How to Resolve a Communication Issue Between Skype4B Online and Skype4B Server

Back again, with a reader comment about communication issues. The other day, Marcos commented:

“Is there an incompatibility issue when establishing communication between organizations using SFB Online vs on Premise? We are using Online, however we cannot reach contacts outside our organization that use on Premise.
Is there any additional set up needed on each side?”

Yes, there is. Skype for Business Online and Skype for Business Server can (and should) communicate between one another. But you do need additional setup to connect them. I don’t know how much configuration Marcos did, but for sake of completion, I’ll proceed as if no configuration has taken place.

Communications between a Skype for Business Server, and Skype for Business Online, are what Microsoft calls “business-to-business communication.” To enable it, you’ll have to do three things.

  1. Enable business-to-business communication for users in the Office 365 Admin Center (Skype for Business Online)
  2. Configure federation with Skype for Business Online (on-premise Skype for Business Server)
  3. Update firewall settings (both ends)
Office Chats
“Can you hear me?” “I can’t hear anything.”  “Are you muted?”

How to Enable Business-to-Business Communication in Office 365 Admin Center

(Please note: You’ll need Office 365 Admin privileges to make this change.)

  1. Sign in with your Office 365 admin account at https://portal.office.com/adminportal/home.
  2. In the Office 365 admin center, go to Admin Centers > Skype for Business.
  3. In the Skype for Business admin center, select Organization > External Communications.
  4. To set up communication with a specific business or with users in another domain, in the drop down box, choose “On only for allowed domains.”
    • If you want to enable communication with everyone instead, choose “On except for blocked domains.”
  5. Under Blocked or Allowed Domains, click the +. Add the name of the domain(s) you want to allow.
  6. If the domain you want to enable is another Office 365 account, make sure their admin repeats the above steps, entering your domain.
  7. If you’re using the Windows Firewall, Skype for Business opens the required ports automatically.  If not, see “Firewall Settings” below.
  8. Wait up to 24 hours before testing. (That’s how long it can take to populate changes across all the Office 365 datacenters.)

More information available here: Allow users to contact external Skype for Business users – Office Support

How to Configure Federation with Skype for Business Online

Unsurprisingly, you use federation to enable on-premise communication with Skype for Business Online. However, we will also have to make a change in Office 365 Admin for this too.

Step 1: Set Federation for Skype for Business Online on Edge Server. All we need here are two cmdlets, entered in Skype for Business’ Management Shell.

Set-CSAccessEdgeConfiguration -AllowOutsideUsers 1 -AllowFederatedUsers 1 -EnablePartnerDiscovery 1 -UseDnsSrvRouting

New-CSHostingProvider -Identity SkypeforBusinessOnline -ProxyFqdn “sipfed.online.lync.com” -Enabled $true -EnabledSharedAddressSpace $true -HostsOCSUsers $true -VerificationLevel UseSourceVerification -IsLocal $false -AutodiscoverUrl https://webdir.online.lync.com/Autodiscover/AutodiscoverService.svc/root

Step 2: Configure Skype for Business Online for a Shared SIP Address Space.  This step is more complicated. You’ll have to establish a remote session with the Skype for Business Online tenant, from your on-premise Skype for Business Server.

How? With this: Skype for Business Online, Windows PowerShell Module

You’ll need to download & install the module on your server. Then, you can establish the remote session by entering these cmdlets:

Import-Module SkypeOnlineConnector
$cred = Get-Credential
$CSSession = New-CsOnlineSession -Credential $cred
Import-PSSession $CSSession -AllowClobber

Okay! All that work to establish a remote session.   Step 3:  Enter Configuration Cmdlet.  Just enter this cmdlet:

Set-CsTenantFederationConfiguration -SharedSipAddressSpace $true

That’s all.

More information available here: Configure federation with Skype for Business Online – TechNet

Firewall Settings

If you’ve configured both Skype for Business systems, but still receive error messages when communicating, chances are you need to update your firewall.

First, make sure your firewall allows client computers to access the following FQDNs:

  • *.api.skype.com
  • *.users.storage.live.com
  • graph.skype.com

Double-check that all necessary ports are open, regardless of which service you’re using. We often run into Skype4B Server deployments where the internal video ports (50020 to 50039 UDP and TCP) are open. But some of the external video ports were not–3478 UDP in particular. (Total external video ports are 443 TCP, 3478 UDP, & 50000 to 59999 UDP and TCP.)

If more advanced configuration is needed, here’s a list of Office 365 URLs and IPs. It should identify the pertinent information needed to update your firewall settings.
Office 365 URLs and IP Address Ranges – Office Support

Here’s the same list, for Skype for Business Server’s Edge Server.
Edge Server environmental requirements in Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

Communication Established. Proceed with Work.

Once federation is set up between the two services, your users should be able to chat, call, have video chats, whatever they like.

Marcos, I hope this helps you out!  As well as any other reader who’s having trouble with communications between Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online.

(If that’s you, or you have a similar issue going on, please comment or email your experience. We try to help whenever possible!)

Next time, we resume our VS. comparisons, with the newer collaboration platforms mentioned in The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business).  Join us then!

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Webinar – Learn How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance

Join Us for a Free Webinar on February 9 at 11am PST

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled blogging for a special announcement!

Next Thursday, February 9, PlanetMagpie President Robert Douglas will take part in a webinar, hosted by Exinda, makers of QoE monitoring solutions for Microsoft applications (including Skype for Business.)

What’s the topic? Skype for Business performance. Namely, how to squeeze the highest performance possible out of your Skype for Business deployment.

