and with NFC-enabled devices (e.g., some phones). Bluetooth is for everything else.

It will pair with multiple devices simultaneously. I plugged the dongle into my laptop, and paired the MB 660 to my phone via Bluetooth. Two devices connected to one headset. I then switched between both several times, both playing music and making calls. The headset jumped from device to device with only a quarter-second delay.

In terms of signal strength, it was great on Bluetooth and NFC. I walked across the office, and even outside, to test it. I didn’t hear any jitter or breakups in my calls (or music – amusingly, “The Sound of Silence”).

Musical clarity. If you’ve ever used Sennheiser headphones, you’re aware that they make good music-listening headphones across the board. Music isn’t the primary purpose of these MB660s, but they still sound great playing tunes. I had to keep the volume down fairly low…this guy will pump out some serious sound at high volume!

Talking

Now, the most important part of this review. How do the MB 660 UCs stack up for call quality?

In short, superb. Calls sounded focused within my head, not gathered around my ears. Voice mails came through as clear as they do from my Jabra headset.

I had a co-worker call me while I was listening to music, so I got to test the “Talk Through” feature. Just one press to the right earcup’s panel, and the music receded into the background. I talked with my co-worker for several minutes. (Ended up pausing the music after a few seconds though. I could hear my co-worker just fine, but it was a good song, and I couldn’t listen to both!)

In another test call, we used our phones. My co-worker used the Sennheiser Presence UC ML headset. He reported that my voice sounded “fuller” in his ear than what voices normally sound like when he uses his cellphone.

Finally, I used the tests given by Troy Thompson on this Quora thread: How can I make a test phone call? – Quora

  1. Plantronics Audio Tuning Wizard: Call quality was exactly what I’d expect for an IVR (a little distant, but clear).
  2. Echo Back Line: Didn’t play back my voice, but I could enter numbers and hear the tones echoed back right away.

The Fit

The MB 660 is different from most other office headsets. Instead of a lightweight pair of ear pads on a thin band with a mic arm, these are beefy over-ear cups with a thick band. Like Sennheiser’s famous HD line of headphones.

The earcups are, in my non-audiophile opinion, a little odd. They’re at a sharp angle, with narrow spaces for the ears. Felt a little strange against my face. But, they did convey one advantage—a good seal for the ANC.

MB660 Earcups (Over-Ear)

The headset sat a little rigidly on my head, but the ear cups created essentially a curtain between my ears and the outside world. Coupled with the ANC, I could pretty much tune everybody out and enjoy the quiet.

I left them on for a whole day, regardless of whether I had a call or music going. After an hour or so, I began to feel the ear cups pressing on the sides of my face. Never got to ‘painful,’ just a tad uncomfortable. Now, this is a brand-new headset. Some ‘head squeeze’ is expected. It should ease up over time.

(After wearing these for a week, the ear cup pressure lessened more so. I’m aware of the cups, but they’re not uncomfortable anymore.)

Issues

No technology is perfect, unfortunately. Even this vaunted headset had a couple (thankfully minor) frustrations.

  • Bluetooth Switch is Hidden: You have to take the headset off to get to the Bluetooth switch. When on the head, the earphones roll back a little (to better fit the ears). This tucks the switch behind the band.
    Bluetooth Switch Exposed
    Bluetooth Switch Covered
  • Discomfort: Very much a subjective issue. As I said, in just a week the headset lessened its pressure on my head. I got used to wearing them. However, your experience may differ. Especially if you’re not the type to wear big over-ear headphones anyway.
  • Touch-Sensitive Panel Confused by Streaming: I did find one problem here, though it could easily be a configuration issue. To play/pause music, you tap once on the right earcup panel. This did not work for me while listening to a Pandora stream. But it did work fine with a music player app, so it could just be a mishap with the stream.

The Verdict: MB 660s a Super Choice for Long-Stretch Use

I got a little spoiled by the MB 660s. I can walk around the office while on the phone, using my Jabra headset. But with the MB 660s I could do that AND keep distracting noises out via the Active Noise-Canceling!

