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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How to (Re-)Enable Skype Directory Search in the Skype for Business Client

Skype for Business

We have Skype for Business Server 2015 up & running in the office! Testing is proceeding apace. Today’s post comes from the first thing I noticed.

One of the new features is integration with the Skype Directory. You can now add Skype users into your Skype for Business client. All it takes is a search.

Except my searches didn’t yield any Skype Directory results. Just the usual “My Contacts” and “Chat Rooms”.

I asked Larry about this. He confirmed that Skype is listed in our SIP Federated Providers. The Skype for Business Server installation went (fairly) smoothly. Edge services are working. What gives?

Skype? Hello, Can You Hear Me?

There’s a note on this TechNet page, as follows:

If Skype for Business Server is already configured to connect with Windows Messenger by using Public Instant Messaging Connectivity (PIC), your deployment is already configured for Skype connectivity. The only change you may want to consider is to rename your existing Messenger PIC entry as Skype.

Apparently our pre-existing configuration to federate with Windows Messenger should be enough. But it’s not. Skype Connectivity requires a little more work to behave properly.

After consulting TechNet further, and a few of our fellow IT bloggers, we made the following changes.

How to Re-Enable Skype Connectivity – IF You Have PIC Provisioned

Before anything else: Communication with public federated providers requires PIC (Public Instant-Messaging Connectivity) provisioning. If you’ve federated your Lync Server with providers like Yahoo or AOL already, PIC is provisioned.

The following instructions work ONLY if you already enabled PIC for your Lync Server, pre-Skype for Business upgrade.

  1. Step 1: Enable Skype-Skype Federation on your Edge Server. Open Topology Builder to access the Edge Server. You’re looking for the Enable Federation screen (like this).

    Enable Skype Federation

    Image courtesy of TechNet.

  2. Step 2: Verify that Ports 4443 between Front End/Edge, and Port 443 outbound on Edge are open & working. 4443 is the same port used by CMS; it should already be open, but check anyway. You’ll need to check your firewall for Port 443 outbound.
  3. Step 3: Remove and re-add Skype from the SIP Federated Providers list in Skype for Business Control Panel.
    • Click the Skype entry.
    • Click Edit -> Delete.
    • Click New -> Public Provider.
    • In the new provider window, enable these options.
      • Check the box for “Enable communications with this provider”
      • Provider Name: Skype
      • Access Edge service (FQDN): federation.messenger.msn.com
      • Default verification level: Select “Allow users to communicate with everyone using this provider”.
    • Click Commit.
  4. Step 4: Restart Front End and Edge. Very important! If you don’t restart the services on Front End and Edge, the Skype Directory remains inaccessible.
  5. Step 5: Log out & log back in on your Skype for Business client.

That’s all. The old “yank it out and redo it”.

skypedirenable

(Note: This can be done in PowerShell as well. However the cmdlet is long and cumbersome. You’ll find it in the cited pages below, if you prefer that route.)

If you don’t have any federation/PIC enabled, you have a few more steps to take. Please follow the full/”from scratch” steps listed on these pages:

The same search functionality is available in Skype for Business Online. I haven’t worked with this yet, so I’ll direct you to the TechNet and UC Guys posts linked above for the how-to.

After we re-entered Skype as a SIP Federated Provider – and restarted the servers – guess what? Skype Directory names flooded into my search results. Exactly as expected.

What Skype for Business Server feature would you like more information about? Please comment or email. I’ll keep all requests in mind while digging through the new server.

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How to Sell Skype for Business (to People Who Hate Skype)

Skype for Business

At a recent Meetup, someone commented on the irony of Microsoft pitching “Skype for Business” to IT admins…who’ve hated Skype for years.

It’s true, too. Skype has a sordid history in the office. Many businesses outright block Skype, for some pretty good reasons:

  1. It’s a bandwidth hog
  2. It’s a potential security hole for hackers/malware to get in
  3. Messages not trackable by other applications (e.g. for compliance purposes)
  4. It allows for unregulated file transfers
  5. Employees can waste work time chatting with friends

(We’ve encountered problems stemming directly from #1 and #2. Let’s all thank our good friends at Malwarebytes for providing such a thorough malware removal app.)skypeforbusiness-nooo

These troubles have resulted in many different methods of blocking Skype from the office network.

