Device Review: Poly EagleEye Cube USB Camera

Time for a new hardware review! This time we have an impressive little device – a new 4K USB camera from Poly (formerly Polycom/Plantronics).

Ben at Poly came out to demo some new hardware for us. He showed us two of Poly’s newer systems: the Studio X30 and Studio X50.

I’ll do a separate post on those. This one’s focused on another hardware item we saw in the same demo. Ben brought along a new camera: the EagleEye Cube USB camera.

I asked Ben if he’d lend me an EagleEye for review. He agreed, handing over his demo unit.

This is the EagleEye description from its overview & specs page:

The advanced HD camera with intelligent group framing, 5x zoom and legendary audio performance that turns passive meetings in small spaces into powerful experiences. This camera is the ideal visual complement to Poly G7500, Polycom Trio and Group Series conferencing systems.

  • HD camera with 4K sensor for better up-close views with 5x zoom
  • Automatic group framing or speaker tracking with a 120-degree field of view so people can sit where they want
  • Simple single-cable connection to Polycom video solutions
  • Two built-in microphones for crystal-clear pickup
  • Premium optics and accurate color reproduction deliver true-to-life visuals
  • Flexible, easy installation and centralized management make this camera a breeze for IT

Let’s see how well this bears out!

Initial Impressions – Boxy, Big Aperture, Built-In Balancing Stand

Sorry, no breathless unboxing video here. Since I had Ben’s demo model, he’d already unwrapped it. Still, he kept it in the same box, so I have all components you’d receive with a new purchase.

The EagleEye comes with the camera, a power/data cable, manual, and a wall mounting plate with screws. The power/data cable is USB-C, and includes a screw-in clamp like the old VGA cables for monitors. Good to keep the camera connected, even if it falls!

Poly EagleEye Cube USB Camera

The camera itself has two connections in its back, USB-C and Ethernet. As you’ll see from the photos, it has a big aperture – much larger than most webcams.

EagleEye Cube on Desk

Cube USB and Ethernet Connections

The camera itself’s bigger than most webcams. About 2.5″ cubed. It’s a little big for my hand, but not as heavy as you’d think.

EagleEye in Hand

You can see the microphones in these photos. They’re almost invisible. That doesn’t diminish their effectiveness though, as we’ll see during testing.

Cube Microphone 1 (Right) Cube Microphone 2 (Left)

The bottom folds out to create a balancing stand. This way you can balance it on a laptop screen. Ben did so during our demo. I did it as well. Little on the rickety side with my laptop, but it works much better on a TV.

EagleEye Balancing Stand

The EagleEye can output video at:

  • 1080p60 – 1080p display, from USB or Ethernet.
  • 720p60 – 720p display, from USB or Ethernet.
  • 4K30 – You do get 4K from this, but it’s through USB only.

Test 1: Compatibility

Poly clearly meant the EagleEye Cube for use with its conferencing products. However, it’s also Certified for Skype for Business, Teams, Teams Rooms, and Zoom. So let’s do a few compatibility tests.

First, direct compatibility with Windows. I plugged the camera into my laptop. It recognized the EagleEye immediately. However, when I checked my Settings, I found a ‘no driver’ error. Uh oh!

EagleEye Driver Error Win10 Settings

Luckily, I knew how to fix this. This camera has a companion app:
Polycom Companion App

I downloaded & installed the app, and voila! Full recognition.

EagleEye Driver Fixed Win10 Settings

Test 2: Skype for Business Integration

Next, I changed the default Video Device in my Skype for Business client to use the EagleEye. Several self-viewings and video calls later, I’d say it’s far superior to my built-in camera in terms of color quality.

Poly Companion App Test
Behold, my hand in 4K!

However, at this point I have to give one caveat – don’t move the camera once it’s set! Whenever I moved it, I noticed a brief delay in the feed – about 1 second. Then the camera refocused and all was well.

EagleEye Skype for Business Test

After this I used it on my normal meetings for a couple days (Skype Meetings and GoToMeetings). While your experience may differ from mine, I will say that no meeting had a video issue.

Smooth playback. No audio trouble. My avatar window looked as sharp as a high-class TV.

Notable Camera Feature: Speaker Tracking

At this stage, I should point out one of this camera’s impressive features. The EagleEye incorporates smart sensing technology called “Speaker Tracking.”

Just like you’d expect, this allows it to automatically focus on the speaker in a room, adjusting the video feed to show them. The tracking zeroes in on a person talking, the most recent movement…even scuffing a shoe can draw its gaze!

EagleEye Speaking Tracking LED
Note the green LED along the top. It’s indicating where the focus is right now.

If no one speaks, or multiple people talk at the same time, the EagleEye refocuses on the overall group in its field of view.

Test 3: Conferencing Platforms

I saw during the demo that the EagleEye worked natively with the Poly Studio X30 and X50. No surprise there.

I also wanted to test it on other conferencing platforms – like our in-house RealPresence Trio. The EagleEye is newer than the Trio…would they cooperate? The specs say they will. Time to confirm!

When I plugged it into our Trio directly, I received an ‘Overcurrent Failure Detected’ error. Searches indicated a problem with the USB port, which I tested with my laptop and discounted. Maybe just improper choice of connection on my part. Still, worth nothing.

Overcurrent Error Cube

Plugging the EagleEye into the Trio’s Visual+ unit instead worked perfectly. Our current camera is a Logitech C930e. I don’t know if you can see the difference, but I’m posting some photos of our picture-in-picture.

 

Skype for Business Logitech Cam
Picture-in-Picture with our Logitech Cam…
Skype for Business EagleEye Cam
…and with the EagleEye Cube.

