Ahoy, Where’s the Post?

Lync Server 2013

No post this week, loyal Lync/Skype4B Insider readers. I’ve received several questions from you – most of which need some testing for me to investigate. So I’m taking a little time to do just that.

I may even get a chance to test some new Skype4B add-ons in the next few days too. If so, you’ll hear all about it on the blog.

As soon as I have more information about your issues, you’ll hear from me. In the meantime, take care this week, and join us back here next week for more!

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The SBC and Its Role in Skype for Business

Skype for Business, Third-Party Lync Products, Unified Communications

Today let’s talk about the SBC.

I’ve mentioned SBCs here in the past, on the Lync Add-On Hardware post last year.

A new prospect reminded me of the SBC, as their situation will require one for interoperability reasons. They have several different types of VoIP phones scattered between 3 locations.

(Disclaimer: PlanetMagpie is a Sonus Partner. We use their SBCs for Skype for Business deployments, as well as our own Skype4B server. They didn’t ask me to write this though!)

That said, the reminder spurred me to a thought. “Have I gone into detail on what an SBC does yet? No, I don’t think so. Well, that’s this week’s topic then.”

What’s an SBC?

SBC stands for Session Border Controller. It’s a discrete hardware device which sits in the edge network. There, it

looks at each SIP packet going between your Skype for Business Enterprise Voice network and the external ISP. It determines which packets should be allowed through, and which route they should take.

Server Rack

What Does an SBC Do?

SBCs provide multiple security and mediation services within a VoIP environment.

Let’s say you have two phones – one onsite in your network, one offsite. Bob at Offsite picks up the phone & calls Jane at Onsite. This VoIP call is called a “session”. The SBC looks at Bob’s incoming call, determines that it’s legitimate, and lets it through to Jane. Hence, “Session Border Controller”.

Taking on this role helps stop a lot of bad things from happening. Within a Skype for Business deployment, SBCs can:

  • Protect the network from Denial of Service attacks, spoofing, and other outside attacks
  • Enable SIP trunking
  • Support interoperability between different endpoints (e.g., different VoIP phone types, as I mentioned in the opening above)
  • ‘Transcoding’ calls – Changing the codec used in a call, depending on the session type (audio, video), device type (tablets, laptops, phones), and bandwidth available

Why Would I Need an SBC in my Skype for Business Deployment?

Does your network suffer break-in attempts or DoS attacks? The attackers will target your Skype for Business network too. No question. It needs protection. SBCs are good for that.

Do your people ever call out? There’s no guarantee the SIP endpoints (VoIP phones) will talk to one another. Each phone can have a different bit rate. And if they do, they can’t connect to one another properly. Unless you use an SBC to bridge them (a process called ‘transrating’).

These are the two biggest reasons for an SBC. More exist, depending on your network configuration & security.

Okay then, what SBC should I use?

Right now, according to the Telephony Infrastructure for Skype for Business page on Office TechCenter, only two session border controllers are certified for Skype4B use.

Oracle Net-Net 3820
Sonus SBC 2000

(The Lync Server 2013-approved SBCs will work too. Here’s the full list.)

The Sonus SBC 1000 will also work for Skype for Business; we’ve tested it and the 2000 in small business deployments. Both of them do the job nicely. For Lync Server, we have several 1000s running at customer sites.

You CAN run Skype for Business (or Lync Server) without a Session Border Controller. It’s not mandatory. But it is helpful.

Want more? Sonus has kindly published a simple guide on using SBCs.
Ebook – Session Border Controllers for Dummies

I also like the Skype for Business guide: Ebook – Skype for Business for Dummies.

Both provide good overall explanations for Skype for Business and SBCs.

Do you use a Session Border Controller in your Skype for Business Deployment? What was the primary reason? Please comment or email your thoughts.  And join us again next week!

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Which Monitoring Report Do I Use for X? (Part 2)

Skype for Business

Continuing from last week!

Before I give a few more examples of using Monitoring Reports in Lync/Skype4B support, let me answer a reader question. This reader emailed me last week after he’d checked his own Monitoring Reports.

His question was basically, “What does this ‘Healer Concealed’ column mean?”

Healer Concealed is a ratio given in Monitoring Reports to help you identify poor audio streams. It’s one of three such ratios – Healer Concealed, Healer Stretched, and Healer Compressed.

Full definitions, courtesy of TechNet:

Healer Concealedhealercolumns
“Average ratio of concealed audio samples to the total to the total number of samples. (A concealed audio sample is a technique used to smooth out the abrupt transition that would usually be caused by dropped network packets.) High values indicate significant levels of loss concealment applied caused by packet loss or jitter, and results in distorted or lost audio.”

Healer Stretched
“Average ratio of stretched audio samples to the total to the total number of samples. (Stretched audio is audio that has been expanded to help maintain call quality when a dropped network packet has been detected.) High values indicate significant levels of sample stretching caused by jitter, and result in audio sounding robotic or distorted.”

