How to Calculate the Bandwidth You’ll Need for Skype for Business

More than once, the first call we get from a new Skype for Business customer involves bandwidth. Namely, the customer doesn’t have enough of it.

Lack of bandwidth manifests in frustrating ways with Skype for Business: video freezes, abrupt Skype Meeting departures, sudden voice garbling (I’ve heard this called “demon wailing”), and the always-irritating dropped call.

When customers call with these issues, they often think Skype for Business is broken. It’s not…it’s just bandwidth-choked. Additional configuration, or a better Internet connection, and voila! Skype is doing great!

Bandwidth allocation is critical to Skype for Business planning. You’ll need to calculate bandwidth needed for each user before deployment. (You can do it after deployment, but it’s messier. Not recommended.)

What’s the Minimum Bandwidth Needed?

According to Microsoft, the minimum bandwidth requirements for Skype for Business (Server) deployments are:

Provision the network links to support throughput of 65 kilobits per second (Kbps) per audio stream and 500 Kbps per video stream, if they are enabled, during peak usage periods. A two-way audio or video session uses two streams, so a simple audio/phone connection will require 130Kbps to cover each stream. Video will likewise use 1000 Kbps total to carry an upstream and downstream connection.

To cope with unexpected spikes in traffic and increased usage over time, Skype for Business Server media endpoints can adapt to varying network conditions and support three times the throughput for audio and video while still maintaining acceptable quality.

Plan Network Requirements for Skype for Business 2015 – TechNet

For those of us who live in the real world, those are obviously minimum numbers. Day-to-day Skype4B usage needs more available bandwidth to comfortably handle office communications.

Calculating bandwidth requirements is an early step in the Skype for Business (or Office 365) deployment process. Before you calculate though, you’ll need to map out the user requirements. Can’t determine bandwidth for all users, if you don’t know how many users you’ll have on the system!

To determine user requirements, list out all these factors:

  • Number of sites
  • Number of users
  • User types: Desktop, mobile, in-office, remote, audio-primary, video-primary, heavy chat, light chat, administrators, etc.
  • Tools used (Video, Skype Meetings, VoIP, Response Groups/Call Queues, App/Desktop Sharing)
  • Estimated traffic numbers (based on the number of simultaneous users)

Okay, now we have some idea of scope. Let’s start on bandwidth.

Choose your Bandwidth Calculator

I went scavenging for the existing bandwidth calculators. I expected to find one…but I found three! Each serves its own specific purpose, though you can use all of them together to weigh your options.

The numbers I entered are based off existing Skype for Business customers. I changed a few to avoid any risk to their security. As a result, the bandwidth requirements don’t 100% match real-world usage. Just so you’re aware.

Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator/”The Monster”
First and foremost is the Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator spreadsheet.
Interactive spreadsheet stepping you through the bandwidth numbers needed.

This thing is a monster. It’s the digital equivalent of an airplane’s cockpit – dozens of switches, all jumping out at you simultaneously.

Make sure you download & read through the User Guide as well. It points out several notable things:

  • Only WAN bandwidth is modeled. LAN bandwidth isn’t factored in.
  • Each Site only has one WAN link in the calculator.
  • A “central Site” is assumed to have a PSTN connection, and hosts either a Skype for Business Server Front End pool, or a Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition.
  • The calculator doesn’t account for situations where users are using the PSTN at another location (e.g. branch site) for some or all of their calls.
    • This could come about due to a dial plan configuration, or a PSTN failure at the users’ local site. Such a situation tends to happen when a critical failure occurs; make sure you consider those when planning.

I entered 2 central sites and 1 branch site, all on-prem. A 50Mbps Internet connection for the San Francisco Site, and a 5 Mbps connection for Ventura (Oakland is associated to San Francisco). The central Sites have a total of 70 users and 3 administrators; Oakland has 15 users. WAN link speed is 50 Mbps; half of that is allocated to RTC traffic, for experimentation’s sake.

RESULTS: On the Aggregated Results tab, I see that Skype for Business only needs 703 kbps (1%) of the San Francisco WAN link, and 2580 kbps (5%) of the Internet connection. At the Ventura site, it needs 1066 kbps (4%) of the WAN, and 2528 kbps (25%) of the Internet connection.

Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator

(In reality, it will likely need more bandwidth than that…particularly for smooth video conferencing. But I now have a hard-number baseline for my bandwidth estimates.)

Office 365 Planning Tools
Network Planning and Performance Tuning for Office 365 – Office Support
You’ll find several resources for Office 365 network planning on this page, including tools. No surprise, since O365 is cloud-based and needs plenty of bandwidth to function as fast as native apps.

Spiceworks and TechNet users recommend the Exchange Client Network Bandwidth Calculator for O365 bandwidth planning. This is also a downloadable Excel spreadsheet. It’s dated—the latest Outlook version listed is 2011 for Mac—but it’s much simpler and faster than Skype for Business’ calculator. I didn’t even need a user guide (which is good, because it doesn’t come with one!).

