I guess it’s a matter of perspective but from where I’m sitting the big takeaway from Microsoft’s announcement this week of its E5 Office 365 Enterprise Suite is that the company is getting into telephony whole hog.
In addition to Skype for Business, which has a whole host of audio and video features, including conferencing, E5 will tie in traditional PSTN users. In short, E5 will enable companies to have phone calls and audio conferences with users employing whatever sort of phone service they like – Internet-based, cell phone or traditional PSTN land line.
Sounds to me like Microsoft is pretty much becoming a phone company (on top of everything else it does, of course).
What You Get with Office 365 E5
That’s not all E5 includes, of course. Here’s a description of the package from a blog post by John Case, corporate vice president for Microsoft Office and the man who announced it at the event (emphasis his):
E5 will encompass the core value of the modern productivity and collaboration capabilities Office 365 provides today, as well as significant new capabilities including Skype for Business services for real-time communication such as Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing, new analytics features like Power BI Pro and Delve Organizational Analytics, and new advanced security features such as eDiscovery, Customer Lockbox, Data Loss Protection (DLP) and Advanced Threat Protection (ATP).
A technical preview of Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing was actually announced July 1 in a blog post by Zig Serafin, corporate vice president for the Skype for Business team (which I missed because I was sitting on a Cape Cod beach, blissfully unaware). I’ll give Serafin the floor to describe them, along with Skype Meeting Broadcast, which is also included in E5:
Skype Meeting Broadcast, available to eligible Office 365 customers worldwide, enables broadcast of a Skype for Business meeting on the Internet to up to 10,000 people, who can attend in a browser on nearly any device. Skype Meeting Broadcast makes it easy to host large virtual meetings like internal “Town Hall” style meetings and public webinars. The preview includes integration with Bing Pulse, for real-time polling and sentiment tracking, and Yammer, to enable attendee dialogue during the broadcast.
PSTN Conferencing, available in preview to Office 365 customers in the U.S., allows people invited to a Skype for Business meeting in Office 365 to join the meeting by dialing in using a landline or mobile phone. This traditional dial-in capability is in addition to simple, single touch join options on PC, smartphone and browser, and allows people to join an online meeting even in places with no Internet access. PSTN Conferencing in Office 365 will also allow people to add others to a meeting by dialing out.
Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling, also available in preview to Office 365 customers in the U.S., provides people the ability to make and receive traditional phone calls in their Skype for Business client, and manage these calls with features like hold, resume, forward and transfer. This preview is built on the proven enterprise voice technology available in Lync Server and Skype for Business Server. Later this year, we will ship Cloud PBX for customers worldwide, with a configuration option for customers to use existing on-premises phone lines for inbound and outbound calling.
Those services, combined with all the audio and video conferencing services already included in Skype for Business, should cover the gamut of what most businesses may need for voice and video services.
On top of that, Serafin says some of Microsoft’s “strategic partners” from the telco world - including AT&T, BT, Level 3 Communications, Orange Business Services, Verizon and more – will offer direct connections to Office 365, through Azure ExpressRoute for Office 365. ExpressRoute offers two active physical connections to Office 365 for high availability, with Microsoft offering a 99.9% uptime SLA for its piece of the puzzle. That’s not quite the “5 9s” reliability that companies typically sought from their private line networks, but it’s likely good enough for many customers (and there are ways to ensure folks can keep working even when your Internet links go down, as we’ve explained previously).
Nice Security Features but Wither UC Protection?
Including the security features is a plus, although none of the features mentioned will help much with respect to securing unified communications sessions.
Customer Lockbox, for example, has to do with protecting Office 365 files stored in Microsoft’s cloud while the ATP feature only applies to email. They are both useful, but do nothing, as far as I can tell, to protect real-time UC sessions, which of course is a crucial requirement, as we’ve previously discussed.
Office 365 E5 Pricing and Availability Details to Come
Finally, there was no mention of pricing for the E5 package, although my old colleague Scott Bekker from Redmond Channel Partner magazine scored an interview with Microsoft’s Case. Here’s what Case had to say about E5 pricing:
"We will price it aggressively relative to all the individual components. People will look at it and they think, Power BI, we've priced it as $10 per user. For Advanced Threat Protection and things like Lockbox, other providers are charging a significant amount of money for those services on a standalone basis. Cisco's price points on things like WebEx are significant. Those aren't free services. So when you add all that up, we'll be able to give a significant advantage to those that buy from one vendor for something like E5," Case said.
The delivery date for the package is likewise vague at this point, with Microsoft committing only to “later this year.” Wish I could get away with that with my deadlines.