Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Skype for Business Server 2015 Support for Windows Server 2016

While Windows Server 2016 has not been a supported operating system for Skype for Business Server 2015, there have been no shortage of people testing out Skype for Business installs on Windows Server 2016. After all, Windows Server 2016 has been out for quite some time now, and many admins are eager to get their shiny new Skype for Business environments up on something newer than an OS with "2012" in the label. 2012 was 5 years ago, after all!

There have been some recent developments in this area, though. While the developments are promising, I still see a bit of personal confusion as to whether or not Windows Server 2016 is actually a supported OS or not. Let's start with what the promising new developments are.

Note: The below paragraph previously reported that we were on CU7, but this was miscalculated, and current CU at the time of publishing this article is actually CU4.

The February 2017 CU, which is actually CU4 if you are counting, includes a very important fix that addresses silent install failures for Skype for Business Server on Windows Server 2016. Good news, right? Here is the link to the February CU for Skype for Business Server 2015:

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/3207506/february-2017-cumulative-update-6.0.9319.277-for-skype-for-business-server-2015,-front-end-server-and-edge-server

For the specific KB article (KB3209566) that addresses the above-mentioned fix, check out this link:

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/3209566/skype-for-business-server-2015-installer-may-fail-silently-in-windows-server-2016

Ok, great! Time to install on Windows Server 2016, right!? Well, that depends. If you are looking for an announcement from Microsoft that the specific issue with silent install fails has been addressed, then you need to look no further than the above KB. However, if you are looking for a giant green light from Microsoft stating that Windows Server 2016 is supported, that KB article and the associated CU article stop short of saying that.

So how do we find out for sure? Well, we goo look at the TechNet page for Requirements for Skype for Business Server 2015, or course, and drill down to Software Requirements:

https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn951388.aspx

Look at the table of supported operating systems, we see the below:




Clearly, Windows Server 2016 is not listed as a supported OS. Further, if you look closely at the text below the box, you see that we are told explicitly not to use an OS if is not listed in this box. However, in the very next box below this we see the following caveat'd Note:


This adds a bit of confusion, doesn't it? It tells us that while Windows Server 2016 is not in the list right now, Microsoft is planning to add it as a supported option with CU 5. If you recall from above, we are currently at CU4, so even though we have a fix in the latest CU for install problems on Windows Server 2016, this has not quite prompted Microsoft to update their support matrix for OS's.

Note: The above paragraph was modified to correct incorrect verbage about the current CU level of Skype for Business server.

This begs the question: Is Windows Server 2016 actually supported for Skype for Business Server 2015 installs, and this TechNet article is just a case of Microsoft documentation not being updated with the most current info, or is the fact that the box is not updated a sign that Microsoft is not ready to give a fully "Green Light" on Windows Server 2016 yet? In either case, what is clear is that if you are in the group of people that really need that explicit Green Light of supportability before moving forward, it does not appear that Microsoft has signaled it yet.

Stay tuned, and I will update this blog post as Microsoft's documentation changes to shed more light on this topic.






Monday, February 6, 2017

Tenant Dial Plans: Custom / Extension Dialing in Cloud PBX (Office 365): A Preview

For those of you that have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of custom dial plans in Skype for Business Online, your waiting days are narrowing significantly! Tenant Dial Plans have been introduced into Preview, and Microsoft is accepting applications to the preview program from customers that are under NDA and have a Skype for Business Online tenant in Office 365. First, a brief word on Why this is a big deal and what the desired functionality is that is being achieved.


What's the Deal with Tenant Dial Plans


Almost as soon as customers were able to start using Cloud PBX for placing PSTN phone calls in Skype for Business Online, the topic of customizing the Dial Plan was brought up and echoed across the landscape of users. The issue is that the ability to implement Custom Dial Plans in Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX is not a currently available function. This means that users cannot do extension dialing, or any other custom dialing scenario, outside of the default dialing scenarios that were defined by Microsoft by default. This default dialing behavior is pretty much restricted to dialing a full 10 digits (for the U.S.), or dialing in E.164.