The 4K resolution activates by default. I didn’t have to tell the EagleEye, or our Trio, anything.

This is a screenshot taken on my phone, of me on the video in a Skype Meeting. Very meta, wouldn’t you say?

Screenshot Skype for Business Video

Now that it worked with our Trio, the test changes to behavior. Specifically, stress testing. How well would this fancy 4K, auto-tracking camera work under load? Will it slow down? Go pixelated? Crash on me?

I didn’t see any of that. During the demo, we had a presenter join us from New Jersey. Can’t get more ‘cross country’ than that. The video-to-audio connection went as smoothly as if he stood in the room with us.

As a second test, I invited contacts from two other locations into a Skype Meeting in our conference room. One was down in Southern California, while the other’s in Las Vegas.

Results were the same. We chatted for a few minutes, and found each of us saw zero jitter or lag time.

(I recognize that this is partly an issue of bandwidth, not just the camera. We have plenty of bandwidth here…but the Las Vegas contact didn’t. Standard cable connection. Still, no issues.)

The Verdict: One of the Best Cameras You Can Use for Online Meetings

Overall, I came away quite impressed with the EagleEye Cube. It’s a lot of camera in a small box. It’s “smart” enough to make conferencing more engaging, but not overly complicated or buggy.

The EagleEye Cube is compatible with these conferencing platforms:

  • Microsoft Teams
  • Poly G7500 2.1 or above
  • Poly Trio 8500/8800
  • RealPresence Group Series 6.2.1 or above
  • Skype for Business
  • Teams Rooms
  • Zoom

Here’s a data sheet for your quick reference: EagleEye Cube Datasheet (PDF)

If you have the bandwidth to run your meetings on these platforms, you’re well-served with an EagleEye Cube. Everyone will appreciate the 4K clarity too.

We received no compensation for this review – other than the loan of the camera, of course. We are a Poly Partner though, so if you’re interested in the EagleEye, drop us a line.

Does your office use Poly’s EagleEye cameras? Share your experience!

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How the PSTN Gateway Fits into Skype for Business

Entry #7 in the “How it Fits” series is…the PSTN Gateway!

Like the Reverse Proxy, a PSTN Gateway isn’t a dedicated Server Role in Skype for Business. However, that doesn’t mean it’s optional. In fact, it’s critical if you want to use Enterprise Voice.

Without one of these three options – PSTN Gateway, IP-PBX, or SIP Trunk – you can’t call out of the office. Nor can anyone calling you reach you.

PSTN Gateway Guard
I don’t let anyone pass unless they have a PSTN Gateway. Or a treat.
Photo by Szymon Fischer on Unsplash.

This post will explain why, and how to deploy a PSTN gateway for your Skype for Business Server.

The PSTN Gateway’s Primary Role

In a Skype for Business topology, the PSTN Gateway translates signals between VoIP and PSTN networks. This allows internal VoIP phones to connect out into the vast worldwide analog phone network. And vice versa.

Why would you need to do that? It’s due to the signal types used for voice calls.

The PSTN, or “Public Switched Telephone Network” uses analog signals to transmit your voice. However, Skype for Business uses a digital signal for its transmissions. Same with every other “Voice over IP” system.

These signal types are markedly different. If you tried to listen to a digital IP signal as-is, you’d get an ear-splitting howl!

That’s where the PSTN Gateway steps in. By converting one signal type to other, it allows for seamless voice communications.

It’s not the only solution—you can also use a SIP Trunk for the same purpose. I may do a post on SIP trunks as well, but for now, we’re focusing on the PSTN Gateway.

Main Components of the PSTN Gateway

  1. PSTN Interface: The necessary hardware/software to communicate with the external PSTN network.
  2. VoIP Interface: The necessary hardware/software to communicate with the internal IP network.
  3. Listening Port: The gateway has to listen for signals from the Mediation Server. When creating a topology, you set the port for said listening. Default installs use port 5066 for TCP, and port 5067 for TLS.
  4. DNS Load Balancing – In order to work in Skype for Business Server, a PSTN gateway must implement DNS load balancing. Since it may connect to a pool of Mediation Servers, it has to load-balance calls across the pool evenly.

Other Servers a PSTN Gateway Communicates With

Mediation Server. PSTN Gateways and Mediation Servers have a peer relationship. They’re both translating signals, within the topology and outside the network, to facilitate your conversations.

PBX. If you still have a legacy PBX, the Gateway can inter-operate with it. The Gateway essentially links the VoIP-enabled users into the PBX.

Skype for Business Voice Topology with PSTN Gateway
Example of PSTN Gateway working with Mediation Server. Illustration courtesy of Microsoft Docs.

How a PSTN Gateway Works in a Hybrid Environment

Let’s say you want to move users to Skype for Business Online, but you’ve already invested in an on-prem PSTN connection. Like a SIP Trunk or PSTN Gateway. Can you re-use that investment in any way?

Yes! You can configure Skype for Business to home users in the cloud, while still routing their voice calls through your existing PSTN connection. There are two ways: Use Cloud Connector Edition (CCE), or modify the on-prem deployment for hybrid PSTN.

The FlinchBot blog has done a good job outlining these scenarios: Skype for Business Hybrid deployment with On-Premise PSTN using Cloud PBX. Part: 3

I realize that Skype for Business Online has a retirement date. This option will not be viable very soon. Still, it’s useful to know, in case you need to take a similar approach with regard to Teams in the future.

The PSTN Gateway in Skype for Business & Teams

Obviously, the PSTN Gateway comes into play in an on-prem deployment. What’s the gateway’s equivalent in Teams? It’s Direct Routing: Voice Calling in Teams

From the Teams page:

“Microsoft Direct Routing enables people to use existing phone numbers with Direct Routing in Teams Phone System for a complete calling experience that includes dial tone.”

