A guide to choosing the best video conferencing tool for your business
A collection of articles that takes you from defining technology needs to purchasing options
In addition to its Windows products and Azure cloud platform, Microsoft is a leading unified communications provider. Microsoft offers a cloud-based video conferencing tool through Office 365 and independently as Skype for Business, which launched in 2015, replacing Microsoft's Lync 2013 and Windows Messenger.
Skype for Business video conferencing is well-suited for SMBs and enterprises, especially those that are current Microsoft customers. Companies can use Skype for Business video conferencing as a stand-alone tool, but it's also integrated into Microsoft's Office 365 business packages.
As an enterprise application, Skype for Business video conferencing is loaded with features, including scheduling, single-touch join, content sharing, PSTN connectivity, presence, instant messaging and recording. Skype for Business also accommodates multiparty, high-definition video conferencing with 250 participants per meeting and up to six people on screen. Streaming is also available through Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft still provides a free, consumer version of Skype, while Skype for Business is largely available as part of an Office 365 paid subscription. Microsoft includes Skype for Business as part of two Office 365 business plans and three Office 365 enterprise plans. The Office 365 ProPlus plan integrates with the Skype for Business application, but does not include the license for Skype for Business.
Microsoft offers plans tailored for education, government and nonprofit sectors. On-premises server deployments are available for a licensing fee.
Third-party support enhances collaboration
Microsoft does not sell traditional video conferencing endpoints or infrastructure. Third-party vendors, such as Polycom, have incorporated Microsoft's proprietary video and audio technology into its video systems, enabling connectivity with Skype for Business.
Several other third-party vendors have also incorporated support in their endpoints or infrastructure, allowing Skype for Business desktop and mobile users to connect with standards-based meeting room systems. Several third-party vendors sell Skype-for-Business-powered room systems as well. The Microsoft Surface Hub is sold as a Skype for Business room system.
Microsoft sells most of its technology through value-added resellers, and its products are available globally. Prospective customers can download a trial version of the Skype for Business on-premises server for a 180-day evaluation period.
Microsoft offers support with both the business and enterprise Office 365 plans with varying response times, depending on the critical nature of the issue. Additionally, 24/7 phone support is available for critical issues related to Skype for Business video conferencing. Phone, web and email support is available during business hours for all other issues. Microsoft also provides presales, accounts and billing support.
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