Healer Compressed
“Average ratio of compressed audio samples to the total number of samples. (Compressed audio is audio that has been compressed to help maintain call quality when a dropped network packet has been detected.) High values indicate significant levels of sample compression caused by jitter, and result in audio sounding accelerated or distorted.”

Essentially, Lync/Skype for Business tries to “heal” its audio streams when they suffer packet loss or jitter. It reports instances of such so we know where & when these losses occur. That’s why you’ll see the Healer ratio columns on multiple reports – Media Quality Summary and Server Performance, for instance.

Hopefully that answers your question, Dutiful Lync/Skype4B Insider Reader!

Now, on to more examples of where Monitoring Reports can help admins out.

Guests report long delays when joining an Online Meeting

Like last week’s examples, join delays are often the fault of a user’s connection. Online Meetings take a little more bandwidth than audio calls (particularly if you enable video). If users aren’t on stable high-quality connections, they’re increasingly susceptible to delays & jitter.

2015-08-12_10-49-21If the user does have a good connection though, we must search for the culprit! There’s a report for that.

PRACTICAL USE: Open the Conference Join Time Report. This report’s devoted only to how long it takes users to join a conference/Online Meeting. Filters & Metrics Reference on TechNet.

This report will only tell you about join times. Its value is in confirming that users are suffering join delays, and how often. Knowing that, you can also open the Conference Diagnostic Report and compare dates.

User X can’t make or receive calls

The key thing to verify here is whether the user’s audio stream is bad, or if there’s a problem on the server. More often than not, the problem’s on the user’s end.

Next stop? The User Activity Report.

PRACTICAL USE: Ask the user to attempt some calls, both internal and external. Then check their account in the User Activity Report. The Detail view will show you session data, media quality, and gateway information. If you have poor values or holes in the data? User X needs a better connection!

Choppy/jerky videoVideo Call Summary

Most of the time, choppy video is the fault of the computer you’re using. The video driver may need updating, or it may have hardware acceleration enabled. (If so, try disabling it by opening Outlook’s options. Click “Advanced” and scroll until you see “Disable hardware graphics acceleration”. Check the box.)

If you’ve confirmed this isn’t the case, then check the Conferencing Diagnostic Report first. That way you determine whether the conference itself had a connection failure.

Next, open the Media Quality Summary Report. There is a section here dedicated to Video Calls. Details show you packet loss, frame rates, and the relative client health. (The Healer Ratio columns are especially helpful here.)

If you’re still searching for the issue, you can always check the user’s User Activity Report too.

PRACTICAL USE: Video is a complex, bandwidth-intensive communication medium. Errors can have more than one cause; if you only fix one, you may still have problems (and I know exactly how frustrating that is!). Troubleshoot video from the endpoint to the server; checking Monitoring Reports at each stage may let you skip a step if you see no indication of trouble.

It Pays to Familiarize Yourself with Monitoring Reports

Thank you for all the responses to last week’s post! Monitoring Reports are a popular tool, it seems. I’ll address creating custom reports in a future post.

For another Monitoring Reports reference, visit this No Jitter post: Living with Lync: Monitoring Success – No Jitter Blog

And this Inside Lync post: A Primer on Lync Audio Quality Metrics – Inside Lync

Both are a little older, but they’re good primers for understanding the depth of Monitoring Reports.

What’s the most common Skype for Business call issue you deal with? Please comment or email me. Now that Skype for Business has been out a little while, I’d like to hear how it’s working for you.

In the meantime, join us again next week!

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Which Monitoring Report Do I Use for X? (Part 1)

Lync Server 2013, Skype for Business

Finally got a chance to revisit Monitoring Reports this week. I’ve wanted to write about these for a while. They’re a huge help when it comes to technical support – and today we’ll give some examples how.

Lync Server/Skype for Business Monitoring Reports display in 4 main report categories:

  1. System Usage Reports – Shows you activity summaries, phone inventory and Call Admission Control usage data.
  2. Call Diagnostic Reports (per user) – Shows you data on different users’ calls & conversations.
  3. Call Diagnostic Reports – Like the previous section, these reports show you diagnostic reports and summaries of call & conversation activity. But in this case they’re divided up by categories, such as “Conference Diagnostic”.
  4. Media Quality Diagnostic Reports – Shows you performance & quality reports for the servers and endpoints.

Lync/Skype4B Monitoring Reports

Skype for Business Server added some more details to the reports, of course. But for the most part they’re the same as before. These instructions will work for both versions.

Access your Monitoring Reports using the URL you set during Lync/Skype 4 Business setup. Open the Reports Homepage.
*Note: Make sure you have appropriate permissions to the SQL Server database where Monitoring Reports live.

Now, on to the examples. I’m looking at a few typical issues Lync/Skype4B administrators will encounter. As you’ll see, Monitoring Reports provide helpful data to inform the troubleshooting process.