Software performing the role, as you’d expect in a cloud service. Now, you don’t have to use Direct Routing while using Teams; you can use one of Microsoft’s Calling Plans to make/receive calls too. Direct Routing exists if you have existing numbers and want to stay with your current telecom provider.

Where to Get a PSTN Gateway Appliance

As it’s not a Server Role, you’ll have to install an appliance to act as your PSTN Gateway. However, “where to get one” isn’t as easy a question to answer as it once was.

Why? With Teams rising and more businesses moving to cloud-based VoIP, the need for PSTN gateway devices has dropped. As such, some manufacturers have stopped making them.

Not all though. Sangoma makes VoIP gateways, as does Audiocodes. We’ve used both in deployments, and they will do the job.

PSTN Gateways Plug You Into the Global Phone Network

“Do you want to use a SIP trunk or a PSTN gateway?” I remember a co-worker asking one of our earlier Skype4B customers this, back in late 2015. Of course the customer didn’t know the difference.

After we explained though, they opted for the gateway. That customer is still on Skype for Business, in the same topology with the same gateway, today. Without the PSTN gateway, they’d have gone out of business years ago…because no one could ever call them!

The Mediation Server facilitates voice calls for Skype for Business users. A PSTN gateway makes sure those callers can understand each other.

PSTN gateway connectivity
The gateway is open! Go forth into the wide open PSTN!
Photo by Ágatha Depiné on Unsplash.

What do you think will happen to technology like the PSTN Gateway, as the cloud expands?

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Keyboard Shortcuts in Skype for Business – Where to Find and How to Use Them

I’ve blogged about Skype for Business all this time, and almost never touched on keyboard shortcuts! Shame on me.

As with most tech learning, this came up out of necessity. I wanted to learn two things in particular…shortcuts to:

  1. Accept conversation invites right away, and
  2. Change my Presence status.

Why two very simple processes? Due to a weird, inconsistent issue.

Some months back I began experiencing a strange delay when clicking “Accept” for conversation invites. I could click and click on the notification, but “Accept” just wouldn’t work for several seconds (up to 15!). Only if I waited a moment, THEN clicked, would the conversation window open.

We checked my system; no issues. Problem with Skype for Business? Possible, but we didn’t see anything weird in the system logs. I could deal with it, or find an alternative.

Well, what’s a good alternative? Keyboard shortcuts!

Dog on Skype for Business
Sorry buddy, these shortcuts require fingers.
Image by Keith Hanson on Unsplash.

A little searching found me the proper shortcut for one of my two needs. The other however, Skype for Business does NOT have a native keyboard shortcut for. Instead, I found an add-on that adds in the exact function.

Here’s what I found, and how you can use it too.

How to Accept a Conversation Invite: Use Built-In Keyboard Shortcuts

First place to look, of course, is Microsoft’s knowledgebase. There must be some existing shortcuts.

Sure enough, Microsoft has a whole list. Some are pretty standard, having come from the Office universe.

Where’s the shortcut for accepting invites…ah ha! There it is!

Accept an incoming invite notification
(also works for accepting an incoming call)
  WINDOWS KEY + SHIFT + O

That’s not the only useful-right-away shortcut for Skype for Business, of course. Here’s a few more:

Mute/unmute yourself in a call   WINDOWS KEY + F4
Start Meet Now   ALT + M
Put a call on hold   CTRL + SHIFT + H

And of course *ahem*…

Decline an incoming call or chat   WINDOWS KEY + ESC

The full list is here: Keyboard Shortcuts in Skype for Business – Office Support

NOTE: The above shortcuts are for Windows. The Mac version does have its own keyboard shortcuts…but they’re a much shorter list. Mac Keyboard Shortcuts in Skype for Business

The most useful I can see:

Start a call   SHIFT + ⌘ + R
Restore the active window   ⌘ + 1
Mute microphone   UP ARROW + ⌘ + M
Start video   UP ARROW + ⌘ + V
Share your screen   UP ARROW + ⌘ + S
Transfer call   ALT + ⌘ + T

One shortcut covered. Yet I don’t see one for changing Presence status. I wanted a Presence-changing shortcut to, shall we say, maintain focus on my work. Taking advantage of “Do Not Disturb” works wonders for productivity.

Alas. More searching says that, gasp! No native keyboard shortcut exists for changing Presence status. Am I doomed to keep changing my Presence manually, day in, day out?

How to Change Presence Status with the Keyboard: Use StatusKey

Nope! The same searches also revealed the existence of StatusKey. It’s a mini-app/add-on written by Randy Chapman over at Lynciverse:
StatusKey for Skype for Business – Lynciverse Blog

Created in 2016, with updates done in 2018. It does one job and one job only – give you a group of keyboard shortcuts to change Skype for Business Presence status.

I installed StatusKey to test it. The add-on runs in the taskbar, though consumes only a tiny amount of memory.

NOTE: Even though Randy wrote it in Visual Studio and hosts it on TechNet, my computer still threw up a warning.

WIndows Protection Screen StatusKey

If you click the “More Info” link you’ll see the Run Anyway button.
(It’s perfectly safe. Windows is just being, well, Windows.)

StatusKey does exactly what it says. I tested each given shortcut in my Skype for Business client, with a Conversation window open. Immediate and in-sync Presence status change.

If you forget the shortcuts, Randy put them in the app itself. Just right-click it in the taskbar, and click “Open.” This is what you’ll see.

StatusKey Shortcuts Skype for Business

Can’t get much simpler than that.