  • Blacklisting via third-party apps or AD policies
  • Software auditing
  • Removing installation privileges from local machines
  • Port blocking
  • And I’m sure there are more out there!

Thanks to the name similarity, we now have a question to ask.

Will IT pros give Skype for Business a fair chance?

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

It’s common for people to see two similarly-named things and assume they’re similar in makeup. Sometimes it’s even true. But while Skype and Skype for Business have similar names, they are indeed two different products. At least for now.

Skype for Business has a larger feature set. It takes network security into account, and integrates with Active Directory. You can even run Skype and Skype for Business alongside one another (at least for now).

Nonetheless, some IT pros will see the new Skype for Business logo and flail their arms. “AAH! Skype! Kill it!”

Honestly, I don’t blame a lot of IT managers, sysadmins and support staff for not liking Skype. It does have plenty of issues. But we mustn’t let a consumer-grade app’s history obscure the benefits of a similarly-named, much-more-capable system like Skype for Business.

Let’s talk about how to overcome the mental hurdles. How we can sell Skype for Business to the skeptics.

Sales Points for Pitching Skype for Business (even Anti-Skype IT Pros Can Appreciate)

I’ve created some marketing points from an IT perspective. These are written to appeal to good reason, proper network administration, and balancing between user experience & smooth-running servers.

Some of them have come from our discussions with new Skype4B customers. Others I’ve worked up fresh for the blog. You are free to use them whenever they help out (though we do appreciate links in return!).

When trying to sell Skype for Business 2015…

  1. Use a Lync Comparison. Since Skype for Business is built primarily from Lync Server 2013’s foundation, it’s not the same thing as Skype. Its feature set alone makes for a very different (and much more controlled) system. Plus, Lync’s major sales points still hold true.
    • Full communications suite, operating within the office network
    • PSTN call capability without a big expensive PBX
    • No need for third-party video conferencing or chat software
    • Conversations protected and searchable later
    • Choose which communication medium (phone/IM/conference/chat/video) works best at the time
  2. Much Better Bandwidth Management. According to the Skype FAQ, Skype needs anywhere from 100kbps to 1.5Mbps per user for calls! (The higher end includes video.) While this isn’t terrible with today’s network connections, your ability to control its bandwidth is limited.
    Conversely, Skype for Business Server 2015 has lower bandwidth requirements, AND it incorporates bandwidth control measures directly within it!

  3. Presence Indicators. If someone’s chatting with a friend on Skype, you don’t see any indicators of their status. If they’re using Skype for Business, you DO see their Presence status (“In a call”). Good way to keep people on task.
  4. Contact Governance. Yes, Skype for Business allows access to the Skype Directory for adding contacts. (I have some posts forthcoming on this topic.) However, administrators can monitor this, and use policies to govern who can add whom.
    Gee, Mary has 160 contacts on her Skype for Business client. But her team has only 10 members. Time to adjust her contacts list…
  5. Try it Out in Office 365. Still wary of Skype for Business? Try it out for yourself! Use an existing Office 365 account, or sign up for a dedicated Skype for Business Online account. It’s $5.50 a month to try out the full feature set. Pretty cheap way to see what’s new & exciting.

Have you tried to sell a Skype-skeptic on Skype for Business 2015? Please comment or email what you said, and what (if anything) worked.

Or, if you’re on Spiceworks, post to my topic! Link below. I’d love to hear how the discussion’s going.
Have you tried to sell Skype for Business to someone who hates Skype? – Spiceworks.com

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Why You Need a Computer Without Lync 2013 Admin Tools to Run Skype for Business’ In-Place Upgrade

Lync Server 2013, Skype for Business

A few days ago, we cleared some time. Ready to test the new In-Place Upgrade by upgrading our in-house Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business Server 2015.

(Details, once again: System is a single Lync Server 2013 Standard Edition with one Edge Server and a SIP Trunk for Enterprise Voice. SQL Server 2012 backend database.)