Calls are Dropping

Probably the most common support issue we see. Calls drop for many reasons – some of which you don’t control, like PSTN signal quality or Wi-Fi speeds. But you can still identify those reasons.

First place to go is the Call Diagnostic Summary Report, under Category 3. This report gives you graphs & pie charts showing session types & failure rates.

Here’s an example from our own reports.
Call Diagnostic Summary Report

The peer-to-peer sessions report a 6.64% failure rate. That may seem high, but this report covers 3 months’ worth of data. (Otherwise the rate would have been too low to see!)

PRACTICAL USE: Click the Failure Rate percentage. You’ll find more data on where, when & how many failures occurred. Digging down like this helps you isolate the failure origin & causes.

(In our case, half of these were “Expected Failures” – call failures you expect to happen. Like when a user has their Presence set to Do Not Disturb & someone tries calling them.)

Noise Heard on Calls

Call noise has many potential causes. So let’s open 2 reports here – one for the user hearing the noise, one for their device.

User: Open the User Activity Report under Category 2. The per-user sorting helps us out, letting us search by SIP URI or username to locate the user who’s hearing noise.
Call Diagnostics Per User

PRACTICAL USE: Once you’ve located the user’s recent activity, dig through the data to find the noise’s cause. One click takes you into Session Detail Reports for each record. If necessary, click “Detail” here to access Diagnostic Reports below that. They might have an echo, or signal noise from their connection.
If the user’s activity appears fine, it may not be the connection at all. It could be their headset. We can check that too.

Device: Open the Device Report under Category 4. This report shows you data on the devices used for calls – phone, headset, even a laptop mic!

Here’s part of our list.
Lync Devices Report

Practical Use: Depending on the noise type, high values in the Echo Microphone In & Calls With Echo columns indicate noise leaking into conversations. Use this report to determine if the user’s hearing noise from their own phone/headset.

Internal calls are fine, but calls won’t go out

Uh oh! Head to the Server Performance Report under Category 4. Right away you’ll see a list of Lync/Skype4B servers and their current statuses.

(I can’t post a screenshot of this, since it would have our server names & IPs. Please refer to this TechNet article for a full report description: Server Performance Report in Skype for Business Server – TechNet)

PRACTICAL USE: Check your Mediation Server and/or Edge Servers for high values in Degradation, Packet Loss and Jitter. Yellow highlights mean trouble. If you don’t see all of your Enterprise Voice-related hardware, it’s not working properly. Which is why calls aren’t going out!

Monitoring Reports Give You All Sorts of Troubleshooting Help

It’s important to note that you’re not limited to one method with Monitoring Reports. You can reach the same data from a few different routes, or create your own custom reports. I’ll address those later on.

Spend a little time digging through Lync/Skype for Business Monitoring Reports. The data gathered can help you in almost ANY support situation.

What’s the Monitoring Report you reference the most? Please comment or email. I’m also curious to hear why you refer to that report (if you’re able to share).

I’ll do a Part 2 on more Monitoring Report practical uses, coming soon. Don’t forget to check back next week!

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The Story Behind Adding Skype Contacts into Skype for Business

Skype for Business

“How do I import Skype contacts into Skype for Business?”
“Do I have to use Skype and Skype for Business at the same time?”
“I have hundreds of people added on Skype. How do I get them into Skype for Business?”

This is one of the most popular topics I’ve run across for Skype for Business. It’s also one of the most frustrating.

It sounds like the easiest things in the world, right? You have X contacts in Skype (consumer). You want to add them to Skype for Business. Take them from one, pop them into the other.

Except it’s not easy. It’s pretty much the opposite.

Skype Contacts in Skype for Business: The Basics

One of the most trumpeted new features for Skype for Business (both Online and Server) was the ability to access the Skype Directory.

To do this, you had to make some configuration changes in each version.

SKYPE 4 BUSINESS SERVER – Front End & Edge Server must be configured to access the Skype Directory. We covered this in last month’s How to (Re-)Enable Skype Directory Search in the Skype for Business Client post.

OFFICE 365/SKYPE FOR BUSINESS ONLINE – In the Office 365 Admin Center, you must enable Public IM Connectivity under “External Communications”. Support reference: Let Skype for Business Online users communicate with external Skype for Business or Skype contacts – Office Support

With these changes you can search for, and communicate with Skype (consumer) users. But what if you have dozens, even hundreds of business contacts in Skype already?

Methods of (Attempted) Contact Import

Exporting from Skype has been a simple process for a while. In the Skype client, click Contacts. Move to Advanced, and click “Backup Contacts to File…” Name the backup file, save it to a location of your choosing, and done. You now have a VCard (.vcf) containing your Skype Contacts.

However, getting these contacts into Skype4B? Not so simple.

According to several sources (such as this Skype discussion thread), there is no contact import feature in Skype for Business at this time.