  • What are the biggest performance issues?
  • Should you use a hybrid deployment?
  • What Microsoft says about preparing your network for Skype for Business
  • And more!

The webinar starts at 11am PST/2pm EST. It’s free to attend. Sign up right here:
30-MINUTE WEBINAR: How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance

(If you have questions after the webinar, please send them to me. I’ll tackle all I can on the blog.)

We’ll return to your regular blogging schedule next time. Thank you.

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The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business)

In a recent Spiceworks survey, 59% of respondents said that “Sensitive files/information should not be shared via collaborate chat applications.”

Business Chat Apps vs Email
Image courtesy of Spiceworks.com.

So, 59% think chat rooms aren’t secure. A little more than half. Healthy caution; nothing wrong with that.

But you know it’s going to happen. Someone asks a co-worker for help, not realizing they’ve asked for some Intellectual Property. The co-worker pastes it into the chat window.

What then? Does everybody gasp at once? Scramble to delete it?
Or do they just shrug and keep chatting, believing the chat room itself has enough security to protect the IP?

Chances are, they do the latter. The question is, which business chat apps DO have the security to protect data shared within them?

That’s what we’re tackling in this post. A comparison of 6 popular business chat apps at the security level.

The Source: A 2017 Spiceworks Survey

The Spiceworks survey that started all this is here: Business Chat Apps in 2017: Top Players and Adoption Plans

I came across it in my daily reading. (Hey there Spiceheads!) A group of IT Pros gave their thoughts on 6 chat apps – Skype for Business, Slack, Google Hangouts, HipChat, Microsoft Teams, and Workplace by Facebook.

This section caught my eye, talking about chat room security:

“In terms of security, the results show less than one third of IT pros are concerned about business chat apps introducing security risks. For example, 32% said messaging apps put corporate data more at risk of being hacked, and 29% said they pose a security risk that is difficult to manage.
“However, that doesn’t mean caution can be thrown to the wind. Nearly 60% of IT pros believe sensitive files/information should not be shared via group chat apps. In other words, IT pros aren’t overly concerned about the security risks as long as their employees use chat services wisely.”

Using chat services wisely. Agreed! When it comes to IP, take care to keep it safe. So, which of those 6 is the most secure chat platform? Can we rank them? Let’s find out.

The Big Three: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype for BusinessSlack Logo

SLACK & MICROSOFT TEAMS—The Bitglass Blog put together a review of Slack’s security vs. Microsoft Teams’.
Microsoft Teams vs Slack Security – The Bitglass Blog
They’ve done their homework; it’s definitely worth a read.

Slack and MS Teams are pretty much neck-and-neck in terms of their security. Teams has greater regulatory compliance, but Slack already delivers on at-rest and in-transit encryption. Adding external users is a risk on both services.

Microsoft Teams LogoThis of course makes me happy! I like seeing Slack and Teams in competition…like iron sharpening iron, they should continue to make each other better. That they both have good security on their chats is yet another benefit to users.

(I talked before about Slack and MS Teams – when it was called Skype Teams – back in October.)

 

SSkype for Business LogoKYPE FOR BUSINESS—Our favorite, naturally. And in terms of security, it’s our favorite for good reason.

Persistent Chat is a server within Skype for Business Server, and uses SQL Server for its database. Hardening the SQL Server and configuring security on the Windows Server on which Persistent Chat runs will provide high-grade security for the chats.

In addition, a Persistent Chat administrator controls memberships, file uploads, and the domains from which users can join. There’s a lot of granular control. It’s safe to say that if you’ve secured your Skype for Business Server, your Persistent Chat rooms are pretty darn private.

Now, what about the others?

The Other Three: HipChat, Google Hangouts, Workplace by Facebook

HipChat LogoHIPCHAT—HipChat is run by Atlassian, makers of Jira and Confluence. Their Security of HipChat page indicates 256-bit SSL encryption on your chats & files. It even tells you where HipChat hosts its data – on Amazon Web Services, which employs its own security.

However, HipChat has had a couple issues. In 2015, hackers stole usernames & passwords from HipChat. Atlassian responded with fixes of course.

But in February 2016, a Redditor pointed out a HipChat flaw with downloading files if you have a link, without logging into HipChat. I haven’t used HipChat much, so I don’t want to disparage it, but I am left a little uncertain on its security after reading these accounts.

 

Google Hangouts IconGOOGLE HANGOUTS—Okay, let’s talk Google. The search giant is famous for collecting data on its users. But it tries to maintain their privacy, at the same time. Hangouts uses encryption to protect your chats and files.

How Hangouts Encrypts Information – Hangouts Help

A few things I note on this page:

  • Direct peer-to-peer. Good; cuts down on overhead and helps keep the chat private.
  • 128-bit encryption. Not 256-bit like HipChat. You’d think Google would go higher on its encryption level…
  • No mention of end-to-end encryption like Slack and Microsoft Teams. In fact, Google avoided the question when asked in May 2015.

Verdict: Google Hangouts is convenient and fun to use. But it’s not the most secure business chat option.

 

Workplace by Facebook LogoWORKPLACE BY FACEBOOK—Up until now I hadn’t even looked at Workplace. It’s very new, and as such, I’m keeping expectations low.

The Workplace app does almost exactly the same things as Microsoft Teams and Slack: chat rooms, groups, external users, video, etc. It’s just made by the Facebook team. Pricing is cheaper than Slack, which makes sense if Workplace wants to grab users from other platforms.