This headset is a great option for people who need to keep a headset on for long periods of time. Here are 3 examples of people who’d get a lot of value out of the MB 660 UC:

  • MOBILE WORKERS — For two reasons. The Active Noise-Canceling, and the fact that it does not have a mic boom.
  • MEETING-FRIENDLY MANAGEMENT — Attend a lot of online meetings? These are good for high quality and frequent wear.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE — The MB 660s might seem like too much for customer service reps. However, I think of all the times I’ve called customer service, and we could barely understand one another. It didn’t matter what the other person used to call me…I always understood them with the MB 660s on.

I’ll let Doug from Sennheiser have the final word:

“I see this [the MB 660 UC] as a crossover product. A Bose killer in some aspects, in regards to the traveling business person who likes quality music and noise isolation on a plane, but also a true productivity tool for those road warrior calls, regardless of the environment.”

You can pick up the Sennheiser MB 660 UC at several online vendors for about $450. Here’s one such vendor:
Sennheiser MB 660 Bluetooth Headset with Noise-Canceling Microphone – Headsets.com

I do have some more Sennheiser equipment to test. We’ll cover it in another post (maybe two).

What’s your experience with Sennheiser headsets (not headphones)? Please comment or email your thoughts.

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Gartner Rankings for Cisco UC and Skype for Business – Which is Better?

What’s this? Cisco UCaaS rated HIGHER than Skype for Business? How?!

Amazing as it might seem, that is how Gartner recently ranked them: Gartner’s Magic Quadrant 2017 for Unified Communications

Their 2017 UC rankings have Cisco at #1 overall. Skype for Business is tied with Mitel on Vision at #2.

Why is Cisco #1? How did they beat Skype?

Yes, I’m feeling a little territorial. Most of our customers who already have some form of VoIP in their office are using Cisco. And given what they ask from us, they want off of it!

I went looking into this ranking, and wound up taking a little journey. A journey well worth blogging about, as you’ll soon see.

How Gartner Ranks Unified Communications Services

I went looking for reasons why Cisco is still rated above Skype for Business. In the process I found that Gartner has a pretty good approach. They rank many different IT services in several categories, using a series of specialized research factors.

A central factor is Gartner’s research methodology. They collate data from multiple sources and use it to graph services. The X-axis is “Completeness of Vision” and the Y-axis is “Ability to Execute.”

Gartner organizes its results into four categories: Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries, and Niche Players. Leaders rank highest on Vision and Execution. Challengers rank high on Execution, but low on Vision. Visionaries have good Vision, but poor Execution. Niche Players are low on both.

Unified Communications research
Image courtesy of Gartner.com.

This is what they have for 2017’s UCaaS (by brand):

  • Leaders: Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel
  • Challengers: Huawei, NEC, Avaya
  • Visionaries: Unify
  • Niche Players: ALE, ShoreTel

Now, Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute are themselves value judgments. They’ll require experience data and testing. How does Gartner arrive at such judgments?

The second slide tells us:

“Gartner evaluated UC vendors that offer enterprise equipment, software and services around VoIP, video, web conferencing, telephony, messaging, applications and UCaaS solutions.”

I would not consider a UCaaS solution complete if it didn’t have all of these elements. So, good on Gartner for making sure they’re included.

But this itself led to another curiosity. In the Cisco slides, Gartner described the available Cisco UC services it considered for Magic Quadrant. From Paragraph 2 on the first slide:

“Cisco’s UCaaS Spark offers messaging, calling and meeting space that support workstream collaboration.”

Spark, huh? What’s so great about Spark?

Cisco Spark 411

Reading this made me realize I haven’t taken a thorough look at Spark yet. I’ll have to do a detailed Spark/Skype4B comparison at some point.

In the meantime, we have our good buddy Matt Landis’ Cisco Spark Review to cite!

What it does do:

  • Instant Messaging
  • Organizes by Rooms
  • Video Calls
  • Screen Sharing (but no ability to transfer control)
  • Upload files
  • Delete messages

What it doesn’t do:

  • Audio calls only (unless you use a Cisco phone)
  • Presence status
  • Archive video calls or screen sharing
Cisco Spark vs. Skype for Business
“Why do our sales projections look like pyramids?”
Image courtesy of Cisco.com

(In fairness, I have not tested Spark out yet. This little mini-review is only for reference.)

