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From the Client to Cloud with Skype for Business

At Microsoft Ignite, the company's inaugural all-in-one technology event wrapping up today, attendees got the full-out data dump across a breadth of products. While some folks I talked to at the Chicago conference said they liked the scope, others said zeroing in on information of interest to them was tough -- certainly more challenging than doing so at the narrowly focused Lync Conference of old.

portableGiovanni Mezgec, Microsoft

"That's important to us because it's a brand transition," Mezgec said.

Now comes the tough part, which will be gaining traction, not only among IT decision-makers, but also with users.

Three weeks in, and so far so good on the client side, it seems. Mezgec reported that as of last Friday, when he left Redmond, Wash., and headed to Chicago for Ignite, more than two million users had downloaded and activated the Skype for Business client. "We feel pretty good about that," he said.

While users decide whether to hang on to their Lync look-and-feel for a while or upgrade immediately to the new Skype-inspired client, IT needs to start thinking about upgrading from Lync Server 2013 (or Lync Server 2010, as the case might be) to Skype for Business Server. By the way, Skype for Business Server can run on the same hardware as Lync Server 2013, and IT will be able to do an in-place migration from the old to the new software, Mezgec said.

Click to the next page for more on Skype for Business

Serving Up Skype for Business
In our interview, Mezgec provided a rundown of reasons why upgrading would be the smart choice.

Better reliability and improved scalability are starting points, he said. Skype for Business Server takes advantage of failover functionality available from SQL Server AlwaysOn, "which hopefully will give our customers better scale and a more reliable platform for enterprise mission-critical usage" than they have had with the Lync Server predecessors.

After reliability and scalability comes "a bunch of interoperability," Mezgec said. In particular, he noted interoperability with Cisco Tanberg video teleconference (VTC) systems. Until enterprise IT managers are able to amortize legacy VTCs, they're looking for native interoperability between the two systems, Mezgec said. "And the Skype for Business Server delivers that."

Another essential piece of Skype for Business Server story is the effort Microsoft has taken to ensure IT can track how the network is responding to UC traffic, Mezgec said. "As you operate the server 24x7, you want to see where things are going smoothly and you want to see who is having problems in terms of video, or whatever, so you know how to fix it."

As noted in my previous post, "Getting a Visual on Skype for Business Call Quality," Skype for Business Server features a Call Quality Dashboard that gives IT a view into and ability to diagnose network infrastructure issues affecting call quality. In addition -- and more importantly, Mezgec said -- Microsoft has built hooks into Skype for Business Server so ISVs can develop operational management tools on top of it. The first among those vendors are Event Zero, Nectar, and Unify Square. "They have operational tools for Skype for Business Server that can help you essentially detect and prioritize issues that might occur as you operate the product over your network and take corrective actions for it," he added.

Speaking of "hooks," Microsoft is enabling native integration via the Skype Developer Platform, updated coincident with the release of Skype for Business Server. And, it has released a developer preview of Skype Web SDK, for building custom communications applications on top of the server. In the first public example, Genesys this week announced native integration between its contact center solution and Skype for Business Server.

Moving ahead, Microsoft will continue pushing forward on the API front with the Skype Developer Platform, "so we can build even more communications into business processes and business applications. That will be really something to watch for in the next two to three years," Mezgec said. Into the Cloud Future
With the foundation now set, the next six to nine months will be all about the cloud and hybrid, Mezgec said. "We're basically now onto the roadmap for making our cloud service on par with our server product, because there are still functionality gaps between the two -- notably, Enterprise Voice." (Read a related story, "Lync Online to Become Full-Fledged Hosted UC Service.")

The goal, as evidenced in the Broadcast Skype for Business Meetings service previewed at Ignite, is to give enterprises the choice of how to deploy UC, on a case-by-case basis, Mezgec said. "We want customers to be able to ask, 'Is it all on prem? Is it all in the cloud, or is it a mix?' and 'How do I migrate between the two given the business needs I have?' rather than telling them, 'It's all here; it's all there.'"

portableBroadcast Skype for Business Meetings producer view

Microsoft has "quite a unique" cloud story to tell, given the scale it can provide via Office 365 and the connectivity with the Skype network of consumers, Mezgec said. It'll be interesting to see the sorts of business-to-consumer and business-to-business applications that arise "now that we have the platform for our customers to come on the journey with us to the cloud."

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