Undaunted, I brainstormed on the issue a while. Eventually I thought of investigating a workaround using Outlook. Maybe if I added Skype Contacts into Outlook as Address Book Contacts, I could bulk-import them into Skype4B.

(There IS a folder in Outlook’s Address Book titled “Skype for Business Contacts”. Sadly, it’s read-only.)

I got as far as importing the VCard into Outlook (here’s an import process how-to, if you’d like to try). I have 4 test contacts from Skype added into my regular Outlook Address Book.

At this point I had something strange happen. I started typing my test contacts’ names into the Skype4B search box – and they appeared! For a second I was elated. Had my workaround actually succeeded?

Unfortunately, when I tried to add them to my Contacts List, I saw this error message:

Skype4B Cannot Add Contact

No luck. Other contact types worked fine…just not the imported Skype contacts.

So What CAN We Do? Add Skype Contacts One at a Time

We can still add Skype contacts one at a time. Tedious, I know, but it does work.

If your Skype for Business Server (or Office 365 account) meets the above requirements, start typing in the Skype4B search box. Directly under it you’ll see these options:

Skype Directory Option

Clicking “SKYPE DIRECTORY” will search the full Skype Directory for your search term. In this case I started typing “Josh”, my friend’s first name, and received a long list of Joshes’ Skype accounts. You can search using names, Skype Names, email addresses, phone numbers and even a contact’s location.

Once you see your contact, all you have to do is right-click and add them to one of your Contact Lists.

Since this is a one-at-a-time process, I suggest doing this on an as-needed basis. I also suggest emailing or IMing your Skype contacts beforehand to explain what you’re up to. (If they already have you added on Skype, a second contact request might confuse them.)

I wrote up a short message you can use for this purpose.

Hi [CONTACT NAME],
I’m adding you on my Skype for Business account. You’ll see a contact request from me in a moment. It may look like a duplicate contact on your end.
Just wanted to let you know ahead of time, so you’re not confused. Thanks for understanding.
–[YOUR NAME]

Skype Contacts in Skype4B: Doable, But an Incomplete Feature

I was hoping for a clever little workaround which enabled all of us to grab Skype Contacts and toss them into Skype for Business. Unfortunately, no such workaround revealed itself.

Like many of you, I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t included this functionality in Skype for Business. I hereby call for it to take a top spot on the Feature Requests list!

Do you use Skype (consumer) and work with business contacts there? Please comment or email me you thoughts. And join us back here next week, of course!

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Skype4B Features: Server-Side Conversation History

Skype for Business

Back in January I went through Lync 2013 for the iPhone. One of the issues I noted was that my phone’s Conversation History only showed those conversations I had using the phone. Also, these conversations didn’t show in my laptop’s Conversation History.

From my post:
“However, this made me think of a would-be-nice for the Skype for Business iPhone client…access to full Conversation History within the client. I don’t know how many times I’ve consulted Conversation History for dates, numbers, etc. If I could do that on my phone & find conversations from my laptop? Major timesaver.”

A Refreshing Walk Through Lync 2013 for iPhone (1-22-15)

Ladies and gentlemen…I called it.

One of the new features in Skype for Business Server 2015 is the Server-Side Conversation History.

Server-Side Conversation History: The Details

As I noted previously, Conversation History in Lync Server 2013 was device-specific. It stored a record of your conversations in the Lync 2013 client, and in an Outlook folder labeled “Conversation History”, depending on which device you used for that conversation. You’re on a laptop, you get a log in the Conversation History folder. You’re on your phone, you get a log in your phone’s Lync client.

Now with Skype for Business, instead of device-specific storage, all Conversation History is stored server-side. Which means that all your devices can see the same Conversation History.

Skype4B Conversation History

You do need Exchange Server 2013 or Exchange Online. And it must be set up for integration with Skype for Business Server. After that, all it takes is a PowerShell cmdlet.

How You Set Up Server-Side Conversation History

I checked our Skype for Business server. As I suspected, Server-Side Conversation History was deactivated by default.

Fortunately, it’s easy to activate (provided you have Exchange set up & integrated). Credit to these two blog posts for their clean & clear instructions.

1. Skype for Business Enable Server Side Conversation History – Martin Boam’s Microsoft UC Blog
Martin’s article has a step-by-step procedure using the Set-CsClientPolicy cmdlet. He also has instructions on integrating Exchange, if you haven’t done that yet.

The enabling cmdlet format goes like this:

Get-CsClientPolicy -Identity Global |Set-CsClientPolicy -EnableServerConversationHistory $true

This is one of two ways; #2 below has the other way.

2. Skype for Business Server 2015 – New Commandlets – Randy’s Lync and UC Blog
Randy’s post has a full list of the new Skype4B cmdlets. The three directly referencing Server-Side Conversation History are:

  • Get-CsConversationHistoryConfiguration – Shows you the Conversation History configuration settings.
  • Remove-CsConversationHistoryConfiguration – Resets the Conversation History configuration.
  • Set-CsConversationHistoryConfiguration – Modifies the Conversation History settings. This is Way #2 to activate Server-Side Conversation History.

