Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications tag.

The SBC and Its Role in Skype for Business

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

Today let’s talk about the SBC.

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

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

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

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

What’s an SBC?

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

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

Server Rack

What Does an SBC Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay then, what SBC should I use?

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

Oracle Net-Net 3820
Sonus SBC 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: 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 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 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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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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Which Skype for Business Product Should You Use?

Skype for Business

Skype for Business is looking like a complete ecosystem – software products covering all platforms. Desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, cloud. “Unified Communications” seems to have given way to “Universal Communications”.

Businesses have a real choice for their VoIP phones, chat, conferencing, etc. these days. If you’re going with Skype for Business, you have a decision to make – Skype for Business Server, or Skype for Business Online?

Feature Comparison

In the past, Lync Online had limits. It was missing PSTN connectivity, Enterprise Voice features & Persistent Chat.
Why Doesn’t Lync Online Include Persistent Chat? 4 Reasons
Reader Question: Call Transmission in Lync Server vs. Lync Online

That’s changing with Skype4B Online.
Skype-for-Business-logo-FI

office-365-logo2

Baked-in Enterprise Voice and PSTN Connectivity are coming with Skype for Business Online’s rollout. Which makes Skype4B Online into what many people originally thought Lync Online/Office 365 would become: a full-fledged cloud-based communications platform. UC as a Service.

Lync Online to Become Full-Fledged Hosted UC Service – NoJitter

Feature-wise, this makes the two Skype for Business platforms are very similar. Add in Exchange Online and your users may not be able to tell the difference.

Skype for Business Service Descriptions (Server and Online) – TechNet

The Differences: Support and Scale

All that said, I still think there’s even more value to Skype for Business Server 2015. You have more control over support, features unique to the Server version…and there’s the question of scalability.

Scaling up on Office 365 is pretty easy – have more users? Buy some more Business or Enterprise licenses.
(Note: Skype for Business Online is available with Office 365 Business Essentials, Premium, and Enterprise E1. But it doesn’t have PSTN capability at these levels. If you want to make calls out, you’ll need the ProPlus or Enterprise E3 levels.)

However, you’re paying more every month for users this way. You don’t with Skype for Business Server – you instead buy a one-time CAL, add users in Active Directory & enable in Skype4B.  (Thanks to Brad for the CAL reminder, below.  I’ll come back to this topic.)

Remember how I mentioned Lync Online didn’t have Persistent Chat? Turns out Skype for Business Online won’t get it either.

According to this plan comparison, Persistent Chat and dial-in audio conferencing are only available in Skype for Business Server 2015. (Enterprise Voice functionality is listed as server-only too, but the NoJitter article talks about Microsoft phasing Enterprise Voice into Skype for Business Online over time.)

I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of Persistent Chat. So this news really disappoints me. Skype for Business Online users are missing out here. Server users aren’t.

Finally, support. All Office 365 plans include phone & web/email support from Microsoft, plus the Office 365 Community. However, if you still need support beyond this, you’ll have to pay for either Premier Support or work with a Microsoft Partner.

Server 2015 support has similar options – Microsoft’s knowledge base, standard Microsoft Support, and working with a Microsoft Partner for advanced support needs.

Either way, you’d end up working with a Microsoft Partner (like us!).

Which Version to Use, by Business Size/Type

All that said, here are my recommendations for who should use which version of the Skype for Business product.

Skype for Business Server 2015:

  1. Enterprises
  2. Multi-Location businesses
  3. Cloud-Cautious businesses (security & uptime are critical, or you must keep data in-house due to regulations).
    1. A hybrid environment is also possible. We’ll discuss these options in a later post.
  4. Businesses who use (or want to use) Persistent Chat, Dial-In Audio Conferencing & E911.

Skype for Business Online:

  1. Small businesses without an Exchange Server
  2. New businesses/startups (until the company grows)
  3. Organizations using a group of online communications tools already – WebEx, Join.Me, Jabber/Google Talk, HipChat

(I reserve the right to modify these recommendations later, as we see more of the rollout!)

While cloud-based services definitely have value – we host our own private cloud for customers, in fact – there’s still plenty of case to use an on-prem version.

Which Skype for Business product are you considering? Please comment or email with your thoughts and reasoning.