I entered 1 Site, Heavy use, with 5 users on Outlook 2011 for Mac, 35 users for Outlook 2010 Online, and 20 users for OWA 2010. Results?

Office 365 Bandwidth Calculator 1
Less than 1 MBits/sec needed. I think most office connections can do that.

It even gives expected peak usage times too.

Office 365 Bandwidth Calculator 2

Again, this calculator is out of date. But something’s much better than nothing, and the results from this make for an at-a-glance foundation while you’re estimating traffic.

Please consult the best practices and references also listed on the above-linked page. They recommend doing a pilot deployment as a test. We often set up 5 users in Office 365 pilots; it’s enough testing to find and fix any bandwidth issues before site-wide deployment.

Teams Bandwidth Calculator
This is for Microsoft Teams, not Skype for Business. But it’s a much simpler tool than the Skype for Business Bandwidth Calculator. Just enter in some user numbers, choose an expected traffic level for discrete services (such as Conference Video Usage), and hit Calculate. Each row represents one Site.

Teams Bandwidth Calculator 1
Teams Bandwidth Calculator 2

With Teams, my numbers indicate that I’d need 3.566 Mbps. Also quite doable.

An interesting point here: The numbers don’t quite match up, but we see that Teams wants more bandwidth than Skype for Business does. I think this occurs for two reasons:

  1. Teams contains many of Skype for Business’ highest-bandwidth tools – Video, Meetings, and Calls.
  2. Notice that the WAN impact is very small; 0.058 Mbps. Teams uses Internet bandwidth much more than WAN. I believe that’s because Teams interconnects with other Office 365 services in real-time. As such, it needs a higher bandwidth allocation to “keep talking” with Microsoft servers and other client computers.

As such, I find this Teams calculator particularly useful. It’s less specific, but it’s really fast and bone-simple to use. Good way to get the network planning ball rolling.

(Can we get something like this for Skype for Business too? It would save so much time…)

You’ll find the calculator at: https://www.successwithteams.com/BandwidthCalculator

Use Bandwidth Calculators Early & Often in the Skype for Business Deployment Process

One last thing: If you’re wondering about bandwidth requirements for a conference room system? The SmartTech Knowledgebase has kindly posted a detailed answer. Their estimate reflects their own SMART Room System product, of course. But that only lends credence to their 20 Mbps bandwidth requirement. Good to know if you’re equipping a conference room with Skype for Business.

Network bandwidth requirements for SMART Room Systems with Skype for Business – SmartTech

The great thing about calculators like these? You’re not wedded to the first result. Test different numbers of users, activity requirements, etc. Running a half-dozen possibilities gives you more detailed bandwidth projections for the future.

Test several models out. It only takes you a few minutes per calculation (even with “The Monster”). Then you can continue, better-informed, with the deployment process.

How do you prefer to calculate bandwidth requirements? Please comment or email. I’d love to get some more tools for comparison testing, if they’re out there.

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Skype for Business Online Now Has Auto Attendant and Call Queues

After long previews (and a few delays), Microsoft is finally adding Auto Attendant and Call Queues to Skype for Business Online.

Skype for Business drives digital transformation – Office Blogs

Microsoft adds new calling features to Skype for Business – ZDNet

Let’s do a quick rundown on the new features first. I’m glad to see Skype for Business Online users getting these…even though Skype for Business Server users have had them for a while.

What the Auto Attendant and Call Queues Do

Auto Attendant is an automated system to answer and route inbound calls using dial pad inputs and speech recognition. You’ve encountered these plenty of times, when calling ISPs, telecom providers, or enterprise companies.

“To speak with Sales, press 1. To access a dial-by-name directory, please press Pound.”

Call Queues route incoming calls to the next available live attendant in the order they are received. Same deal as Auto Attendants…in fact, I don’t recall any instance where I’ve encountered one without the other. Creating both together is standard practice for all of our Skype for Business (Server) customers.

“Yes, I know you were calling for Alice, but she’s on the other line right now. My name’s Bob, how can I help you?”

Doesn’t Skype for Business Server have these features?

The question a lot of people (including some of our readers) have asked. Yes, these calling features already exist for Skype for Business Server users.

In fact, we’ve discussed them a few times here on the blog. These are the Auto Attendant-related posts:

The Two Types of Response Group Management (and When to Use Them)
Examining Lync’s Connection Tools: OCSUMUtil
Auto Attendant Failing? Your UM Dial Plan Can’t Have Spaces in its Name
Software Review: Attendant Pro (Part 1)
Software Review: Attendant Pro (Part 2) – Quick Access Shortcuts

Noted Skype for Business expert (and longtime friend to the blog!) Jeff Schertz has an excellent post addressing Auto Attendant as well: Skype for Business and Exchange UM Integration – Jeff Schertz’s Blog

Here are the Call Queues-related posts (not as many, but it’s hard to focus on one without the other):
The Two Types of Response Group Management (and When to Use Them)
Examining Lync’s Connection Tools: OCSUMUtil (Gee, sensing a pattern here…)
Lync Updates for January 2014: Server 2013, Phone Edition and Lync for iPhone All Updated
How to Create a Response Group: 20 Tasks Every Lync Administrator Must Know

Why the Delay?