Using these cmdlets, the format would be:

Set-CsConversationHistoryConfiguration -Identity “Global” -EnableServerConversationHistory $True

(Please note: These cmdlets modify the Global client policy. If you want to limit Server-Side Conversation History to certain groups, use that group’s identity for the -Identity parameter.)

Victory for Mobile Skype4B Users!

The move to Skype for Business 2015 contains many usability improvements. Most of these expand Lync 2013’s capabilities (Call via Work) and/or blend in Skype functionality (Rate My Call).

Server-Side Conversation History’s biggest help is in mobile user experience. Now I have access to my conversations – ALL my conversations – on my phone, wherever I am. I see all sorts of benefit to different professionals: Support tracking, IT management, project collaborations, sales/marketing lead tracking, and so on.

Now if only we’d get a new Skype for Business iOS/Android client…
(One IS coming, in the “next few months” according to Microsoft. Sigh.)

Do you use Server-Side Conversation History? If so, please comment or email how you use it in Skype for Business. I’d love to gather & compare some use cases in a future post.

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Skype4B Features: Rate My Call

Skype for Business

One of the most frequent questions we get about the new Skype for Business is, “What’s this ‘How was the call quality?’ box that keeps popping up?”

That’s the Rate My Call window. It’s a method for Skype for Business to collect & analyze call data. After a call, users are shown a small prompt asking them to rate their call’s quality using stars and some checkboxes. It looks like this.

Rate My Call Window

The user checks a box if there was an audio issue (they heard a weird background noise, for instance), and selects how many stars they rate the call’s quality out of 5. There are also options for video issues too, if you used video on your call.

A pretty standard rating system. Rate My Call then records the data in 2 tables in the Monitoring database.

  1. [QoeMetrics].[dbo].[CallQualityFeedbackToken] – Results of token polling by users
  2. [QoeMetrics].[dbo].[CallQualityFeedbackTokenDef] – Token definitions

Because of the data storage & back-end requirements, Rate My Call is limited to on-premise deployments (sorry Skype for Business Online users!).

How to Configure Rate My Call

Rate My Call is enabled by default in on-premise Skype for Business. It’s set to display the Rate My Call window 10% of the time.

You do have the option of adding “Custom User Feedback” – inserting a field for extra feedback – but this is disabled by default. If you want to enable Customer User Feedback, just use this cmdlet.

Set-CSClientPolicy -Identity [PolicyIdentity] -RateMyCallAllowCustomUserFeedback $true

Additionally, you can change the percentage for displaying the Rate My Call window with the same cmdlet. This example would change the percentage from 10% to 50%.

Set-CSClientPolicy -Identity [PolicyIdentity] -RateMyCallDisplayPercentage 50

(I don’t recommend bugging users that much though. No more than 25% of the time would be my suggestion.)

How to Access Rate My Call Data

You can access the data through SQL queries, and the Call Quality Dashboard.

Example SQL queries are listed at the bottom of this page: Rate my Call in Skype for Business Server – TechNet

Of course, you can write your own queries too. Or you can set up the Call Quality Dashboard for a more visual reference.

Fair warning: Deploying Call Quality Dashboard is a lot of work. You need SQL Server, IIS, SQL Analysis Server, a pre-existing QoE Metrics database, and a fair bit of configuration. Here’s a deployment guide: Deploy Call Quality Dashboard for Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

Once Call Quality Dashboard is deployed & configured, you can access it at: http://[SERVERNAME]/CQD

Is it worth it? Enterprises will think so. Like most Monitoring Server Reports, the Call Quality Dashboard gives you detail-rich QoE (Quality of Experience) reports. Do users in Sales report that audio quality’s poor? You’ll see this in one of the created-by-default reports. Does the Front Desk report call echo (…echo…echo…)? It’s in the report. And of course you can create your own QoE reports too.

More help with using CQD Reports: Use Call Quality Dashboard for Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

Using Rate My Call: The Biggest Value

Now, the big question: What’s the big value in Rate My Call? Why did Microsoft include it in Skype for Business?

My opinion – Rate My Call is a way to crowd-source your network maintenance.

Think about this. Audio/video calls use a lot of bandwidth – which means they’re very sensitive to network issues. If their quality drops, it means something’s not working well enough. You can treat this like an “early warning system” for network problems.

If you have a large number of users voting about how good/bad their call quality is, you’re able to collect a large aggregate of data. Big Data for your office’s calls. You examine this data, and find places where there’s a weak link.

That weak link might be a configuration problem. It might be a bad Ethernet cable. It might be a dying router. No matter the cause, you know something’s up. So you fix it now, restore call quality, and avoid the potential for more serious failure later.

If you’re installing Skype for Business Server, let me recommend an “introductory period” for Rate My Call.