After I’d confirmed StatusKey did what I wanted, I thought, “This is the sort of work Microsoft should fold into newer versions. Did they?”

So I checked. While the Office Support page above appears updated for Skype for Business Server 2019, it doesn’t include any Presence status changers.

I even checked an alternate source: ShortCutWorld.com’s Skype for Business page. No luck there either.
If you want the ability to switch Presence status via keyboard, Randy’s StatusKey is the way to go.

What about Teams? Will StatusKey work with that?

It appears not. I tried loading Teams, but it kept crashing while I had StatusKey enabled. Once I turned it off, Teams could load. Turned it back on, and…nothing. No shortcut activity.

That’s okay though; in Teams, you can use slash commands instead.

(The StatusKey TechNet discussion has a question on whether Randy will update the app to work with Teams in the same way. No response yet.)

Skype for Business Has Many Keyboard Shortcuts – But Could Use More

Keyboard shortcuts are one of those things we rarely think about. They’re always waiting for use, but we don’t realize it until another factor throws them in front of us. In this case, it was a strange notification issue. (That still hasn’t gone away…might be a post on it later.)

I hope this post has been that other factor for you!

That said, I’m a little surprised at the relatively few shortcuts Skype for Business has. Some of its major functions don’t have any associated shortcuts. Randy’s done a great job with StatusKey…but if Microsoft had Presence-related shortcuts, he wouldn’t have had to develop it in the first place. What gives, Microsoft?

What’s your everyday go-to keyboard shortcut?

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The Skype for Business Insider Year in Review – 2019 Edition

Hello readers! We interrupt your holiday-shopping, end-of-year-system-checks madness for the final Skype for Business Insider post of 2019.

You may have noticed that posting frequency went down this year. That’s due to the indefatigable demon we know as “Lack of Time.” This demon plagued me pretty much every day.

I apologize for the frequency drop. Don’t worry though—I can explain!

2019 Year in Review

2019 was a pretty good year for PlanetMagpie. Our Texas office is growing, we completed several new websites (and have 3 more in the works), and we added several new Support customers.

We expanded the number of services in our cloud data center—mostly related to data security and automated backups for customer accounts. (I don’t need to tell you how much the cyberattack risk has grown this year!)

We even got a new office dog! Meet Homer.

Homer Office Dog

You can see more of him, and the other dogs, over on our Instagram.

Unfortunately, all the activity left us behind on some internal projects…including this blog. It’s not going away! Don’t worry. We still have many topics to address.

Speaking of, let me address the big one. What, in my mind, constitutes the biggest change in the growing Teams ecosystem this year.

The Big 2019 Teams Announcement

We saw something in 2019 that flabbergasted me. I had to check the announcement source three ways to make sure it wasn’t a prank.

It wasn’t. We are getting a Linux client for Teams!

Linux Client for Teams – UserVoice

Now, we’re a Microsoft support shop. Almost all of our customers use Windows machines. The rest use Mac first, and Linux a distant second. Still, I see this as a huge step forward in “Linux on the Desktop” business acceptance.

Besides, I know many of you use Linux and wanted the Teams client. It’s still in beta, but you got it!

What’s Coming in 2020 for the Blog

I have two major goals for this blog next year:

  1. Document the full experience of moving from Skype for Business Server 2015 to Skype for Business Server 2019. We’ve provisioned some resources for this already; just need to fight the Time Demon for the necessary time.
  2. Major updates for existing posts. Some of the popular posts need a little polish. Others need big changes, in light of tech developments since their publication. I don’t plan on removing any how-to posts; people still visit for Lync-related material, so I want them to find what they need.

It looks like we’ll begin to see the “big wave” of Skype for Business-to-Teams migrations next year as well. I’m watching customers for any useful information encountered during migration.

Final Thoughts for the Year (Your Feedback Welcome)

Now, my last & most important item of business. What Skype for Business/Teams-related topics would YOU like us to cover?

Please share your ideas & requests in the comments.

We at PlanetMagpie hope everyone has a safe & happy holiday this year! We’ll see you back here in January, ready to tackle the big 2020.

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Video Conferencing Fragmentation: Boon or Brambles?

You’ve heard the phrase, “an overabundance of choice?” We’ve reached that point for video conferencing solutions.

After I did the Video Interop Server post, I looked around a little more at video conferencing solutions. I found an enormous selection out there: Zoom, MegaMeeting, Join.me, Google Meet, MeetMonk, GoToMeeting, Vox.io, WebEx, WhatsApp, and so on…

Video Conferencing Discussion
Okay, it’s Tuesday. That means we’re using Google for today’s meeting, right?
Photo by Rachel Danner on Unsplash.

We don’t need this many. Which compelled me to blog about the topic…because it can cause a serious problem with business-to-customer communication. Let me illustrate.

Too Many Video Conferencing Alternatives Clog Up Real Communication

In Ye Olden Conferencing Days, you used the phone lines. Conferences focused on audio first, and later, emailed files. Video came from an expensive equipment add-on, or not at all.

Now we’ve swung way off in the opposite direction. Video’s easier than audio to start up, on dozens of different platforms.

The market drives some of this, I know. Seems like we’re outpacing the market though, in a mad dash to find ‘the next video innovation’ before anyone else does. Problem is, this leaves a pile of mostly-functional, good-enough video solutions on the table from which businesses must pick.

Even worse: Some of these conferencing solutions won’t/can’t talk to each other!

For instance, Skype for Business and Zoom will integrate for video.
If you want to join a Skype Meeting with a GoToMeeting client? Got some bad news for you…

What Too Many Solutions Results in for the Video Conferencing World

In terms of ‘boon’ or ‘brambles,’ I think we’ve passed the boon stage. Video conferencing is ubiquitous; any business can run its meetings from virtually anywhere. That’s the good part.

