Know Your Skype for Business Hybrid Options
Getting all your business comms services from the Office 365 cloud, via Skype for Business Online, is a powerful, if not always practical, proposition.
Microsoft baking PBX features and PSTN connectivity into Skype for Business Online has caused quite the stir in the UC space.
Over the past six months I've spoken to enterprises -- mainly those that have already walked fairly far along the Office 365 and/or Skype for Business Server path -- exploring the feasibility of taking an all-Microsoft, all-cloud approach to business communications. And, according to a recent No Jitter survey, nearly half of businesses adopting Skype for Business Online said they are considering the use of Cloud PBX and/or PSTN Calling. And half said they expect Skype for Business Online with its new PBX features and PSTN connectivity to displace 50% or more of their PBXs within the next two years. So there's definitely interest, if not a lot of actual adoption, in these still early days of Skype for Business-as-telephony service.
I've also spoken with telcos -- mainly those with hosted Skype for Business services in their portfolios --exploring how they're going to continue partnering yet at the same time compete head-to-head with Microsoft as Skype for Business Online with PSTN Calling and Cloud PBX take hold. After all, the ability to buy connectivity services directly from Microsoft cuts into one of the operators' main value propositions. Selling connectivity, security, data center, networking, and other lucrative services is where their primary interests in Skype for Business lie.
When Practicalities Point to Hybrid
To date, most of what I've read about Microsoft's grand foray into hosted PBX services presents the company as a one-stop shop for business communications. That, after all, is the crux of the new services and strategy: Forget about your current service provider and PBX. Even forget about Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice. Use Office 365 for this, and get all your business comms directly from Microsoft's cloud services.
It's a powerful proposition, and one that the company was unable to present to businesses in years past. But it's not always an entirely practical proposition, especially for largish enterprises and in the near-ish term.
Large enterprises have complex communications environments, sometimes with PBXs on premises, sometimes with PBXs in the cloud, always with some kind of connectivity services from one or many providers. For companies like this, retiring the two, three, or dozens of PBXs in place and canceling associated service contracts simply isn't feasible.
Sometimes financial reasons are behind this -- the PBXs still have plenty of life left in them, so if they ain't broke, why replace them? Sometimes the reasons are organizational -- large enterprises can have multiple IT departments with separate and conflicting agendas. And other times they are technical -- IT has integrated existing comms systems with customized apps that Skype for Business Online can't support, or the systems deliver features absent from Skype for Business's still currently limited feature set.
To Where All Hybrid Paths Lead
So what are your options when you have existing telephony systems or services in place, when they are unlikely to go away soon, and when you want to leverage existing investments while at the same time roll out Skype for Business Cloud PBX to at least some users? In a nutshell, you have two choices. Each involves putting all or parts of Skype for Business Server on prem and connecting Cloud PBX to it.
Option 1. For the situation I just described -- businesses with PBXs and presumably little or no Skype for Business Server on prem -- the path forward is Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition (see related post, "Hybrid Cloud, Microsoft-Style, Garners Attention"). This is essentially a stripped-down set of Skype for Business Server workloads that a company adopting Skype for Business Cloud PBX deploys on premises or in a data center. Instead of going out over Microsoft's new PSTN Calling service, calls originating from Cloud PBX users flow to the Cloud Connector server, which in turn sends them to whatever PBX or gateways it's connected to on premises.
Option 2. The second option is for businesses that already have Skype for Business Server deployed on prem. The first assumption here is that the company has Skype for Business Server connected to a PBX or gateway, providing Enterprise Voice users homed to it with the ability to call out to the PSTN. The second assumption is that the company is now adopting or gradually migrating to Skype for Business Online. So some users are getting their business telephony from Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice and others are getting it from Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX. In this latter scenario, Cloud PBX connects to the company's Skype for Business servers, which in turn link to the PSTN-connected PBX or gateway.
Of course both of these arrangements are more convoluted than just having Microsoft provide the SIP trunk for your Skype for Business Online users. But they're potentially less expensive because you're not shelling out for PSTN Calling when in fact you're already paying for connectivity services from your current provider.
For many businesses this will be eminently more practical. Microsoft only offers PSTN Calling in the U.S. and -- I'm told -- Puerto Rico, with availability in the U.K. on the horizon. For businesses outside the U.S., as well as for U.S.-based multinationals, a hybrid approach will be the only way for Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX users to place and receive PSTN calls.
Overall, expect Skype for Business Online PSTN Calling and Cloud PBX to interest large enterprises, especially those whose IT departments have a predilection for buying Microsoft. But for large enterprises ready to adoption Cloud PBX here and now, hybrid deployment will likely be the most practical approach.