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Wainhouse Research take on Microsoft Ignite: Skype4B becomes Teams

October 4, 2017 | Telepresence Options

Microsoft_Ignite.jpg

Story and images by Ira M. Weinstein / Wainhouse Research

Ignite 2017 #1 - The Journey from Skype for Business to Teams

Microsoft makes an aggressive, but not surprising shift toward Teams ...

For analysts, Microsoft Ignite was split between three venues - the Hyatt, the Orange County Convention Center and the Hilton. During my two-day stint, I found myself running from place to place to catch keynote after keynote, session after session, and meeting after meeting.

Our team was pre-briefed on key announcements to be made at the event. Most noteworthy for us was Microsoft replacing Skype for Business (SfB) in Office 365 (O365) with Teams. (See Wainhouse Research analyst Bill Haskin's blog for details on this pending migration and specific capabilities available within Teams, and Andy Nilssen's blog which looks at the Teams announcement from a higher-level PCS perspective.)

Given SfB's strong penetration in the enterprise and Microsoft's strong push toward O365, it's easy to question the decision to phase out SfB in favor of Teams, a relatively new offering. As a longstanding and relatively satisfied SfB / O365 user -- and a relatively new (but determined) Teams / O365 user -- I can tell you that shifting from SfB to Teams is no walk in the park. At least that's true with the current version of Teams, but to be fair some SfB features are not yet available within Teams. To be clear - I'm not disparaging or complimenting either offering. This is about change (to a new client with a new look, new feel and new workflow, etc.), and the repercussions that such change brings.

Side note - the WR Test Team has yet to perform a thorough assessment of Microsoft Teams. However, the results of our testing to date have been quite positive - especially in terms of video / audio performance and experience.

In full disclosure, I am not the least bit surprised by Microsoft's announcements re: SfB and Teams. Some might call this a gutsy or risky move. I view it as necessary for Microsoft to remain relevant in this market segment.

For those keeping track, Cisco and Microsoft (and a handful of others) have been trading blows in the UC (Unified Communications) arena for years. Cisco had its Jabber client - and many other clients -- with associated on-premises infrastructure. Microsoft had OCS, Lync and eventually its Skype for Business UC client and on-premises infrastructure. And the war raged.

Things changed in late 2015 when Cisco announced Spark, and shifted the discussion away from UC and toward a new and broader theme centered on persistence and teaming. And while not everyone has jumped on the "teaming" bandwagon, most agree that this larger discussion has merit. To some degree, Teams is Microsoft's response to Spark (and certainly Slack, which currently has more than 6 million daily users). Long story short - Microsoft had little choice but to enter the teaming space. I think Microsoft is wise to shift attention to Teams -- before the shine wears off Skype for Business.

Side note - Microsoft has positioned this shift toward Teams as an expansion beyond teaming, messaging, and UC into a new world of "Intelligent Communications" with a goal of providing a single unified "portal" with a fully integrated user experience including directory services, messaging, e-mail, calendaring, internal and B2B conferencing and collaboration, internal and B2B collaboration, ERP, CRM, line of business applications, and more. Essentially, this is UC on a much broader scale.

While at Ignite, I asked various people for their thoughts. The biggest pushback was from large enterprise folks who are rightly concerned about the impact on their users. As I've said before, consistency and familiarity trump performance and feature-set every time. This shift will certainly bring some pain for SfB / O365 organizations, but the feedback I got was mostly positive. People want to "team," and for Microsoft shops, a Microsoft-branded and integrated teaming solution will be an easier pill to swallow.

To be clear - Microsoft is not abandoning SfB altogether. SfB will remain the company's UC client for on-premises deployments - for the time being, and the company plans to release the next version of SfB Server, dubbed vNext, in H2 2018. But you don't need a crystal ball to see where this is headed.

Click here for our second blog on Ignite focused on Skype for Business in the meeting room.

Ignite 2017 #2 - Skype for Business (and eventually Teams) in the Meeting Room

Interest in bringing the Skype for Business experience into the enterprise meeting room continues to grow. At Ignite, everyone got to see and touch Microsoft-powered Skype Room System (SRS) solutions from (in alphabetical order) Crestron, Lenovo, Logitech and Polycom.

Microsoft-SRS.PNG

The offerings from Crestron, Logitech, and Polycom are "dock" solutions that house a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (SP4) tablet running a version of Microsoft Skype for Business designed for use in a meeting room environment.