Gartner factored Spark in with Cisco’s other UC offerings, such as Unified Communications Manager. Interesting…so in order to present a full UCaaS solution, and thus compete head-to-head with Skype4B, they had to bundle some things together.

Well, I’ll take what I can get.

Spark is More like Teams

From Matt’s review and subsequent reading, Cisco Spark seems more like Microsoft Teams than Skype for Business. In fact, I found a G2 Crowd comparison that puts them neck-and-neck. Teams edges ahead in ease of use & status updates, but Spark pulls ahead on search and file sharing.

Which at last brings us to another reason why Cisco ranked higher. This is the 2017 magic quadrant. It gathered data from 2016, and maybe early 2017. Teams was not in General Availability for most of that time. Spark was.

So a full, direct comparison just wasn’t possible. Gartner ranked on the basis of available solutions at the time. That’s nobody’s fault…just how the market worked out.

Gartner Deserves Credit for Its Work (I Just Think One “Leader” is Better than the Other)

Now, I don’t want to come across as mad at Gartner or anything. Some fellow Spiceheads mentioned that the Magic Quadrants inform their purchasing decisions. Good! Their results represent lots of research.

Cisco comes across as a walled garden. (And an expensive one.) Trying to control all forms of communication, limiting the hardware you can use, not playing too nicely with other systems. (The number of times we’ve had Skype issues because of someone using a Cisco phone…)

We’re big on Skype for Business not just because it’s some of Microsoft’s most useful software. But also because it plays nice (or nicer!) with other systems. When you pick up the phone to call someone, it shouldn’t matter what type of phone they’re on. Skype, Cisco, Mitel, RingCentral, iPhone, Android…the call should connect without hiccup.

At least from our experience, when you’re using Cisco UC? Hiccups happen often.

What’s your experience with Cisco Unified Communications? Please comment or email.

Next post we’ll have some fancy new device reviews. Make sure to come back for those!

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A New Skype for Business Server Version IS Coming!

Permit me a little celebration.

dog playing photo
Photo by carterse

Mary Jo Foley over at ZDNet broke some wonderful news. There is still life in Skype for Business Server after all!

Mary Jo’s article:
What’s Next for Microsoft’s Skype for Business Unified Communications Products – ZDNet

(She also linked to my Microsoft 365 post in the article. Many thanks for that!)

The Source: A Microsoft Ignite Session Listing

Mary Jo found an MS Ignite 2017 session discussion appearing to reference a ‘next version’ of Skype for Business: Plan your UC refresh correctly: Skype for Business on-premises vNext

MS Ignite Session Page

The MS Ignite conference occurs in mid-September. Major announcements of new (or updated) Microsoft products are not unusual.

So it appears Skype for Business Server will indeed get a new version! Possibly by end of year, but I’m thinking early 2018 is more likely.

Now, I’ve seen the term ‘vNext/v.Next’ a few times. Always attached to a Microsoft product, of course…ASP.NET vNext, SQL Server v.Next. What does it mean in this case?

I’ve come across a few general definitions. One is simply that “vNext” is a name given to a product when it’s in pre-release mode. “We don’t have a version number for this yet, so it’s ‘vNext.'” Another was that vNext referenced the latest version of .NET used to develop the apps. I tend to lean more toward the first definition—shorthand for a version number not finalized just yet.

Which means we’ll all have to wait & see what the next Skype for Business Server name will be. Personally, I hope it’s the most obvious choice – “Skype for Business Server 2017” or “2018.”

(Having to say ‘Skype for Business on-premises vNext’ would get old fast!)

What Else is Out There?

I looked at other Skype for Business-related sessions planned for Ignite. Here is the full list.
MS Ignite Session Catalog: “Skype for Business”.

Unsurprisingly, most reference Office 365. Video interop, large-scale deployments, bots, etc. All useful, of course, but not referencing Skype for Business Server.

Curiously, some of the Skype for Business Online services will have name changes too.

  • Cloud PBX becomes “Microsoft’s Phone System” – Good idea. Easier to understand for non-technical users.
  • PSTN Calling becomes “Calling Plan” – Bad idea. Easy to confuse with Dial Plans.