Slow Update pace...deliberately?These features integrate with Cloud PBX. Which, as you’re aware, creates a telephony system in the cloud to replace your PBX-based on-site phone system.

Adding more calling features to the existing Cloud PBX – while it’s in use, no less! – would require a good chunk of engineering. Field testing them rigorously is necessary (hence the preview). Given all that, I understand the slow development pace.

What I don’t understand is why they weren’t integrated when Cloud PBX was first deployed. The functionality did exist, as part of Skype for Business Server’s voice routing capability.

Part of the O365 Adoption Strategy?

A comment on the original Microsoft announcement said something very important:

“Great news but the features still only work with on-line users and not with hybrid voice deployments.”

Still no Auto Attendant/Call Queues for hybrid deployments. So, it’s two-thirds of a launch?

That makes me think each new feature gets staggered out intentionally. Not (totally) because of development time, but because it gives them another announcement to trumpet. Each time pushing more users away from Skype4B Server, toward Office 365. Even Hybrid users will feel the push this time…and maybe next time too.

Lest you think this is just a rant (apologies for that), let me end with more useful information.

How to Create an Auto Attendant and Call Queues in your Office 365 Admin Center

As of this writing, you will need an E3 (plus Cloud PBX) or an E5 Office 365 account, to enable Auto Attendant and Call Queues.

Before setting up either feature, you’ll have to get a new number, or transfer your existing service numbers, into Skype for Business. They have to show up under “Voice > Phone numbers” with the Number Type as “Service—Toll-Free.” See Getting Skype for Business Service Phone Numbers – Office Support.

CREATING AUTO ATTENDANTS:Auto Attendant Call Handling

  1. In the Skype for Business Admin Center, click Call routing > Auto attendants.
  2. Click Add new.
  3. You’ll have four pages of options:
    • Edit General Info – Setting the attendant’s name, phone number, language & operator.
    • Select Hours of Operation – Will this attendant run 8-5, 24/7, or somewhere in between?
    • Business Hours Call Handling – Which greeting to use, what to do with calls, and which options callers must choose.
    • Select Dial Scope – Which users are included in the attendant.
  4. Enter the appropriate information for each page. You may need to create a phone number & a greeting prior to setting the attendant up.
  5. Once the new Auto Attendant is ready, click Save.
  6. Navigate to the Auto Attendants page (if you’re not already there). Select the new attendant.
  7. Click the Test button to test the new attendant.

Full documentation: Set up a Cloud PBX Auto Attendant – Office Support

CREATING CALL QUEUES:

  1. In the Skype for Business Admin Center, click Call routing > Call queues.
  2. Click Add new.
  3. Like before, you’ll have several options to set.
    • Call Queue Name, Phone Number, and Domain
    • The Greeting and Music to play while callers are on hold (for all our sake, pick some fun music!)
    • Which users should serve as call agents for this queue
    • The maximum queue size (default is 50, but it can go from 0 to 200) and wait time, as well as what happens when the queue is full & wait time is reached
    • Which Auto Attendant you’ll assign this queue to – You must configure the Auto Attendant before the Call Queue.

Full documentation: Create a Cloud PBX Call Queue – Office Support

Skype for Business Online/Server Feature Parity: Getting Closer!

As with all new features, many thanks are owed to the Skype for Business dev team. Now Office 365 users have the ability to route calls around the office, saving employees’ time. Like Server users.

What’s your stance on Skype for Business Online, now that Auto Attendant and Call Queues are available? Please comment or email.

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The Importance of a Backup Communications Method

We back up our files, our servers, and our phones’ data. But do you have a backup for your communications tools?

The idea came up yesterday while checking tech news. Microsoft cloud services had an outage on the 21st. An authentication issue stopped users from logging into OneDrive, Outlook.com, Skype, etc.

It’s the second such outage in two weeks; we had a similar one on March 7.

Any outage is frustrating, whether it’s for 5 minutes or 5 days. If the outage lasts long enough, you’re faced with a decision: wait it out, or switch to a backup?

Wait, I thought. We have backups in place for data and servers. But if Skype for Business went down, we’d lose half our communications ability. Email may not even work. A backup communications method, waiting in the wings, would be a pretty prudent safeguard!

The Risk Factor in All Cloud Services: Outages Crash Productivity

These latest O365 outages remind us all of one thing: The Cloud can go down too. Slack had an outage on March 7 too, the same time as the earlier O365 outage.Broken Communications Tools

Now, while some Twitter users joked about such outages actually HELPING productivity, the fact is that when you lose a tool you use for work, your real-time productivity is disrupted. You have to stop what you’re doing, coordinate with colleagues in some other method, send emails, make phone calls…

All of which is not the work you were doing.

Now, cloud service outages are not common. Many, Microsoft included, do have redundancies to minimize your loss of service. But even with 99.9999% uptime promised, the fact remains…the cloud is just a cluster of servers. It can crash. And take your productivity with it.