Some good (and bad) points:

  • Workplace accounts are different from Facebook accounts. That’s good; separating work and play means better privacy overall.
  • Workplace has a Trust Center posted, like Office 365: Workplace Trust Principles. Good for you guys!
  • Workplace debuts with a handicap though—Facebook’s dubious privacy practices. It’s a separate system, but Workplace does run off Facebook’s servers. Some businesses will shy away on reputation alone (and I can’t honestly blame them).

It’s too soon to tell what kind of adoption Workplace gets. As such, I don’t want to say this is a good or bad choice in terms of security. It looks like they’re doing all the right things security-wise…but we’ll have to see how it unfolds.

The People Side of Chat: Use a Secure Business Chat App, but Exercise Caution All the Same

From all this, we can conclude that “the Big Three” are pretty secure chat apps. “The Other Three” do take some security steps, but using them may risk your business’ intellectual property. If security is a big concern, stick with the “Big Three.”

Even on secure chat apps though, prudence is called for. There’s the technical side of security, and the people side. As a good security practice, you should only share sensitive data over channels you know are secure. And only when it’s necessary.

Enjoy Business Chat Apps Responsibly!

Readers know I’m a big advocate for group chat. It’s fast, easy, nobody gets bothered by a phone ringing, no participant limit, and there’s a record for conversations.

So long as that record, and all files sent to colleagues within the chat app, are kept secure. It’s easy to presume security, and chat with everybody on the team as if it’s always there. It’s not so easy to verify security after-the-fact.

Which business chat app do you use? Why that one? Please comment or email your thoughts. I would hope that none of my readers have ever experienced a security breach due to a chat app…but if you have, I’d like to hear your account too.

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3 Ways to Make Sure Contact Photos Display in Skype for Business

Today, let’s tackle a tiny-but-frustrating issue…Skype for Business contact photos.

User images, Skype avatars, we have several names for them. They’re the little circular image that shows up in Skype for Business next to your name in the Contacts List.

Skype4B Contacts List

Contact photos also show up in Outlook and Office 365. There’s a reason for this: Contact photos are stored within Active Directory accounts. AD then populates the photos out to other Office properties, like Exchange, Skype for Business, and Office apps.

We had one employee whose Skype for Business contact didn’t show his photo. We’ll call him Mike. Now, we knew Mike had one, because we saw it in Outlook all the time. So why wouldn’t it show up in Skype?

(Backend information for reference: Exchange Server and AD on-prem, Skype for Business Server on-prem.)

Now, the solution for this wound up being something VERY simple.  If you want to just see the fix that worked for us, skip to “Troubleshooting Point 3” below. But I’m documenting the missteps as well, because you CAN fix contact photo issues using those methods, under different circumstances.

Troubleshooting Point 1: Is My Local Cache Not Working?

My co-worker confirmed that a contact photo did exist in Active Directory for Mike. I could see it in Outlook, but not Skype for Business. Was this a local issue?

We’ve blogged about local contact issues in the past:
Updating Lync Contacts: Using Active Directory to Store and Push Contact Photos (Part 1 of 3)
Updating Lync Contacts: Sync Error Fixes (Part 2 of 3)
Updating Lync Contacts: Server-Side Checks to Repair Contact Photo Display (Part 3 of 3)
How to Remove Old Federated Contacts from Your Lync Contacts List

Maybe my local client’s files were out of date, or corrupt somehow. Would that prevent Mike’s contact photo from displaying?

Some Google searches brought me to: QuickTip: Missing Pictures in Lync – SkypeAdmin.com. Mr. Caragol mentioned the local photo cache directory, typically located at:

\Users\your.username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Office\15.0 [or 16.0]\Lync\sip_yourusername@yourdomain.com\Photo

In it you should see a list of .cache files. Like this!

Skype4B Photo Cache Files

Each of these .cache files is actually a photo. Rename them to a .jpg and you’ll see…a contact photo.

Now, Mike’s .cache file didn’t show up on my computer. That meant either his contact photo didn’t exist, or it wasn’t reaching me. So I tried a sneaky tactic—grabbing a random image, sizing it to 96x96px, naming it sip_mikeXXX@planetmagpie.com.cache, and putting it in the Photo directory.

No luck.

Net I tried shutting down Skype for Business, renaming the UCSGroupsContacts.cache file (it’s one level up from Photo), and reopening Skype.  Thereby forcing a fresh download from the Skype for Business Server.  No change to Mike’s contact photo though.

Troubleshooting Point 2: Is the Contact Photo the Wrong Size?

In another search, I came across this app: Exclaimer Outlook Photos

The Exclaimer app helps you get people’s photos into “Outlook, SharePoint and Skype Easily,” according to their site. Plus it’s free. Why not give it a shot?

I installed Exclaimer and opened the app. It accessed our Active Directory and found Mike’s account. It asked me if I wanted to replace its contact photo with another photo. But then I noticed something – Mike’s photo in AD was listed at 64x64px. The other Skype for Business contact photos in my local cache were all 96x96px.

Was the photo’s size making a difference?

Nope. My co-worker accessed AD directly and confirmed that the photo Mike’s account contained was 96x96px. I don’t know if Exclaimer saw the wrong photo, or if we had a miscommunication. Either way, the size didn’t appear to prevent Mike’s contact photo from showing up.

Troubleshooting Point 3: Oh Wait, is the Contact Photo Enabled?

Here’s the forehead-smacking moment. After things looked fine on AD, we got a hold of Mike and asked him to verify that his options were all set correctly.

Mike uses a Mac, and didn’t have the new Skype4B client on it yet. He still used Lync for Mac 2011. He checked his Options. Guess what he found in the Photos Settings?

