Skype for Business & Big Meetings: An Odd, Bumpy Path
With Skype Meeting Broadcast, Microsoft is addressing a longtime problem area -- large-scale conferences. What does that mean for partners?
When Microsoft announced Skype for Business earlier this year, I was struck by how radically Lync Online would change and how much Lync Server wouldn't. That is to say, Skype for Business Server gets a new UI and Call via Work replaces Remote Call Control, plus plenty of other stuff. But it's not a major revision like the platform has had in the past, and what's new isn't as significant as what's new in Skype for Business Online.
It makes sense, really. Microsoft's hosted UC service has long had limitations when it comes to delivering a complete business telephony feature set. So this is where Microsoft developers focused most of their attention this time around.
However, there will be a major change in how Skype for Business Server (and Skype for Business Online too, for that matter) supports large-scale conferences, long a problem area for Microsoft. Despite acquisitions, integrations, and enhancements, meeting scalability has been decreasing, rather than increasing. This has opened opportunities for partners, which have stepped in to provide Lync with the massively scalable meeting functionality that it lacked natively. But with Skype for Business broadcast meetings, introduced in preview mode as Skype Meeting Broadcast, on the horizon, Microsoft is about to (re)introduce a webcasting service, and one that promises to scale beyond anything it previously offered.
Since Skype Meeting Broadcast will directly compete with partners' comparatively mature and well-established solutions, let's take a look at some of the options enterprises deploying Skype for Business will have when setting up large meetings with hundreds or thousands of participants.
In olden days (2003 to be exact) of Office Communications Server (OCS), Microsoft acquired a provider whose Web conferencing service became Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Depending on the license purchased, Live Meeting supported up to either 250 or 1,250 participants; it was available as a service or as an on-premises solution. Round about 2007, Microsoft enhanced Live Meeting to support up to 2,500 participants, which remained the limit throughout the OCS years. When Lync debuted in early 2011, Microsoft discontinued the Live Meeting service while rolling its Web conferencing functionality into Lync.
Curiously, when Lync inherited Live Meeting's Web conferencing capabilities, scalability took a hit. Rather than maintaining or increasing Live Meeting's 2,500-participant limit, Lync 2010 supported only up to 250 participants. Businesses with Lync Server on premises can up this to 1,000 by dedicating server resources to large meetings. But in this scenario the server needs to be dedicated to setting up large meetings regardless of whether or not any are taking place. So unless a company is continually having meetings with hundreds or thousands of attendees, those resources go unused most of the time.
For companies with Lync Online, 250 participants remains the max despite Microsoft promising an increase to 1,000 as early as 2011 and as recently as 2014. Microsoft's Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP, Information Platform & Experience, gave a figure of 1,000 to 2,000 during his Lync Conference keynote last year (forward to the 41:20 minute mark).
As Lync Online morphed into Skype for Business Online, large-scale meetings remained capped at 250. And native webcast scalability in Skype for Business Server remains the same as in Lync Server: 250 or 1,000, depending on that dedicated server resources thing.
Microsoft nerfing Lync's ability to support large meetings shouldn't raise too many eyebrows. Part of Microsoft's genius is that Skype for Business, Lync, and OCS deliver just enough communications features to satisfy most businesses. You need something fancy, like a door phone, wallboard, or IVR? Go talk to a partner. Ditto with super large conferences. Someone at Microsoft must have decided that most businesses wouldn't need a UC platform that natively supports Web conferences with more than 250, or at the outside 1,000, people. And if some did, that's where partners could step in.
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