I also looked around on the Web for more instances of the new name. What do you know, I came up with a post from our friend Tom Arbuthnot…
Microsoft Ignite 2017 Session details Live: 34 Session related to Skype for Business including Server vNext

…who just yesterday replied to a comment, agreeing with the notion that “Skype for Business vNext” will be the next on-prem Skype for Business Server.

Whatever the Version Name, More Skype for Business is Great News!

The MS Ignite expo will take place in Orlando, FL from September 25-29. If you already have tickets, I’m jealous, and hereby request you share whatever notes taken relating to Skype for Business.

I can’t make it (much to my disappointment). But as soon as I can find out more about the next Skype for Business Server version, you’ll see it here!

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How Microsoft 365 Will Affect Skype for Business

Ladies and gentlemen, tech pros and end users, we have a new service from Microsoft. A big one…one that’s going to shake a lot of things up. Including Skype for Business. It’s called Microsoft 365.

Microsoft announced the new service last month, in an Office Blog post. They also highlighted MS 365 at the Microsoft Inspire 2017 event.

Frankly, this concerns me. Not in terms of user value, mind you. No, I’m concerned because I think this threatens the on-prem version of Skype for Business (Server).

Let me explain why.

The 411 on MS 365

Introducing Microsoft 365

To start off, let’s take a quick look at what Microsoft 365 provides. Right now it has two versions: MS 365 Enterprise and MS 365 Business.

Each MS 365 service wraps together Windows 10, Office 365, and Mobility & Security tools. You deploy it to a fresh computer, and the user has a full suite of tools to do their work (and stay secure). Administration flows through a centralized portal, just like Office 365.

There’s only one level of MS 365 Business for now. Enterprise has two levels: E3 and E5. As is typical for Microsoft service levels, E3 is missing a few advanced features like Cloud PBX, Cloud App Security, and Advanced eDiscovery.

These services are in preview. Testers are running them through their paces, teasing out bugs, trying out different deployments.

Where Does Skype for Business Fit Into All This?

Now, to the most important topic (at least on this blog)…Skype for Business. Is Skype for Business included in MS 365? Yes, via its integrated Office 365.

However, I discovered a mismatch in the services lists. On the MS 365 Business service list, you don’t see Skype for Business. But you do see Teams.

Teams in MS 365

Did that mean they stripped Skype4B?

No. It’s still included. To make sure, I watched the live demo available for MS 365 Business. By doing so, I confirmed that Skype for Business (not “Skype” as the presenter kept saying) was shown on the screen, and used in the demo.

Let’s switch over to MS 365 Enterprise. The two service levels, E3 and E5, parallel to Office 365 Enterprise. No surprise there. Skype for Business is one of the services that changes between E3 and E5. It is included in both versions. But PSTN Conferencing and Cloud PBX are NOT included in E3. Only in E5.

Cloud PBX in MS 365 Enterprise

Which means if you want all Skype for Business functions, you’ll need MS 365 Enterprise E5. Nothing less.

Will Microsoft 365 Work with Skype for Business Server?

Now, the big question. So far I’ve just verified inclusion for Skype for Business Online. Not the Server version.

I tried to find as many details as I could on MS 365’s friendliness (if any) with Skype4B Server. But since the service is still in preview (GA is expected toward the end of 2017), references were not forthcoming. So far, no explicit confirmation either way.

But I did find indications. One that said yes, MS 365 would work with Skype for Business Server. One that said no.

Indication of Yes
My Yes indication came up in the MS 365 Business demo. The presenter showed his Office 365 Portal screen for a few minutes, talking about options you can turn on & off. One of the options was, “Allow users to copy content from Office apps into personal apps” with an ON/OFF switch.

How does this relate to Skype for Business Server? Since the Server version of Skype for Business isn’t part of Office 365, it may be considered a ‘personal app’ in this case. Bit of a stretch, I know, but it’s a reasonable one.

Indication of No
However, I saw another indication from the MS 365 Business FAQs:

Active Directory Warning in MS 365
“Customers who use on-premises Active Directory must switch to cloud identity and management as part of their deployment.” Does not bode well for Skype for Business Server…

Skype for Business Server relies on Active Directory for its on-prem user management. Switching to cloud identity (Azure AD) doesn’t necessarily preclude Skype4B Server from operation; you can always reconfigure for a Hybrid deployment.

