What is this Skype for Business?

If you have not heard yet or been sleeping under a rock, Microsoft has updated Lync and the Lync client but most importantly a brand new name of Skype for Business. In a nutshell, Skype for Business is a re-branded and upgraded version of Lync Server with improved integration with the Skype Network and added new features. The first round of changes started with a Client update that was released on April 14th  2015  by way of Microsoft Office updates, with the second wave for the Skype for Business Server update which was released on May 4th.

However, between the announcement in March and the actual release dates a month later it didn’t leave much room to test the update and prepare users for the impending changes. Depending on the size of the organization this can be challenging and has caused some headaches for administrators like myself as we quickly tried to prepare. Today we will discuss these challenges and things to consider with the new Skype for Business.

Connecting more people together

The Skype for Business re-branding was a great marketing and business move for Microsoft. Leveraging a familiar consumer brand that has already shaped how people communicate and combining it with an existing enterprise unified communications platform, one can only expect an increase in business and easier user adoption. Making improvements and adding new features only sweetens the deal.

The new and improved features include:

  • New User Interface ( UI ) – A new look and feel to the Server and client interface that was inspired by Skype. For those that have used Skype the UI will be familiar, keep in mind this will look different to your users if they currently use the Lync client. The client update affects those using Lync Online with Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Business Premium or Office 2013.
  • The Call via Work – The former Remote Call Control feature that allowed users to make calls via the Lync client using their existing PBX telephony system has been re-vamped with the Call Via Work.
  • Larger Meetings – Broadcast Skype for Business meetings to up to 10,000 people at a time. This is a great way to hold town hall meetings, especially for companies that are geographically displaced.
  • Collaborate More – Meetings will now allow Pre-loaded meeting attachments and have In-call co-authoring. In-call authoring allows multiple people to work together on a single document right from within a meeting.
  • More High availability – There is now support with SQL Server AlwaysOn
  • Better Reporting – Call quality dashboard to provide richer reporting options
  • Modern meetings – Partnering with vendors such as Crestron, Polycom and Smart, the Modern Meetings will be connecting people and businesses together using meeting devices that will operate with the Skype Room Systems. If you are already using the Lync Room Systems no worries it will be able to upgrade to Skype Room Systems.

For those us not on the bleeding edge of change, thankfully Microsoft provided ways to delay the update. You can either block the update from being downloaded from Microsoft updates or use Powershell Cmdlets that would provide administrators to control the updated change to Lync clients.  Lync Servers can be prevented from being updated by not installing the update.

Spoiler Alert for anyone that has blocked the update from being downloaded!

As administrators found out the Powershell Cmdlets was only a half attempt of controlling the client’s interface, use the existing Lync interface or get the new Skype for Business. The update still changed the Lync icon to Skype for Business and the Lync Meeting plug-in button in Outlook was now Skype for Business. Every time you created a new meeting it was now reflected as a ‘Skype Meeting’ and not Lync Meeting.


My Skype is Broken!

Since Skype and Skype for Business are two separate products you can run both versions together on the same computer. In organizations that have BYOD or allow non-business applications to be installed on company computers, this could be a headache for the helpdesk. Take for instance a user calls in saying they have an issue with Skype. The help desk will need to remember to identify which version of Skype the user is calling about or they could be troubleshooting the wrong Skype.

Just an In-Place upgrade?

Skype for Business is easy to upgrade to using the in-place upgrade option but there are considerations that should be taken into account when you do in place upgrade. Does your current hardware meet the requirements for Skype for Business? An in place upgrade does not guarantee performance will be the same. The upgrade also adds the call the quality dashboard. A component that was not in the Lync deployments and requires an additional SQL database.

Let’s Skype!

Overall I think it’s a great move on Microsoft’s part with the re-branding, even with it’s a set of headaches, will allow companies to communicate better with each other and their partners they do business with. With some communication and planning an upgrade or deployment of Skype for Business can be successful.