Lync Mac Photo Settings Off

That’s right. He was set to “Do not show my picture.” One click to select “Show default picture,” and boom.

Lync Mac Photo Settings On

Ta da!

Only a moment later I checked my Skype for Business client. Sure enough, Mike’s contact photo displayed. I checked my local Photo cache directory (from Point 1), and a .cache file now existed for him.

Sometimes the Simplest Solution is the Right One (but we must check everything else first!)

I’m 100% certain some of you reading this post have done this too. The obvious solution is far too obvious, so we must cover the less-obvious causes first. Afterward…oh. Well, darn, the obvious solution worked after all.

I’m still glad we covered the bases we did. It meant finding that some issues were not there. Plus it made for a nice blog post!

What frustrates you about Skype for Business contacts the most? Please comment or email.

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Migrating to Office 365? 3 Things Every Network Manager Should Know

This post comes to us from the folks at Exinda, makers of great QX (Quality of Experience) products. I’ll put links at the bottom. But first, enjoy the post!

This is it! After careful consideration, you’ve opted for the big leap to the cloud (or perhaps a hybrid option), looking to take advantage of the benefits of one of the most notable collaboration and productivity tools, Microsoft Office 365.

And while you’re expecting big gains from your migration – like anytime anywhere access to critical information and applications, seamless coordination between Office 365 tools and of course what every organization wants, predictable and manageable costs – migrating to Office 365 doesn’t come risk-free. Unless of course, it’s planned carefully.

The transition to the cloud is not a project that should be taken lightly. The planning and processes involved in migrating from an established infrastructure to a cloud environment is a major undertaking. If the right steps aren’t taken during your Office 365 migration process, you may compromise application performance substantially. All of those benefits you were hoping for will go straight out the window.

So, how do you make a seamless transition to Office 365 and maintain exceptional performance? Glad you asked. Here are 3 things every Network Manager should know.

1. Your Network Might Not Be Ready for Office 365

The leadership team has spoken, the team is waiting, let’s just get this application up and running before people start using another app! Rushing your Office 365 migration might seem like an attractive option, given all of the other critical tasks on your plate, but in the long haul it will cause more harm than good.

Assessing the viability of your network and whether or not it can handle an Office 365 deployment should be your first step. Office 365 has specific network resource requirements needed to perform optimally. And while these specifications are clearly outlined by Microsoft, if you don’t have visibility into the current status of your network, these guidelines don’t really matter.

You need a full picture of your current network activity. What applications are using the most network resources? Do you have enough resources to allocate to Office 365 as well as your other key applications? Understanding your network as it resides today and how resources are used is essential prior to your deployment.

2. You Can’t Manage What You Can’t See

You’re passed the first hurdle, you’ve assessed your network, and you’ve followed Microsoft’s guidelines and allocated the network resources needed for your deployment. Your job is done right? Not quite.

It’s been a couple of weeks. How do you know if Office 365 is still performing well? With new users jumping on and off your network, the hottest new applications (or iOS updates) using up precious resources and old apps becoming obsolete – your network is in constant flux. Ongoing monitoring of your network activity is crucial.

You Can't Manage What You Can't See

You’ll need visibility into how well Office 365 is performing at any given time to ensure a seamless user experience and to avoid a dreaded flood of helpdesk tickets. You also need to be able to identify bandwidth hogs, unsanctioned applications (Shadow IT) and any other network activity that is or has the potential to impact performance.

3. With Great Deployment Comes Great Responsibility

After a few user complaints about lousy Office 365 performance, you’ve dived into your network to analyze activity. Lo and behold, various recreational and social applications are stealing network resources from Office 365! While knowing how users and applications are behaving on your network is enlightening, the information collected from monitoring is really only useful if you’re able to manage it.

With Great Deployment Comes Great Responsibility

You need the ability to control how your network resources are allocated and guarantee that there are always enough available for Office 365. To avoid a poor user experience, you also need to be able to set limits that will prevent non-critical traffic like recreational, social and media streaming from impacting performance.

Office 365 Needs Management to Deliver on Its Promises

A successful Office 365 migration is vital to your organization. To maximize the ROI of our investment, you need to ensure Office 365 delivers on its productivity and collaboration benefits. This requires exceptional application performance. With careful planning and the right tools, you can ensure every stage of your migration goes without a hitch and with a seamless user experience.


About Exinda

Exinda.comExinda’s application control solutions provide multi-dimensional visibility and control for end-to-end management of both the network and the cloud to help organizations guarantee the best possible quality of experience for business critical applications.

Exinda controls unsanctioned applications and ensures that sanctioned applications, like Skype for Business, Office 365 and SharePoint, perform reliably and consistently. Exinda has helped more than 4,000 organizations in over 80 countries worldwide improve quality of experience for business-critical applications in both public and private cloud.
www.exinda.com


Mark your calendars—Exinda and PlanetMagpie are teaming up for a webinar!  On February 9, our President Robert Douglas and Exinda’s Branko Miskov, VP Product Management, will host “How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance.”

The webinar is free to attend.  You’ll learn about network preparation for Skype for Business, how to tackle key challenges, and more.

Sign up here: Exinda Webinar February 9 – “How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance”

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The State of the Skype for Business Ecosystem

Back in May of 2015, we did a post on which Skype for Business version businesses should use.

Since then, Microsoft has launched several major enhancements to Skype for Business, changed its focus from Server to Online, and beefed up its cloud capacity.

While I think the 2015 post is still accurate in terms of its comparisons, the whole ecosystem has changed. The “scope,” as it were, has broadened. Now we have numerous clients, platforms, and capabilities to choose from…as well as multiple competitors trying to reach the same customers.