However, this looks like another way for Microsoft to prioritize its own O365-integrated Skype for Business. At Server’s expense.

Microsoft 365 is an “Uh Oh” for Skype for Business Server

axe photoIf you’ll permit me some fatalistic imagery…MS 365 is an ax poised above Skype for Business Server’s head.

Tying Windows, Office, and enterprise security into one big bundle IS a logical next step for Microsoft. All are available as services. Together they become a “complete system” for use on just about every modern PC.

From a business standpoint, there is some argument to retiring Skype for Business Server in favor of the online version.

Not saying I agree with this, mind you! Not everyone will move to Microsoft 365. The question of security alone will keep some businesses from adoption, at least in the short-term.

Use of other apps for communication, security, and productivity will also block MS 365—why switch when you have a working, up-to-date solution?

What are your thoughts on Microsoft 365? Please comment or email.

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How the Edge Server Fits into Skype for Business

“What’s the Edge Server do?”

One of our team members fielded this question while on-site the other day. He’d just finished describing the Skype for Business topology we proposed for the customer’s business (hybrid deployment, across 3 offices). One of the users piped up right afterward.

Now to his credit, my co-worker answered the question immediately, and (from his impressions) to the user’s satisfaction. He’d mentioned it to me only in passing. But, me being me, I seized on it as a good post idea.

We’re all about educating users here. In case another user at that customer site, or a future customer’s, still has questions? Let’s take a detailed look at what goes into an Edge Server.

(Please note: We will not discuss Reverse Proxies or Load Balancers in this post. If you want to hear more about these, I’m happy to dedicate a post to each. Please comment if so.)

The Edge Server’s Primary Role

The Edge Server grants Skype for Business access to users outside the internal network. These are mobile users, remote users, federated users (e.g. partners, vendors), and sometimes even customers.

Without the Edge Server, these external users can’t send or receive IM, take phone calls, or join in Online Meetings.

How does it do that? Essentially, by acting as an IP intermediary. It translates external IP addresses into internal IP addresses to facilitate the external user connections. As such, the Edge will need routable public IPs assigned to it (or non-routable private IPs, if you use NAT).

Skype for Business Servers
That’s our Edge Server right there. No, that one.

Main Components of an Edge Server

Each Edge Server runs four main services.

  1. Access Edge. This service gives users a trusted connection for inbound & outbound SIP traffic. Like a private road through the Internet.
  2. Web Conferencing Edge. This service allows an external user to join Online Meetings running on your Skype for Business Server. A virtual “ticket to the show,” as it were.
  3. A/V Edge. This service enables audio/video, application sharing, and file transfer for external users while in said Meetings. That way you’re not missing out on any parts of the conversation.
  4. XMPP Proxy. Finally, this service sends & receives XMPP messages (eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) from federated partners. It makes sure external users can still talk with federated users.
    • NOTE: This is not required for all Edge Servers. You may need an XMPP gateway running on the Front End as well.

Other Servers Edge Communicates With

Front End. Obviously, the Edge Server will communicate the most with the Front End (Standard or Enterprise Edition). Otherwise external user connections would just vanish!

Office 365 Cloud. If you’re running a hybrid configuration, the Edge Server will have to communicate with Office 365 servers. Edge will treat the Office 365 tenant as a federated partner, so make sure SIP Federation is enabled.

Exchange UM Server. Edge must communicate with Unified Messaging, in order for external users to get their voicemails.

Persistent Chat Server. For topologies supporting Persistent Chat, the Edge Server will need to communicate with its server. Access Edge needs to facilitate external users joining chats.

Reverse Proxy, Firewall, Load Balancer. Together with the Edge Server, these servers/tools create the “perimeter network.” They protect your network from unauthorized access (e.g. malware), while letting authenticated users through.

Edge Server Functionality
A Microsoft diagram illustrating some of the Edge Server’s functions. It keeps busy. Image courtesy of Microsoft.com.

Is One Edge Server Enough?

For most offices, yes. One Edge Server can handle 12,000 concurrent users. But for high-availability topologies, you can collocate Edge Servers.