It’s a reality…which means we, as good IT pros, can plan for it!

How many of us have a spare server sitting in the datacenter, a row of darkness between all those blinking lights, ready to go if there’s a crash? Most of us, I’d bet.

How then do we “have a spare ready” for communications tools, like Skype for Business?

I’m not talking about phones though. If email goes down, it’s tempting to just grab your phone and start texting co-workers. But, hold on. There’s a major reason why your phone isn’t a good choice for communications backup.

A Backup Communications Method Should Be Equally As, or More Secure Than Your Standard Tools

Why isn’t a phone a good backup communications tool? Because you may inadvertently leak corporate intellectual property, or other sensitive data, when using it.

Remember mobile security. Platforms like Skype for Business contain their conversations within a bubble of encryption and authentication. Does your phone give you that? What about hackers & malware?

Instead, consider a backup communications method that operates securely at the outset. A protected space where you can have conversations, share files…accomplish the same things you do with your day-to-day communications tools.

For example, if you use Skype for Business Server, you could provision some Office 365 accounts to use Skype for Business Online or Teams. Same kind of environment, and you can flip over fairly fast. Outages aside, this is probably the first recommendation I’d make for businesses currently using Skype for Business Server.

But what if you use Office 365, and it goes down? Keeping a Skype for Business Server configured, but inactive in your datacenter, is too costly for a backup.

The most obvious solution is one of the other chat apps.

Which one? That depends on your current environment. To make the determination, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which of the available communications platforms will let us use our favorite communication tool, the fastest? (If group chat is popular, look to Teams or Slack.)
  • Is this secure enough for what we typically share? (Consult my post on chat app security for help there.)
  • Are my users more comfortable with desktop apps, or a web-based system? (Slack has a desktop & mobile apps. Workplace only has mobile apps.)
Broken Communications
Is Office 365 down AGAIN?!

One more factor: Consider where the chat app is hosted.

“Well, it’s in the cloud, isn’t it?” Yes, but does the maker host the services themselves, or employ other cloud servers? Workplace, for instance, is hosted on the same servers as Facebook. So if Facebook goes down, there’s a good chance Workplace does too. (Oh, the outcry that would happen…)

However, HipChat is hosted on Amazon Web Services. If Amazon has an outage, then HipChat may have one too. That second-level vulnerability should factor into your decision.

Do You Have a Backup Communications Method? You’ll Want One When You Need It!

This is very much an “Emergency Planning” type of activity. Cloud outages are, like I said, uncommon. Office 365’s only had 10 outages in the past 3 years, most for less than 1 day. For millions of daily users? That’s not too bad.

We’re IT pros though. We plan for the worst, and remain pleasantly surprised when things go well. Even (especially?) when it comes to communications.

If you use Microsoft cloud services, bookmark these three links:
http://status.office365.com
https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/status/
https://portal.office.com/servicestatus

They’ll tell you if a service like Office 365 is down.

If you had an outage, what backup communication method would you use? Please comment or email. And don’t forget to join the mailing list!

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Q&A on Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is here! It was released to General Availability (for Office 365 customers) on Tuesday. I’ve already seen several reviews of the chat platform. Links to some reviews are below.

Of course we have to weigh in; what kind of Skype for Business blog would I be if I didn’t? However, this is not just another review. I was able to trial Teams internally after the release, and thought I’d do something different.

By going through the information I’ve scoured from the Web, Twitter conversations, and my internal Teams trial, I have come up with several Teams-related questions. Questions which I shall answer!

Here are the questions. You can jump to any answer just by clicking the one you want. Let’s go!

Questions about the New Microsoft Teams

How is Teams organized?
Is there a mobile app?
What are the advantages (if any) over Slack?
Can we use Teams without an Office 365 account?
Will we get a free version of Teams? How about a consumer version?
What’s the cheapest option: Slack, HipChat, Workplace, or Teams?
How’s the bot?
What kind of integrations are available?
What’s the biggest drawback?

How is Teams organized?

Teams keeps it simple, in terms of organization. Each Team has Users invited to it. Teams may set up Channels to contain their conversations. You have the option of Public or Private Channels. Within the conversations, users can share files, video calls, a Wiki, etc.

Hierarchically, it’s like this: TEAMS > CHANNELS > USER CONVERSATIONS

There’s also an Activity Feed accessible from the left-column bar at all times. It shows your @mentions, replies, etc. Very much like Workplace’s News Feed.

Teams Activity Feed

Is there a mobile app?

Yes, but Microsoft did something a little funny with this one. The Teams app is the most advanced on Android—there you can make video and audio calls. iPhones and Windows Phones don’t have this yet. I’m sure it’s coming, but for now, Android users win out on Teams features.

What are the advantages (if any) over Slack?

I find two main differences, which you could call ‘advantages.’

One: Threaded conversations are native in Teams. (Slack did add this recently.) For those who are used to Slack’s message format, this might take a little adaptation time. But for those used to forums or sites like Reddit, threads are familiar territory.