The bad part is, we’re in a ‘Brambles’ stage now. Too many solutions, not enough interoperability. A thousand islands with not a bridge in sight.

This causes the major problem I referenced above: If your business uses one video conferencing solution, and your customer uses a different one, odds are high you won’t be able to use video in your communications!

Video Conferencing Solution Tug-of-War
“I’ll send you a Skype Invite.” “Sorry, we don’t use that. Let’s use our solution instead!” “Uhm…”
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.

“But Chris,” you might ask, “We have Zapier now! This isn’t a big deal anymore.”

True! We do have the Zapier connectors/”Zaps”, and I’m very glad for those. They have a good number for video calls.

However, this goes around the problem instead of solving it. An add-on can’t always match native functionality. Some internal networks won’t allow add-ons either.

Now, Zapier can’t halt the spread of video solutions, nor should they try. They’re responding to an existing market with their apps, and I wish them continued success.

Unfortunately, the brambles continue to grow.

Companies making the video solutions want to ‘own’ their customers’ communications. Interoperability, for whatever reason, doesn’t appear a high priority. Even though it could easily extend a solution’s long-term use.

Where does this go? I see two possible paths:

1. Continued Fragmentation. People keep their platforms. The existing software gains more users. A few may choose to inter-communicate, but mostly keep to their own systems. This preserves the frustrations of one business having conferences with another. We end up with a minefield of video solutions, each jealously guarding ‘their’ user base.

OR

2. Slow Consolidation. People begin to move to similar platforms, for the sake of integrated communications with other companies (e.g. vendors). Some platforms die out, whether by choice (Microsoft retiring Skype for Business in favor of Teams) or by withering (users move away from the platform to another option).

If one of these seems more likely to you (or you have a third option), please comment below.

In the meantime, if a business doesn’t have a video conferencing solution & wants one, what should they choose?

2-Minute Guide on How to Pick a Video Conferencing Solution

This by-no-means-comprehensive guide should help you select a few video solutions to test. That way you’re not spending hours comparing features, fiddling with hardware, or stressing over connection issues.

  1. Do you use Office 365? Go for Teams.
  2. Which of these features do you use the most?
    • Video Calls (1-to-1) – Skype for Business, Skype Consumer, and Zoom work well.
    • Video Conferences, Scheduled – See Question 3.
    • Video Conferences, Impromptu – Skype for Business again, as well as GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx.
  3. Ask 3 customers what they use.
    • This gives you a couple options, but not too many.
    • If 2 of your customers use the same video conferencing solution, that one’s your best pick.
  4. Need a free video option, at least to start? Try out Zoom or FreeConference.

(Note: Not all of these solutions have additional team communications tools, like chat. I focused just on video.)

What do you think? Should we aim, as a group, to consolidate? Stay fragmented? Work on interoperability? Just wait things out?

What’s the best way out of these video conferencing brambles?

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One Version of Skype for Business Will Retire in 2021. The Other Version Won’t (Not Yet)

Hello “Insiders!” I know I haven’t posted much lately. Went on a short vacation, and we’re now in the middle of 5 (yes, five!) website builds running at the same time

I’m also working on a couple big posts. The Time Lords willing, I’ll have them up before the end of the year.

In the meantime, let’s talk retirement.

Skype for Business Online Retirement
No, not that kind. Software retirement. Well, I guess it applies to some developers…
Photo by Elena Saharova on Unsplash.

Skype for Business (Online) Retiring in 2 Years

If you haven’t heard, MS will retire Skype for Business (Online) July 31, 2021. After that, it’s Teams all the way in Office 365.

No big surprise. We all knew it was coming. But what’s important for me to point out is that this retirement date only applies to the ONLINE version. The one on which Teams has chewed almost since its launch day.

That’s not the case for Skype for Business Server. Our good old on-prem version will stick around a while longer.

Skype4B Server Version Remains Supported Until 2025

Skype for Business Server 2015 mainstream support ends October 13, 2020. Extended support remains available until October 14, 2025.

Skype for Business Server 2019 will receive mainstream support until January 9, 2024. This is interesting though—its Extended support will also run until October 14, 2025.

Both versions of Skype for Business Server running out of support on the same date, a little more than 5 years hence. That’s still a good chunk of time to use the software.

Skype4B Conferencing
Let’s keep doing this.
Photo by Arlington Research on Unsplash.

Where does this leave you? A retirement date that far out, and only on one version, means nobody needs to run around in headless-chicken mode. Here’s some suggestions depending on your current Skype4B situation:

  1. If you’re on Skype for Business Server 2019 or plan to migrate there soon – Keep doing what you’re doing. Let us know if you need help with setup.
  2. Running Skype for Business Server 2015? Consider a move to Server 2019 next year. You’ll still have plenty of time with full support to get your money’s worth.
  3. If you’re on Skype for Business Online & considering a move to Teams – Weigh the schedule in light of your workforce. If you have a large employee base, start planning now. If you’re in a smaller company, no need to panic. Run the move when you expect a slower time (does anyone have those anymore?).

If you fall under C, this post has some points about doing a “Skypexit” that may help out: Microsoft Techdays 2019: Skypexit with Marten – Kressmark Unified Communications

You Don’t Have to Move off Skype for Business (Server) if You Don’t Want To

If it sounds like I’m still swinging in Skype for Business Server’s defense…well, I am. I like the platform for its power and its usability. It has a reliable history to boot. In fact, we still have one customer running Lync Server on-prem! (I think we’ve tried to move them off for what, 2 years now?)

What do you think of the Skype for Business Online retirement?