  1. Use the PowerShell cmdlet above to alter Rate My Call’s display percentage to 25%.
  2. Notify all users of Rate My Call’s existence, and ask them to rate all their calls (including video!).
  3. Continue tracking at 25% for 2 weeks.
  4. Reset display percentage to 10%.
  5. Examine the QoE reports for this period, using whichever method you prefer. If you see low quality measurements, you know where you have to check.

Do you plan to use Rate My Call? If so, please comment or email with your thoughts & what kind of environment you have. I’d like to hear what quality elements people are tracking.

And join us again next week!

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Skype4B Features: Call Monitor

Skype for Business

If you’ve recently upgraded to Skype for Business 2015, you may have spied a little black box popping up in the corner during a call or meeting.

This is Call Monitor. And it’s the new Skype for Business Feature we’re talking about today.

What Call Monitor Does

Call Monitor is a small box that appears during a call, if you switch views away from the Skype for Business call window.

It’s a miniature version of the call window. Which looks like this.

Skype for Business Call Monitor

Skype consumer users will no doubt recognize Call Monitor. It’s been introduced into Skype for Business Server 2015, in keeping with the Lync/Skype combination goal.

From the Call Monitor, you can do several things:

  • Mute the call
  • End the call
  • See who’s talking (the photo bubble will show the avatar of the person talking)
  • See the video stream (if you’re on a video call)
  • Bring the call window back – just double-click on the area where you see your name & the call timer (right of the photo bubble)

Since the Call Monitor box has limited functionality, you have to switch back to the call window to share screens, present or view Instant Messages. However, it’s a useful way to stay involved in a conversation while doing other tasks.

It is set to stay on top. Which can sometimes get annoying, I know. But that keeps with its function – reminding you you’re still in a conversation.

I actually find the little box helps me focus, in fact. “Hey, somebody’s talking to you! They need Information X!”

What About Call Monitor Pro?

Back in March I blogged about Call Monitor Pro, a tool created by Matt Landis which replaces & expands upon the Call Monitor functionality.

Image courtesy of Matt Landis' Call Monitor Pro.

Image courtesy of Matt Landis’ Call Monitor Pro Page.

There’s a free version with limited function, which I tested and found an excellent add-on for Lync. (Matt kindly quoted my post on his above-linked page.) The Enterprise version has even more capability – for instance, a Call Park button.

So we have two options here. The built-in Call Monitor in Skype for Business, and the add-on Call Monitor Pro for Lync Server 2013 and Skype for Business 2015.

Which should you use?

If you’re still on Lync 2013, the answer’s obvious. Call Monitor Pro – even the free version – gives you all of the above features, plus a few more (extra buttons, extensibility).

When using Skype for Business, you can’t go wrong with the built-in Call Monitor. But, if you’d like a little more control from the Call Monitor window, try out Call Monitor Pro.

Final Thoughts – Call Monitor = Better Call Engagement

I described Matt’s Call Monitor Pro as having “narrow focus” and a “snappy little tool”. It still is, definitely. Skype for Business’ Call Monitor is too – a handy little “extra” that keeps you engaged in your current conversation. And still lets you do your work.

What are your thoughts on Call Monitor and/or Call Monitor Pro? Please comment or email.

And join us back here again next week! You never know what’s up next on the blog…though I will say we have more posts planned for discussing new Skype for Business features.

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How to Set On-Hold Music in Skype for Business

Skype for Business

Today we have a very important how-to. A critical service is discussed. I know you’ve all been waiting to learn…

…how to set your “on hold” music.

See? Told you it was important.

In all seriousness, “on hold” music isn’t a critical service to Lync/Skype for Business. But Music On Hold is useful for a good customer experience. Which is, in fact, where the idea came from.

What Brought This On? The Customer Has Needs!

One of our newer customers made some changes to their Lync Server 2013 system. Among other changes, they added a new phone number for their Sales department. Naturally, they wanted this number to have hold music to keep callers on the line.

They were smart and looked into what was needed for hold music; when they called, they asked about Music On Hold. But they weren’t sure if Music On Hold (or “MOH”) was enabled for the new line or not. So they asked us.

Good thing, too…it wasn’t. Call Park wasn’t active.

Music On Hold in Lync/Skype4B: The Background

Still on hold...

Still on hold…

Music On Hold/MOH is part of the Call Park function. It’s a longstanding component of Lync, around since Lync 2010, happily doing its job in the background.

(Quick Overview: Call Park lets Enterprise Voice users put a call on hold [“park it”], and either retrieve it from another phone or forward it to another user. All the while, Music On Hold plays, getting a song stuck in the caller’s head for the rest of the day.)

You’ll find details on Call Park in Skype for Business here: Plan for Call Park in Skype for Business 2015 – Skype for Business TechNet

Call Park comes with Enterprise Voice, and should be activated when Enterprise Voice is set up. However, the Music On Hold may not be pre-set. If not, you’ll need to enable it.