Two: The Office 365 Integration. That eliminates extra cost, extra user accounts/licenses, and installation time. It’s one more tool in the toolbox.

Want a more direct comparison? TechWyse Blog did a great infographic comparing Teams and Slack:
Teams vs. Slack – TechWyse

Can we use Teams without an Office 365 account?

Nope. Not even to try out. I used a test user from a customer’s Office 365 account to try Teams.

This makes me sad, honestly. Teams is good enough to work as a standalone product. But I guess that’s not part of Microsoft’s strategy anymore (and we just have to live with it).

Will we get a free version of Teams? How about a consumer version?

No. No plans for this at all.

Microsoft: ‘We do not have any plans for a free or consumer offering of Teams’ – VentureBeat

That could change of course. I would like it if it changed. Slack made clever use of a free version to bring customers on, and Microsoft won’t even try a similar approach? It could even be an easy avenue into Office 365.

What’s the cheapest option: Slack, HipChat, Workplace, or Teams?

The numbers are very close here. Workplace is competing on price, but we’re talking a few dollars’ difference per user.

Here are some numbers from each service. I’m going to assume a standard account type, for 100 users.

  • Workplace: $3/month per user (for the first 1,000 users)
  • HipChat Plus: $2/month per user
  • Slack: $8/month per user
  • Microsoft Teams: Depends on Office 365 account level. Office 365 Business accounts range from $6-15/month per user. Office 365 Enterprise accounts range from $8-35/month per user.

As you can see, it’s really close. Teams could end up “costing” more than the others, but you’re also getting Office 365 bundled.

How’s the bot?

T-Bot is ready to help you on load. He’s (she’s? It’s?) really quick to respond too. I fired a few standard questions at T-Bot, and he gave exactly what I needed. Much like Slackbot, Slack’s own bot (who admittedly has a cuter avatar).

Unfortunately, T-Bot lacks a sense of humor. I tried some silly questions and a philosophy question. Poor T-Bot got confused and sent me to the FAQ.

What kind of integrations are available?

Plenty! Teams comes with 150 third-party integrations available at launch. More will come.

To integrate a service into a Channel, click the plus icon in a channel’s top nav. You’ll see a popup window with available integrations.

Integrations Available in MS Teams

I integrated Asana, our project management system. It took one login and about 20 seconds.

Integrating Asana into Teams

That’s one fewer tab I need to keep open right there.

What’s the biggest drawback?

This one deserves its own section. Because there is one big drawback to Teams…and no, it’s not the Office 365 bundling. It’s an operational flaw that many users have already come across. And it’s already hurting Teams adoption.

The Damaging Flaw: No External User Access

You cannot invite external contacts to use Teams.

Teams FAQ on Guests

I have a Skype for Business user account. But it’s Server-based, not O365-based. Thus my trial account couldn’t see it, and I could not send messages “out.”

This is the biggest issue I saw people having with Teams. It just befuddles me. Limited only to O365 users? No possibility of inviting someone into a chat, even temporarily? None.

Annoyed by this? You’re definitely not the only one:
How can we make Teams better? – External Access and Federation

Adding external users to teams – MS Tech Community

This WILL hurt Microsoft. As I said, some potential users are already swearing off Teams in favor of Slack, where they can chat with external users. Now, maybe losing market share will compel Microsoft to enable external users…but a lot of people aren’t holding their breath.

MORE TEAMS LINKS:
Teams is Microsoft’s Most Intriguing Productivity App Yet – Engadget
Microsoft Teams goes live with new email integration, enterprise bots – ZDNet
Teams, Microsoft’s Slack rival, opens to all Office 365 users – TechCrunch
Microsoft’s Teams is almost an excellent Slack-killer, and it’s now live for O365 – Ars Technica

Teams: Feels like an Evolved Skype for Business Persistent Chat

Teams isn’t just competing with Slack. It also competes with HipChat, Workplace, and to some degree, its own Skype for Business Server product!

Here’s why I think that. The Channels, available under Teams (which are either Public or Private, as set by administrators), are basically enhanced chat rooms. Skype4B’s Persistent Chat has a very similar structure. Private messages are essentially Instant Messages. You add voice to existing Conversations. They’re even called the same thing in both Skype for Business and Teams. “Conversations.”

The other Skype4B functions—voice, meetings, IM‐were covered in Office 365’s Skype for Business Online offering. Teams adds the Persistent Chat function.

Now, that’s not a bad thing in itself. As I’ve said many times, I love using chat. But I can’t help thinking Microsoft has miscalculated here. They’re trying to replace one product with another, but hobbled it by not allowing external user access. The MS Walled Garden rears its ugly head.

We’ll see how many people decide to climb over it or not.

Do you have a Teams question nobody’s answered yet? Send it in! Add a comment or email it over. I’ll happily update this post with it. Or create a new one, if the question merits.

And please share your Teams experiences too! I’m certain we’ll come back to Teams, soon enough.

