Why Skype for Business Server 2015 for Unified Communications
Now that you know what makes up a UC solution and how UC can drive cost savings in an organization, let’s talk about why you should choose Skype for Business Server 2015 as a UC solution.
With Skype for Business Server 2015, organizations are given more deployment options, greater resiliency, and enhanced voice, video, and web conferencing features. Skype for Business Server 2015 introduces advanced UC features into a single platform, with a single client software. This section outlines why Skype for Business Server 2015 is the superior UC solution in the market.
Software-Based Unified Communications
The key to a true UC solution is software. Without intuitive, user-friendly software, a UC solution cannot be successfully deployed. When compared on paper, the UC solutions from companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, and ShorTel have nearly the same features. These solutions can perform the functionality that any organization needs for UC. The key difference between Microsoft and the competition is the software. If you look at the list of companies, which one is a software company and not a hardware company? Microsoft.
Hardware vendors are getting better at creating software, either through acquisition or through experience with development. However, these companies are playing catch-up with Microsoft. Since Microsoft Lync Server 2010, all UC functionality has been available in a single client UI. Even in the latest versions of Cisco’s UC suite, functionality is spread across multiple applications. The complexity that this introduces to end users is a major deterrent to the successful deployment of UC.
For organizations to realize the full benefits of UC, there must be a high rate of adoption. Users are less likely to take advantage of a UC solution that is not user friendly. Microsoft is the only company that can provide a truly unified communications experience and allow organizations to reach their full potential with UC. Cisco is typically the biggest competitor of Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015. The basic scenario that follows outlines the differences between Microsoft and other vendors’ UC solutions, including Cisco. These differences can have a major impact on user productivity and overall user satisfaction. User satisfaction is critical to the success of UC deployments.
When you are using Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015, not only are all modalities (IM, audio, video, and sharing) provided in a single application, but the conferencing experience for these modalities is in the same application. When you want to hold a conference, that conference is held in Skype for Business Server 2015. If you are in a peer-to-peer session and want to escalate to a conference, you can simply turn that call into a conference in Skype for Business Server 2015. Cisco, on the other hand, leverages two applications: Jabber for peer-to-peer functionality and WebEx for conferencing. This leads to two separate applications for end users to learn, resulting in a disjointed experience when escalating between peer-to-peer and conference. When you want to turn a peer-to-peer session into a conference, a web page to the WebEx site must be opened. This is where the problem starts for end-user productivity.
In addition to the more intuitive user experience provided in Skype for Business, the integration with Microsoft Office applications cannot be overlooked. Microsoft Office is the primary business application for many end users across the world. Having communication capabilities integrated into your business applications is a major factor for driving usage and enhancing productivity. Microsoft Skype for Business integrates UC capabilities into Office applications, reducing the amount of effort required for end users to collaborate with their peers. Although other vendors can leverage APIs to show presence and allow click-to-call capabilities from Microsoft Outlook, they cannot integrate at a deeper level. Examples of this include the following:
SharePoint skill search—The capability to search SharePoint and view results based on skills and other user information, without leaving the Skype for Business client.
Exchange distribution list expansion—The capability to add Exchange Server distribution lists directly to the Skype for Business client contact list as contact groups. These lists will query information directly from Exchange Server, so users do not have to worry about adding new contacts manually.
Exchange integration—The Skype for Business client has the capability to display out-of-office messages that are configured by the user in the Outlook client and stored in Exchange Server.
Conversation history search in Outlook—The Skype for Business client has the capability to store conversation history in the user’s Exchange mailbox. Users can also search this conversation history in the Skype for Business client as well as in Outlook or the Outlook Web App with their mail.
The preceding examples show certain areas that competitors simply do not provide integration for. Office, SharePoint, and Exchange are deployed in nearly every organization, and that is why these features are important.
In addition to integrating with other Microsoft applications, Skype for Business Server 2015 also allows for easy integration with other line-of-business applications. One major benefit to Skype for Business Server 2015 is the development platform it is built on. The software APIs for the client and server are available to developers and are currently heavily utilized for many custom solutions. The simplest form of this development is integrating functionality, such as Presence and click to call, into line-of-business applications. Many organizations have also taken advantage of the Skype for Business Server APIs to build custom solutions that enhance business processes. This concept is known as communications-enabled business processes (CEBPs) and is a major differentiator in the market. This ecosystem, which is open and “partner driven,” has led many organizations to be more successful with UC than they ever could have imagined.
In summary, a UC deployment relies heavily on the software experience that is provided to users. Although UC includes telephony, and IP phones are important to telephony, the true value of UC is seen through the software application providing anywhere access and collaboration. Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 is a superior choice for UC because it is a software-based UC platform.
Lower Total Cost of Ownership
Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) refers to the cost of purchasing, licensing, deploying, and maintaining an equipment (in our case, the equipment is a telephony solution) over the lifetime of the solution’s use. Various solutions have components that are cheaper than others, but what is really important is TCO. Just because one software license is cheaper doesn’t mean that the overall cost to purchase and run a solution is cheaper. Microsoft claims a lower TCO than the competition.