Accordingly, I think it’s wise to start 2017 off with a snapshot of Skype for Business’ current state. What do we have available, what should admins know about, what’s the competition like, etc.

(Note: I will update this post semi-regularly going forward. If you see something we’re missing here, please email it to me so I can include it!)

The Skype for Business Ecosystem (as of January 2017)

Platforms:

  1. Skype for Business Server
  2. Skype for Business Online
    1. Subscriptions include Cloud PBX, PSTN Calling, and PSTN Conferencing.
  3. Skype Meetings
  4. Skype Teams
  5. Skype Room Systems & Microsoft Surface Hub
Skype Meetings Settings
Wow, lots of Skype for Business tools!

 

Quick Reference: What’s the difference between Skype, Skype Meetings, and Skype for Business?

 

Clients:
Windows Client
Mac Client
iOS App
Android App (Google Play)
Windows Phone App
Skype Meetings (Web Tool)

Skype for Business Competitors

First, a caveat: This will not be a comprehensive list!

Since Skype for Business contains many different tools, competitors stack up for each. Some competitors target one type of tool (video conferencing), while others go for a more comprehensive communications platform (like Skype4B itself).

 

Targeted Tools:Office 365 Services
Google Hangouts
GoToMeeting
Join.Me
WebEx

 

Comprehensive Communications Platform:
Slack
Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager)
HipChat
WhatsApp (Getting more full-featured all the time, it seems…)

 

We’ve done some “competitor comparisons” on the blog, for your reference:

 

Looking at the Skype for Business ecosystem going forward
Image credit: Veronika Balasyuk

Potential for More Major Changes Coming This Year

This is where the Skype for Business ecosystem is, as of January 2017. What changes the year will bring, we cannot fully say. But we’ll blog about them all year long! (So don’t forget to subscribe. Top right.)

We do know some of Microsoft’s goals for the year. Skype for Business Advanced Analytics for one. Skype Room Systems – formerly Project Rigel – for another. (I have seen some of the products; they’re impressive!) And international expansions of Skype for Business capabilities as well.

Adoption level, competitor movements? We’ll see, won’t we?

 

What Skype for Business does your business have for 2017? Please comment or email.

Join us here next week for our first guest post of 2017!

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Skype Operations Framework 101

I received an email on Monday from Microsoft. They’ve added a new requirement for their Communications competency (which PlanetMagpie retains).

One person must pass a SOF assessment for Silver Communications. Two must pass the SOF assessment for Gold Communications.

Which reminded me – we haven’t talked about the Skype Operations Framework (SOF) yet!

So let’s close out 2016 with a breakdown of the Skype Operations Framework. What it is, what it’s not, and what you should expect from it.

What SOF Is: A Mapped-Out Approach for Deploying Skype for Business Online

The Skype Operations Framework is a complete method for planning, deploying, and operating a Skype for Business Online service within an organization.

Skype Operations Framework Visual

There are four primary divisions on the SOF website. First is “Get Started,” with the map for deployment. You have two routes to take, labeled as Customer Journeys:

  1. Get Deployed (you have no Lync or Skype deployment), and
  2. Cloud Migration (you have an existing Lync/Skype on-premise or hybrid deployment).

Next is “Learn It,” a beefy training section called Skype Academy. There’s a list of training sessions for almost every aspect of both customer journeys.
*Also, don’t miss out on the Skype Operations Framework & Skype Academy Blogs linked in the top right corner.

Third is “Give Feedback,” which leads off to the Skype Feedback site’s SOF forum. It’s an open field for people to leave feedback about the SOF itself.

Fourth is “Partners,” a resource to find Skype for Business deployment partners (hmmm, we should be on there…).

Finally, there’s a bonus link in the top right nav bar, “Skype Community.” It goes to one of the MS Technical Community discussion boards, dedicated to Skype for Business. The Skype Operations Framework has one of the 6 available Spaces.

(The Assessment is linked at top right, below Blogs and Downloads. You will need a Microsoft account to access the Academy and Assessment.)

This is an extremely detailed approach for Skype deployment. The SOF diagram serves as a powerful visual for the Skype for Business Online deployment process. It also gives you a reminder that cloud services are “evergreen” – constantly updating, instead of waiting long months/years between software versions.

The branding and content even equivocate “the cloud” with Skype for Business and Office 365. Clever.

What SOF is Not: Short or Simple

While the Skype Operations Framework is thorough, it’s not comprehensive. It doesn’t try to extend beyond its goal–which means a few limitations.

SOF is Not: A replacement for product documentation. We’ve had TechNet for years; this won’t replace it. The Framework is more like taking documentation and applying it in practice.

SOF is Not: The One True Path. Even Bryan Nyce, one of the Ignite 2016 presenters talking about SOF (“Dig into the Skype Operations Framework“) said that SOF is a recommendation, not a command. (He gave a great talk; it’s worth an hour.)

SOF is Not: Concise. The documentation is thorough, and appears to overdose on planning (likely to avoid problems caused by rushing in). In the process, some of the content’s downright ponderous. I kept reading passages and thinking, “I could have said that in half the words.”

What’s Missing? The Server Side

Now here’s the biggest flaw with the SOF – from my perspective, that is.

The Skype Operations Framework does not cover Skype for Business Server deployments!

All this work to promote adoption of Skype for Business Online (even at the expense of on-prem servers—the whole “Cloud Migration” route takes you off of on-prem deployments), and Skype for Business Server is barely mentioned.