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3 Ways to Start Conversations With Skype for Business Auto-Contact Links

A reader comment drew my attention to this post from way back in 2011: 3 Ways to Start Conversations With Lync Auto-Contact URLs

They asked a simple question: “Could you do this (set auto-contact URLs) with a Skype for Business ID?”

Yes, you can! What’s more, you have more parameters to work with in Skype for Business. I found several sources to help us out here, with lots of good detail. Links at the end of the post.

I’ll follow the same format as my original post. If you’re curious about adding Skype for Business links in places like emails, on a webpage, etc., this is how you do it.

#1 – Call a Skype for Business Number From Your Browser or Email

In the previous post, I mentioned the “TEL:+12223334444” link format. You use “TEL:” plus the country code (1 for the U.S.), plus the area code, plus the number. No spaces and no quote marks. The HTML structure look like this:
<a href=”tel:+12223334444″>Call 222-333-4444</a>

This format still works! In fact it’s near-universal; almost every app that can facilitate VoIP calls will recognize it, including Outlook. The TEL: link works on mobile as well.

(You might see a popup window asking you which app you want to open the TEL: link.)

Open Link in Skype for Business from Auto-Contact Link

Though we do have a caveat here. The sheer number of VoIP-enabled apps – Skype for Business, Skype (Consumer), WhatsApp, Viber, Google Hangouts, Facebook – means your computer may not associate TEL: links with Skype for Business by default. If not, and you want it to, you may need to reset the association. Here’s how to do that.

On Windows 10, this is done in Settings, under System. Click “Default Apps”, scroll down, and click “Choose Default Apps By Protocol.” Scroll until you see the “TEL” protocol. If Skype for Business isn’t the default already, click the app that is and choose it in the popup menu.

On Windows 7/8, go to the Control Panel. Choose Default Programs, and then Set Default Programs. Locate Skype for Business in the list (it may be under “Lync (desktop)”). Click the “Choose Defaults for This Program” and check TEL:.
Reference: Changing the default app used to open tel: links on Windows – MarkWilson.co.uk

#2 – Auto-Contact Link to a Skype for Business Account Name

Now we come to the reader’s original question…initiating a call using a Skype for Business ID instead of a phone number.

Can you do this with a Skype for Business user account name? Yep! But not with the TEL: link format. And the IM: format doesn’t work too well anymore (I think it’s deprecated).

Instead, we’ll use “SIP:”.

You’d code the link like a regular email link. SIP: goes in place of the MAILTO:. Other than that, it’s exactly the same.

<a href=”sip:buddymike@yourdomain.com″>Call Mike with Skype4B</a>

NOTE: Skype for Business’ default response to SIP: links is NOT to start a call. It’s to initiate a new Conversation. Starting a call only takes one click from there, of course. But I don’t want to mislead anyone.

This is the best way to use Skype for Business account names on websites or in emails. From the Conversation window you can start voice, video, sharing, etc.

But when it comes to meetings, there’s an even simpler way.

#3 – Auto-Contact Link for Conversations or Meetings

Links using SIP: work to start a Skype for Business Conversation. If you want to post/share a link to a Skype Meeting though, you don’t even need a special link format. You just need the meeting’s URL. To get that…

  1. In Outlook, click New Items > Skype Meeting.
  2. The New Skype Meeting window opens. Enter whatever details & attendees you want. Before clicking Send, copy the “Join Skype Meeting” link from the meeting invite.
  3. Paste the link into any email, chat, or webpage you want. Meeting links normally look like this:
    https://meet.yourdomain.com/skype.accountname/2394FS3J
    (I inserted random numbers at the end; they’re normally an auto-generated meeting ID number.)

When clicked, the computer will either open a Skype Meeting window, or take you to this message:

Open Skype Meeting Page from Auto-Contact Link

One click to the Skype for Business Web App. Either way, you’re able to access the Skype Meeting.

Auto-Contact Links Help You Get More Use out of Skype for Business

As promised, here are the sources for this post.

Depending on your computer and Skype for Business configuration, your TEL: and SIP: links may respond slightly differently. You should still get the same result; Skype for Business spawning calls and Conversation windows. I’m giving you a just-in-case warning.

This one capability illustrates a lot of how much the communications world has changed since I wrote that 2011 post. In less than 6 years, the pace of Technology exploded Voice over IP across millions of devices. Almost every computing platform out there can click one of these links and make a call.

With links in TEL: and SIP: format, you’re extending Skype for Business out even further. Customers can click a link on your website and talk to a support rep or VP in seconds. Pretty handy for a link, isn’t it?

Do you use TEL: and SIP: links with Skype for Business? In what capacity? Please comment, email, or tweet us at @PlanetMagpieIT.

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Do You Really Need PSTN Conferencing?

“I have a question. Do we really need to add PSTN Conferencing on?”

This question came from a prospective customer, during our planning stage for a Skype for Business/Office 365 rollout.

I was not present at the meeting; my co-worker told me about it later. When I heard the question, it made me think a moment. DID you really need PSTN Conferencing?