There are 2 ways to enable Music On Hold. One at the client-level, one at the policy level.

  1. In the Lync/Skype client, click Options. Under “Ringtones and Sounds” you should see an option to “Play music on hold”. If you’re able to check the box, do so and click the Browse button to select a music file. Click OK.
  2. If “Play music on hold” is grayed out, the Lync/Skype4B administrator has designated this to occur through a Client Policy.

I prefer Method 2 anyway. It works for all users (and can be adapted for Response Group members). While I do prefer Management Shell for admin tasks, the fastest way to enable & set Music On Hold is through PowerShell.

How to Set Music On Hold

We have three PowerShell cmdlets for you today. These three and a music file are all you need.

Set-CSClientPolicy Global -EnableClientMusicOnHold:$TRUE

–This enables Music On Hold across all users. (Our customer had this set to FALSE and didn’t know it!)

$a = Get-Content -ReadCount 0 -Encoding byte “C:\MoHFiles\happymusic.wma”

–This retrieves the music file (notice the format; we’ll talk more about that in a moment), and assigns the file to the $a variable.

Set-CsCallParkServiceMusicOnHoldFile -Service ApplicationServer:entvoice01.yourdomain.com -Content $a

–This assigns the $a variable (referencing the happymusic.wma file) to Music On Hold for the YourDomain.com domain’s Enterprise Voice pool. Use the FQDN of the server where Call Park (Enterprise Voice) is running.

There are additional parameters available, of course. Confirmation prompts & the like. Full cmdlet details are here: Set-CsCallParkServiceMusicOnHoldFile Cmdlet – Skype for Business TechNet

Matt Landis also has an awesome Q&A blog post on MOH:
Questions About Microsoft Lync Server and Music on Hold – Microsoft UC Report
It targets Lync Server, but from what I can tell, the information still applies to Skype for Business for the most part.

FORMAT: The recommended format for Music On Hold files is “Media Audio 9, 44 kHz, 16 bits, Mono, CBR, 32 kbps.” I’ve seen references to using .wma or .wav. Either file type is probably fine.

To create the music file or convert it to the recommended format, you can use Microsoft’s Expression Encoder 4, or another audio tool like Audacity.

Where Should I Get Music for MOH?

Now here’s the trick, right?

You could always convert an MP3 of your favorite song. But you’d have copyright issues to deal with right away. (Besides, your customers may not share your musical tastes.)

The rest of us are left hunting for a royalty-free, or cheap-to-buy, music option. Let me help you with that.
Makerbook.net – Audio

Makerbook.net is a directory of audio resources. It’s a phenomenal resource for creative work – they have resources for photos, icons, fonts, video – and audio tracks.

I’ve gone through all of the sites on this list. My favorites are Bensound and the Vimeo.com Music Store. The free tracks are either fun or relaxing. The paid tracks are good-quality. Most are perfectly suitable for Music On Hold.

Is Your Music On Hold Enabled?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the original Music On Hold blog post:
Music On Hold for Lync Clients – Ken’s Unified Communications Blog.

Written back in October of 2010, it remains one of the most-linked-to posts on MOH, period. Its cmdlet references are 2 versions old, so be careful there. But otherwise, it’s an excellent starting point for the Music On Hold function.

Have you installed Skype for Business Server 2015 yet? If so, please comment or email on your experience. I’d like to collect a group of Skype4B experiences & wrestle some good data out of it (anonymously, of course).

Join us back here next week for more Skype for Business topics!

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Skype4B Features: Call Via Work

Skype for Business, Voice over IP

The biggest change in Skype for Business 2015 from Lync Server 2013 is the new user interface. Familiar to Skype users; minor learning curve for Lync users.

However, that’s not the only thing that’s new. We’ve already talked about integration with the Skype Directory…and there’s more.

This post is the first in a new post series on Skype for Business’ new features. We’re starting with a big one – Call Via Work.

Calling from...work?

What Call Via Work Is

Call Via Work replaces Lync’s Remote Call Control (RCC). I didn’t do too much with RCC, but Call Via Work intrigues me.

Essentially, Call Via Work enables integration between Skype for Business and a PBX phone system. Calls begun in Skype for Business ring a PBX phone – yours and the other party’s.

Why would you want to do that? A very good question. We’ll see what we can determine for an answer. But first, let’s talk about how Call Via Work, er, works.

How it Works

Call Via Work is part of Skype for Business’ Enterprise Voice role. It works by “bridging” two calls together into one.

  1. Let’s say Bob wants to call Sharon, one of his customers. He has her added as a contact in Skype for Business. Sharon uses a PBX phone system at her office. Bob also has a PBX phone available.
  2. He clicks her contact & selects the phone icon. The client initiates a call request to the Skype for Business Server.
  3. The server’s Mediation Server role sends a call to Bob’s phone. Caller ID shows a special number, called a “Global Phone Number”, so Bob knows this is not someone else calling. He picks up the phone.
  4. Sharon receives the call on her PBX phone. Skype for Business “bridges” the two calls.
  5. Bob and Sharon start talking normally. Aside from Bob having to pick up the phone *after* initiating the call, everything proceeds like a normal phone call.