Each of the dock-style offerings provide two key functions:

  • Enable secure physical mounting of the Microsoft SP4 tablet in a meeting-room-friendly, control-panel style form factor
  • Provide access to the AV connections and signals needed (e.g. USB, HDMI out, etc.) to install the solution within the meeting room

The Lenovo offering is quite different and instead leverages a Lenovo PC with an integrated speaker and microphones and a touch display, all housed in a custom, all-in-one form factor.

It's worth pointing out that all of these solutions leverage the same Skype for Business-based software app (as required by Microsoft), and thus offer the same basic user interface and workflow.

Note that of the four solutions shown above, only Logitech's SmartDock is currently shipping (see our hands-on testing report).

At the show, Logitech demo'd a soon-to-be-released optional extension base for SmartDock (see image at right) that drastically improves cable management, requiring only a single CAT-X cable between the dock and the main display. Pricing and even the name of the new offering have yet to be released.

Logitech-Base.png

Click here for our final installment on Ignite focused on interesting happenings on the show floor.

Ignite 2017 #3 - Happenings on the Show Floor

Several hundred vendors eagerly showed off their Microsoft-friendly products and services at the Ignite Expo in Orlando. While there, I spent quality time with some friends of the family (alphabetically listed below) for discussions and demos.

Altia Systems - Altia Systems demo'd several Skype Room System (SRS) capabilities, including the use of its PanaCast 2 camera as a panoramic camera source (see image below). Altia Systems also showed off the ability to capture, enhance and send whiteboard content as either an SfB video stream or content stream using the PanaCast Whiteboard function.

Altia.png

Nectar Services Corp - Multi-vendor performance assurance provider Nectar announced a new alliance with Plantronics to present Plantronics headset status information within Nectar's UI. Nectar's platform currently supports Skype for Business, Cisco and Avaya. While not specifically announced at the event, we expect Teams to be added to this list in the near future.

Pexip - Meeting platform vendor Pexip demo'd its automatic cloud bursting function. Essentially, this allows admins to define when the system should spin-up additional cloud-based conferencing nodes for use when on-premises capacity is exhausted. For example, an organization with 16 on-premises resources could decide to spin-up additional resources when 12 nodes are in use. This method ensures that resources are fully utilized without requiring users to wait for cloud resources to spin-up.

Pexip also reminded everyone that Pexip Infinity Fusion is a Microsoft-certified video gateway that also allows non-Skype for Business video systems / users to join Skype for Business sessions.

Polycom - Longstanding Microsoft partner Polycom had a sizable booth at Ignite where it showed off its portfolio of Skype for Business- and Office 365-ready solutions, including its MSR-series Skype Room System dock (highlighted in my first blog on Ignite 2017), its RealPresence Group Series endpoints (now qualified on Office 365), and its wide range of SfB voice products.

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StarLeaf - Video conferencing service (and product) provider StarLeaf reminded attendees that its GTm product family was designed from the ground-up to work with all of Microsoft's various communications platforms - from Lync 2010 through the current version of SfB (and soon Microsoft Teams).

Videxio - VCaaS provider Videxio gave a strong demo of a soon-to-be-released "meeting room" mode within the Videxio My Meeting Video app. Designed for use on a tablet or other device installed in a meeting room, this new mode simplifies the meeting join process by scraping the room's calendar and providing a one-click join link for Skype for Business, Zoom, Pexip and Videxio meetings. The image at right shows the new app running on an Android tablet.

VidexioAtIgnite.png

All in all, although a lot of work remains to be done, this two-day stint in Orlando left me more optimistic and enthusiastic about Microsoft's plans and efforts with SfB and Teams

Microsoft UC - All Teams, all the Time. Sort of.

Story and images by William A. Haskins / Wainhouse Research

Since Microsoft launched Office 365 Teams November 2016, it's pretty much been all they've talked about on the UC front. All the tea leaves seemed to point to a pending transition from Skype Business to Teams: the Skype4Biz team was both shaken and stirred, Teams was increasingly highlighted in earnings calls and analyst meetings, and the avalanche of updates pointed to a Teams-focused development schedule.

So, when Microsoft announced that Teams will replace Skype for Business in Office 365, no one fell out of their chair. During their Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft provided a wealth of detail on this transition - here are the main takeaways from my POV:

Teams is Microsoft's UCaaS Future - emphasis on UCaaS. If you are "all in on O365", you will ultimately be transitioned from Skype for Business to Teams, at a "logical pace". However, this does not imply Skype for Business is dead - yet. To the contrary, and as Microsoft's Ben Canning and Bob Davies put it to packed room of IT pros, "we're just as committed to Skype for Business Server as you are!" Indeed, Microsoft is planning a 2H 2018 vNext Skype4Biz server drop. More detail to follow in a separate blog update.