Almost immediately though, we hit a snag and had to stop. Reading our documentation, we came across a requirement that almost seemed to contradict the whole notion of an “In-Place” upgrade.

In-Place Upgrade Can’t Run on a Server with Lync Core Components or Admin Tools On It!

I’ll quote the TechNet page Upgrade to Skype for Business Server 2015 for an explanation.

Step 1: Install Administrator tools and download topology
Connect to computer in the topology that does not have Lync OCSCore or any other Lync components installed.

According to Microsoft, Lync 2013 Admin Tools cannot be installed on the Lync Server before Skype for Business In-Place Upgrade proceeds.

You’ll also find this referenced on other Lync blogs with Skype for Business Server install walkthroughs.

  1. Mark Vale’s Blog: Skype for Business Server In-Place Upgrade Step by Step. Under Front End Server Pre-Requisites, “A server or workstation without Lync 2013 Admin Tools installed.”
  2. Jaap Wesselius: Upgrade Lync 2013 to Skype for Business 2015 Step-by-Step. Under Upgrade Process, “It is not possible to install these on the existing Lync 2013 server, so a (temporary) server needs to be used. It is important that this server does not contain any Lync 2013 binaries.”
  3. Guy Bachar’s “Just a Lync Guy” Blog: Lync Server 2013 Standard to Skype for Business Server 2015 Standard In-place Upgrade (Offline Method). Under Step-by-Step Upgrade, “Connect to a computer which is part of the domain but does not have any Lync core components or admin tools installed on it.”

The important question: Why?

Image from Microsoft TechNet/Skype for Business.

Image from Microsoft TechNet/Skype for Business.

What is Microsoft up to with this snag?

We might have a partial answer in a related issue.

LRS Admin Tool Not Compatible with Skype for Business – The Old Version, Anyway

As it turns out, you can’t have the LRS Admin Tool running on the Lync Server either. According to the Plan to Upgrade to Skype for Business Server 2015 page:

Be sure to uninstall LRS Admin tool for Lync Server 2013 before running In-Place Upgrade. The LRS Admin Tool for Lync Server 2013 cannot coexist with Skype for Business Server 2015. After running In-Place Upgrade install the new LRS Admin tool, see Microsoft Lync Room System Administrative Web Portal for Skype for Business Server 2015.

So a new version of the LRS (Lync Room System) Admin Tool is available in Skype for Business. They want you to remove the old version first, to avoid conflicts. Okay. That makes sense.

Is this the case for the Lync 2013 Core Components/Admin Tools too? Another version conflict? Does Skype for Business’ new Administrative Tools conflict with Lync’s?

After some more digging, I determined this is indeed the case.

  1. Skype for Business’ Administration Tools need to replace the Lync 2013 Admin Tools, in order to begin In-Place Upgrade.
  2. If the Lync Admin Tools are NOT removed, you could end up with an error which halts In-Place Upgrade.

#2 is important. Take a look at this recent TechNet support thread: Upgrade to Skype for Business Server – TechNet Support Forums

Reply #10 contains some screenshots and a description of the error you’d hit with Core Components. The error text is as follows:
“The MSI OcsCore.msi returned error code 1603, log file location: C:\Users\LYNCADMIN\AppData\Local\Temp\OcsCore.msi-[2015_05_14][19_15_33].log”
(You’ll see different date & number stamps in the log filename.)

Reply #10 was able to fix this by using Revo Uninstaller on Lync’s Core Components…but was immediately faced with another installation error. Troublesome.

And seemingly avoidable, if you remove the Lync Core Components/Admin Tools first.

What We Recommend – Use a Fresh Server or Desktop for Installing Administrative Tools

But what if your Lync Server is a Standard Edition like ours? The Core Components are on the same server as the Front End Role – it’s rather hard to do an In-Place Upgrade like that!

The alternative (and what we’d recommend if you’re starting an In-Place Upgrade) is:
Don’t use a computer with Lync Core Components or Admin Tools on it.
Instead, use:

  • A fresh Windows Server (no Lync Server 2013 components installed) added to your domain, OR
  • A desktop already on the domain.

Not entirely sure why Microsoft couldn’t auto-remove Core Components right before installing Skype for Business Administration Tools. For whatever reason they opted not to.

But that’s why we have blogs like this one – to help the rest of us work with Lync, now Skype for Business, and its related tech.

Speaking of blogs, if you’re eager to do an In-Place Upgrade, I recommend reading all 3 of the above-referenced blog posts. Mark, Jaap and Guy all did a great job of laying out step-by-step walkthroughs.

Have you done a Skype for Business In-Place Upgrade? How did it go? Please comment or email me your experience. Every installation is unique; I’d love to hear what happened for yours.

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Pricing for Skype for Business 2015: 3 Scenarios

Skype for Business

Last week we discussed Skype for Business 2015 on-prem licensing. That’s half the equation. The other half is that bane of Microsoft administrators everywhere…license costs.

To prepare for this post, we dug through our Microsoft Partner documentation and spoke with our suppliers. Which is where we hit a caveat – depending on which supplier we would order Skype for Business 2015 from, we got slightly different pricing.

As such, I’m quoting MSRP pricing here. Depending on your supplier, your pricing may vary.
I intend this post as a “standardized reference” for U.S. IT Pros. We’re glad to inform your purchasing decisions…but always get a final quote before agreeing to buy!

Skype for Business costs HOW much?! -Image courtesy of Phaitoon on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Please also note that this information is accurate as of May 25, 2015. According to one supplier, Microsoft will raise their on-premises User CAL pricing by 13% on August 1, 2015. The list price for Device CALs will not change.

Microsoft may change its pricing again at any point in the future. (If this does happen I’ll try to update the post and remind everyone.)

That’s it for the disclaimers. On to the pricing!

The Pricing Scenarios We’ll Use – Office 365, Hybrid, On-Premise

Just listing off some numbers is boring. This is the Lync/Skype4B Insider – we don’t do boring.

So for this post, we’ll show you Skype for Business 2015 pricing in 3 different scenarios.

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

Scenario 1: Office 365

This is the easiest to identify. We even have two options: a standalone Skype for Business Online plan, or bundled with Office 365.

Standalone Skype for Business Online Plan Pricing:
Online Plan 1: $2.00/user per month
Online Plan 2: $5.50/user per month
With 25 Users: Online Plan 1 costs $50/month. Online Plan 2 costs $137.50/month.

Office 365 Pricing (with Skype for Business Online included):
Enterprise E1: $8.00/user per month
Enterprise E3: $20.00/user per month
With 25 Users: E1 costs $200/month. E3 costs $500/month.

This scenario works for: Small/new businesses, cloud-friendly businesses.

Scenario 2: On-Premise/Skype for Business Server 2015

Since we learned last week that a license is required for every Front End server in Skype for Business Server 2015, let’s assume 1 Front End in our On-Premise scenario.

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

Total: $10,746.00

This scenario works for: Enterprises, businesses who want Persistent Chat and/or on-site data storage.

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

In this scenario you could use either E1 or E3 for Office 365. I’ll use E3, assuming you want full hybrid capabilities.
25 Office 365 users, E3 plan – $500/month, or $6,000/year.

Skype for Business Enterprise Voice is installed on-premise.
1 Front End Server License (MSRP), required to establish Enterprise Voice functionality – $3,646.00
25 Plus User CALs (for Enterprise Voice) – $124.00 each, or $3,100 total
Total (for 1 year): $12,746.00

This scenario works for: Cloud-cautious businesses, businesses with an existing Exchange Server or Office 365 accounts.

Which Scenario Will You Use to Transition?

Remember these scenarios discuss licensing prices only. Hardware and implementation costs are not included. Which is why, while the Hybrid scenario appears the most expensive in terms of licensing, it may wind up saving you money on hardware. Depending on your office network.

Of these 3, which looks like the scenario you would use to transition your business to Skype for Business 2015? Please comment or email. I’d love to know your thoughts on the new pricing too.

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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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