Reminder: Don’t Forget about Mobile User Access

When configuring an Edge Server, make sure you’ve addressed mobile users. We’ve had to reconfigure Edge Servers which were set up properly for most remote users…but mobile apps didn’t have access the moment they left the office.

Every Time You Use Skype for Business on the Road, Thank Your Edge Server

Among our customers, IM is the most-used Skype for Business tool benefiting from the Edge Server. But inviting customers or vendors into an Online Meeting is the most valued benefit.

“You mean they can actually join the meeting too? Just like each of us?” Yes, they sure can! Thanks to the Edge Server. Show it a little love.

(I’m not actually sure how you’d do that. Do servers appreciate it when you clean their fans?)

Did you have a question about what Edge Servers do, or how they do it? Please comment or email your thoughts.

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PSTN Calling Has a Not-So-Pleasant Surprise for International Callers

While researching a full Skype for Business pricing update, I spoke with a co-worker. He told me something I didn’t know about Office 365’s PSTN Calling. Specifically, a surprise hidden in how Microsoft handles international call rates.

It is possible to find out about this organically. But (and I’m saying this as a writer) the language is obtuse. Essentially, it boils down to…

For international calls, Office 365 PSTN Calling has a nasty surprise. If you’re not careful, the plan will charge you extra fees on top of your monthly rate.

Let’s go through how this happens.

What PSTN Calling Does

PSTN Calling gives Office 365 Skype for Business users the ability to make calls to/receive calls from the PSTN. Like a cellphone plan (the non-unlimited ones), you get a certain amount of minutes for domestic and international calls.

What’s not obvious is that international calls are also subject to per-minute additional rates, depending on how many calls you make.

The two calling plans are (per month):

  • DOMESTIC: 3000 minutes in the US and Puerto Rico, 1200 minutes in the UK
  • INTERNATIONAL: 3000 minutes in the US and Puerto Rico, 1200 minutes in the UK, and 600 international minutes.

Pay attention to that last line. 600 international minutes. That’s per user, but it’s still not a whole lot—10 hours’ call time per month. It’s also pooled at the tenant level…which means it’s possible for one department to make a bunch of international calls & use up another department’s minutes!

If you go over 600 minutes calling overseas, or if you only have a Domestic plan and want to call internationally, you’re kind of stuck. No more international calling for you until next month.

Making International Calls
“Wait, what country am I calling? Do we have any minutes left?”
Photo by Kait Loggins on Unsplash

Further details are on the PSTN Calling page.

PSTN Consumption Billing: What’s This?

An alternative to the call plans is PSTN Consumption Billing.

What is PSTN Consumption Billing? Office 365 Help

This is a subscription to give you, for lack of a better term, “call credits.” If the Domestic & International call plans are monthly cellphone plans, Consumption Billing is a pre-paid phone.

You pre-pay a certain amount, held by Microsoft, which is used when callers make international calls (or calls outside their current PSTN Calling plan—it’s possible to use both).

O365 users can either pre-pay a full one-time amount, or pre-pay a minimum balance with an “auto-recharge” option. Auto-Recharge kicks in whenever the minimum balance is used up, refilling it from your payment method.

Now, Consumption Billing isn’t cheap. The minimum balance for less than 250 users is $200. If you wanted to pre-pay the full amount for the same number of people instead, you’re looking at $1,000!

If you don’t have Consumption Billing and you’re on the Domestic plan? International calls will not connect.
If you don’t have Consumption Billing and your users use up the international minutes in their plan? Skype for Business can’t dial out until the next month starts.

Which O365 Plans Offer PSTN Calling?

PSTN Calling is available to the Enterprise plans – E1, E3, and E5. These are the plans you’d want if you’re giving users full voice capability anyway.

Let’s do a stack of Office 365 subscriptions necessary to call anyone, anywhere. We’ll assume 50 users, all on O365 E3 licenses.

PSTN CALLING STACK

  1. Office 365 E3 – $20.00/month x 50 = $1,000
  2. Cloud PBX – $8.00/month x 50 = $400
  3. PSTN Calling Add-On (International) – $24.00/month x 50 = $1,200
  4. [OPTIONAL] PSTN Consumption Billing Subscription (Minimum) – $200.00
  5. Total:
    • With Consumption Billing added: $52.00 x 50 = $2,800.00/month
    • International Call Plan only: $52.00 x 50 = $2,600.00/month
      +International Calling Rates (varies)

(If you used E5 plans, Cloud PBX would come included. But the cost rises from $20.00/month to $35.00/month. Just FYI.)

