Microsoft Skype for Business is not consumer Skype

Despite integration with consumer Skype service, the new Microsoft Skype for Business still meets enterprise security and compliance requirements.

Microsoft recently rebranded Lync, its enterprise unified communications platform, as Skype for Business. Is this...

just a name change, or is there more to the story? How is Lync transitioning to Skype for Business? And what does the switch mean for those businesses currently using or evaluating Lync? Let's find out.

Microsoft officially unveiled Skype for Business at this year's Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla. Replacing Lync with Skype for Business in the Microsoft enterprise applications portfolio is a curious move: Lync rapidly captured both mindshare and market share as it moved beyond instant messaging, presence and Web conferencing and was capturing telephony and video conferencing business from competitors like Avaya and Cisco.

Skype for Business isn't just a rebranding of Lync. As Microsoft noted in its official blog, Skype for Business provides new functionality with more seamless integration with the consumer Skype service, plus video chat with consumer Skype users and the ability to search the consumer Skype directory from within Skype for Business. In addition, Skype for Business changes the client look and feel to offer more consistency with the consumer Skype app.

Like Lync, Microsoft Skype for Business will exist as both an on-premises platform, offering enterprise telephony capabilities, and as a cloud offering as part of Office 365 with enterprise telephony announced for future delivery. From purely an architectural standpoint, there's little change for enterprises that will deploy and manage a Lync/Skype for Business service.

The same but different

Skype for Business is not consumer Skype, and it does not run on the same servers that support the consumer Skype service. Despite the architectural similarities with Lync, our research shows that Skype for Business is creating confusion in the marketplace.

In our conversations with enterprise IT leaders who are using or evaluating Lync, especially those in regulated industries, many people are telling us they will have difficulty delivering Skype for Business to their employees. Users may think they are using the consumer Skype service and not a company-owned and managed on-premises platform that meets enterprise requirements for security and compliance.

IT leaders say they will need to educate their risk-management and security teams and end-user communities that Skype for Business is not consumer Skype and that they can continue to maintain separation between their consumer and business Skype accounts. (One early adopter said the first call to his help desk regarding Microsoft Skype for Business was from a user who wanted to know why he didn't see his personal Skype contacts when he loaded Skype for Business.)

Further reinforcing this confusion, in a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything discussion with Skype team leaders many of the questions were focused on the consumer Skype product and not Skype for Business.

As of April 14, 2015, the Skype for Business user interface (UI) replaced the Lync UI for many Office 365 customers. However, administrators can force users to keep their Lync interface for the time being. But it's reasonable to believe that in the near future Microsoft will end support for the legacy Lync UI.

Making the switch from Lync to Skype for Business

Those businesses planning to deploy Skype for Business -- especially companies that are limited or prohibited from using the consumer Skype service -- will want to educate their security and governance teams upfront about Skype for Business. Additionally, those companies will want to tread carefully into Skype for Business and consumer Skype integration, ensuring that any connectors they establish meet information-protection requirements.

Some companies have looked the other way as employees used consumer Skype for their business communications. The ability to integrate consumer Skype with Skype for Business should come as welcome news to their employees who are looking to simplify and unify their communications experience.

About the author:
Irwin Lazar is vice president and service director at Nemertes Research.

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