I did find a response to a comment posted to the Skype Feedback page.

Skype Operations Framework Feedback

“The SOF framework provides a standardized approach to successfully plan, deliver and operate Skype for Business by incorporating practical guidance, tools, assets and recommended practices.”

“Many of the tools and assets created for SOF, while designed for the cloud, are applicable to on premises deployments.”

“As we deliver new assets and offers we will continue to focus on assisting customers and partners with their journey to the cloud.”

This sounds a little too dismissive for me. Maybe I’m biased (okay, I’ll admit some bias).

But, given this message, the conspicuous absence of Server mentions, and Microsoft’s “the cloud” focus, I must come to one conclusion. The Skype Operations Framework appears to suggest that Skype for Business Server—Microsoft’s own software—is antiquated in their eyes. Skype for Business Online is not only a better choice…it’s the only choice.

What You Should Expect from the Skype Operations Framework

If you want to deploy Skype for Business Online, it IS possible to follow the exact method laid out in the SOF. (That’s kind of why it’s there…) It even includes variants, so depending on where you are with Skype, you can reach successful deployment.

However, since the Server deployment is not included, anyone wanting an on-premise Skype for Business deployment has more of a challenge.

  • The Cloud Migration section does help direct you from an on-premise Skype deployment to O365 or Hybrid version.
  • The Plan phase offers the most value for on-premise Skype4B. It’s critically important to assess your overall IT readiness (including network bandwidth & activity) before any major software deployment.
  • The Deliver phase quickly loses its benefit when you’re working on-premise. Many of the cmdlets are the same, yes…but setting phone policy in Office 365’s Administration Portal isn’t nearly the same as Voice Routing in the Skype for Business Control Panel.

The Verdict: Useful Roadmap and Training Resources – If You’re Following Microsoft to Cloud-Only

I haven’t gotten through all the material in the Skype Operations Framework yet. There’s a ton of it. Which is great for IT pros looking to get on Skype for Business Online.

It really is a wealth of information—training, partners, roadmaps, and resources. Continuously updated too; in fact, they posted updates just yesterday. To you guys who wrote & developed SOF – you did some good work, and we appreciate it.

All that said, I do hope SOF gets an update to include Skype for Business Server. We hammered out our own deployment approach over time, through several problems and lots of testing. Having a roadmap like SOF would have saved us weeks.

What are your thoughts on the Skype Operations Framework (SOF)? Please comment or email me. This is a big topic, and I’m sure plenty of people have questions we can address.

Until next time, faithful readers…Happy Holidays, and have a safe & joyous New Year! We’ll see you back here in January 2017.

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Can You Turn Off Skype for Business New Message Alerts?

The other day, a reader commented with this question. 2016-11-30_14-08-04“Is there an option in Skype4B to have it set up where your chat does NOT blink or pop up on your screen? I would like just an icon on my taskbar, until I acknowledge it.”

You know this one. Whenever you get a new IM, or an incoming call, a little box appears in the bottom right of your screen with a message – “John Smith is calling!” – and an Accept button.

I replied to the comment, saying, “I’m not sure the option you’re looking for is available. Part of Skype for Business’ central approach is to show you notifications when someone wants to chat or call you. That said, you CAN turn Push Notifications on & off for the mobile apps.”

Afterward, I did a little more research. Judging from the results, this reader is definitely not the only person interested!
Disable Pop-up Notifications – SkypeFeedback.com Forums

I pored through help files, forum threads, and even the cmdlets index. We know that you can limit alerts on the Windows client–for example, stopping them when your Presence is set to Do Not Disturb.

What about a universal “turn off alerts” setting though? Does it exist?

Skype for Business – Disable Notifications – Answers.Microsoft.com

After the research (example: the above link) and user comments, I can say this. No, you cannot totally disable the Alert notification popup. But you can control where it appears, and how often.

So we have something, at least! Let’s list out how to control what we can control here.

Control Where the Alert Popup Appears

By default, the Alert Popup appears on the bottom right of your screen. But you can change that.
Enter Settings by clicking the gear in your Skype for Business client, and select Alerts in the left column.
Look in the first box on the right. You’ll see a line saying, “Where should alerts appear?” with two dropdown menus.

2016-11-30_14-32-36

Click the second dropdown (titled “Position”) and you’ll see the options. Lower-Right Corner, Lower-Left Corner, Upper-Right Corner, Upper-Left Corner.
Click the option you want, and then click OK.

Control How Often the Alert Popup Appears

The Alerts window contains more options than just Position. They’re broken up in three categories: “General Alerts,” “When my Status is Do Not Disturb,” and “Contacts not Using Skype for Business.”

  • In “General Alerts,” you can turn off alerts for someone adding you to their Contacts list.
  • In “When my Status is Do Not Disturb,” you can turn off all alerts, show only alerts from people in your Workgroup, or show all alerts (but only conversation alerts from people in your Workgroup).
  • In “Contacts not Using Skype for Business,” you can block all invites and communications, allow invites but block all other communications, or allow anyone to contact you.

2016-11-30_8-20-14

Your system admin may set some of these via Group Policy. Otherwise, you can change them yourself.

If the “Don’t show alerts” option was in the “General Alerts” section, this post would be over. One click and we could shut off alert popups. Sigh.

Control Push Notifications on Mobile

We have a little more Alert Popup control on mobile devices than on desktops. There are two ways to control Push Notifications on mobile: on the phone itself, and on the Skype for Business Server.