Let’s explore the idea, shall we? Who knows, it might figure into your own Skype for Business planning!

What PSTN Conferencing Does

First, a little about the PSTN Conferencing feature.

The Skype Meeting tool allows people to join a meeting space using their computers, or an app on their phones. Then they can share voice, video, a desktop, a whiteboard, etc.

But what if you don’t have an app or computer available? Or you’re on the road with no Wi-Fi? How do you join the meeting?

PSTN Conferencing lets you dial into the meeting with your phone. Just call a specific number and you’re in the meeting. The PSTN Conferencing feature enables you to create the dial-in number (or numbers) within Skype for Business.

How PSTN Conferencing Works in Skype for Business Online

In Office 365’s Skype for Business Online, PSTN Conferencing is an add-on. You have to buy it from within Office 365 Admin on a per-user licensing basis.

Set up dial-in or PSTN conferencing for Skype for Business – Office Support

The add-on costs $4/month per user (unless you’re on Office 365 E5). That’s $48/year per user. If you have 100 users who need PSTN Conferencing, you’re looking at almost $5,000 per year, every year.

Now, not every user needs a PSTN Conferencing license. Only those who plan to schedule Skype Meetings or lead them will need one. Regular attendees don’t.

How PSTN Conferencing Works in Skype for Business Server

In Skype for Business Server, the feature is actually called “Dial-In Conferencing.” You need two things to make it work: a Mediation Server and a PSTN Gateway.

Enterprise Voice Calls
Hello? Is the dial plan on?

The Mediation Server is required for Enterprise Voice, and a PSTN Gateway translates signals between Enterprise Voice and a PSTN or PBX. If you want to call out, you’d need both of these anyway!

You also need to configure a dial plan, access number, and conferencing region. Once Skype for Business is deployed, that’s relatively simple to add in. The full requirements are listed in TechNet: Plan for dial-in conferencing in Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet.

(You can also use a third-party solution for PSTN Conferencing, if your Skype4B Server deployment isn’t set up like this. Communiqué makes one, for instance.)

We’ve had Dial-In Conferencing installed on our internal Skype for Business Server (and Lync Server before that) since deployment. I’d never thought about it as anything other than “just a part of the system.”

But as I think about it, I realize I’ve never actually used the dial-in number. Even on my phone, I’d use the app. Does anyone else?

I asked around the office. Only one person had ever used the dial-in number, twice while driving/stuck in traffic. Aside from that, we didn’t actually need Dial-In Conferencing!

How Many People Use PSTN Conferencing to Dial In?

As mentioned above, PSTN Conferencing’s core functionality is to provide a number for calling into conferences/Skype Meetings.

Here’s the question: Who will you have calling into your conferences?

Think about the purposes behind your conferences.

  1. Team status updates?
  2. Project discussions?
  3. Sales/New customer meetings?
  4. Management roundtables?

I could go on, but one thing’s clear – many purposes exist for having a conference. But do all of them require external dial-in access? No.

In fact, only #3 above would benefit from dial-in access. And that’s only if…

  1. You’re meeting with a non-local customer who doesn’t have Internet access.
  2. A regular phone call won’t suffice, and again, no Internet access available.
  3. Nobody has Skype for Business, or Skype, installed on their computers/phones.
  4. The Skype for Business Web App isn’t working.

PSTN Conferencing May Age Out of Use, in Time

Of course you’ll want to have phone numbers where customers can reach you. That’s what Enterprise Voice (and Cloud PBX) are for.

But a conferencing dial-in number suddenly seems like less of a priority. Besides, if an external user or customer did need to join your meeting, you still have the Skype for Business Web App.

I guess it comes down to Phone vs. App. What do you prefer – calling phone numbers, or using an app? It’s only my observation, but more and more people are leaning toward App.

Which makes things like PSTN Conferencing an add-on of the past.

When deploying Skype for Business, examine your user base. Consider what kinds of Skype Meetings you’ll hold, and who will attend. It may be that you can rely on apps—and not need the time/cost of installing PSTN Conferencing.

Do you still use PSTN Conferencing? What are your thoughts? Please comment or email.

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Skype for Business vs. Workplace by Facebook

Time to continue our “VS.” series! This time, let’s do a comparison of Workplace by Facebook to Skype for Business.

(Previous post: Skype for Business vs. Google Hangouts)

I was introduced to Workplace during research for The Security Behind 6 Business Chat Apps (Including Skype for Business). Here’s an excerpt from that post, talking about Workplace:

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).

I requested a trial. Curiously, I was prompted to select a time for a Live Demo, instead of a download link or registration page. Which gave me a nice overview of the platform before sending me a link to my new Workplace. After playing with it for a few days (and bugging my co-workers with random “Just testing!” calls), I think it’s time for my review.

