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Skype for Business Mobile Client for Android

Usually I am not one for blogging about updates, but the Skype for Business Android app is now available for general release. I had been on the SfB for Android insider program for the client, but work and home pressures ensured that active testing and contributing slipped into the “never to be looked at” pile. So what has changed? Well as expected the UI is now branded in the Skype for Business colour scheme and I have to add it looks great. It is clean, bright and responsive. I have to say it looks a lot better than the Windows mobile app! Sadly, it comes with all the usual pain points we have experienced with the Lync apps before. Maybe there are improvements behind the scenes, but there still appears to be issues with the following (not a definitive list as I have only just downloaded it):

  • Your picture showing (your contacts show)
  • Meeting join takes a ridiculous amount of time to load in to, sometimes not loading at all.
  • Status not always showing when you sign in, requiring a manual update of your status to kick it into life
  • Status of your contacts not always updating properly. E.g. contacts showing as available on the mobile client, but offline, or inactive on the desktop client at the same time.

Anyway enough of the bad. There are some cool things. I like the new home screen and the ability to join conferences from one click.


Skype for Business – Cloud PBX – Real world use

Microsoft will soon be driving that Cloud PBX marketing juggernaut harder than ever, Cloud PBX will be the “Thing that you need”, the answer to all your enterprise voice needs. The best solution, reliable, cost effective and ease of use….. Or so we will be led to believe.

However, while some of this may be true, a lot of it will be marketing hype and perhaps the solution will not live up to what you thought. At least in the short term anyway. Don’t get me wrong, Cloud PBX is a good idea. But we’ve been here before. However, this time, Microsoft have put the investments into their real time media network to now make it happen rather than just doing a global “lab” attempt at it as they did with Lync hybrid voice for instance. Microsoft are proud of their Cloud PBX solution, and so they should be. Being market leaders in UC, and changing the scope and direction of telephony from the front, leading by example and dogfooding their own solutions. Not everyone agrees with them, they don’t always get it right. There have been some very public failures along the way (ahem Windows ME, Vista…). But that’s Microsoft, it’s what they do. It’s the reason you love or hate them. But you cannot deny, their willingness to try new ideas at scale is second to none.


Skype for Business – Cloud Connector Edition – Is it right for you?

As Microsoft push towards a cloud first / only model for Skype for Business enterprise voice a new server role has come about. Cloud Connector Edition. What is it? What hardware do I need? What are the requirements? What is it used for? Do I need it? What if I already have Skype for Business on-premises? How does it integrate with my legacy PBX? – All these questions are very pertinent and critically, misunderstanding the technology can lead to large scale business impacts if not fully understood. Let’s take a look by answering these questions below.


Managing SIP Identities in Skype for Business Online

As we prepare for the migration from on-premises Skype for Business to Skype for Business Online, there are a few important considerations to bear in mind before you take the leap. I will be covering these in a series of posts (hopefully), today I want to share with you a common scenario we will face while preparing for migration.

We are well aware of the pre-requisite for Office 365 that demands an Active Directory synchronised user must have a publically routable User Principal Name (UPN). So critical is this requirement that it is now engrained in every consultant’s mind and increasingly customers are becoming more aware of this without us even mentioning it. However, this can often produce its own unique challenges.


Skype for Business Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling – 5 Steps to Success

We are all waiting with a mix of excitement and trepidation for when Microsoft reveal Cloud PBX generally available. It’s coming, December 1st 2015 will be key milestone date for everyone with an enterprise Office 365 tenant. We are about to experience probably the largest technology shift the IT world has seen since virtualisation became mainstream almost 10 years ago. Telephony has traditionally been an on-premises only solution from every vendor. There have been some attempts (even by Microsoft) to deliver a hosted telephony model in the past that have either failed miserably, or not scalable or reliable enough to support hundreds / thousands of endpoints.

However, all this is about to change as the Microsoft juggernaut is about to unleash it’s latest cutting edge solution – Cloud PBX. Leveraging the power of the infinitely scalable Office 365 platform and the additional horsepower Azure provides, there is absolutely no doubt Cloud PBX will be a massive success for Microsoft, but it will also signal a tectonic shift in the future direction of telephony. Competitors such as Cisco, Avaya, and Mitel to name a few will ultimately have to embrace this technology shift and acknowledge that a hosted PBX model is now the most viable and cost effective solution to deliver enterprise voice capabilities. Microsoft, have just been brave enough to do it first and hats off to them for taking the jump.

In the past, a hosted model hasn’t been the best model to adopt for telephony. The reasons for this were mainly down to scalability, consistency, reliability and of course quality. There was a significant lack of an end to end, single vendor solution that could guarantee all these requirements from the user’s desk to the PSTN over a hosted platform. Microsoft made the decision a few years ago to go cloud first and become less of a OS vendor and align more towards a IaaS and SaaS provider. The service subscription cost model means consistent and increased revenue and Microsoft use this for designing their cloud infrastructure and service offerings without the hindrance of customer on premises equipment or budget. This means Microsoft are able to develop and invest in new features and services rapidly which ensures they stay ahead of the curve. As a result, Office 365 has matured, services that were not possible in the cloud a year ago have now not only been made available, they have surpassed their on-premises equivalent making Office 365 the de-facto choice for many productivity work streams.


