If the intention was to create a talking point, it certainly worked. Microsoft’s announcement at its Ignite enterprise tech conference in September that it was planning to merge Skype for Business with Teams had tongues wagging across the UC industry.
Skype for Business was being killed off in favour of Microsoft Teams, some headlines screamed. We now know that that isn’t the case. But I suppose that’s what can happen when you gamble on veiled half-announcements, concealing the detail for dramatic effect.
The truth behind the story is this. Yes, Microsoft is planning on merging the Office 365 edition of Skype for Business with fellow cloud suite stablemate Teams. There is already a roadmap for how Microsoft plans to transition features of Skype for Business over to Teams. Eventually, it seems that Microsoft will ask all Skype for Business Office 365 edition users to switch over to Teams. But there is as yet no suggestion for when that might be.
This is far from ‘killing off’ Skype for Business as it only relates to the Office 365 cloud edition. Microsoft will continue to also offer a server edition for on-premise deployment. And the chances of that being phased out any time soon are very remote as Microsoft has also announced that a new Skype for Business Server 2019 edition will appear in the second half of next year.
What business users want to know, of course, if how all of this affects them. While there is a choice between Skype for Business Office 365 and Teams, which should they opt for? And if Teams does eventually become Microsoft’s flagship cloud UC platform, how will it rate compared to a new Skype for Business server edition?
A sensible solution for Cloud users
Microsoft has not always found the consolidation of productivity solutions, one of its key specialisms, and unified communications straightforward. With Office 365, the cloud edition of its iconic home and business productivity suite, it dutifully moved with the times and included messaging, conferencing and collaboration platforms. That was a key reason why it bought the Skype brand and launched Skype for Business in the first place.
But Office 365 users have been entitled to feel a little confused. The Office 365 suite includes Skype for Business, which has now evolved into a premium quality cloud PBX, video and conferencing solution. Then you have Yammer, Microsoft’s answer to the team messaging craze, where IM replaces email and file sharing and document versioning replace message attachments.
Then, in March 2017, Microsoft launched Teams. Intended to compete with the meteoric rise of business collaboration platforms like Slack and HipChat, Teams seemed to occupy a middle ground between Skype for Business and Yammer. It offers the IM, group chat and file sharing capabilities of a team messaging app, but combined with native options for voice and video calls.
The puzzle for Office 365 users has been – why all of this choice? Do we need three separate UC and collaboration apps running side by side? Since the announcement about Skype for Business Office 365 edition, Microsoft’s intentions all along have become clearer. It wants to turn Teams into a complete end-to-end UC&C platform where all needs can be catered for, replacing three apps with one.
This makes perfect sense for Office 365 users. One of the big attractions of the cloud is flexibility and ease. When you are using software on the go on a mobile device, you want everything in one place, with functions readily available with one-click access.
This is exactly what Teams will provide. Already capable of group chat, file sharing, voice and video calls within the app, the full migration of Skype for Business features will offer enhanced support for audio and video conferencing. The integration of Skype Room Systems will allow third party video and meeting room solutions to connect seamlessly.
For those wondering whether to stick with Skype for Business for now or switch to Teams, a key point to consider is that Skype’s cloud PBX functions will be among the first features added to Teams. So from the end of this year, Teams users will have access to Skype for Business PSTN Calling, a key feature of the Office 365 E5 enterprise plan. PSTN Conferencing and full Cloud PBX functionality to follow by the second quarter of 2018.
Skype for Business in hybrid environments
Scrapping Skype for Business entirely in favour of Teams would not have been a wise move for Microsoft. As Teams is a cloud-only application, it would have given current Skype for Business server edition users a stark choice when it came to their next upgrade – migrate to the cloud, or look to another vendor.
It is easy to get ahead of yourself in all the excitement surrounding cloud-based UC. The truth is, the majority of organisations are still some way off going ‘full cloud’ with their communications infrastructure. While many businesses are certainly embracing the flexibility and consolidation the cloud offers through things like team collaboration platforms and mobile UC apps, just as many continue to run conferencing and, above all, telephone systems on premises.
Microsoft’s announcement of a new Skype for Business server edition demonstrates a good understanding of this – end users want the cloud to mean choice, not compulsion. It will form part of a new Office 2019 suite, sitting alongside new editions of Exchange Server and Sharepoint Server. An interesting glimpse of the direction Microsoft is heading in is the fact that Skype for Business 2019 will only be available in an Enterprise edition. While there will be the option to run a single node deployment through a separate SQL server, the implication is that small businesses are being ushered towards the cloud, while the new Office 2019 server edition targets the enterprise market.
Significantly, Skype for Business 2019 is also being designed specifically with hybrid environments in mind. Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) already provides access to some Cloud PBX features through an on-premises VM. This will be extended in the 2019 edition, allowing on-premises users to access all of Microsoft’s cloud telephony features, including contact centre solutions in Azure.
There will also be direct interoperability between Skype for Business Server 2019 and Teams, as well as integrated portals for analytics and reporting, voicemail and call management features like auto attendant and call queues. This will provide even greater agility for on-premises users, as well as providing a gateway to eventual full migration to the cloud.
Skype for Business / Microsoft Teams Series Sponsors
More Microsoft Teams Articles
- Say HELLO to the New Video Communication Device from Solaborate
- Not a Lot of Change in the Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant 2018
- Slack Buyer’s Guide
- Game On at GITEX
- Plantronics Elara 60 Phone Station Review
- Exploring the Internet of Things: IoT in UC&C
- Upgrading Your Audio: AudioCodes 445HD Review
- Karmabot Review for Microsoft Teams: A Simple Way to Track Performance
- Out Loud: UC Awards 2018 – Contact Centre the Focus for Kakapo
- Avaya vs. Microsoft: Two Giants in the UC Space