Microsoft offers key advantages that contribute to a lower TCO:
Hardware flexibility—Skype for Business Server 2015 allows organizations to choose the server platform as well as the endpoints to be used. This allows organizations to deploy whatever server hardware is right for them, at the right price. This includes the capability to virtualize across the different platforms available to organizations. Other UC systems will leverage IP phones as the primary endpoint. Not only does Microsoft offer an IP phone solution through certified partners (Polycom, AudioCodes, and others) that is cheaper than the competition, but has high-quality headsets available at low prices. Many Skype for Business–optimized wired headsets are under $50, and that does not include bulk purchase discount.
Leveraging Microsoft investments—Skype for Business Server 2015 leverages Exchange for Unified Messaging and Active Directory for identity management, domain name service (DNS), and public key infrastructure (PKI). Leveraging the customer’s existing infrastructure helps drive a lower cost of investment and management because user identity is not dispersed across multiple independent identity systems.
Conferencing cost savings—Skype for Business Server 2015 offers a great level of cost savings on audio conferencing. When directly compared, the architecture and, sometimes, the additional licensing required will make Microsoft up to 50% less expensive than the competition in this area.
Rapid ROI—The fact that Skype for Business Server 2015 is an integrated solution, as opposed to other vendors’ solutions, allows organizations to realize ROI much faster than when deploying a competing UC solution.
The factors just described contribute to Skype for Business Server 2015 having a lower TCO when compared to the competition.
The statement “Give us speed where we need it” highlights a common theme among many organizations evaluating Skype for Business Server 2015 and other UC solutions. Deployment flexibility is a key area in which Microsoft provides greater value than the competition through Skype for Business Server 2015. The following points highlight some of the aspects where Skype for Business Server 2015 provides greater value as a solution in a Microsoft-centric infrastructure:
Integration with existing systems—Microsoft believes in integrating with existing systems and augmenting functionality through deep integration, not ripping and replacing. This allows organizations to utilize their existing investments to their full potential, and then replace when necessary.
Hybrid solutions—Microsoft allows organizations to leverage cloud solutions from Office 365 to integrate with their on-premises Skype for Business Server 2015 infrastructure, creating hybrid deployments. Hybrid deployments integrate the Skype for Business experience whether users are homed on-premises or on Office 365. In the same timeframe of the Skype for Business Server 2015 release, Office 365 offers the following advantages:
Skype Meeting Broadcast—This allows organizations to host very large meetings in the cloud for up to 10,000 participants. Skype for Business Server 2015 and Lync Server 2013 support meetings with up to 1,000 participants with a dedicated Front End pool configuration.
Cloud PBX with PSTN calling—Office 365 users can make and receive calls from the PSTN without using an on-premises PSTN gateway.
PSTN conferencing—Participants can join a Skype meeting hosted on Office 365 from the PSTN.
“Speed where you need it”—Microsoft allows organizations to choose at which speed they deploy their solution. If an organization has a desire to rapidly deploy the solution, it can easily be done. However, Microsoft does not force organizations to rip and replace or into upgrade scenarios. Many organizations will treat the core capabilities of UC as a more immediate need (IM, peer-to-peer A/V, conferencing) and then choose to opportunistically deploy enterprise telephony. With the features and flexibility of the on-premises and Microsoft cloud solutions, organizations can truly move at whatever speed they need to, and can be successful with their UC deployment.
Remote Access and Federation
To provide the best ROI, organizations must be able to offer UC solutions to end users anywhere, on any connection, at any time. More and more organizations are adopting the “living on the net” motto, meaning that their users must be able to do their job seamlessly from any Internet connection. Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 is without a doubt the superior solution for remote access in the UC industry. Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 was built with the Internet in mind. Not only does it provide users with all functionality over the Internet, securely, without a VPN, but with the acquisition of Skype, the SILK media codec, which provides a superior audio quality used by millions across the Internet, has been integrated into Skype for Business Server 2015.
Many organizations can mistakenly discount the importance of choosing a UC solution that was developed for the Internet. Traditional IP telephony relied only on the LAN/WAN networks that were controlled by the organization. However, UC cannot be restricted to the same network conditions as traditional IP telephony. For UC to be successful in an organization, it must provide access to all functionality, from any connection, on any device. This is how organizations will see increased usage of the solution and, ultimately, rapid ROI.
Following on the remote access story, federation with other organizations is a trend in UC technology. Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 offers organizations the capability to communicate seamlessly with other organizations that are running Lync Server or Skype for Business Server 2015, as well as communicate with consumers on the public networks (Skype). Although competitors can provide IM and Presence federation to other organizations, no other solution provides Presence, IM, audio, video, and conferencing federation natively like Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 does. The capability to seamlessly collaborate with business partners and customers (Skype) makes many organizations treat federation as a critical requirement.
Skype federation was introduced in Lync Server 2013, and Skype for Business Server 2015 expands this integration to include directory search and video to the millions of current Skype users around the world. This includes both businesses and consumers, which means a user can search the Skype network for another user from within their Skype for Business client and establish a video session with them. The flexibility this provides organizations for establishing communications with partners and customers is a feature that many users cannot live without. Some critics will discount the importance of UC federation over Internet connections. We are definitely not at the point where federation is going to replace the PSTN; however, many people do believe that this is the path the industry is going down.