Configuring and Controlling Skype Broadcast Meetings using PowerShell

Skype Broadcast Meetings (BCM) are just around the corner. They will be going live and generally available to all Office 365 enterprise tenants before the 2015 is out. At the moment, the service is still in global preview and I have to say, super excited for when this service becomes production ready. Up to now the integration between BCM hybrid and online only environments is a bit messy if I am honest. Microsoft will be working on making BCM integrate more seamlessly with Office 365 for its GA release (I hope and expect).

However, I was busy updating my Skype for Business Online HLD template I use for work and when connecting to my tenant to grab policy information, I discovered that there are new PowerShell commandlets for controlling broadcast meetings.


Skype for Business Client Sign in Workflow Chart (External)

There are some great deep dive articles on the internet about the Lync / Skype for Business sign in process. I wanted to add to these by looking at the process from a client perspective. What is the actual workflow and behaviour of the client when a user attempts to login from a workstation?

In an attempt to explain this process I have put together a workflow chart that lists all the key decision / request points the client makes on its journey to sign in the user which we will come to later (If you don’t want to read – scroll to the bottom). First, to gather the behaviour I interrogated the local application log file and followed the log from client launch to first instant message. (Apologies in advance for the abundance of screenshots).


Skype for Business – Statistics Manager (Installation Guide)

Yesterday (22/10/2015) Microsoft announced the release of the Skype for Business Statistics Manager (aka LyncDash). Statistics Manager (SM) is a live reporting dashboard that monitors your entire Skype for Business deployment providing real time KHI data from a web interface.

Here I hope to show you how to install it and start accumulating data.

First off there are a few pre-requisites to get ready, there aren’t many, but they definitely need to be done.

  • A new dedicated server running Windows Server 2012 R2 (Has to be R2 – anything older will fail)
  • In addition to the installation files available on Microsoft download website, you need Redis (available here: https://github.com/MSOpenTech/redis/releases)
  • Statistics Manager download – http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=49491
  • A new certificate from your internal CA
  • PSExec if you want to deploy the agent to multiple machines
  • .Net Framework 4.5 on all servers (if using 2012 for older for your Skype for Business servers)


Skype for Business – Statistics Manager Agent Update Certificate

After you have installed the Statistics Manager Agent, things should run smoothly until that date 3 years down the line the service suddenly stops working and cannot be restarted. You will no doubt start to sweat a little and wonder why after so long has this stopped working – there have been no changes, no updates, no messing.

You will probably find that your Statistics Manager server certificate has expired. If you renew this certificate or get a new one then you will need to perform the following steps


Skype for Business – Public Information Service

I was on holiday last week with the family, our first time away together as a threesome and it was ace! A well-deserved and much needed break from the world of Skype for Business and customers. In order to ensure that I did not tinker with anything I made a point of choosing a location for our holiday with next to no internet or mobile signal (yes these places do exist even today) and turned off all my lab servers and access to the Skype world. For one week only, I needed to hit the shutdown button. However, no matter how hard you try and distance yourself from “the day job”, it inevitably pops back up in your head, especially when your job is also your hobby and passion. It’s never quite gone, no matter how hard you try. While I was lying in bed one night, trying to sleep I began to think about use cases for Skype for Business. We all know that Skype for Business can send / receive calls, instant messages and media rich content, we know the best practices and the ways in which modalities should be used and to be honest I am getting a little tired of banging the same drum all the time.

Sometimes, we get so blinkered and particular about “what is supported” and what the “best practice” is we forget that actually, Skype for Business can do a lot more than what TechNet says it can. Whilst I am not saying that being in a supported state or following best practices aren’t important (just for clarity – they absolutely are), it’s just sometimes, we can be led easily by what Microsoft say, rather than letting our imagination run and see what we can extract out of the system to make it do what we want. Just because Microsoft have not released a TechNet article on a particular use case, doesn’t mean it’s not supported. Just because no one else has blogged, or done it before doesn’t mean it cannot be done, or is not best practice.

Let’s be honest, Microsoft rely on our ingenious imagination on how Skype for Business can be used to address a particular business case because they simply cannot imagine every business scenario possible. It is up to us to define and blaze the trail for Skype for Business. We are the ones that drive best practice, we are the ones that determine use cases, and we are the ones that Microsoft rely on in order to make Skype for Business a success. How many times have you read a blog post / how to guide from a community member that Microsoft reference on NextHop and now Office Blogs and that becomes their “best practice”?

In my opinion, best practices are born out of our imagination, and that will ultimately lead to Microsoft supporting you! Yes there are some baseline best practices to follow, making sure your servers are sized correctly, making sure your topology is accurate etc, but don’t be put off trying something, just because it’s not been done before, or someone has said they tried it and it didn’t work for them. Remember, just because it didn’t work for them, doesn’t mean it won’t fit your requirement! Don’t be afraid to explore and stretch the boundaries of what the system is designed to do.

To spur you on, here is the use case I came up with lying in bed on holiday.


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