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ANNOUNCEMENTS: Skype for Business and Office 365 – from Enterprise Connect 16

Posted by: Michael Barton in Industry News

I tuned in to the live Skype Broadcast (so cool) of Enterprise Connect 2016 held in Orlando, Florida. Microsoft live streamed the keynote of Corporate VP for Skype for Business, Zig Serafin to thousands of people online at the time and later on as a recording.

One of the things that struck me is the choice of venue and the pace of development – this was Microsoft announcing some really cool new additions to Skype for Business – but it wasn’t on a big stage with the normal Microsoft dog and pony show. They were confident in the tech, and the audience – and it showed. Zig and some of the product group demonstrated:

  • New Office 365 admin experience – obtaining, allocating and configuring users for Cloud PBX with a few clicks – something that would take days if not weeks with traditional PBXs.
  • Event Zero integration – this will drive the analytics and reporting of the entire back end of Skype for Business Online, and therefore Cloud PBX – drill down and see your call quality across the globe and in real time if you want
  • New Polycom VVX interface – Polycom have worked really hard to improve the quality of the VVX code and it is showing. It wasn’t great to begin with but I can confidently say we’re seeing nowhere near the bugs we saw in early releases. Polycom are working on a new VVX interface that mimics the Skype for Business/Skype Consumer interface to reduce any blockers to adoption – so your clients should look and feel the same across all platforms – PC, mobile, IP phone
  • My favourite – Project Rigel

Project Rigel is Microsoft’s effort to enable low cost Windows 10 devices to have a Surface Hub type look and feel. Project Rigel will adopt a similar skin to the Surface Hub and allow one touch join from these low cost devices – think devices like the Surface Pro 4, Intel NUCs, etc – all with USB attached accessories like the Logitech Conference Cams, Logitech GROUP, etc.

Polycom and Logitech look to be launch partners for Project Rigel and hopefully we will see systems in the latter half of this year. I’m really excited by this as it will bring a comprehensive (and easy to use) collaboration experience to the majority of meeting rooms in an organization. I have been to so many customers and seen a PC or NUC tucked away in the corner that they wheel out for Skype, Skype for Business or other collaboration calls. We (in the SI community) have been looking for a solution for a while, and some third parties have had a go at it but no one has really succeeded. I think Microsoft can, and at the right price point. Polycom will be certifying devices like the Trio 8800 with Project Rigel, and it will be interesting to see what form factors make it out to market. I like the look of the Logitech smart dock (currently housing a Surface Pro 4) and it should be right on the money price wise.

A close second but also a popular announcement was that Microsoft and Polycom are bringing to market a joint cloud interop service – to sit beside Office 365 in Microsoft datacentres and allow standards based (H.323/SIP) video teleconferencing systems (VTCs) to attend Skype for Business Online meetings. With a tentative release date of later in the year, this looks to be Polycom RealConnect on steroids and fully in the cloud. This should allow one meeting join for those endpoints to Skype for Business Online meetings and will allow organizations to make full use of their investments in Polycom, Cisco, Tandberg and other VTC systems.

Many customers have been exploring Acano, Polycom RealConnect, Pexip, BlueJeans and StarLeaf to get these features – most are currently on-premise only. I know we have deployed a lot of Acano infrastructure to allow on-premise Skype/Cisco environments to co-exist peacefully and I think there will always be a place for this infrastructure in certain verticals/markets. But the offering from Microsoft will suit the smaller organization, particularly as the worldwide salesforce for Microsoft spins up to promote Cloud PBX, PSTN conferencing and PSTN calling from the Microsoft cloud. You simply add on the cloud interop service and if you’ve committed to this path then the cloud interop service will definitely make sense.

All in all, pretty exciting times. We’ll be staying on top of this throughout the year and are really looking forward to these new paradigms in collaboration from Microsoft.

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