Saturday, February 14, 2015

Office 365 Summit in Amsterdam

I had the opportunity to attend the Office Summit in Amsterdam February 12 - 13. This was one of the first public presentations made of the forthcoming Skype for Business product. The event was held at the PTA adjacent to the Mövenpick hotel.



The keynote started with a brief history lesson. We did not have smartphones or tablets in 2005, now everyone got one or several. A demo of Sway was showed as well as Office Graph. Office 365 Groups is a new a feature implemented across Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer. We will probably see more such "cross application/workload" developments for Office365 further on.

Then Skype for business were discussed in the keynote. Skype is used by 300 million users and Lync is used by thousands of organizations. Now these products will merge into one, to a consultant that means a lot more people needing a lof of help, like music to my ears :-) We also got a quick demo of the new client which really looks like a merge between the Lync and Skype clients.

Some interesting facts about Office 365 were mentioned. There are now 1 million servers running the Office365 cloud. How do you even name 1 million servers? Not even the standard enterprise naming scheme with dc001, dc002, will work for a million servers... Also, many of them just live for 2 weeks before getting reinstalled. Some details around all the datacenters and consistent installation and cable running were shared. Microsoft are now buying standardized containers with 4000 servers in each, just plug and play!


So far some $15 billion have been spent on the Office 365 infrastructure (and I thought I spent a lot on hardware.) Someone mentioned 1300 persons in attendance, and it sure was crowded during the keynote.



I of course attended all the Skype for Business seminars with the titles:
  • Architectures and Design considerations
  • Servicing the Existing Deployment & Upgrading to Skype for Business
  • New Meeting and Video Investments
  • Server Core & Voice Improvements
  • Ensuring Media Quality in the Network
  • Run Effective Meetings with Skype for Business

The slide decks will eventually be uploaded here if you want to review.

Big thanks to all the speakers (Cedric Depaepe, Kaushal Mehta, Korneel Bullens, Danny Levin, Albert Chew) for good presentations and for trying to answer all our questions.

The hottest question of both days was: When is Skype for business coming? It got asked many times, and naturally never answered in detail. However, more information around the release dates will come "mid/end March". A Skype for business client "technical preview" will be available by the end of March. This preview will be an msi patch which can upgrade an existing Lync 2013 client, it means that you will not be able to have both a Lync 2013 client and Skype4B client installed at the same time. The client will eventually be a part of Office 2016.

Microsoft foresees and maybe even recommends hybrid installations of Skype for business. Hybrid is a configuration, not a topology, it is simply sharing a SIP domain between Skype4b on-premise and online. The "reason" seems to be that new functionality will come in the cloud first (for example Office 365 groups), while some functionality will be available on-premise only (like QoS, CAC, VIS, Call-via-work.) With a hybrid system you can choose which users should get which functions, and easily move users up and down from the cloud.

It will be possible to "in-place upgrade" a "pure" Lync 2013 system running standard edition and/or front-end pool(s), also Edge servers and stand-alone Mediation servers can be upgraded "in-place". The in-place upgrade process requires the front-ends to use SQL 2012 express sp1, which it then upgrades to SQL 2014 express, after a brief reboot. Lync 2013 Cumulative Update 5 (or better) is a pre-requisite for in-place upgrade. In-place upgrade will not require an AD schema update, and Skype4B can use even a Lync 2010 CMS. The recommendation is to move your users first and then the CMS. SBAs and stand-alone administrative tools cannot use the in-place upgrade process.

It will still be possible to do a side-by-side migration for any reason. There is also some smartness added to the installation process - Smart setup – it will be like running windows update on your Skype for business media just before installing. A Skype4B enterprise pool can run on only 2 servers, like a Lync 2013 pool, but this is still not the recommended way of doing it. Lync 2013 and 2010 clients will be able to connect to Skype4B pools, as well as Lync 2013 Edge servers.

 Patching of Skype for business will be a lot easier than patching of Lync 2013.

The Video Interoperability Server, VIS, is a new role. VIS is not video transcoder so my previous comparison with “a mediation server for video” is not correct. VIS is simply distributing video and allows for video SIP trunks to be established. The VIS server does not need any extra license (so here it is like the mediation server) and VIS will not be available with Skype for business online.

Many other big and small improvements were also presented, such as:
  • "Meet now" for Office365 groups
  • Persistent chat will remain as is, unchanged from Lync 2013
  • The monitoring service will remain next to a new call quality dashboard, it will still require a full SQL server
  • The new Lync control panel or "server control panel" can connect to A Lync online installation, but Silverlight will still be used in the control panel
  • SILK with FEC will be in Skype4B
  • Response groups have improved scalability
  • Call-via-work for the main client, not only for mobile
  • The IM conversion history is improved and should be consistent over different clients now, it will require Exchange 2013 or online
  • SQL Always on is supported
  • The sign-in process is improved and hardcoded "lyncdiscover" DNS names will remain in Skype4B
  • A Skype (consumer) directory search from Skype4B clients is there
  • The use of ADAL (Azure AD directory auth library) will allow for multi-factor authentication in Skype4B mobile clients
  • Simple PSTN calling in Office365 will come this year for the US, but this will probably not be a "PBX replacement"

I also met a few Lync dudes and a bunch of Swedes in attendance as usual.


I was tweeting and retweeting quite a lot on the hashtags #officesummit and #skype4b and got some good answers and good discussions going on twitter. It was nice to see Gurdeep Pall, Corporate Vice President for Skype for Business favoriting one of my tweets, and thanks for all the retweets all my friends!

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