Hello readers.  As always I hope this finds you well.  

It has been a big year so far for the (Microsoft) tech world.  Windows 8 has been replaced for many with Windows 10.  Windows Server 2003 is end of life.  There are previews of Office 2016 (for Windows) and Exchange 2016.  A full version of Office 2016 for Mac.  Microsoft operating systems and applications are now available on virtually any device you can think of.  Office 365 has had hundreds of changes.  And of course, Lync is now Skype for Business.

This last point brings with it opportunity and also confusion for some.  Early on when I first heard of this change I had my concerns and even doubts.  It had the potential to change the way people thought of the product.  It went from a (little known) well respected name of a business focused communications product to a (love/hate) consumer product with the words “for Business” tacked on the end.

In the first few months I was answering questions every day about the change and what it meant.  The biggest concern for the IT executives I spoke to was the perception of the name for their bosses.  That the product they have been pushing to get approved is now called Skype.  

Fast forward a few months and now I get very few questions.  People accept that is a name change which brings awareness.  I once described it as a gourmet burger restaurant with a made up name changing its name to McDonalds for Culinarians.  People also know that, since it is a new version of the product that it also comes with many enhancements.

Here are a few notable, and welcome, changes:

  • New client for the desktop and (soon to be) mobile
  • Support for Multi-factor authentication
  • Support for SQL Always On
  • Reduced bandwidth for screen sharing
  • New voice features and improvements such as Call via Work and Response Group Scalability
  • Full server side history of instant messages including the mobile app
  • New roles such as the Video Interop Server and Call Quality Dashboard 
  • Enhancements with Skype federation now making it possible to search the Skype directory and even communicate using the Skype ID 
  • Plus a host of manageability improvements from In Place upgrades and simpler patch process to failover management and troubleshooting

Now on to the feature presentation.  What I find interesting about the Gartner Magic Quadrant reports is that the results have a lot to do timing.  The top spot is given to the vendor with more to offer at the time of writing, not at the time you will most likely be reading it.

All About the Timing
I’ll explain.  In 2012, Cisco narrowly claimed the top spot from Microsoft largely because they were comparing the Cisco offering with Lync 2010.  The Cisco solution was tried and trusted, but Microsoft was hot on their heels.

Source: Gartner (August 2012)

In 2013 Cisco essentially stayed where they were in 2012 and Microsoft fell back on execution and gained a little on vision.  Cisco and Microsoft had new versions out.  Cisco had theirs out in time for the writing of the document.  Microsoft had Lync 2013 out as I was reading it.  So I think the comparison was between the latest Cisco and Lync 2010.  Execution was down because everyone still had 2010, but vision went up because 2013 was just around the corner.

Source: Gartner (July 2013)

Of course 2014 made up for the fall the previous year with Microsoft equal with Cisco on execution, but way ahead on vision.  Finally they were comparing Cisco and Microsoft at the time of writing and reading.

 Source: Gartner (August 2014)

Now on to 2015.  Microsoft is now leading on execution, but trailing on vision.  

 Source: Gartner (August 2015)

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications for 2015.
There were four cautions from Gartner about Microsoft.

The first is around the supposed dissatisfaction with the quality and capability with audio and video conferencing.  This is clearly a comparison between what Skype for Business can do as part of a complete solution to what Cisco do with Webex as a point solution.  Give me Skype for Business any day.  As part of a complete solution it is the very definition of Unified Communications.

The second is about some uncertainty of the roadmap. This is certainly fair enough.  But it is becoming clearer.  If you are confused, just contact me and I’ll do my best to explain what I know/can.

The third is saying that those that deploy it using in-house resources rather than using specialist experts end up with a solution requiring multiple vendors (needing different partners for telephones, gateways, SBAs, remote support and network monitoring).  Leading to difficulties with support and cost calculation.  Actually, this is the same whether deploying in-house or by using an expert partner.  The difference is that the expert can put the whole thing together and manage it under a single umbrella.  The fact that Microsoft don’t make phones, gateways, SBAs etc is obviously a different to Cisco who have a complete package of products.