O365-only customers will be transitioned by the end of 2018 - Microsoft began an opt-in process in 2H '17, supporting customers who want to opt-in to the upgrade and conversion process. As of now, O365 Skype4Biz customers who are not using Enterprise Voice (EV) can opt-in and begin the conversion process. EV features are currently in beta and expected to drop by the end of '17 - which will kick off a second opt-in round for EV customers (O365-only and hybrid).

Then, in 2018, scheduled upgrades will begin: first O365-only IM and Meeting customers in 1H, followed by EV customers in 2H. Small customers with under 500 seats will be given 30 days to upgrade to the Teams-only experience, while larger customers will have 90 days and have an option to request an additional 90-day extension. Regardless, you should expect that Skype4Biz in O365 effectively ceases to exist by the time 2019 rolls around.

Teams' value prop is bigger than UC + Team Messaging - Microsoft describes Teams as their foray into Intelligent Communications. Accenture's Jason Warnke described Teams as "a cockpit for communications". Personally, I'm gravitating towards Teams as an "Integrated Collaboration Portal", or ICP - but mainly so I can say "you down with ICP?" and see who responds "yeah, you know me!".

Portal is the key word here, and integration the key concept. Sure, integration isn't new to the Team Messaging space - but Microsoft has an advantage when it comes to integrating within its own ecosystem. The result is that Teams stands to deliver a fully unified user experience, across a wide spectrum of enterprise productivity, communications, and collaboration solutions. Lori Wright, GM for Teams and Skype Marketing, hosted a Teams breakout session that I found helpful - demos, testimonials, and pertinent details:

  • New Skype back-end infrastructure: we could not get a clear answer on what this new infrastructure really is. However, it was described as "cloud born", and a platform that enables faster innovation and higher quality. We expect that Azure is involved somehow, and the change represents a move from an outdated Skype for Business code stack to a current and net-new set of technologies.
  • Presence-enabled contacts: a new Contacts tab delivers access to a presence-enabled contacts list. The first time you log into Teams, it will import your Skype4Biz contacts - maintaining any pre-defined group structure you may have created. The presence engine is now unified, which means your status will be consistent across Teams and Skype4Biz.

As an aside, this effectively creates a familiar Skype4Biz experience within Teams' "Chat" function - your contact list, presence, and IM > audio > video escalation looks familiar.

  • Enterprise Voice (in preview): a new Calls function delivers telephony features, including a speed dial (pinned / suggested contacts), a dial pad for PSTN calls, history, and voicemail - which, of course, pulls from Exchange. Note e911 will be supported, just as with Skype4Biz in O365. Call transfer was demoed at Ignite, with a mention that "this was one of the EV features we've added, and we'll continue adding more and more EV features [over time]" - implies to me that the initial EV feature list may be a little light, at least out of the gates.
  • Meetings (in preview): things get interesting in the new world of Teams meetings. You can schedule a Teams meeting from a new Outlook add-in, within an existing thread in Teams, or within the integrated Teams calendar - all of which end up in your Exchange calendar. Teams meetings support the expected audio, video, and content sharing experience, including support for PSTN callers - however, the demo Teams video call delivered a much-improved experience over Skype4Biz, at least in terms of layout. Can we get a huzzah for quad-screen CP layout?? We also saw a few nifty additions, like participant contact cards that include an "org chart" button, presumably pulling from Active Directory.

If a Teams meeting is recorded, Microsoft flexes its cloud muscle, using its O365 AI engine to automatically transcribe the recording. Transcriptions are indexed and searchable, allowing you to jump to the right spot in a recording based on keywords or phrases. And if the meeting was associated with a Teams channel, its recording will be automatically added to the relevant thread.

  • Office and SharePoint integration: Microsoft showed off tight integration between Teams and both SharePoint and Office. Your SharePoint files are accessible through the Files tab (or DropBox / Box files, etc.). You can edit Office files in Word, Word Online, or directly in Teams. Editing a Word doc in Teams looked an awful lot like the Word Online experience, fwiw.

These were the tree-tops details I found interesting specific to the Skype4Biz > Teams evolution. Overall, I left more optimistic about Teams than I arrived. I was really trying to figure out how telephony would work for me in a persistent multi-threaded messaging world - the answer, it turns out, is that Teams is evolving into an Integrated Communications Portal. Also turns out, I'm likely down with ICP! Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up on Skype4Biz vNext server post, and additional Wainhouse Research Ignite coverage.







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