2 Comments

A Week with the Skype for Business Client

Skype for Business

It has now been 1 week since I installed the Skype for Business Technical Preview client. Here’s what I learned.

Services Tested

I’m using a Lenovo Ultrabook Helix. Prior to installing Skype for Business I used Lync 2013 on this machine. The upgrade went through with no errors and a single reboot.

In the past week I’ve conducted:

  • 9 IM conversations
  • 4 Enterprise Voice calls
  • 1 Lync Meeting/Skype Meeting
  • 2 Persistent Chat sessions
  • 2 file transfers
  • 1 Video chat/call (as a test)

Overall, I’m surprised at just how similar to Lync 2013 this client is. Aside from the UI change, this operates so closely to Lync that I’m tempted to call it just a cosmetic update.

But that’s not entirely the case. True, we’ve talked more about backend changes than client-based on the blog (and I look forward to examining those in detail later on!). But the Skype for Business client has a few changes of its own.

Improvements over Lync, & What’s the Same

The following is a list of observations recorded throughout the week. Every time Skype4B 2015 did something different from Lync, or I caught myself performing a task exactly as I did in Lync, I made a note.

  1. IM windows are saving their sizes & screen positions now! This always bugged me with Lync; it kept forgetting my window sizes.
  2. The main client window stretched to a full-screen vertical column on load. I prefer a smaller “floating” window, but this isn’t much of an irritation. Adjustable anytime.
  3. Moving the Presence indicator to a circle at bottom-right is growing on me. I liked the left-side vertical bar, but the circle provides a slightly-faster recognition of Presence status.
  4. The custom Presence statuses I set back when I did this post: Lync Add-Ons: Lync Custom Status Tool
    were preserved in the update! I still have “Wrestling a Wolverine” and “Assisting a Customer” (those ARE two separate things, I assure you…) among my Presence choices.
  5. There is a brief hesitation between clicking the Skype taskbar icon and the window popping up. Lync did the same thing. (I think it’s system-related.) No change in behavior here.
  6. File transfers to Lync 2013 users will break sometimes. It’s not consistent, and likely caused by the Technical Preview interfacing with a previous version (Lync 2013), but I’m noting it here.
  7. I like how quick in-window file transfers are to initiate.
  8. Options menus are almost exactly the same. (Seriously, I’m not finding any differences aside from the name “Skype for Business” where “Lync” was.)

Skype for Business Client

Crashes/Hangs/”Not Responding”

I only experienced two instances of crashes, hangs or the dreaded “Not Responding” error.

  1. In Options, when clicking from “Video Devices” menu to “Audio Devices” menu (this temporarily enabled my webcam until closing Options).
  2. When adding video to my test video chat/call. The call froze and I had to reconnect. Once I did, it worked fine.

This suggests that the video portion of Skype for Business still has a few bugs.

Frankly, I expected MORE bugs in a Technical Preview. The fact that I only had these 2 issues was both perplexing and encouraging. My thought process went like this: “Okay, there’s one issue. Same issue from another angle too. Wait, is that it? Everything else is working fine. It’s a beta, there has to be…nope, that works too!”

DELAYS: Occasionally I did notice a slight delay in conversations. They only occurred when adding services (e.g. file transfers, video) to an existing IM conversation. Most likely a result of network hiccups, possibly sprinkled with a bit of inter-version communications. It was not significant enough to frustrate me or cause me to note them as a bug.

Final Impression: Can I Keep Skype for Business?

I’m impressed by how smooth the Skype for Business client has been. The Technical Preview is scheduled to end April 30 (Skype for Business 2015 is slated for release sometime in April). I will be sad if I have to switch back to Lync 2013, even if it’s only temporary.

In fact, let me make a recommendation. If you do use Lync Server 2013 now, and you plan to upgrade to Skype for Business? Transition the clients first. This client app will work with Lync Server, and it gives you time to familiarize users to the new UI.

Have you tested the Skype for Business Technical Preview yet? What were your observations? Please comment or email.

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Prepare to Support Skype for Business with a New Lync/Skype Troubleshooting Guide

Skype for Business

Okay! Back to talking about Skype for Business 2015.

I attended a Lync Users Group Meetup 2 weeks ago, where we discussed Skype for Business Server 2015. I’m not able to share specifics yet, but I can talk about the Meetup itself. It was very well-attended–Lync partners, third-party vendors like Sonus, and UC industry experts.

