Musings on the Skype Outage
When Skype fails, what are enterprises to make of a commitment to going into the cloud with Microsoft and Skype for Business?
If you're an enterprise communications manager in the midst of or considering a move to Microsoft's Skype for Business, Monday morning's news of a Skype outage probably led to an "Oh crud" moment. While IT folks understand the distinction between Skype and Skype for Business, this may be lost on corporate execs scanning their daily newsfeeds and seeing words like "Skype" and "outage" and "suffers" popping up over and over again.
One of the downsides of the name recognition Microsoft was going for with its latest UC client is the chance of red flags raised when they need not to be... "Hey Joe, what's this about a Skype outage? Tell me again... why did you think it was a good idea to bring it into the enterprise? Who among you needs to start your week on the hot seat?
Yes, you can easily explain away the outage as having nothing to do with Skype for Business, and share the official word out of Microsoft that only some users were affected and only some of the free Skype services at that. But let's face it, the outage may very well give you pause, right?
I asked for a couple of expert opinions about that. Is enterprise concern reasonable? Is it warranted?
"Of course," said Microsoft UC expert Kevin Kieller, a partner with enableUC and keynote speaker at the Enterprise Connect Virtual Event, "Implementing Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business in Your Enterprise," taking place next Wednesday, Sept. 30, from noon to 5 p.m. ET. "Because Microsoft has collapsed the Lync brand into Skype, an outage, even of the consumer Skype service, is likely to make some organizations ask more questions about moving to Skype for Business."
Then again, any cloud outage, whether it touches the Microsoft UC universe or not, is going to bring up a question or two within enterprises that are getting or are thinking about getting communications or other critical business applications from the cloud. After all, as Kevin pointed out, "all services are subject to outages -- whether you run Lync/Skype for Business on premises, have a partner hosted setup (AT&T, BT, Tata, etc.) or allow Microsoft via its new Cloud PBX service to act as your voice platform provider."
And the same goes, he added, for using any other hosted service -- Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution, 8x8, and so on.
Let's not forget the vagaries of on-premises platforms, either. Kevin noted that he's had clients running on-premises UC systems from Microsoft and Cisco that have experienced multiday outages. And he's had clients that have lost PSTN connectivity, of either their PRI or SIP trunks, for multiple days. A switch misfires. A line goes down. Such is a day in the life of an enterprise IT manager.
From the Skype for Business perspective, an outage such that the consumer Skype service experienced early this week "really changes nothing for the CIO who is evaluating UC in the cloud," another Microsoft UC expert, Unify Square CEO Sonu Aggarwal, told me. Nobody in the enterprise is rushing headfirst into these decisions, and enterprise IT is going to be "pragmatic and fairly conservative about how quickly they look to move their entire UC infrastructure fully into the cloud," he noted.
From where Unify Square sits, part of that pragmatism should be use of cloud-centric monitoring tools as a sort of early warning system -- a point Sonu also made in his recent No Jitter tips piece on increasing Skype for Business ROI. As he told me, "Users demand high availability and performance for their Skype for Business Online IM, conferencing, and voice communications. If IT teams can't maintain service levels, the advantages of moving these services to the cloud are quickly negated. This is no easy task given the Skype for Business complex architecture. So, the ability to track, analyze, and alert on availability and performance metrics is key for organizations to feel comfortable in moving to the cloud without losing visibility and control."
Since Unify Square offers UC management tools, Sonu of course has a vested interest in saying so. But still, he makes a good point.
Kevin provides another: The real key, he said, is to make sure you understand the business requirements, and then select a service that aligns with them -- "including providing the appropriate level of resiliency and redundancy."
We have to assume that whatever resiliency and redundancy Microsoft has planned for its Cloud PBX and PSTN connectivity services for Skype for Business will be more robust than what it's applied to the infrastructure supporting its free Skype consumer services. Outages are nothing if not a hard lesson learned. Or so we hope.