On the Phone (iPhone):
Open Settings.
Navigate to the Skype for Business app (it may be labeled just “Business”) in the apps list.
Tap Notifications.

img_1191

To turn off all notifications, tap the toggle next to “Allow Notifications.”
*Note: If you have grayed-out options, then push notifications are not enabled on the server. See the next section.

On Skype for Business Server:
Log into the Skype for Business Server Control Panel.
Click the “Clients” menu.
Click “Push Notification Configuration.” You may have an existing Global policy set. Like this:

2016-11-30_8-54-47

If so, double-click the Global policy. (If not, click “New” to generate a new policy.)
Check (or uncheck) the boxes next to “Enable Microsoft push notifications” and/or “Enable Apple push notifications.”
Click Commit.

Control Notification Sounds

For this, I hearken back to the original 2015 post I did on notifications: Make Lync Stop Bugging You – How to Shrink its Powers of Distraction

Look at Option 1, “Turn off the annoying “Ding!” sound when an IM comes in.” We end up doing this a lot for customers, for some reason…

We Cannot Make the Skype4B Alert Popup Go Away. Yet.

At the end of the day, you’re still going to see someone’s face pop up on your screen, when they want to talk to you. It’s central to Skype’s communications.

That said, nothing says this won’t change in time. We’ve already seen third-party tools for modifying alerts & notifications, like SuperToast. I’m not a developer, but I can easily see one building a tool to control Alert Popups.

I’d bet many of us would gladly pay for such a tool, wouldn’t we?

What do you think about Skype’s Alert Popups? Useful reminder or productivity-attacking pest? Please weigh in, in the comments or via email.

 

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The Skype for Business Mac Client is Here!

It’s finally here! Microsoft has at last released the new Mac client for Skype for Business.
(Okay, it was released on October 26. But I was on vacation.)

As soon as I saw the announcement, I grabbed a copy and one of our test Macs. The same Mac on which I’d tested the Skype Preview earlier in the year (and had several issues). Fortunately, the new Mac client installed & ran smoothly.

Get the Mac Client

Download Skype for Business on Mac here: Skype for Business on Mac – Microsoft Download Center

(Curious note: Microsoft has a page up for Skype for Business apps: Download Skype for Business across all your devices. The Mac client version available here? It’s still Lync for Mac 2011. Somebody didn’t do their update…)

So what do we have for our Mac friends? The new client is, I’d say, a fair and equitable companion to the Windows Skype for Business client. There are some differences, and (as of now) a few limitations. But overall, I think our Mac customers will enjoy this client very much.

What the Mac Client Has

You wouldn’t expect any Skype for Business client not to have all the basics. The Mac client is no different. Presence status, IM, making/receiving phone calls, Meetings (Meet Now and Scheduled Skype Meetings), video calling, screen sharing…all are included. It even has a couple new features: One-click Meeting Join. Full-screen sharing.

All within a nice clean typical-Mac-UI interface.

 

Skype4B Mac Contacts

 

Being a Windows guy, I thought for a moment that they’d stripped out many of the options. Until I realized that those options were available in the Skype for Business navigation menus instead.

 

Skype4B Mac Commands

 

Which actually led me to finding some notable differences between client versions.

Differences from Windows Client

In keeping with the Mac’s “streamlined UI” motif, several items you’d find right away in the Windows client aren’t showing in the Mac client. At least, not at a glance.

For instance, Call Forwarding. You can set Call Forwarding options in 2 places on Windows – in Skype for Business’ Options, and in the Call Forwarding dropdown along the bottom of the Windows client.

The latter option is not available in Skype4B on Mac. You can only set Call Forwarding in the Preferences window, under Calls.

 

Skype4B Mac Preferences-Calls

 

(As you see here, setting your Voicemail Greeting is also under Calls.)

Also, Device selection. Through which device will you make & receive calls? On Windows, Skype for Business lets you choose this in the same 2 places as Call Forwarding. On Mac, Skype for Business only lets you do this in Preferences, under Audio/Video.

By default, Instant Messaging windows open in the main Skype for Business window, under “Chats.” Chats also serves as Conversation History in the Mac client.

 

Skype4B Mac Conversation

 

(If you want separate windows for Instant Messaging conversations, check the “Show conversations in separate windows” box in the Preferences/General window.)

 

Skype4B Mac Preferences-General

 

Limitations & Known Issues

This is a V1 client. I’m sure Microsoft could have held it back longer for more feature additions, but they opted not to. Kind of glad they did; Mac users have dealt with Lync for Mac for too long.

That said, the new Mac client does have limitations. A few features Windows users enjoy are not available…at least not at this stage.

  • No Application Sharing (yet).
  • Persistent Chat is NOT integrated.
  • No Delegate management.
  • No initiating calls to Response Groups.
  • Call Park is not available.

In terms of known issues, Microsoft has already published a list: Known Issues – Skype for Business on Mac

One to note here: you can’t have both Lync for Mac and Skype for Business on Mac clients installed side-by-side. If you use Lync for Mac, uninstall it before installing Skype for Business.

I came across one of the issues almost immediately. If you’re logged into Skype for Business with one account, but logged into Outlook with another, Skype Meeting functionality doesn’t come up in Outlook.

Even when you’re logged in with the same account, you may need to use the “Online Meeting” button to add Skype Meeting URLs/dial-in numbers to a Meeting invite. When I first opened a new Meeting, I had a blank invite. I clicked the Online Meeting button, and you see the result below. Instant Skype Meeting.

 

Skype4B Mac Skype Meeting

 

It’s Finally Here! Go Install Skype for Business on your Mac

Final impressions: I’m glad Microsoft did the Preview. This client was all-new, and it definitely had bugs. Leveraging the Skype4B community is a good way to hunt them down quickly.