The fourth was about reception consoles.  Natively, Microsoft is very weak with this area.  The development of the Lync 2010 Attendant stopped long ago.  This left the door open to the huge ecosystem of partners to fill the void.  Two of these right off the bat are Attendant Pro from Matt Landis and Enghouse Interactive Operator Console.  

Call Park Music On hold
Gartner specifically called out the difficulty in providing music on hold to parked callers.  I completely disagree with this statement.  One of the things you can definitely do is customize and provide hold music to parked callers. I can’t resist adding a little bit of tech info to this so bare with me. 
This example sets the file HoldMusic.wma to be the audio file that is played to callers whose calls are parked.

Music on hold is played only if the EnableMusicOnHold property of the Call Park service has been set to True.

To do this, in the Skype for Business Server Management Shell run the following:

Set-CsCpsConfiguration -EnableMusicOnHold $True

Audio files must be in the following format: Windows Media Audio 9, 44 kHz, 16 bits, Mono, CBR, or 32 kbps.  Save your hold music file to c:\HoldMusic as HoldMusic.wma.  

To do this, in the Skype for Business Server Management Shell run the following:

Set-CsCallParkServiceMusicOnHoldFile -Service ApplicationServer:FrontEnd.Domain.com -content ([Byte[]]$(Get-Content -Path “C:\\HoldMusic\HoldMusic.wma” -Encoding Byte -ReadCount 0))

Where FrontEnd.Domain.com is the name of your Front End or where the Call Park application resides.

Back on track…

Two Horse Race
The competition for the top spot has been a two horse race for the last 4 years.  I expect it to stay that way for at least a few more years.  As you’ll see in the next section there are a lot of vendors moving around.  So I think it is anyone’s guess what it will look like in a few years.  The fact that remains is that there are two very strong competitors constantly trying to out do each other.  The net result of this oneupmanship is that the products are developing more features at a faster rate than they would if there were no competition.  So I say, let the games continue.

Side By Side
Looking at all four years side by side is really interesting.

If you look at the rest of the pack you will see that Avaya has been moving down in the Execution axis and wobbling back and forth in the Vision Axis.  Mitel were in the Visionaries quadrant in 2012 and 2013 and moved into the Leaders quadrant in 2014 and remain there in roughly the same position in 2015.  Siemens moved out of the Leaders quadrant in 2014 when they rebranded as Unify.  In 2015 they moved from visionaries to Niche Players.  Shoretel moved from Niche Players to Visionaries for the first time.  IBM moved from Challengers in 2012/2013 to Visionaries in 2014 and then moved up the Execution axis.

UC Characteristics
There are six characteristics that Gartner consider as having an important effect on the success of a UC solution.

These are User Experience, Mobility, Interoperability, Cloud and Hybrid, Broad Solution Appeal and Developer Network.

I would say that without question, Microsoft is way ahead of the competition.  

The only exception to this is Mobility.  While the Lync 2013 mobile App does offer a single app to do most things, it lets itself down with some of the features.  There are three Cisco apps (yes I said apps – at the time of writing I found 3 apps from Cisco) that each form part of the whole solution.  One called Jabber (IM presumably) one called Jabber Voice and another called Webex Meetings.  Microsoft has a single client for all three modalities.  

Gartner say that they placed extra emphasis on Mobility as it is a key differentiator and requirement.  Even going so far as to recommend that enterprises consider adopting a mobility-first strategy, where UC applications are designed first around the mobile UX and then extended for PCs.

Again with the timing
Continuing on the theme of timing, Microsoft have released a new Skype for Business version of the mobile client first for Windows Mobile and (st the time of writing) soon for iOS and Android.  The latter are in preview currently and look encouraging.  

Thanks for reading.  

If this or any other post has been useful to you please take a moment to share.  Comments are welcome.

While I’m not certain the new mobile client would have made a huge difference to their position in the report, I do think that looking at all of the new features of Skype for Business compared to Lync 2013 might have.

Thanks for reading.  

If this or any other post has been useful to you please take a moment to share.  Comments are welcome.