Well Skype for Business Server 2019 got released in Public Preview alongside Exchange and Sharepoint distros this week and there has been lots of noise about feature removals and quiet squeaks about feature additions.
It comes as no surprise really as Microsoft turns the cloud up to eleven and trail blaze into a seemingly cloud only model of subscription based services. The 2019 releases of the application packages that defined Microsoft as a software company have got people in a downer. It’s the first time in my history where I have witnessed the complete lack of enthusiasm towards a new product release from Microsoft. And although quite sad, I also have come to accept that on-prem is just not strategic enough anymore.
Although Skype for Business 2019 has removed features considered no longer relevant for 2020 onward, it has improved the integration between on-prem and cloud which is aimed at unlocking those blockers that customers have where cloud communications are concerned.
This of course assumes that every customer of Microsoft will want to use at least “some cloud”.
For these customers 2019 makes sense at the surface by allowing them to use Call Queues, OrgAA instead of response groups, use Azure voicemail, Teams for Group Chat and send their QoE statistics to the cloud and use Microsoft’s compute for reporting.
But all of this requires may require that the user is licensed for a cloud offering. At the very least they are going to need Skype for Business Online Plan 2 and Phone System. Licensing that an on-premises user never needed to have potentially.
Add into the mix that 2019 requires new hardware of increased specification, reliance on Windows Server 2016 and SQL 2016 Enterprise if you want HA on your CMS as mirroring has gone. Skype for Business 2019 is a really expensive update for customers vs feature offering without cloud.
The fact the cloud reduces hardware and licensing requirements for on-prem features like persistent chat, SQL data analysis and reporting is true, but I am not convinced that this has a monetary saving.
Of course, if you are that company, who is willing to leverage the cloud offerings for your users then it probably makes more sense for you to jump in to the cloud with both feet and migrate from 2015 to native cloud, whether that is Skype for Business Online first or straight to Teams.
One thing for sure, there really has to be a compelling reason to want to update from Skype for Business Server 2015 to 2019 at this moment. There will be a day where you will have to do something due to EOL of 2015, but that could make you look towards other solutions if Microsoft cloud and 2019 are not viable alternatives for you.
2019 for businesses who just will not go to the cloud because of the data at rest complexities and risk management will really have to consider their options. 2019 for them probably feels like Microsoft are alienating and penalizing them for not doing it the Microsoft way and using cloud or hybrid.
One thing 2019 will do though is force the hand and this is a high risk strategy or so it seems right now.
However, perhaps the biggest news and impact to customers is the drop of Unified Messaging from Exchange 2019. This affects not just Skype for Business server users but also the thousands of other 3rd party VoIP users out there. For 3rd party users who rely on UM for their voicemail this is a huge issue that isn’t just limited to Exchange 2019 server, but online also.
I know customers who have retired their Cisco Unity solution in favour of both on-prem and online UM to have that integration with the users mailbox. UM used to be free and inclusive in the user license for Exchange and now customers will need to look at other providers for voicemail and go back to the year 2006 before the days of UM.
Perhaps voicemail is old fashioned?
Perhaps this move by Microsoft is going to question the importance of voicemail in general. Is voicemail old fashioned? Should we care about it? I must admit that I rarely listen to voicemails even in Teams and I don’t even have it enabled on my landline. Is voicemail just a courtesy service that society just expects to have, but in reality serves very little purpose?
Personally when I want to call someone it is because I need to speak to them about something that is “in the moment” topical. If they didn’t answer I would either email them to ask the question, or find someone else who can service my query. I’d only leave a voicemail if I knew they were the only person that could answer my question and I knew that they would probably pick the voicemail up quicker than an email (friday afternoon for instance) and I needed an answer urgently.
In addition, today, most people have a mobile phone anyway, and the more savvy users would have configured simultaneous ringing anyway so the chances of hitting a user’s voicemail service is reduced. Plus with no answer, you’re probably going to hit the mobile service voicemail anyway.
When I think of it, do I personally care if I have no voicemail? No I don’t, I could quite happily live without it. Voicemails to me are like unwanted spam anyway.
But there will be customers out there that still require voicemail and those who do will probably be using some kind of call center service that should have its own voicemail capability anyway. Or there will be just users who think they need it just because they’ve always had it. The fact the last time they had a voicemail was 3 years ago doesn’t come into that decision making process lol 🙂
But anyway if you’re a 3rd party voip user now using Exchange UM in any flavour then you have a problem to solve if you want to maintain this service.
In short, Microsoft have a solution for you. If you want Microsoft Voicemail, then move to Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business 2019 or both! Alternatively, and most probably the default position would be to seek alternative solutions from your current voip provider. Then you have to factor in costs for hardware, software licensing and probably 6 years of lapsed unpaid support to get you current with them.
For Skype for Business server users, you’re pretty safe. Lync 2013 and Skype for Business 2015 users you can continue to use Exchange UM for as long as your messaging team allow you to keep 2013 – 2016 UM servers around. Skype for Business 2019 users can use the same or use Azure Voicemail.
As a said before, Azure voicemail requires a SfB Online and Phone System license so voicemail that used to be free and a value added service has now become a $7 a month per user service.
[Update] Clarification was received by Roy Kuntz from Microsoft who is in charge of the Voicemail direction which states the following:
For On-Prem Skype for Business users, cloud voicemail will be provided at no cost. The only requirement is that an Office 365 tenant exists with at least a Skype for Business Plan 2 or Teams license subscription on the tenant. This triggers the back end systems for configuration to allow the voicemail service for the tenant. All that is needed is AAD Connect and accounts synchronized. No Exchange or Skype for Business hybrid required. For those tenants without a Teams or SfBO subscription, a trial license can be obtained. When expired, Microsoft are issuing some promo codes available when in Public Preview.
In summary, start questioning your usage of voicemail before deciding that this is super critical for you and you go and spend a ton of cash on providing that service when the time comes. You probably have 1-3 years depending on whether you use Exchange Online or On-Prem to do something, so don’t panic too much yet.
Mark is an Independent Microsoft Teams Consultant with over 15 years experience in Microsoft Technology. Mark is the founder of Commsverse, a dedicated Microsoft Teams conference and former MVP. You can follow him on twitter @UnifiedVale