The new Mac client is stable; I’ve had it running for over 36 hours now with no errors or crashes. It has a good feature set. It’s ready for day-to-day use. And we’re all happy for that!

For a full feature list, check the now-updated client comparison table: Client Comparison Tables for Skype for Business Server 2015

(Just remember to uninstall Lync for Mac first. And the Skype Preview client, if you tried that out!)

What do you think of Skype for Business on Mac? Please comment below or email in your thoughts.

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Polycom RealPresence Trio Crashing! How to Resolve a Trio Provisioning Issue Causing Device Failures

I’m back! And we have fresh content for you to enjoy.

Earlier this year we noticed a series of errors occurring with the Polycom RealPresence Trio. Customers who used the Trio devices reported multiple failures. Through a series of tests, fixes, and working with Polycom Support, we determined the cause of the problem. And a workable solution.

realpresencetrio-errors
Oh no! Trio Down!


Since then, Polycom has created a fix and updated their Trio software. Which is great! I’ll put a link to the update at the end of this post. I’m still documenting the solution we devised though, in case you need it at some point. (It also helps to illustrate where the error came from.)

Okay. So what happened with the Trios?

THE ERRORS – Failures during calls, random sign-outs, etc.

Customers reported that the Trio Hubs “kept failing” and “needed restarting every day.” We found the following list of errors occurring:

  • Outbound calls wouldn’t work
  • Meet Now function would not activate
  • Pairing between Trio Hub and Visual+ dropped
  • Trio Hub reports “Disk Full” error
  • Communication between Trio devices disrupted
  • Random sign-outs on the Trio Hub Skype for Business account

In all cases, the Trio required a restart to function normally. However, the errors would occur again, anywhere from 1 day to 1 week later.

THE ISSUE – Provisioning?

The Trio device was looking for a provisioning server.

A provisioning server can perform many roles in a network. Activating servers when needed, allocating storage dynamically, etc. (Techopedia Definitions Page for “Provisioning.”)

Provisioning a Polycom device is a rare occurrence. It’s meant only for configuration (e.g., changing the default hotkeys on a VVX phone). Most devices we only provision once–at the outset, before they’re installed at the customer site.

But, in the case of the Polycom RealPresence Trio, something else is happening. The Trio Hub is looking for a provisioning server, off of which it can copy device settings. The problem is, it’s not finding one. And instead of terminating the search process, it repeats the search in an endless loop.

This is NOT what the Trio should do. But it was.

The process goes like this:

  1. Trio sends out a signal to the network, looking for a provisioning server.
  2. No provisioning server responds (because none exists).
  3. Trio logs the lack of response as a failure event (filling up the Trio’s available space).
  4. Trio sends out a new signal. Repeat process over, and over.
  5. The device chokes on its own logs. Memory leaks occur. Device crashes.

This issue hurts all Trio users. But it’s especially problematic for users on Office 365/Skype for Business Online. With nothing installed on-premise, they’re limited by their setup. The bandwidth used up will cause anything from network hiccups to computer crashes.

Polycom does have a VOIP Provisioning Server for some of its IP phones, like the VVX line. It’s publicly accessible; you can view its information here: Welcome to the Polycom VOIP Phone Provisioning Server

But the Trio doesn’t need to call a provisioning server (especially not over and over!). Its firmware is demanding the search without any need for it. We don’t know at which firmware version introduced the search issue, but we do know that Polycom Support is working on it.

THE SOLUTION – Give the Trio something to find

The Trio wants to find a provisioning server. It keeps logging the failure to find one, clogging itself up and crashing. What should we do to solve this?

Use Polycom’s Recovery Mode to install fresh firmware on the Trio Hub (and Visual+)? No. This does refresh the device, but the problem reappeared 1 week later.

How about setting up a provisioning server for it to find?

Sure enough, this approach worked. We set up FTP servers at the customers’ sites, and copied the RealPresence Trio configuration files into them. Simple, and extremely-low-resource.

Monitoring the server logs confirmed that this worked! Now the process goes like this:

  1. Trio sends out a signal, looking for a provisioning server on its network.
  2. FTP server responds.
  3. Trio locates the configuration file on the FTP server.
  4. Trio communicates with the FTP server. It downloads the configuration file, and uploads its own settings files to the FTP.
  5. Process completes. No repeated search, no memory leaks.

Going forward, we’ll set up FTP servers as part of the customer environment every time we install a RealPresence Trio. It stops the “chatter” and prevents the above errors.

Trio Software Now Contains the Fix. (But the FTP Solution Works Now, If Your Trios Are Failing.)

Polycom updated their RealPresence Trio Software (Rev AE) to fix the provisioning issue. You can get it here:
RealPresence Trio Software – Polycom

The Release Notes contain more details on the fixes: http://downloads.polycom.com/voice/rp_trio/rp_trio_relnotes_v5_4_3_ae.pdf

We’ve installed and tested the software update. It does resolve the provisioning server issue.

We’ve opted to leave the provisioning servers in place at customer sites though. Even though we’re deploying the hotfix. That way we can verify the fix works by monitoring FTP traffic, and test removal of the FTP servers with the fix in place.

Have you experienced similar errors with the RealPresence Trio?  If so, you have two choices.  Use the Polycom software fix, or try setting up an FTP server with the Trio’s configuration files.

Either way, please comment or email your experience with the Trio. I’d like to know which solution works best, and what others are doing with the RealPresence Trio.

Thanks to everyone for your votes in the last poll. They’re all counted…as you’ll see, coming up!

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