So we’re looking at $2,600-2,800/month for 50 users to call anywhere. What’s that last part though? Depending on your users’ activity, ‘International Calling Rates’ could come to zero each month. Or you could suddenly find hundreds of dollars added to your bill.

What Happens with International Calls (When You Go Over Minutes)

I’ll break down how it works. Let’s say Shelly in XYZ Corp’s US Operations needs to communicate regularly with their overseas manufacturing facilities. These facilities are located in Germany and China. Shelly has the full PSTN Calling Stack we listed above.

  1. In one month, she spends about 9 hours talking with the Germany & China facilities. For that month, she didn’t exceed the International call plan, so her cost remains at $52.00/month.
  2. The next month there’s some problem with production. Shelly has to make some extra calls to straighten everything out. In the process, she makes 10.5 hours’ worth of international calls.
  3. Shelly has gone over her plan’s limit. What will Microsoft charge her for the overages?
    • Shelly’s calls to Germany (30 minutes)
      International Dial-Out Rate/Minute – $0.021 x 30 = $0.63
    • Shelly’s calls to China (30 minutes)
      International Dial-Out Rate/Minute – $0.04 x 30 = $1.20

Sure, these aren’t run-for-the-hills numbers. But this is one user. Multiply it over 50 (or 100, or 1,000…) and those overages will add up pretty fast.

Plus, the rates aren’t locked. They may change at any time. That means one month’s international bill may suddenly go up, beyond last month’s. Especially if you use Consumption Billing only—the dial-out rates are used for every minute on those calls.

PSTN Calling Extra Rates

Download the current table for international dial-out rates here (PDF). [Current as of July 12, 2017.]

I should point out a big caveat before finishing up though. If users are homed in the same country, even though one person is traveling internationally, their calls to co-workers are considered domestic.

A Thousand Tiny Costs Adding Up

Extra fees on international calls isn’t a huge emergency. Some of you already knew, or at least came across it before. Nevertheless, it’s an important topic about which to blog.

My co-worker spent months working with Office 365 before he came across the international call rate structure. “Bit of a surprise,” as he phrased it. The customer whose Office 365 tenant he was setting up when he found it? A 200-plus-employee tech hardware manufacturer with an overseas satellite office.

They had no idea what was in store.

What’s your experience been with PSTN Calling for international calls? I’m especially curious if anyone’s run up against the call limits already.

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MS Teams Updates: Guest Access, Educational Resources, and a License Rumor

Hope all of you had a great 4th of July!

Just a quick post today, while we continue work on some bigger stuff.

Microsoft Teams has come up on social a lot lately. Some important information administrators should know, whether or not you use Teams now. So let’s recap.

External User/Guest Access: Still Waiting

First up – no, Teams didn’t get Guest Access in June. We’d all hoped for it, but a Microsoft rep posted on UserVoice to expect delays.

External Access and Federation – MicrosoftTeams.UserVoice.com

Teams Guest Access Status Update

Guest Access will allow non-Office 365 users to join your Teams channels. I commented the other day that this will end up as a make-or-break element for Teams adoption. Judging by the comments on this thread, it seems I was right. We’re already seeing comments like:

  • Too long of a wait, going with Slack.
  • We couldn’t keep waiting.
  • We have to move on.

I’d like to see Teams have a fair shot at the collaboration marketplace. But Microsoft’s delays aren’t helping anything.

Teams Education: 2 New Resources

Next, something nicer for new (or future) Teams users. Two educational resources have launched to help you get the hang of Teams: Microsoft Teams Education Resource Collection – Padlet.com. This one appears to focus on educational Teams use.

Microsoft Teams Survival Guide – TechNet. More a collection of existing resources really…but an extensive one.

License Auto-Adjust Rumor

Finally, I’ve heard a troubling rumor. I cannot confirm it yet, though I’m trying. If it turns out to be false (and I sort of hope it does), then I’ll remove this section from the post.

