Cast your mind back to November 2014. Kim Kardashian broke the Internet; the title of the seventh Star Wars film was revealed to be The Force Awakens, or was it Spectre? Half the USA had quite a lot of snow and One Direction still had five members.
November also saw Microsoft announce that the next version of Lync would become Skype for Business. Starting from April 1st 2015, admittedly a strange choice of date to make changes, the new client, server and online service are becoming available so what are the implications for customers and when are the key dates?
Everything Lync is becoming Skype for Business. Lync 2013 clients are changing to Skype for Business clients. Lync Web app is changing to Skype for Business web app. Lync admin centre is changing to Skype for Business admin centre. Lync Online is changing to Skype for Business Online. If you search for Lync in Windows 8, it will return Skype for Business.
The first thing to realise is the Server is changing first; not so much the client. Lync Server is changing but the client won’t be new until Office 2016. However the client user interface will be changing from to reflect the Skype look and feel. More on that later.
April 1st 2015 – Lync Online Becomes Skype for Business
May 1st 2015 – Skype for Business 2015 Server released (replacing Lync Server 2013)
Lync Online is versionless so only the name and SKU description will change to Skype for Business. Lync Server On-Premises SKUs will be replaced with new Skype for Business SKUs on May 1st and these new SKUs represent brand new, versioned offerings of the Lync Server products under the Skype for Business branding, for example Skype for Business 2015 Server. There will be some legacy media SKUs that need to retain the Lync branding for those customers on current versions.
As mentioned, the Lync client software won’t be fully refreshed until Office 2016 but through software updates, there will be some branding changes.
What’s New in Skype for Business and the updated UI?
Lync was called Lync because it was about linking and connecting people everywhere to achieve more. Skype for Business has:
- All the capabilities of Lync, both for users and administrators
- An improved UI that takes advantage of familiar Skype icons and colors to simplify adoption for people
- Multiple deployment options, including server, cloud, and a combination of the two
- The security, compliance, and control features that enterprises require
Lync users will have no problem getting around the updated UI and you can see some screenshots on Microsoft.com. And if you’re a regular user of the commercial version of Skype, then Skype for Business will seem very familiar: the Contacts list, presence indicators, buttons and icons, and even the app sounds should make you feel right at home.
Of course, all the essential Lync features are still there—like the Quick Actions buttons, which let you IM, call a contact and more with just one click or tap.
There’s a lot of similarity between Skype and Skype for Business. Skype for Business takes advantage of people’s comfort with Skype to make adoption faster and easier within the enterprise.
Skype for Business makes it possible to connect to anyone else on Skype, using IM, audio and video. Even people who are outside of your business can get the same capabilities. Doctors can communicate with patients. Employers can interview candidates. I’m sure you can use your imagination. This integration includes support for Skype IDs and directory search within the client. Video connectivity to the Skype consumer network was enabled back in December for Lync 2013 users.
And Skype for Business has the full set of capabilities that people have come to expect with Lync, usable from small screens to large screens.
The Skype for Business UI will be made available in the Office 2013 so existing customers who use the Lync 2013 client need to prepare users for migration to the new UI. For click to run users on Office 365, the new interface will be enabled automatically. Admins will have the option to use a policy setting with the Wave 15 client to retain the vast majority of the Lync UI if desired.
Be aware that for customers with mixed estates (pc and mac), they will need to deal with mixed branding for a while. Not a huge implication perhaps as they already have to deal with mixed versions (Lync client 2011 and 2013). The conversation history feature will now be consistent across devices. Skype for Business is also not supported on Windows RT devices
For IT, Microsoft is offering on-premises, online and hybrid deployment options, all based on the same underlying Lync and Skype technology and all interoperating with Office 365, Active Directory and other foundational technologies such as Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Fabric.
Skype for Business Server 2015 has the same hardware profile as Lync Server 2013 for easier upgrade and most of the existing software and hardware solutions that are qualified for Lync 2013 will also be compatible with Skype for Business. So current Lync customers can quickly get up and running with Skype for Business and keep their existing investments.
The new Skype for Business Server 2015 (on-premises) adds native interoperability with numerous Cisco Tandberg VTC models, a new Call via Work feature for leveraging existing PBX handsets and support for SQL Always On resiliency on the back-end database servers.
And both on-premises and the online service as part of Office 365 includes the ability to host much larger meetings. Office 365 currently has an attendee limit of 250. This will increase to thousands.
