As most people will have probably heard, Microsoft will once again change the product name of the next version of its communication platform for business, from Lync to Skype for Business. Even though the brand name Lync has grown relatively strongly over five years, the Skype brand is significantly stronger and most people have some kind of relationship with it today.
A strong driver for the name change is of course the recognition effect from the home which will mean an even greater acceptance of “new” tools in the workplace. The appearance of the new desktop client will be very similar to the consumer version, without completely turning upside down everything already created on Lync. The main design language will also gradually follow what is already present in Windows and Office.
As always when a new version is released, everything is presented as new. There is a great deal which is new and interesting in Skype for Business. However it is important to know that the architecture of Skype for Business still stems from Lync. This is a new version not a new product. Of course there are many ideas around combining code and architecture in the long term, but there is no explicit strategy about using the same base. However, there are techniques which are taken from each other, for example implementation of audio codec, a SILK in Skype for Business for certain clients and call scenarios.
News of interest
There are a couple of new items that are of particular interest in Skype for Business. In addition to what is done in the desk top client there are a couple of items which are worth a little extra attention.
Video Interoperability Server (VIS)
Skype for Business Server consists of a new server role called the Video Interoperability Server. The role makes it possible to obtain your own Cisco/Tandberg based system to function with Skype for Business. Unlike previous integration capabilities these video systems will be able to connect to a meeting running on Skype for Business Server, and not vice versa as was previously the case. This solution can solve some basic integration capabilities, but it should not be compared with products like Blue Jeans, Acano or Pexip which are about inviting participants from different environments and platforms to a joint meeting. For example, VIS will not manage meetings where someone from Skype for Business tries to invite an external party who wants to participate from a Cisco/Tandberg system.
“Skype Web SDK”
A great deal of effort has been put into making the platform extendible on the Skype for Business Server. As with previous versions there is UCMA (UC Managed API) to build applications directly for the Skype for Business Server. However the biggest investment is building web applications which take in features such as live chat, voice and video. For example this would provide opportunities to allow customers who want to contact customer service to call in by building interaction directly on the website relatively simply and cheaply.
Call via Work
For those interested in Lync as a telephony platform, but are already bound to existing agreements or solutions, a feature called Call via Work can be created. This feature is intended to make it possible to initiate a conversation which dials both the user’s phone and to that of the other party from the Skype for Business desktop client. This will probably be seen mostly as a way to obtain some basic telephony functionality without replacing the user’s existing solution. But the function can also be useful for those travelling or for someone with a poor network connection but who still wants to check their calls via Lync.
The road to Skype for Business
From an architectural point of view Lync 2013 and Skype for Business Server are very similar. The hardware requirements are exactly the same, the topology is basically the same with video Interop Server as single supplement. Knowing that it often takes a very long time from the product release to full implementation, a lot of hard work has been done to make the road to upgrade easy. Those running the current Lync Server 2013 will be able to in-place upgrade their existing environment to the Skype for Business Server. Lync Server 2010 however differs somewhat in hardware requirements and topology and is upgraded side-by-side just as previously.
What happens now?
The usual question about new products is “When will it be ready? If it is relatively on track I would hazard a guess at “the first half of 2015”. This means that the conference Microsoft Ignite (Chicago May) which replaces Lync Conference could be very interesting.
We see Skype for Business as an exciting step forward. New interesting functionality will be added. Some long-awaited improvements around running are also being made, but at the same time you don’t want to turn the world upside down by changing the architecture too much.
With the new name comes responsibility. Although much of it will look interesting I can’t help thinking that it will now also very important to resolve the connection between “Consumer-Skype” and Skype for Business. For a long while it has been possible to run live chat and voice calls between Lync and Skype in two-party conversation. For several months we have been able to run video calls between Lync and Skype to some extent. However, there have been a lot of problems particularly between very specific desktop clients. This is not acceptable if you are going to share names.
Microsoft now has a great responsibility to sort out the integration. It is not an unreasonable demand for a Skype for Business client to communicate with a Skype client no matter what it runs on.