 

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How to Put Teams Users and Skype for Business Users in the Same Room

If your organization has decided to move off its Skype for Business Server deployment to Teams, you’ll hit an in-between period. A time when some users are on Skype4B, and some have moved to Teams.

Can they still communicate with one another during this period?

It’s possible…but it’ll take some extra configuration. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to do.

How to Make Skype for Business and Teams Talk to One Another

Before any Skype4B user can talk to a Teams user, the disparate systems have to talk to one another. Therefore, you’ll need to setup communications between your Skype for Business Server and your Teams tenant.

Teams-Skype4B Users Talking
Teams—Skype for Business connection in dog form.
Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash.

Most of the work’s done on the Skype side for this. You must change Skype for Business to work in “Native Interop” mode. Here’s some migration and interoperability guidance on the basics.

Essentially, any on-prem deployment must move to a Hybrid deployment. If you already run Skype4B in Hybrid mode, half the work’s already done. You can skip the Part 1 section below & move to Part 2.

But before you do that, let me call out a major communication limitation.

Limitations on Native Interop

Before we dive into the config work required, let me make this point. Users talking between Skype for Business and Teams will have ONLY TWO TOOLS to communicate:

  • One-to-one IM/Chats
  • Voice calls

That’s it. No video conference, no group chats, no emojis or file transfers. Not available.

If you have a long transition period, doing the config for this limited communication toolset may make sense. However, if you’re doing a fast cut-over (e.g., less than 4 months), then it doesn’t seem worth the time investment. I would recommend skipping it in that case.

Still here? Great! Let’s talk about making Teams and Skype4B talk.

Part 1: Setting Hybrid Mode with Azure AD Connect

If you’re not already familiar with Azure AD Connect, it’s basically a connection between your Skype for Business Server’s Active Directory and an Office 365 tenant. AD Connect synchronizes your users’ accounts in Active Directory with Azure Active Directory on O365, and vice versa.

This sets up the question of homing. If you created all of your users in your own on-prem Active Directory, then the users are ‘homed’ locally. If you have Teams users you created within your Office 365 tenant, those users are ‘homed’ in Azure Active Directory.

This is important for one reason: Interop between Teams and Skype for Business users only works if you home the user online.

Effectively, you’ll have to transfer all of your Skype for Business users up into the Teams O365 tenant. They’ll still use the on-prem server (in fact they won’t even notice the difference), but they have to live up there to talk to Teams users.

This post would run on forever if I detailed the whole AD Connect setup process. If you do need to set this up, please refer to these MS documentation pages:

Once you’ve verified AD Connect runs properly, you’ll be able to move Skype4B users up into Azure AD. Fortunately, this part’s not too time-consuming. You have two possible methods:

  1. Use the Move-CsUser cmdlet.
    • Example: “Move-CsUser -Identity username@yourdomain.com -Target sipfed.online.lync.com -Credential $cred -HostedMigrationOverrideUrl $url”
  2. Use the Skype for Business Control Panel.
    1. Select Users in the Panel window.
    2. Use Find to locate the users you need to re-home.
    3. Select the users, and click the Action dropdown menu. Choose Move selected users to Skype for Business Online.
    4. In the wizard, click Next.
    5. You may see an Office 365 prompt. Sign in using an administrative account. (Must end in “.onmicrosoft.com”!)
    6. Click Next two more times to complete the move.

Now it’s time for Part 2.

Part 2: Change Users’ TeamsUpgrade Modes

Every Teams user has a mode assigned to it. Same with Skype4B users. The default mode is “Islands” – meant to signify the user as either on the Skype for Business ‘island’ or the Teams ‘island.’

Skype4 for Business Users Island Mode
Hey guys? Can anybody hear me? …hello?
Photo by Will Langenberg on Unsplash.

Now, that won’t work if we want people talking between islands. Each & every user, on both sides, needs to have this mode changed for interop.

Other possible modes are:

  • TeamsOnly – For Teams users only
  • SfBOnly – For Skype4B users only
  • SfBWithTeamsCollabAndMeetings – This is called “Meetings First,” meant for using Teams’ meetings as an introduction to the platform.
  • SfBWithTeamsCollab** – This is the mode we want. It facilitates native interop.

In SfBWithTeamsCollab mode, users still use Skype for Business for IM, calls, and meetings. (If you used SfBWithTeamsCollabAndMeetings mode, your users would use Teams for meetings instead. Everything else is the same.)

To change users’ modes, we’ll use the Grant-TeamsUpgradePolicy cmdlet.

If you want to do this user-by-user, use this format:

“Grant-CsTeamsUpgradePolicy -Identity username@yourdomain.com -PolicyName SfBWithTeamsCollab”

If you want to do it for all users, use this format:

“Grant-CsTeamsUpgradePolicy -PolicyName SfBWithTeamsCollab -Global”

As I understand, that’s pretty much it. Changing this mode allows Skype for Business users to chat with Teams users, after all the prerequisites are in place.

Dogs Playing Teams - Skype4B Users
Hey Bob, glad we can talk again. Let me show you this meme…
Photo credit: Bennilover via Photopin

(By the way, this process also sets up the users to move completely to Teams. It doesn’t mean you have to move them, but you save yourself time this way.)

Teams, Can You Hear Us Now? Good!

I remember our team having some serious issues with Azure AD Connect, the first time we hybridized a Skype for Business Server. (In fairness, that was over 3 years ago. The tech and documentation have improved since then.)

Still, I urge caution if you need to deploy it in your existing on-prem environment. If possible, use a staging environment to test AD Connect setup first, so you’re comfortable. I believe that’s what we did.

What’s your status with Teams and/or Skype for Business? Using one or both? Comment below on your communication situation.