Three Key Features and Services Coming up with Skype for Business
First – Call via Work is simple PBX phone integration which allows users to make outbound voice calls from the Skype for Business client. When a user places a voice call, it is routed from Skype for Business to the originator’s desktop phone. Once the originator answers the phone, the call is then directed to the destination number. The call recipient answers and the call is established with Skype for Business serving as the control panel. The originator can manage their presence and call controls from Skype for Business. Why would you want to do this? Well, you may not have headsets and you don’t want to use the pc’s microphone and speaker. You may experience better audio through your PBX desk phone. You can also place calls from the client using any phone near you (like your mobile, home or hotel phone). The person you’re calling sees your phone number as though you were calling from your company’s main phone number.
So if I start a call from Skype for Business client, my desktop phone rings. I pick up the receiver and hear the other person’s phone ring. They answer, I say hello and they say hello David, lovely to hear from you. We can talk and if the other person is also on Lync or Skype we can IM, app share, transfer files, etc.
Call via Work is only available for the on-premises Skype for Business. There are also some things you can’t do in this scenario including record your meeting, upload a PowerPoint, use video, Whiteboard, OneNote integration, polling or Q&A features. And you won’t be able to add people to the call; this is a you-and-one-other-person call. If you need any of these features, then you should set up a regular conversation that isn’t routed through your PBX desk phone.
Second – Lync Room Systems evolve into Skype Room Systems. There will be a range of devices optimised for Skype for Business from hardware partners like Crestron, Polycom and Smart. These will be built on a Windows 10 platform and available for customers in the Windows 10 timeframe. Polycom also have a new series of solutions called Polycom RoundTable, purpose-built for Skype for Business. The first device in this new offering is the Polycom RoundTable 100, designed for small and medium businesses and expected to be around $1,000. Spoiler; it’s not round at all.
The Microsoft Surface Hub is a new large-screen device built for ink and touch, optimized for group collaboration and designed specifically for Skype for Business. It delivers digital white boarding based on OneNote, the ability for multiple people to share and edit content to the screen from any device and support for Windows 10 apps.
Both the Surface Hub and RoundTable 100 should be available around summer 2015.
Third – the addition of Broadcast Meetings to enable very large meetings. This is because it leverages Azure Media Services and it will scale to thousands of endpoints. Attendees view the video and content and listen to the audio of the broadcast using any browser; no client or plug-in is required. Social streams like Yammer can also be integrated into the attendee experience and Broadcast Meetings can be recorded and stored in the cloud. The Broadcast Meeting scenario is delivered as a cloud service add-on. Lync Server customers have access to new cloud services when they take advantage of unique Hybrid capabilities in Skype for Business. Hybrid effectively opens the door to new online add-ons, the first of which will be the support for Broadcast Meetings.
When will the Skype for Business service support PSTN calling?
Well, Microsoft intends to provide two methods for customers to add PSTN calling to Office 365.
The first is to buy a calling service from Microsoft in the same way customers might buy the service from telecom providers like BT today. Microsoft will begin offering this in the US in the 2nd half of 2015, then expand to Western Europe and beyond in 2016 so a little way off yet but at least there’s a name for the service now. The first targets in Western Europe are Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain.
The second method is to use existing on premises assets including trunks from the PSTN or PBX systems. Using this option will require the use of some on premises equipment, based on Skype for Business Server technology.
In reality, don’t expect much detail on either method until Microsoft’s new financial year (July 2015 onwards).
It’s important to remember that Office 365 E4 plan provides Enterprise Voice (EV) on-premises and cloud service for meetings. It does NOT provide EV in the cloud. By having E4 now, customers will be positioned to move to EV in the cloud at a lower cost via a Skype for Business add-on when it becomes available.
Licence Transition from Lync to Skype for Business
The transition from Lync to Skype for Business has different implications for the client and the server/Server CALs.
Skype for Business 2015 Server is a new version of the Server. As usual customers without SA will require new Server Licences and new CALs to access it. Customers with current SA on their Lync Server will have rights to the Skype for Business Server when it releases to the pricelist on May 1st.
Skype for Business 2015 client is not a new client version. The new UI and brand are being released as part of an Office Product Update for the Office 2013 Pro Plus Lync client. This means that customers without SA can begin using the new UI and rebranded client without acquiring a new licence for the client. As mentioned, IT Pros have the option to not expose the new UI to end users and to retain the Lync 2013 look and feel via admin policies.
The next version of Lync/Skype for Business will ship with Office 16 in H2 CY 15.
Microsoft’s aspiration is to be “Cloud First” by the middle of 2016. By this time, customers should be able to use the online service without sacrificing enterprise voice or other key scenarios. Not every feature will be exactly the same but there will be the full set of scenarios.
If you’d like some Quick Start Guides for Skype for Business, Microsoft have put them all in a bundle that contains guides in both PDF and PowerPoint formats. There are five guides including Audio setup and making calls; Contacts, presence, and IM; Meetings; Video and Sharing and collaboration.
And if you still want more to read then here’s a selection of Microsoft links: