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Skype for Business Server 2019: Head in the Clouds

Over the past nine years, many large organizations have successfully replaced traditional PBXs with the Microsoft unified communications platform, initially entitled Office Communications Server (OCS), truly enabled as a PBX replacement with the OCS R2 version, then first renamed Lync followed by Skype for Business. In the process, these organizations have often seen millions of dollars in savings, with a return that greatly exceeded the required server, network, and training investments. Organizations today running the latest version, Skype for Business 2015, are looking to preserve and leverage their existing investments.

In November 2016 Microsoft officially launched Teams, noting that "Skype is deeply integrated, so teams can participate in voice and video conferences." It followed this news at Ignite in September 2017, announcing that Teams would supplant Skype for Business and form "... a new vision for intelligent communications, transforming calling and meeting experiences for people and organizations around the world." In the same announcement, Microsoft noted:

We plan to continue to offer and support Skype for Business in Office 365 and Skype for Business Server on premises. For customers who are not yet ready to move their PBX and advanced calling capabilities to the cloud, we will release a new version of Skype for Business Server targeted for the second half of calendar year 2018.

However, many Skype for Business advocates feel this promise of the next version of Skype for Business, now officially named "Skype for Business Server 2019," is more of an afterthought than a focus area. It appears that Teams delivered from the cloud (and only from the cloud!) is the future Microsoft platform for communications and collaboration.

Microsoft highlighted four key capabilities of Skype for Business 2019 in its preview announcement, each of which both leverage and require cloud connectivity. Skype for Business Server clearly has its head in the cloud:

  • Cloud Voicemail -- the next version of unified messaging needs to leverage the cloud since Exchange Server 2019 will not offer unified messaging. No new features promised. If you upgrade to on-premises Exchange Server 2019 you'll no longer be able to provide voicemail for on-premises Skype for Business.
  • Cloud Auto Attendant -- auto-attendant capability has been provided by Exchange Server; however, this capability will not be available in the next version of Exchange Server. A cloud-based auto attendant potentially delivers faster improvements but also requires hybrid authentication and may have an impact on licensing costs.
  • Cloud Call Data Connector -- provides the ability to upload on-premises call and quality data, currently stored in SQL database as part of monitoring server role, to the Microsoft Office 365 cloud for reporting on via the Call Quality Dashboard (CQD). While a great feature if your organizations is in a hybrid mode with some users hosted on premises and others hosted in the cloud, the current cloud CQD reporting lacks capabilities and extensibility provided through on-premises third-party applications and custom SQL queries.
  • Teams Migration Simplification -- helpss organizations simplify the process of moving to Teams. This is useful if you have decided to move some or all of your users to Teams.

For organizations able and willing to embrace a hybrid deployment, Skype for Business 2019 offers some potentially new capabilities.

For those organizations that have invested in on-premises infrastructure and successfully deliver great UC service via Skype for Business Server 2015, it's unclear that using Skype for Business 2019 fully on premises will provide capabilities that justify the effort in moving from 2015 to 2019.

However, organizations that might want to stay with Skype for Business Server 2015 until they're ready to move to Teams in the cloud need to keep in mind that mainstream support for the 2015 server ends in October 2020, according to Microsoft, as shown below.

For some of Microsoft's strongest UC supporters and most fervent adopters, the path forward to a Skype for Business Server 2019 on-premises or hybrid implementation or to a hybrid Skype and Teams deployment is potentially complex and strategically important. They'll need to consider and understand both technical capabilities and the impact on the user experience before moving forward.

Here's hoping that announcements at next week's Ignite conference provide additional clarity and introduce new feature enhancements for those organizations choosing to continue running Skype for Business on premises.

Speaking of Ignite, join me for a live webinar and get an up-to-the minute update on the critical things you need to know about your voice deployment on Teams and Skype for Business. In the webinar, sponsored by Ribbon Communications and Polycom (now part of Plantronics) and hosted by Enterprise Connect and No Jitter, my co-presenters and I also be discussing how to think about managing telephony in a cloud-first environment, with an eye on critical elements such as security, manageability, and emergency management. Register now, and tune in next Wednesday, Sept. 26, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET.

Supported by the EnableUC team, Kevin provides strategic guidance to organizations looking to optimize communications and collaborations technologies. If you have specific questions related to your next technology step, please comment below, send me a tweet @kkieller, or message me on LinkedIn.

Related content:

  • Live from Ignite: How to Plan Your Microsoft UC&C Journey's Next Steps (webinar)
  • Microsoft Build Foretells the Future of Teams
  • Microsoft Teams Capabilities Continue to Expand