The rumor I heard involves Teams use changing your Office 365 license level.

Here’s the scenario alluded to. Person A is an Office 365 user with Teams (let’s say they have an E1 license). Person B is an Office 365 user, but doesn’t have Teams (they have the ProPlus license).

  1. Person A sends a Teams invite to Person B. Or shares some content from one of their Teams channels with them.
  2. Instead of Person A getting an error message, Person B’s Office 365 license changes. It self-adjusts to a level that includes Teams (e.g., Business Premium).
  3. Person B sees the Teams invite/share.
  4. Person B may not be aware of the license change…until they get the next bill.

Right now, Teams is included for these subscription plans:

  • Office 365 Business Essentials
  • Office 365 Business Premium
  • Office 365 Enterprise E1
  • Office 365 Enterprise E3
  • Office 365 Enterprise E5
  • Office 365 Education
  • Office 365 Education Plus
  • Office 365 Education E5

That leaves out:

  • Office 365 ProPlus
  • Office 365 Business
  • Office 365 Government (G1-G5)
  • Office 365 Home
  • Office 365 Personal
  • Office Home & Student 2016
  • Skype for Business Online Plans

(Granted, most of the users on these plans won’t see much of a need for Teams.)

Why the exclusion? It has to do with Exchange. Teams requires Exchange Online available in the Office 365 account. Microsoft requires it for adding connectors – links to external services, like Twitter or Trello.

Since those Office 365 plans don’t come with Exchange Online by default, Teams isn’t included either.

Again, I hope this was just a rumor. Maybe someone experienced a glitch and spread the word out of frustration.

If you have heard anything about this license auto-adjust, please comment and update me! I’d love confirmation, one way or the other.

If it’s false, then we can all breathe easy.
If it’s true, then it’s something we should all know about.

Until next time, everyone! I promise, we have some good Skype4B material coming up.

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Poll Results: Some Organizations DO Still Use Lync Server!

We’re working on a big post (again!). It’s directly in response to a reader comment, and deals with a critical part of Skype for Business adoption.

In the meantime, as I promised, here are the results of the Lync Polls I conducted.

On-the-Blog Poll Results

Lync Server Poll Results June 2017
(I’m obscuring actual vote numbers on request.)

58% of the blog poll votes went to “We moved to Skype for Business Server.” No big surprise there. Several votes went to Office 365’s Skype for Business Online, too.

What I found curious was that 25% said they still use Lync Server!

Spiceworks Poll Results

If you’re a Spicehead too, here’s the URL for the voting results over there:
https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/2003305-are-you-still-using-lync-server
All responses voted for: “No, we moved to Skype for Business”

Thanks to everyone who voted.

So, what do the results tell us? Most Lync users moved to Skype for Business, and are doing just fine.

A larger-than-expected percentage still use Lync Server though. I did get a little feedback on this…the main reason? Corporate inertia. Management doesn’t want to invest the time & money to move from Lync to Skype for Business.

For those in such a situation, if you want to move to Skype for Business? You have several ways to demonstrate its value to Management.

  1. Start up an Office 365 trial in one department (maybe IT?). The fastest method, and the closest to Server deployment. Then you can show Management how the workflow benefits from it.
  2. Federate your Lync Server with a colleague’s or vendor’s Skype for Business Server. Might take some asking around, but eventually you’ll find one. That way you can show the differing experiences between Lync and Skype4B.
    • We actually convinced a customer to move to Skype for Business this way…just by using our own Skype4B Server. I’m not opposed to doing so again, if it’ll help you!
  3. Ask to sign up for a Microsoft Teams trial. It’s obviously not the same, but it’s a simple way to show how Microsoft has updated their software since Lync.
  4. Request a live Skype for Business demo from an IT agency. May not change anything, but at least Management gets to see the Skype for Business UI at work!

Lync Users: Lync Server 2013 IS Still Supported, So You’re in Good Shape

If you’re honestly happy with Lync Server, then more power to you! Just keep the server secure and up-to-date. Lync Server 2013 will receive mainstream support until April 2018. It doesn’t reach end of life until April 2023.

We’ll have the next big post coming up as soon as possible. Don’t forget to join us again next week!

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