Uses of Call Via Work

Obviously, a legacy PBX system is involved when using Call Via Work. In fact, not only does Call Via Work enable calls to PBX phones, but it also gives PBX users:

  • Click-to-call (Audio going through the PBX phone)
  • IM integration, Presence & user search. A TechNet piece cites as example, adding audio to an IM session, with the audio coming through PBX phones.
  • The ability to add IM, application sharing, and file transfer to a Call Via Work call.
  • One-click Meeting join (which I’d say is the most valuable capability, after voice calls)

It isn’t quite the full Lync/Skype4B experience. But it’s more than an old PBX has by default.

So what’s the best use of Call Via Work? I can think of two.

  1. Easier communication with customers/partners who still use a PBX.
  2. Transition Aid from an on-site PBX to Skype for Business. More on this later.

However, there’s a lot users need to know before you implement Call Via Work. Much of which involves its limitations.

What Users Need to Know

Call Via Work is a stealth function. It’s meant to do a job quietly, without messages or warnings. But users will need to know some things about it–otherwise it might cause confusion and disrupt calls.

What Call Via Work does. While the process is intended as transparent, users should still know what’s going on with their PBX calls. I wrote this post to help with exactly that. (Don’t forget to share it around!)

The Global Number. When you initiate a call using Call Via Work, Skype for Business shows the person called a certain number, which the administrator sets.

(The process for setting a Global Number is documented under “Deploy Call Via Work” here.)

This means a user’s direct number WILL NOT DISPLAY. Users must know the number, and that it will display in place of their own, so nobody’s left confused after a Call Via Work call.

Finally, Limitations. Yes, Call Via Work has limitations. Many of them in fact:

  • If a Call Via Work user has set up Call Forwarding to the Global Number, and someone tries to invite them to a Meeting by phone number, the invitation won’t reach them. The forwarding blocks it. Solution: Tell users to invite Meeting participants by name.
  • E-911 and malicious call tracing are NOT available during Call Via Work calls.
  • Call Via Work users can’t use Delegation, Team Call, or Response Groups. (Serious drawback in my book.)
  • Call Via Work users can’t record a Meeting, mute a call, hold or transfer the call, or use Call Park. (Ouch.)
  • Users can’t access PBX voicemail through Call Via Work.
  • Call Via Work users can’t escalate a voice call to a Meeting with video/whiteboards/PowerPoint.
  • You can’t add more people to a call when using Call Via Work. It’s just you two.
  • No support for deskphone pairing or VDI plugin pairing.
  • If you make or answer a call using your PBX phone (not the Skype for Business window), you won’t have a log of the call.
  • And finally – if your PBX system does not support “REFER with Replaces”, you’ll see this happen. While on a Call Via Work call, if you transfer the call from the PBX Phone, the call window will remain on your Skype for Business window. If you close the call window, the call between the transfer target and the transferee ends.

Lot of limitations users need to be aware of.

Deployment Prerequisites

Enabling Call Via Work
In order to deploy Call Via Work, you must:

  • Deploy a Mediation Server and an IP-PBX gateway.
  • Ensure any user enabled for Call Via Work has Direct Inward Dialing (DID) on their phone.
  • Enable Call Via Work users for Enterprise Voice.
  • Configure their Skype for Business DID number to match their PBX phone’s DID number.
  • Select “Automatic Configuration” in the users’ Skype for Business client’s Advanced Connections options. This is under the Personal menu in Options, by clicking the “Advanced” button.
  • Enable Call Forwarding and Simultaneous Ring for every Call Via Work user.
  • Enable Dial-In Conferencing and Conferencing Dial-Out for every Call Via Work user.
  • Disable Delegation, Team Call and Response Groups for every Call Via Work user.

Final Thoughts

So why WOULD you want to use Call Via Work?

I think Call Via Work is very useful in a transition environment: Going from PBX to Skype for Business Enterprise Voice.
–It allows you to continue using existing hardware.
–It slows the training schedule.
–You have time to notify any customers or partners who might be affected. Without ruining your ability to call them!

However, for the long-term, I suggest enabling Call via Work only for those people who need it. Such people include sales staff calling businesses you know use PBX phone systems, legacy hardware/software testers, etc.

Because of its limitations on the user’s Skype4B call capabilities, Call via Work can hinder some communications. It’s useful, definitely. But it comes at a price.

If you’d like to read more about Call Via Work, the Mastering Lync Blog has a good rundown too: Call Via Work – Mastering Lync.

Do you use Call Via Work in the office? Planning to? What’s your experience with it? Please comment or email. And join us again next week!

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