With Skype for Business now a reality, the question arises: what’s involved in migrating to the new platform from Lync?
Microsoft has taken steps to make the migration painless, but as with any IT project, it’s not without some hurdles and gotchas to watch for. To get some thoughts on the topic, I turned to Justin Stevens, director of North American channels for Sonus Networks. Sonus, of course, makes session border controllers, which are crucial to unified communications applications of various sorts, and Skype for Business is a major focus for the organization as it rolls out, so Stevens is well-educated on the topic.
Before Upgrading to Skype for Business, Assess Requirements
His first bit of advice is to take a step back and use the upgrade as an opportunity to assess what features and functions you want out of Skype for Business and then plan accordingly. In other words, treat it like any other IT project, because that’s what it is.
“A lot of Lync deployments were self-deployed, maybe as a pilot,” Stevens says. “They changed over time to scale up and do things at a production scale that they were never meant to do.”
Maybe the original deployment was just to test out instant messaging (IM) and presence capabilities for a small group of users. “Then an IT person turns on voice and the next thing you know you have a 4,000-seat voice deployment running on a platform that was only intended for an IM and presence pilot.”
He’s exaggerating, of course, but you get the point. An upgrade is a good time to dig in and figure out which applications can really benefit the company, and then make sure you’ve got the appropriate infrastructure in place to support them. These requirements should be aligned with business goals and with a larger IT roadmap.
“If you talk to the folks who do firefighting – Microsoft Consulting Services and partners – they’re pulled in because the planning wasn’t done, or the platform is being used for something it wasn’t intended to do,” he says.
It’s worthwhile to get a Microsoft partner to walk you through all the new features, what they can do and how to plan for them. One example: Skype for Business can integrate with the Skype address book. Think about what that may mean for the traffic traversing your network if employees are suddenly conducting video calls with their spouses, friends and family. You may want to take steps to curtail such traffic.
Upgrading the Lync Server Core to Skype for Business
When it comes to the actual Skype for Business upgrade itself, the process is relatively straightforward and painless – at least if you’re running the latest previous version, Lync Server 2013.
In that case, while it’s not exactly point-and-click, it is an in-place upgrade, meaning Skype for Business will run on the same hardware. “I went through an upgrade the other day. It took about 15 minutes,” Stevens says. The process involves the usual sort of steps – turn off the existing version, run an install package, update Active Directory, follow the install wizard through a few additional steps, reboot and you’re done.
If you’re not on Lync Server 2013, you do need to upgrade to that first. And before you do that, you should follow best practices, meaning do backups of the Quality of Experience (QOE) database and topology and install all the previous cumulative updates.
If you’re really far behind in that regard, perhaps still running Office Communications Server (OCS), you could start over with a clean install of Skype for Business. “That might not be a bad course, especially if you need new hardware,” Stevens says.
Active Directory Considerations with Skype for Business
Another crucial part of the upgrade process is planning your Active Directory strategy. Today users have a number of options for how to handle AD, including running it on-premise, in the cloud or in a hybrid fashion, as well as centralized or with multiple, distributed instances.
“It’s a great time to think about the larger Microsoft solution set and evaluate your plan for the cloud and what might live in cloud,” he says.
Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory, for example, is a cloud-based version that comes in various flavors, some of which offer enterprise-class features such as single sign-on and multi-factor authentication for thousands of cloud and premises-based applications.
Customers would do well to think through how many AD instances they have. Some customers, in order to avoid paying for the Enterprise version of Lync, installed multiple Lync Survivable Branch Appliances (SBAs), each with its own AD instance. Trying to keep all those instances in sync can quickly become a management nightmare, Stevens says. The Enterprise version, by contrast, enables a single, centralized AD instance to be shared company wide.
These are just a few of the considerations for customers looking to make the move to Skype for Business. You’ll find plenty of others, including features that have morphed (Remote Call Control is now Call via Work, with pros and cons) and client compatibility considerations (coexistence with Lync 2013 is OK, but not tri-existence with multiple earlier clients). Feel free to use the comments below to let us know about any issues you’re finding – or about ideas for future posts on the topic.