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Ignite 2018 - BRK3229 Everything you need to know about Skype for Business Server

 
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I had the honor of writing a summary of the Microsoft Ignite session "BRK3229 Everything you need to know about Skype for Business Server" that was delivered by Vibhor Agarwal and Rahul Gupta who are both Principal Program Managers for Skype for Business.

 

Both Vibhor and Rahul balanced well the messages about Migration to Microsoft Teams for some customers that are ready while simultaneously continuing to make investments in on-premises Skype for Business Server.

 
 
Features for the General Availability Release
 
Microsoft is calling this next release of Skype for Business Server 2019 as an IT Pro and Voice Centric release. Although having new user facing features is fun, Microsoft is focusing on taking some time to get feedback from customers and the community about what are areas are important to them. Based on the response of the crowd throughout the session, The Skype for Business Server Product Group is hitting the mark.
 
A big item that Microsoft has worked on for this release is bringing in the optimizations and quality improvements to Skype for Business Server 2019 that were the result of running Skype for Business in Microsoft's cloud. 
  
Some other key features being delivered for the GA release targeted for end of 2018 are Cloud Voicemail, Cloud Org Auto Attendant, Cloud Call Data Connector and Streamlined Teams Migration.
 
 
Cloud Voice Mail
 
Cloud Voice Mail is the Voice Mail that will be used for Skype for Business 2019 instead of Exchange Unified Messaging. Exchange Unified Messaging was the voice mail that was available in the past for Online tenants. Cloud Voice Mail, like Exchange Unified Messaging, will still store messages in the user's mailbox. This mailbox can be on-premises or online. In order to use Cloud Voice Mail, there is a requirement for the hybrid configuration to be completed with sync of users to Azure Active Directory.
 
For those still wanting to continue on with the Exchange Unified Messaging experience, Skype for Business Server 2019 will support Exchange Unified Messaging through Exchange 2013 or 2016 implementations that are on-premises.
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Cloud Org Auto Attendant
 
Cloud Org Auto Attendant allows Skype for Business Server 2019 on-premises deployments to find and route calls to specific users. Similar to Cloud Voice Mail, Microsoft is utilizing cloud features to move away from Exchange Unified Messaging Auto Attendants. Later this year, Microsoft plans to also allow an on-premises number to route directly to the Cloud Org Auto Attendant rather than having to provision a number from the cloud. Customers, for this feature, will also have a requirement for their hybrid configuration be completed and for their users to be syncing to the Azure Active Directory.
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Cloud Call Data Collector
 
Cloud Call Data Collector is a key new feature that brings together both Skype for Business Server 2019 and Microsoft Teams call data and metrics for a unified view of a customers call quality data. Reports pull together user information from online and on-premises and gives IT Pros and Administrators one place to troubleshoot calling issues especially voice quality.
 
In order to utilize Call Data Connector, the configuration will need to be set using a new PowerShell cmdlet called "Set-CSCloudCallDataConnector"
 
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Streamlined Migration to Teams
 
For customers that are targeting a Migration to Microsoft Teams, Microsoft is removing the need to first migrate the user to Skype for Business Online first before changing the Microsoft Teams Upgrade Policy. Now, with a new PowerShell cmdlet or using the Skype for Business control Panel that utilizes your Tenant credentials, users will be migrated directly to Microsoft Teams simplifying the process for Administrators. This will also be available for Skype for Business 2015 through a Cumulative Update. Streamlined Migration to Microsoft Teams has a requirement of a hybrid configuration and for users to be synced to Azure Active Directory.
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Skype for Business Server 2019 Hardware Requirements and Engineering
 
For Skype for Business Server 2019, hardware requirements have increased. All server roles now require an Intel Xeon E5-2673 v3 Dual Processor 2.4 Ghz with 6-cores or higher. Additionally Front Ends and Back Ends now require 64 GB of RAM.
 
Supported number of users per server engineering numbers do not change for Skype for Business Server 2019, but Microsoft does allow 16 servers now in a single pool. That increases the max number of users support in a single pool to be 106,000 from 80,000. Stand-alone Mediation servers now support up to 2000 sessions with the new hardware requirements. Vibhor also stated that they are seeing a 40% reduction is CPU utilization when using the new hardware requirements.
 