So what kind of experience does Workplace give us? Is a “Facebook for Work” app what we need? What kind of pricing are we getting? Features? Let’s find out!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Skype for Business Workplace By FB
Instant Messaging Work Chat (Messenger on Steroids)
Voice Calls Voice Calls within Work Chat
Video Calls Video Calls within Work Chat
Conferences/Online Meetings Conferencing
Federation Multi-Company Groups
Presence Status  Presence Indicator
Response Groups Groups
Persistent Chat Work Chat
Runs On-Prem (Server)
or SaaS Option  (Office 365)
Runs as Cloud Service
with Mobile Apps

 

Workplace setup assistance
A Workplace post to help you with setup.

Before we get into the details on similarities & differences though, there’s an elephant in the (chat) room. Privacy.

The Privacy Question

Workplace does come from Facebook. And Facebook is famous for its, shall we say, cavalier attitude about user privacy.

You Should Go Check Facebook’s New Privacy Settings – WIRED (06-02-16)

The question is, does Workplace protect users’ privacy? As a business product, it does have a legal obligation. So far, I’ve seen no indication that it will gamble with user privacy. But given its creator, we must still wonder.

In the Workplace FAQs, we find several questions devoted to privacy and confidentiality. Like this one.

Who owns the information that employees create?
Like other cloud-based enterprise software, the employer does.

Pretty straightforward answer. Only time will tell what changes may appear in Workplace’s approach to privacy. As well as what the market believes about Workplace privacy.

The Similarities: Features, Familiar UI

In terms of features, both platforms are very similar. Workplace’s Work Chat mirrors Skype4B’s Instant Messaging. From there, you can add voice, video, or other people with a few clicks. Just like in Skype for Business.

I was able to test the calling function, but not video (think my cam’s broken). Calls in Workplace came through as clear as any Skype for Business call.

Familiarity is a big factor in both platforms. Workplace feels & acts almost identically to Facebook. Skype for Business feels & acts a lot like Skype (in some respects!). I must credit both Facebook and Microsoft on this. Familiarity is a big part of good user experience—it helps adoption, shortens the learning curve, and improves overall satisfaction.

Workplace by Facebook screen
Looks like Facebook. Is actually Workplace.

As you can see from the screenshot, Workplace’s interface is feed-based. Skype for Business’ interface is contact-based. So long as the user knows where to go for communications, the interface works. In this respect, Workplace has a leg up over other chat competitors, like Slack and HipChat.

The Differences: Pricing, On-Prem vs. Cloud, Apps

The biggest difference I see (at least right now) is that Workplace is cloud-only. No local deployment option exists. Not surprising, but for those who prefer deploying servers on-prem…Workplace is a no-go.

The pricing difference stems from this same disparity.

Workplace charges only by active users. Skype for Business Online does something similar through Office 365 user accounts. But Skype for Business Server does not. The server pricing is up-front, in the form of licenses and implementation costs.
Workplace just turns on and charges you for X users each month.

Their price point is lower than Microsoft’s Office 365. In fact, even considering Slack’s pricing, Workplace is the cheapest per month:

  • Office 365 Business plans run from $5/user/month to $12.50/user/month. The Enterprise plans run from $8/user/month to $35/user/month.
  • Slack charges $8/user/month for Standard, and $15/user/month for Plus.
  • Workplace starts at $3/user/month for the first 1,000 users ($2/user for the next 1,000, and $1/user after that).

Seems pretty obvious that Facebook wants to compete on price as well as features. Using such a low per-user pricing model is an attempt to leapfrog both Slack and Microsoft. Like its other platforms, the company may aim to grow Workplace at break-even (or even at a small loss) until it reaches juggernaut status. Then they can raise prices all they want.

It’s worked for them before; I must admit that. But only time will tell us if this pays off for Workplace’s adoption.

Finally, Workplace features third-party app integration. Facebook learned from its ecosystem of consumer apps & games, and built an API that will let developers build add-ons for Workplace too.

Apps & Permissions – Workplace Docs

You can do this with Skype for Business as well, to some degree. There are many third-party apps which extend the Skype for Business system. (We’ve reviewed a few here on the blog – search around!)

Microsoft even maintains a registry: Skype for Business Apps, though it is incomplete. In terms of third-party integration, Workplace has a bit of an edge here. Like Slack, it appears designed to work with other apps from the start.


Final Words: Workplace Has the Chops, But Will Businesses Bite?

Facebook is moving into an already-populated space, where competitors have had years to build up their audiences, and trying to take it over. Nothing inherently wrong with such a practice—disruption feeds innovation.

But I can’t help thinking Workplace will never get out from under Facebook’s privacy question. If there’s a data leak, or Workplace data “accidentally” shows up in Facebook ad deployments? Then Workplace is DOA…and thousands of businesses are in serious trouble.

A final note: Workplace is still the new kid on the block. I will revisit this topic again later, after the market’s had time to chew through Workplace more, and we see what kind of management path Facebook takes with it.

Which do you prefer using—Workplace by FB or Skype for Business? Are there situations where you prefer one over the other?  Please comment or email me what you think.

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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.

EDIT: Thanks to Exinda for such a great webinar! You can watch the webinar recording on-demand at this page: How the Experts Optimize Skype for Business Performance – On-Demand Webinar

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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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