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3 RealPresence Trio Updates Beef Up its “Communications Hub” Power

“Alexa, start the Skype Meeting.”

Sounds like an easy way to kick off a meeting, doesn’t it? If you’re using a RealPresence Trio, you have this functionality available.

Poly (formerly Polycom) has made several updates to their Trio conference systems since introduction. Not only have they helped with stability and audio/video clarity, they’d added third-party integrations. Lots of them.

Trio 8800 Skype for Business
Image provided by Newsroom.poly.com.

In this post we’re talking about three of the latest—three that enhance a Skype Meeting’s usability. Alexa, AirPlay, and Zoom.

Alexa for Business Integration: “Alexa, please schedule a meeting for 10:30…”

The latest RealPresence Trio 8800 firmware includes an integration for Amazon’s Alexa for Business. You know what that does—adds voice commands into the Trio. To use it for business though, you’ll have to connect Alexa for Business to a “conferencing provider” of your choice: Cisco WebEx, BlueJeans…or Skype for Business.

The setup for connect a conferencing provider only takes a few steps. Not unlike a Skype for Business voice route. Here’s how: Managing Conferencing Providers – Alexa for Business Guide

Once you’ve set up Alexa, you can take advantage of everything voice-related you’d do with an Echo:

  • Make & receive phone calls
  • Join meetings
  • Start or end meetings
  • Book the conference room
  • Bonus – Access private Alexa Skills. Make your own company-specific Skills!

(I have not tried asking Alexa for random quotations or a joke. If you do, let us know what she says!)

Full Alexa integration does take a few steps. Amazon has documented those steps for us: Use Polycom Trio with Alexa for Business – Alexa for Business Guide

Business Case for Alexa Integration: I see this as a primary convenience improvement. Too often we’ve seen customers start their Skype Meetings like this:

  1. Team members enter conference room.
  2. Someone taps a button on the Trio.
  3. Loud dial tone as it connects, because someone forgot to turn down the volume after the last meeting.
  4. Then a conversation somewhat like this happens:
    “Did it connect?”
    “I don’t know, I don’t hear anything.”
    “Are they muted?”
    “I think it failed. I’ll try again.”
    [After 2-3 other attempts taking up to 10 minutes…]
    “Hello?”
    “Oh! You can hear us now?”
    “Yes, can you hear us okay?”
    “Yes. All right, we can get started.”

Let’s avoid all that wasted time, shall we? Just ask Alexa to start your next meeting.

AirPlay Integration: Extra Screen Sharing Power

If you’re an Apple fan, you already know AirPlay. Good news for you—the Trio 8800 now lets you use it for AirPlay too!

This integration does one thing and one thing only: Screen mirroring. Once the Trio’s configured to activate its AirPlay integration, anyone in the meeting can share content on-the-fly.

We tested this one on-site too, using a MacBook Pro (it also works with iPhones and iPads). Worked flawlessly. Interestingly, I found that AirPlay content supersedes any Skype for Business shared content (a PowerPoint file, for instance). When the person sharing via AirPlay stops, the Skype for Business shared content reappears.

Screen Sharing AirPlay Trio
You could screen share from either device in this photo.
Photo by Headway on Unsplash.

You configure AirPlay on the Trio the same way you do Alexa for Business: Adding a features.cfg file to the device’s Trio Web Interface. Parameters listed in the documentation below.

Screen Mirroring with AirPlay Certified Devices – Polycom Documentation Library

Business Case for AirPlay Integration: Participation boost! This integration makes it easy for attendees to share content off their phones or tablets. People don’t have to lug their computers into the meeting. Just a couple taps and you’re the one presenting.

Zoom Integration: Control a “Zoom Room” with Your Trio

Last year, we had a customer request a Trio 8800. We asked if they planned to use it with Skype for Business, as they were on Office 365 already. They said no. They’d just started using Zoom…and they wanted to use the Trio with it.

This took a little configuration finesse on our end. Thankfully, you don’t have to go through the same process. Zoom and Poly partnered to integrate the Zoom Rooms software into the Trio.

A “Zoom Room” is their version of a fully media-enabled conference room. It does require a computer, but otherwise gives the same functionality as a Skype for Business-enabled conference room: audio/video conferencing, screen sharing, and a simple control system.

The integration allows you to use a Trio as a controller in a Zoom Room. In other words, you’d use the Trio much as you would in a Skype for Business setup. Start/end meetings, use its speakers, & control the screen sharing.

NOTE: If you bought a Trio 8800 separately from the Zoom Rooms hardware, you will need to provision it. See the setup notes posted below for the steps.

Setting Up the Polycom Trio as a Zoom Rooms Controller – Zoom Help Center

Business Case for Zoom Integration: Options. Prefer Zoom over Skype for Business? You can still use a Trio. Configuration’s a much easier process now than it was when we first tried it, too!

Conference Trio 8800
Pssst, Alexa, order gift bags for everyone!
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash.

Beef Up Your Trio into a Convenient Communications Hub

Important note: Remember the Trio posts I did a while back (Review Part 1, Review Part 2)?

We did these new integration tests on the very same Trio. It’s still in our conference room, subjected to all sorts of firmware mangling. (It’s all in the name of testing, honest.) Which means if these integrations work on our battle-worn Trio 8800, they will work on your latest-model Trio 8800 too.

How do you use your RealPresence Trio? Leave a comment, or message me to share.

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How the Video Interop Server Fits into Skype for Business

Entry #6 into the “How it Fits” series is…the Video Interop Server, or VIS!

Of all the Server Roles, I have the least experience with this one. We’ve only done one install of it, for a customer with an older Cisco conferencing setup. It did the job, and made the customer happy.

