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Mitel to Acquire Polycom: How Will This Affect Microsoft & Skype for Business?

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There have been rumblings that Mitel is interested in acquiring Polycom and now that is no longer rumor: Mitel announces a definitive agreement to acquire Polycom in a press release this morning.

Polycom currently is a major partner of Microsoft Skype for Business and Office 365 Cloud PBX. How could this affect this partnership?

  • The press release notes Polycom will be retained as a brand
  • The press release mentions “Deep product integration with Microsoft solutions” as a key customer benefit.

Currently Mitel (previously Aastra) has 1 Skype for Business certified IP phone at http://partnersolutions.skypeforbusiness.com and if my memory serves me correct they had 2 at acquisition time. Polycom has 15 for comparison. The highest next vendor in IP phones is AudioCodes/Yealink at 3.

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In Skype for business certified meeting room systems Polycom has 14 and the next vendor, SMART, has 6 to give a bit of a sense of the Polycom/Microsoft partnership compared to other vendors.

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One observation from a Skype for Business perspective is that in Mitel’s past acquisition of Aastra (which included Lync Phone Edition IP desk phone models) and Prairie Fyre (a Lync Contact Center which Mitel has branded as MiContact) the Skype for Business (Lync) assets did not seem to maintain as high visibility in the Skype for Business eco system.

Polycom is far stronger in the Microsoft/Skype for Business eco system than either Aastra or Prairie Fyre. Polycom is Microsoft’s strongest IP desk phone and video partner at this time and recently has done, and is continuing to do, a lot of aggressive work at making their devices integrated with Skype for Business & Office 365 Cloud PBX. In Mitel’s “key customer benefits” calls out “Deep product integration with Microsoft solutions” as a value which Mitel wants to bring this value to their portfolio.

How will this affect Microsoft & Skype for Business? I would like to hear your opinions.

http://investor.mitel.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=965239

http://www.polycom.com/company/news/press-releases/2016/20160415.html

Skype for Business CCE–Cloud Connect Edition Has Been Released

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Microsoft wants you to be able to use Office 365 Cloud PBX even if you still want to use your existing PSTN connections and the solution is a suite of virtual machines that enable a PSTN gateway on your premise.

In the past we have helped various customers that wanted a small Skype for Business (Lync) implementation and even wrote Technet article that dealt with the issues of small implementations. Interestingly the CCE is attempting to address a somewhat similar scenario and a somewhat different way: Have the Skype for Business Cloud PBX workload being handled by Office 365 Cloud PBX and a lite suite of VMs that essentially enable a gateway to connect to Office 365.

A question that might come up for very small sites: Why not use the VM’s to run Skype for Business Server itself ? Here are some reasons I think of immediately:

  • Office 365 Cloud PBX also includes the Voicemail workload (which would be another server in Exchange UM if doing on premises setup)
  • No need for an onsite SharePoint Server for hosting PowerPoint for meetings
  • Ability to do Skype for Business Broadcast Meetings
  • Get Office 365 resiliency you likely won’t have on a small Skype for Business Server setup

Go get it!

Download:
http://aka.ms/getcce
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=51693

Plan for Skype4B CCE:
https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt605227.aspx

Using SEFAUTIL Server

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NOTE: SEFAUTIL Server is being released as BETA. Our main reason for this is to get feedback on PowerShell commandlet format before the community write scripts against the existing commandlets. To give feedback on SEFAUTIL Server please join the Community Yammer forum: Click Here

To see the new PowerShell commands that come with SEFAUTIL Server run:

get-command –Module SefautilServerPowershell

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Set-CsUserForwarding

Set-CsUserTeamMembers

Set-CsUserDelegates

Set-CsUserNote

Community versus Enterprise Edition

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Download SEFAUTIL Server:
https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/lync/SEFAUTIL-Server-Community-6cd286b2

Cisco Spark Review by a Skype for Business MVP

I thought I would take a quick look at Cisco Spark and see how it compares to Skype for Business (just because that is the tool I live in). From my short time testing it this is what it appears to do well:

  • Instant Message
  • Video Calls
  • Screen Sharing (but not give control)
  • Upload files
  • Persistent Rooms that can be quickly Searched

Some things that seemed “missing” (from my Skype for Business perspective)

  • No presence (or way to see if another user is there)
  • No ability to initiate a Screen Share without first making a video call then muting the video call
  • No ability to initiate an audio call without first making a video call then muting video portion
  • No ability to give control to another user of a screen share session
  • No ability to mute others in a call
  • No ability to add PSTN/phone users to a collab session (room) (update: this is apparently slated as a future feature)

Some cool things

  • The ability to delete a message (IM)
  • If you add a user to a room that is not currently a Cisco Spark user they will get an email to sign up as a Cisco Spark user (but no Guest meeting join experience that I could see)

Now to explain the experience a bit. Instead of starting with a contact list, Cisco Spark is designed around the “Rooms” paradigm. These are (in Skype for Business parlance) akin to a persistent chat.

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Searches can quickly be done and the results will returned categorized in People, Rooms, & Messages.

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The 3 ways you can directly collaborate (without an intermediate step) is Message (1), Attachment (2) and Video Call (3).  There doesn’t seem to be a way to start an audio call or screen share without first starting a video. (I could see some users complaining about this.)

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After a user has a video going, then more collaboration methods become available: Desktop sharing and audio call. Desktop sharing (1) is just a single click. There is no ability to give control to the remote party. The CiscoSpark app for Android shows the Screen Share but there didn't seem to be pinch zoom and naturally a full screen is quite small)

Having just an audio call (2) seems quite counterintuitive: you establish a video call then mute the video. (There is very much a push to use video!)

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It should be noted that video calls, audio calls and screen sharing sessions are not saved for future reviewing. Considering the paradigm is around persistent I could easily see how a user might think these collaborative interactions would be saved. (from a technical standpoint I can understand why media recordings are not done)

As noted above, messages can even be deleted.

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Taking a look at settings, you’ll notice a very simple and straightforward screen.

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A couple things I noticed on my first tryout, I don’t know if they are just my experience but I’ll list the items:

  • Using the web browser version of Cisco Spark Instant Messages failed to send between accounts when I initially tested  (I’ve been notified this was due to large initial influx of users: click here)
  • On my Surface Pro the Windows app seemed to crashed quite frequently (i think it is a bug around finding a room you exited perhaps?)

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  • The Android CiscoSpark app also crashed a time or two while I was testing.
  • The web version requires FireFox for media
  • It is interesting that the @CiscoSpark Twitter account is protected (not public)

Summary

Cisco Spark feels like a cross between Skype for Business and Office 365 Groups/Yammer (sans the calendar) which gives a persistent collaborative experience. It doesn’t seem quite as targeted and adept at quick in and out conversations and that quick audio call. It  gives quite a bit of collaborative functionality for free, but it doesn’t seem like it would be a great option for inviting anonymous guests for a quick meeting join experience. The users are going to get the feeling they are being ramrod forced into video calls, but on the flip side Cisco is likely going to focus on making video a good experience when bandwidth is available. (in my tests the videos kept failing, and I wrote it up to the lack of mobile data bandwidth where I was at, but this graphically illustrates that its just not available everywhere) My experience felt like a version 1 experience, a few bugs, a few load hiccups, but then again, I checked the About screen and it is a Version 1.x product.

Review of Logitech ConferenceCam Connect for Skype for Business

Below is my video review of the Logitech ConferenceCam Connect.

The Connect can also turn your display into miracast receiver.

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