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Skype for Business users wary of Microsoft Teams telephony

As Microsoft rolls out its Teams communications client, many Skype for Business users are concerned about certain telephony features and may prefer on-premises options.

Buckman Laboratories International Inc. is heavily invested in Microsoft cloud technologies. But the specialty chemical company, based in Memphis, Tenn., has Skype for Business on-premises infrastructure. Buckman uses the Office 365 Enterprise E5 plan, which includes cloud PBX licensing with on-premises PSTN connectivity.

As a global organization with 1,800 employees, Buckman is scaling out its Skype for Business platform to locations worldwide, said Amie McClendon, senior collaboration systems engineer at Buckman. But, as Microsoft replaces Skype for Business Online with Microsoft Teams, McClendon said she's concerned about the call quality in Teams and its ability to work with PSTN and hybrid environments.

She said she envisions a "very slow migration" to Microsoft Teams.

"We have a lot of uncertainty as to how the calling is going to be handled in Teams," said McClendon, who's responsible for Buckman's Skype for Business hybrid infrastructure. "There is going to be a clear delineation. Skype for Business will continue to be used for telephony, but there may be some value in using Teams for communications."

Until Microsoft gets a true telephony tie-in with Teams, McClendon said, Buckman probably won't move to Teams anytime soon.

Microsoft tweaks telephony terms

As Microsoft folds Skype for Business Online phone features into Microsoft Teams, the vendor has also changed its telephony terminology in the Office 365 suite. Microsoft's Cloud PBX is now simply called Phone System. PSTN Conferencing is now called Audio Conferencing. PSTN Calling is now called Calling Plan.

The lesser-known PSTN Consumption is now called Communications Credits. And the PSTN Consumption Only Offer is now called Audio Conferencing Pay-Per-Minute.

Skype for Business users mull migration plans

In the coming months, Microsoft plans to add calling features to Teams, including inbound and outbound calls to PSTN numbers, hold, call transfer and voicemail. Teams will replace Skype for Business Online "over time," Microsoft said. The vendor also offers call-quality and analytics tools to help manage Teams and Skype for Business calling.

As Skype for Business users consider the migration to Microsoft Teams, one option is to run both clients side by side and gradually move end users to the cloud-based Teams environment. But that setup could prompt interoperability issues between the two clients and confuse end users, according to IT professionals who attended Microsoft Ignite last month.

Running two separate clients that have similar features is not exactly unified communications, they said, and this dual setup could impede user adoption.

Another initial migration strategy would be to move mobile workers to the Teams environment, since those employees -- who travel and are not in an office much -- could benefit from a cloud service. Additionally, younger users could be an early migration target, since they might be more receptive to the Teams user interface, the IT pros said.

Emergency calling in question

Fresno Pacific University has plenty of young Skype for Business users. The private university, with campuses in California, has about 5,000 students, faculty and other employees. The school uses on-premises Skype for Business with a couple of cloud tools, and it's considering hybrid options, said Dwayne Jones, systems engineer at the university.

Jones added that he prefers call controls, connections and manipulation capabilities in the on-premises Skype for Business Server. If the school moved to the cloud-based Teams service, Jones said he is concerned about losing administrative control.

Putting our university in that position of being in the cloud is definitely not ideal.
Dwayne Jonessystems engineer at Fresno Pacific University

"Putting our university in that position of being in the cloud is definitely not ideal," he said.

Specifically, Jones is concerned about Enhanced 911 (E911) services, including emergency location identification number and emergency response location. These services, available in the on-premises Skype for Business Server, help pinpoint a caller's location in case of an emergency.    

Microsoft Teams does support E911, according to its website, but how extensively is unclear. Jones said he has not heard much conversation around Teams' E911 capabilities.

In a Microsoft Ignite session, Microsoft program managers Albert Kooiman and Marc Pottier said Teams supports "static E911," which might not pinpoint a caller's exact location. Rolling out fully featured E911 services is high on Microsoft's priority list, Kooiman said.

The importance of on premises

While Microsoft Teams is the future core communications client in Office 365, Microsoft is not abandoning on-premises systems. Microsoft said recently it will release an updated Skype for Business Server by the end of next year. That server, dubbed Skype for Business Server 2019, probably won't be the last, Kooiman said.

There's a lot of confusion going on as far as the best way to roll this out to our environment.
Amie McClendonsenior collaboration systems engineer at Buckman Laboratories International Inc.

"I dare to bet that will not be the last server," he said. "We have tens of millions of Skype for Business users on premises. It will take a long time before those people are moving. It will be at least 10 more years that we will support Skype for Business Server."

A Skype for Business troubleshooting session at Microsoft Ignite was standing room only. The conference room, although smaller than other rooms at the mammoth Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., was filled with Skype for Business users looking to resolve their issues with the unified communications product.

The session split into several discussion groups tackling different Skype for Business issues, including deployment, enterprise voice and the migration to Microsoft Teams. Most IT pros in the Teams discussion said they work with on-premises Skype for Business systems, but might consider hybrid options.

Skype for Business users envision slow migration

According to Skype for Business MVP Matthew Landis, Microsoft's message has been: "Teams is coming, but we're going to let you do it when you're good and ready."

At Fresno Pacific University, only the IT department is currently using Teams. While some IT workers like the service, too many teams have been created, which can muddle workflows, Jones said. Administrator tools, however, can control team creation.

The meetings component in Teams could also be a snafu, Buckman's McClendon said. Currently, Skype for Business supports meetings, while Teams lacks some meetings support. Teams meetings, for instance, do not fully support dial-in numbers. As Microsoft irons out these wrinkles, Buckman could start rolling out the Teams service.

"But there's a lot of confusion going on as far as the best way to roll this out to our environment," McClendon said.

"For us," Jones added, "will we use [Teams] at some time? Maybe in 10 years, if it answers all our questions. Right now, I'll probably look at hybrid and see how that works. But I don't foresee a major plan for putting most of our stuff with Teams, unless we can get some questions answered."

Next Steps

Microsoft Teams deployments pose significant questions.

Executive buy-in is crucial when rolling out Microsoft Teams.

Consider video integrations when implementing Microsoft Teams.

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