The preparatory process for Skype for Business has clearly begun.

It was in this same vein – preparing for Skype for Business’ arrival – that I wrote today’s post. Last month Thomas Poett, a Microsoft Lync MVP, released a troubleshooting guide (free download). Both for Lync Server 2013…and for Skype for Business 2015!

Troubleshooting Guide, Skype for Business and Lync – Thomas.Poett@UC

Who’s the Guide For?

ThSupporting Lync Servere guide is meant for systems administrators, Lync Server administrators and Exchange Server administrators. It isn’t spelled out exactly, but the subject matter clearly delineates admins for its target audience.

As you’d expect from the title, Thomas’ guide covers troubleshooting methods for resolving issues within Lync Server 2013 and Skype for Business 2015. It addresses topics like the following.

  • Support tools to use, such as Snooper and OCSLogger
  • Testing configurations for IM, Voice/VoIP, Conferencing
  • Analyzing calls for session problems
  • SIP troubleshooting
  • And much more

Things to Consider

–This guide is focused on troubleshooting, NOT on setup. Please read it with that in mind.
For instance: 21 pages are devoted to analyzing SIP data from one Lync call!

–This is a low-level technical guide. Expect to see Snooper logs, PowerShell cmdlets and session diagrams. If you are not already familiar with the Lync Server infrastructure, I suggest saving this for later. (May I suggest previous posts on this blog instead?)

–More attention is paid to Lync than Skype. No surprise here – Thomas does have access to the TAP, but there are strict privacy controls on Skype for Business information right now. And will be for a few more months.

Thomas was clever; he wrote a “universal” Troubleshooting Approach on pages 7-8 which can be applied to Lync, Skype for Business, Exchange Server, and even Office 365. I do not want to take away from his guide, so I will only quote a small part of the Troubleshooting Approach:

4 Major Quality Issue Areas:

  1. Network
  2. Core Performance
  3. Gateway
  4. Devices

Configuration/Environment Setup Regions to Check When Troubleshooting (in order):

  • Voice Setup (Dial Plans, Normalization, Routes)
  • Gateway Configuration
  • Exchange Unified Messaging Integration

Speaking from our Lync experience, this approach holds up. Network issues affect Lync more often than its own Server Roles hitting a snag. Which happens more often than a gateway failing to communicate. Which happens more than a device outright failing (only had that happen a couple times).

Why You Should Read the Troubleshooting Guide

I’m reading this for one reason: Identifying similarities between Lync Server 2013 and Skype for Business Server 2015’s support processes.

Thomas has done some good work here. He’s provided details for troubleshooting a software platform, before it’s commercially available, using its currently-running predecessor. It’s a document intended to help you transition from one to the other.

I’m sure in time we’ll have more documentation, both for setup and for support. But right now, we have a Skype for Business 2015 resource available. Avail yourselves of it – after all, it’s free!

Here’s the direct PDF download link at TechNet.

What steps are you taking to prepare for Skype for Business 2015? Please comment or email your thoughts. And join us back here next week for more!

2 Comments

Device Review: Jabra Motion Office Headset

Third-Party Lync Products, Voice over IP

Today we have another Jabra headset to review. Not an over-the-ears devices like the Evolve 80 though – no, this is one of their Bluetooth headsets. The Jabra Motion Office unit.

Device Page: JABRA MOTION OFFICE – Jabra.com

I admit to a little reservation when starting the review. Bluetooth headsets and me don’t tend to get along.

Well, until now.

Initial Impressions

The Motion Office is more than just the headset. There’s also a charging/connectivity stand with a small touchscreen. And a headset case. And cables. And a Bluetooth adapter.

Jabra Motion Office Unit

This isn’t just a headset. It’s an extension to your Lync client. Irrespective of the platform on which you use Lync.

Seting Up the Unit

After the unboxing, you connect the headset to the base & plug it in. The touchscreen says the earpiece needs to charge for 20 minutes. And while you wait, why don’t you run through Setup?

motionofficesetup

The touchscreen provides instructions from then on. First it asks if you want to connect this headset to your desk phone. I did, connecting a given cable to the Polycom. It asked me to call a Jabra support number to complete the phone connection.

motionofficeinstructions

After that, it asked if I wanted to connect to a Softphone (PC)? Sure, why not? I plugged it into my laptop’s USB hub. The touchscreen suggested downloading the Jabra PC Suite for additional capabilities, at www.jabra.com/pcsuite. I did so.