Newly-introduced in Skype for Business Server 2015, VIS made a bit of a splash on debut. Because it leveraged existing video conferencing hardware, you didn’t need to spend extra on new hardware when deploying Skype for Business. You could reuse what’s already in place. We all love cost-saving!

This post, like the other “How it Fits” series, will give an overarching take on the Video Interop Server’s function and use case. It has not markedly changed since introduction, and ships with both Skype for Business Server 2015 and 2019. You may never need to use one…but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there!

The Video Interop Server’s Primary Role

The VIS acts as an intermediary for Skype for Business and legacy Video Teleconferencing Systems (VTCs). These are older conferencing room systems businesses have used for years. Cisco, Polycom, and several other brands make VTCs. It appears Microsoft meant the VIS to work primarily with Cisco TelePresence VTCs.

Video Interop Server Diagram
There it is!
Photo courtesy of Microsoft Docs.

By creating the server, Microsoft helped many companies with older conferencing hardware extend its useful life. Remember all the money you sank into that conferencing room’s video setup? Big screen, high-quality (for the time) cameras, expensive phone/speaker equipment, wiring? With a VIS, you don’t have to scrap all of that for new hardware. The VIS allows those video systems to connect to & join Skype Meetings.

You can also use VIS for peer-to-peer calls on the same hardware, with some limitations.

VIS is primarily designed to interoperate with the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) and its connecting endpoints. I’ve seen mentions of people connecting it to non-Cisco conferencing systems, but I don’t have a concrete example. (Do you? Please comment with the details!)

Main Components of the VIS

1. Video Converter. A VIS is almost single-purpose: it converts video streams between the formats used by Skype for Business and legacy VTCs.

Let me explain a little more about how this works. Skype for Business uses the H.264 video codec. However, it also maintains support for the RTVideo codec for interoperability. This allows legacy conferencing systems to transmit their video data into the system. But the Skype4B servers may not fully understand the legacy video transmissions.

Which is why we have Video Interop. It performs the conversion & translation functions necessary to make everyone see & talk to one another.

As you can imagine, this takes a little more bandwidth. When implementing Video Interop, it’s wise to make sure you have a comfortable amount of bandwidth available. Otherwise the VIS will bump streams down to a lower resolution, causing poor video quality & even attendee drops.

2. SIP Trunk. Not necessarily a Server Role, but the VIS needs a video SIP trunk to communicate between itself and a legacy VTC.

 

Skype for Business VIS
The guy on the far left: “Thanks to our VIS, everybody in Dallas sees this too. Now what is Mark holding again…?”
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

Other Servers a VIS Communicates With

Front End Server. VIS talks directly to the Front End Server. Please note, you cannot collocate VIS with a Front End Server; it must have its own server/pool.

Edge Server. Since VIS must venture outside of the internal network for some third-party VTCs, it needs to associate with an Edge Server/Edge Pool. This is set up within Topology Builder.

How a Video Interop Server Works in a Hybrid Environment

You implement the VIS as a standalone server, in on-prem topologies. As such, this is the only way it will work in a hybrid deployment. Microsoft may have reasoned that since larger companies are more likely to use (and want to keep) Cisco legacy VTCs, they’re opting for on-prem deployments anyway.

The VIS in Skype for Business Server 2019 & Teams

Skype for Business Server 2019 does include Video Interop Server. I expect that future Cumulative Updates (CUs) for Server 2019 will expand its interoperability to more legacy video platforms.

Teams however is a different story. Since it’s all cloud-based, and Microsoft built VIS as an on-prem Server Role only, we don’t have such an option for Teams users. Nor will we. Those companies with legacy VTCs still on-site are out of luck.

Or are they? You do have one option…a third-party Cloud Video Interop service. An add-on service that performs the same function as VIS, made by a Microsoft Partner like Polycom or BlueJeans. If you invested thousands into a now-older Cisco conferencing setup, and are looking at Teams, go with this option.

VIS Extends the Life of Your Video Conferencing Hardware

Personally, creating an entire Server Role to handle one use case seemed like overkill to me. At first.

However, since then I’ve come to understand the reasoning behind VIS. Given how bandwidth-intensive video is—not to mention how demanding older teleconferencing systems can be!—it does make sense to include a gateway devoted to it. In so doing you also make said hardware last longer, saving on costs. Which makes Management happy!

For additional documentation on Video Interop Server, consult Plan for Video Interop Server in Skype for Business Server.

Which legacy conferencing platform would you like to see VIS support next?

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Workplace Messaging Report by Mio Out – 2019 Stats on ChatOps Usage

Hey Skype for Business/Teams/ChatOps fans! Just wanted to do a quick post about a new Workplace Messaging Report. Mio released it after surveying over 200 companies on their messaging apps/ChatOps trends & plans. I saw it posted on Twitter, read through, retweeted a few times, and then raced over here to share it.

Full report: https://dispatch.m.io/mio-workplace-messaging-report/

A few highlights I thought pertinent:

  • 57% of respondents believed more of their users would abandon Skype for Business in 2 years!
  • Of the other platforms, 56% thought those users would move to Teams, 41% to Cisco Webex Teams.
  • The Webex Teams UI tied with Slack’s UI (31% each) for user preference.
  • MS Teams and Skype for Business are neck-and-neck in overall usage—61% for Skype4B, 59% for Teams

 

Workplace Messaging Report
Cue Darth Vader “Nooooo!”

Image courtesy of Dispatch.m.io.

This is all making me think I need to look harder at Webex Teams!

The report has a lot more data, including some surprising numbers on Cisco endpoints. It’s very well-laid out too…only took a few minutes to absorb it all. Go check it out.

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