What Is It?
You may have been hearing the buzz around Microsoft’s pending product launch for “Skype for Business,” but what exactly is it?
Simply put, Skype for Business is the next generation of Microsoft’s unified communications platform. Make no mistake, this is not a first-generation product.
Skype for Business Server 2015 will be the next release in a product line with a rich history of delivering business communication needs. Skype for Business Server 2015 builds on the solid foundation of features and functionality seen in the previous iterations of the product including Live Communications Server, Office Communications Server and, most recently, Lync Server, while advancing the product with new features and functionality.
In addition to the information presented below, I also highly recommend reviewing the official launch announcement by Microsoft’s Gurdeep Pall for some additional insight – right from the source.
Why Does it Matter?
Skype for Business Server 2015 will introduce a number of enhancements to both the server and client. Moving from Lync Server 2010 or Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business Server 2015 will allow your organization to utilize those new features to provide a more complete communication and collaboration experience for your end users.
Skype for Business Server 2015 Highlights
(NOTE: This is not intended to be a complete list of new features and enhancements in Skype for Business Server 2015.)
Video Interoperability Server (VIS)
Microsoft has added the Video Interoperability Server role to the Skype for Business Server 2015 release. This new role will make it easier for customers to leverage existing investments in Cisco video infrastructure with Skype for Business Server 2015.
Call via Work (CvW)
Microsoft has added a new feature called Call via Work to the Skype for Business Server 2015 release. This feature replaces the deprecated Remote Call Control (RCC) feature found in previous releases. CvW will integrate Skype for Business Server 2015 with an existing Private Branch Exchange (PBX), allowing users to initiate Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) calls from their Skype for Business client.
Server Side Conversation History (SSCH)
Server Side Conversation History is a welcomed new feature. SSCH will synchronize conversation history server side, so that all devices will have access to the same conversation history. Conversations you have on your PC or laptop will now be able to be seen on your mobile device and vice versa.
In-Place Upgrade will provide an option for organizations with existing Lync Server 2013 deployments to upgrade those servers in-place to Skype for Business Server 2015 instead of the traditional side-by-side migration process. The side-by-side is still fully supported as an in-place upgrade might not be right for all organizations, but for those where it does make sense, this feature will certainly make the process for getting to Skype for Business Server 2015 easier.
Skype for Business Server 2015 will also support SQL AlwaysOn Availability Groups. Skype for Business Server 2015 will only support certain configurations for SQL AlwaysOn, so it will be very important that your organization evaluates those supported features when deciding if moving to SQL AlwaysOn is right for your business. If you have SQL Mirroring deployed today and your organization decides to move to SQL AlwaysOn, there will be a supported migration path for moving from Mirroring to AlwaysOn.
Smart Setup is a great new addition to the Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment. When installing Skype for Business Server 2015, the Smart Setup feature will now check online for the latest available updates, as well as slipstream them into the installation, eliminating the requirements for performing multiple updates after you finish the installation.
With more and more organizations leveraging the benefits of Office 365, the improved Hybrid Management features are sure to be a well-received feature addition. With Skype for Business Server 2015, Microsoft introduces a new Hybrid Configuration wizard to make configuring your organization’s on-premises Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment for hybrid with Office 365 extremely simple. Once hybrid is configured, managing on-premises and online users is a breeze.
Skype for Business Client Highlights
(NOTE: This is not intended to be a complete list of new features and enhancements in Skype for Business Client.)
Updated Look with a Familiar Feel
End users running the new Skype for Business Client will find the new interface of the client very familiar. Microsoft has made a significant effort to align the new Client UI with the Skype consumer product, making adoption and usage simple with an appearance so many are already accustomed to.
Active Call Monitor
For those with busy desktops, the new Call Monitor window will be a big hit. Call Monitor is a small window that remains on top of your screen while you are in an active call. This allows you to bring other applications into focus, but still be able to quickly get to those important call controls, like mute, unmute and end call without having to dig around through many open applications or active conversation windows.
Integration with Skype Directory
In a time where business-to-consumer communication is so important, the ability for your organization to connect with millions of consumers via Skype is a real differentiator. Microsoft has added the ability for your organization to search the Skype directory to not only find consumers, but also to engage those consumers via audio and video.
Admin Controlled User Experience
For the admins out there that want to control how this new client experience is rolled out to their business, Microsoft has included the ability to determine via policy which client experience a user gets. Create and apply policies to users to turn on the new Skype UI or to maintain the existing Lync 2013 client experience, all at the control of the administrator. Keep in mind that some features are client UI-specific, so make sure you understand how each policy can impact your users.
The Pathway to Skype for Business Server 2015
The process for migrating to Skype for Business Server 2015 is not without options. The following list is intended to cover scenarios for moving to Skype for Business Server 2015 from Lync Server 2010 or Lync Server 2013. Migrating directly from an earlier release (OCS 2007/R2, LCS) will not be supported and will require your organization to migrate to one of the supported versions (Lync Server 2010/2013) prior to introducing Skype for Business Server 2015.
1) In-Place Upgrade (Offline)
The offline in-place upgrade option applies only to organizations running Lync Server 2013. Performing an in-place upgrade offline migration requires downtime for your users. This method is likely to be used if you only have a single pool (SE or EE) deployed in your organization. After scheduling downtime, the pool can be marked for upgrade in the topology, as well as the new topology published. After verifying replication, the pool Front-End (FE) servers can be taken offline (Stop-CsWindowsService). Once all FEs are offline, the new Skype for Business Server 2015 server upgrade installer can be executed. This wizard will perform all steps required for upgrading the existing FE from Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business Server 2015. Once ALL FEs in the pool have been successfully upgraded, the Start-CsPool command can be issued to bring the new Skype for Business Server 2015 pool back online, restoring all services to your users.
2) In-Place Upgrade (Move User)
The move user in-place upgrade option is very similar to the offline option covered previously, only this option allows your users to maintain services while you upgrade. This method will require at least two pools running Lync Server 2013 currently deployed in your environment. Prior to marking the pool for upgrade, all users and conferences need to be moved to the second pool. This will require the destination pool be capable of supporting the additional user load. After successfully moving all users and conferences to the second pool, the first pool can be marked for upgrade. From there, you take the same steps as outlined in the offline method.
3) Side-by-Side Migration
Finally, for organizations running Lync Server 2010 or those that have other reasons for not leveraging in-place upgrade, the traditional side-by-side migration process is still fully supported. This process involves standing up a new pool running Skype for Business Server 2015 and migrating all workloads to the new pool. After completing the migration, the Lync Server 2010 or Lync Server 2013 servers can be decommissioned leaving a native Skype for Business Server 2015 environment.
As it pertains to additional server roles, the guidance is still to follow an inside-out approach, so upgrade all existing internal servers before moving to the Edge.
(NOTE: Don’t forget to verify any 3rd party integrations prior to taking any steps to perform an upgrade or migration to Skype for Business Server 2015. Be sure all the integration points your organization has with existing Lync Server 2010 or Lync Server 2013 deployments will support Skype for Business Server 2015 to ensure success post upgrade.)
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