PC Suite contains “Softphone Integration Modules” – these enable call control for third-party softphones. It’s a thorough list too – Skype, Cisco, NEC, Lync, ShoreTel and a couple more. I disabled a few that I know I’ll never use.

After the PC Suite installed, the touchscreen asked me, “Connect to mobile phone?” I said No to this one, for now. Didn’t need it, and I was curious when I’d see an option to connect it later.

Next up, Personal Preferences. Screen brightness, dimmer timeout, ringtones, volume controls. The touchscreen then kindly refers you back to the Quick Start Guide for Headset Use 101.

motionofficecalloptions

Making Calls

The headset/earpiece, when fully charged, has an 8-hour talk time. Enough for a full workday.

As I did with the last Jabra headset, I tested this one out by making some calls.
Test calls came:

  • From Lync
  • From cellphones
  • To Lync
  • To cellphones

Call quality was as clear as the Jabra Evolve 80 – which is impressive on its own, considering that had two wrap-around earpieces and the Motion Office only has one in-ear piece.

The calls are so sharp that, when I called a co-worker in the same workspace, the earpiece could pick up his voice through the phone AND spoken! (Which caused a funny echo effect in my ear. Moving away made it disappear.)

motionofficeheadset

Touchscreen

We’ve had touchscreens on our Polycom desk phones for a while now. The Motion Office’s touchscreen is smaller, and has one disadvantage: No ability to dial via touchscreen. However, that isn’t a requirement. Dialing through Lync or your phone works perfectly.

The touchscreen also lets you switch quickly between devices. Remember how I didn’t connect Motion Office to my cellphone at first? When I did (via the Call Options button on top-right), I could switch between it, my desk phone and my computer with a touch. They’re all represented by icons.

Which means I can choose from which location I take my call, within Lync. Forward calls to cell? Pick up with the earpiece. Simultaneous Ring? All devices will give the call to the earpiece.

Voice Commands

Using voice commands with a Lync headset…about time! To find out which voice commands are available, tap the Voice/Mute Mic button when you’re not on a call. When you hear “Say a Command,” say “What can I say?”

The headset will give you a list of voice commands. The ones I received were:

  1. Pair New Device
  2. Battery
  3. Cancel

Speak up; it needs clear instruction.  I had a few funny looks while I walked around shouting, “What can I say?  What can I say??”

The Bluetooth Adapter

The Motion Office headset will work without the base too. All you need is the Bluetooth adapter. Plug this little guy into your computer and poof, it pairs up. I took it and the headset out of the office for a test.

motionofficebluetooth

However, when I did, I encountered an issue.

Snags/Issues

ISSUE 1: When I plugged in the LINK 360 Bluetooth adapter, my computer saw the adapter just fine. But I couldn’t use the headset. I tried pairing, connecting to the headset, switching USB ports…nothing worked.

I tried using the Bluetooth adapter on another computer though, and it worked right away. There is a warning in the Jabra Get Started Guide – “The Jabra Link 360 and the base should not be plugged in at the same time.”

They weren’t plugged in, but I did install the base before I tried the Bluetooth adapter. I suspect this is what caused the issue.

ISSUE 2: Also, I did encounter a pause when the Motion Office base first connected to my laptop. It lasted long enough to make me think the installation had failed, and I eventually closed the window.

But a moment later the “Motion Office” icon showed up in my taskbar. All was well.

This was likely just my system taking its time on install. But I document it here in case others encounter it.

Final Thoughts

I’ve tried Bluetooth headsets in the past. None of them lasted. Either they were too flimsy & kept falling off my ear, or they had spotty call quality.

The Jabra Motion Office headset is much better on both counts. It takes me a second to get the thing on my ear, but once I do, it’s not going anywhere!

And neither is this headset. I really liked the comfort of the Evolve 80. (So did a co-worker, because he asked for it after reading my review!)

But the Motion Office? I’m keeping this one.

Next week we’ll return to Skype for Business 2015. But what will we cover? You’ll have to come back & find out.

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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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