 
Changes to Existing Features of Skype for Business Server 2019
 
Microsoft also highlighted key features changes from Skype for Business Server 2015 around the areas of Persistent Chat, XMPP Gateway, Survivable Branch Appliance, SQL Mirroring, and in-place upgrade.
Persistent Chat at Microsoft Ignite 2017 was communicated that it was going to be deprecated. Microsoft has now decided to allow for a supported configuration of having Persistent Chat in Skype for Business 2015 be available to users homed to a Skype for Business 2019 pool.
XMPP server has had no change from Microsoft Ignite 2017 and is planned to be deprecated from Skype for Business Server 2019. Microsoft stated that solutions that were utilizing this functionality to work with Skype for Business Server 2019 are being encouraged to utilize other interfaces and APIs to allow that interoperability.
 
The messaging from Microsoft Ignite 2017 around Survivable Branch Appliances (SBA) hasn't changed. Skype for Business Server 2019 will be supported with 2015 SBAs associated with them in the Topology Builder.
 
With the requirement for SQL 2016 now for Skype for Business Server 2019, SQL Mirroring support is now deprecated. SQL Mirroring is now replaced by SQL Always On functionality. As a side note, SQL Clustering is still supported.
 
Microsoft also has decided not to support In-Place upgrade for Skype for Business 2019. Vibhor stated that when they talked with customers that upgraded to Skype for Business 2015, most still made the choice to do a Side-by-Side migration instead an In-Place Upgrade largely driven by the desire to upgrade hardware at the same time.
 
Supported upgrade paths are Lync Server 2013 to Skype for Business Server 2019 or Skype for Business Server 2015 to Skype for Business Server 2019. As with all previous upgrades, Tri-Existence is not supported. Customers will need to be either completely on Lync Server 2013 or Skype for Business 2015.
 
Client wise, Microsoft will support the following clients:
  • Skype for Business 2019 Windows Desktop
  • Skype for Business 2016 Windows Desktop
  • Skype for Business Mac Desktop
  • Skype for Business Mobile on iOS
  • Skype for Business Mobile on Android
  • Skype for Business Web Meetings app for Windows and Mac
  • Skype for Business Futures
 
 
Planned New Features after General Availability
 
After initially teasing the audience at the beginning of the session, Vibhor and Rahul strategically revealed features that are planned after GA delivered through Cumulative Updates. These are *planned* and not a promise, but it isn't an exaggeration to state that the audience was on the edge of their seats.
 
The first reveal was that SEFAUtil will be moved in to a PowerShell based interface. The audience erupted into spontaneous approval and you could feel the energy in the room building.
 
Next, they revealed plans to replace the Silverlight based Skype for Business Control Panel with HTML 5 based Modern Control Panel. Again, the audience erupted into spontaneous approval.
 
Thirdly they revealed their plans to allow for Meetings in the Cloud utilizing functionality with Microsoft Teams. This is the first time they referred to their "Meetings First" strategy.
 
After that, they dropped what might have been the biggest shocker of the session. Response Groups become first class citizens with the Backup Service and will be able to participate in High Availability and Disaster Recovery Scenarios.
 
Vibhor and Rahul could have stopped there, but they revealed one last planned feature. The ability to use Cloud Call Queues with Skype for Business Server 2019 on-premises.
 
To really take it up a notch, to an audience that was already dazed, Rahul then proceeded to actually demonstrate a preview of the new SEFAUtil PowerShell interface with live demo of actually calling a user after change and then proceeded to demo an early version of the HTML 5 based Modern Control Panel.
 
After finishing up the session, referring attendees to BRK3124 How Skype for Business on-premises customers can take advantage of Microsoft Teams Meeting and BRK3142 Planning a seamless migration from Skype for Business to Teams for IT Admins, Vibhor and Rahul had a flood of people coming up to them asking additional questions that had to be continued quite some time after the session in the hallways.
 
It was clear that the direction that Vibhor and Rahul communicated with customers today resonated well and shows that continued investment in Skype for Business Server is something that customers are really responding to. 
 
 
Jonathan McKinney is an Office Apps and Services MVP specializing in Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. You can find him on Twitter at @ucomsgeek and on LinkedIn. He can also be found at ucomsGeek blog. He currently is a Senior UC Architect for Time2Market and lives in Elizabeth, CO.
 
 
 pic8.jpgQuite the crowd with BRK3229 about to start with more people still coming inpic3.jpgRahul taking questions after the session has endedpic4.jpgVibhor addressing questions after the session has ended
pic1.jpgVibhor still talking with attendees out in the hallway