With the ability to customize dial plans and normalization rules built deeply into Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business on-prem, why did Microsoft launch Cloud PBX without this ability from the start. Honestly, I believe the biggest reason is that Microsoft has been trying to change the narrative on how a user should dial their colleagues. With a strengthened unified communications tool homed in the Cloud, Microsoft wants users to start interacting with each by name. For example, when you lookup a user for a chat, or to see their presence, you either go to their contact object in the Skype for Business Contact List, or you start typing their name into the search bar:



Once you see the user you want, you can double-click the user to start a chat, right-click to see their Contact Card, add them to a list, and more. Microsoft wants you to take this a step further. They want organizations to embrace calling a user by "dialing" to be outdated; "so yesterday"; archaic. Get the point? Instead, they wanted organizations to get in the habit of "dialing" by looking up the user clicking to call. See below:







































If I am being perfectly honest, Microsoft is pushing us in the right direction. This is a much simpler way to manage contacts and interact with them. A single approach to all forms of communication. However, this proved to simply be WAY too much change for end users in many organizations. End users want to keep working the way they always have; change tends to throw them for a loop, and it is often resisted. (It would appear that clicking to call a user is such a massive shift in thinking, that it will need to be phased into most organizations in a slower, gentler, more phased approach.)

"End users Want to keep working the way they always have; change tends to throw them for a loop, and it is often resisted." 

This reason is exactly why Microsoft started working on Tenant Dial Plans. The response and feedback on this one area was so great that it became clear that this functionality must follow Skype for Business into Office 365.

Tenant Dial Plans delivers on this need. It allows organizations to create tenant-based Dial Plans, with customized sets of normalization rules, to properly meet the granular dialing needs (wants) of the organizations that have begun adoption of Cloud PBX. In fact, many organizations have held off on adoption, or even exploration, of Cloud PBX due to this feature requirement alone. If an organization needs to have 4-digit-dialing, or 6-digit-dialing, or whatever, they can now achieve that in Office 365 by using Tenant Dial Plans.


Sign Me Up!


Ok, you are convinced. You have been waiting for this, and now want to start testing this out with some pilot users (because you should not be deploying a Preview toolset into Production!). How can you go about getting signed up. To be considered for the Preview, your organization must have a tenant that is currently using Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX and be under NDA with Microsoft. First go to the Skype Preview website, click on Organization (this is not available to Individuals, check the box next to Tenant Dial Plans, and lastly click Sign Up. You can figure the rest out from there, I think.



Important Points to Remember


There are several important things to remember about using Tenant Dial Plans. I will cover a list of them here in Q/A format, and will also provide a look to a good Skype Academy video in which this information is covered and demoed.

Q: So, how many Normalization Rules can I add to a Dial Plan?
A: Good question! You can add up 25 normalization rules per Dial Plan?

Q: If I create a new "Tenant Dial Plan", will it apply to all of my Cloud PBX users?
A: A Tenant Dial Plan can either be scoped at the Global level, where it will apply to all of your Cloud PBX users, or it can be scoped and assigned at the User level. The below screenshot is from Scott Stubberfield's Skype Academy video demoing Tenant Dial Plans, and lays out the difference between the scopes and types of dial plans nicely:



Q: What about my Cloud PBX users that are in a Hybrid configuration? Do these Tenant Dial Plans apply only to PSTN Calling users, or also to On-Premise PSTN Connectivity and Cloud Connector Edition users?
A: Tenant Dial Plans apply to ALL Cloud PBX users. Regardless of the direction the user's PSTN calls go (Online through Microsoft services, or on-prem through CCE or existing telephony infrastructure), their dialing habits can be supported by Tenant Dial Plans.

Q: Yeah, so I assume that I will be able to manage these Dial Plans and normalization rules in a shiny new GUI, like with Skype for Business Server 2015?
A: Currently, the Preview only provides the ability to create and manage dial plans and normalization rules via remote PowerShell cmdlets; there is no sign of any of this in the Skype for Business Admin Center. Scott Stubberfield mentions a possible distant GUI companion to these cmdlets in the works "down the line" via his tutorial video, but no solid dates or commitments around that at this time.

Q: Do the Dial Plans in Cloud PBX work the same way as they do On-Prem, with the most granularly-scoped Dial Plan taking effect for a user?
A: Actually, no, and this is a good thing. If this were the case, and you assigned a Tenant Dial plan rather than leaving the existing default Service Dial Plan in place, you would have to create normalization rules for all of your user's dialing scenarios. Instead of the most granular dial plan taking effect, Cloud PBX merges the rules for the default Service Dial Plan for the user's location with the rules for any Tenant Dial Plans have been assigned to the user. The benefit to this is that all the normal dialing rules that already apply to Cloud PBX users do not have to be re-created in the new Tenant Dial Plans; instead, the normalization rules in the Tenant Dial Plans can be limited only to the additional dialing scenarios that you want to account for. Brilliant, right?! Below is another screenshot from Scott Stubberfield's demo Skype Academy video shows this concept in a clear and concise format:





Summary


In this blog post I have given a brief introduction to what Tenant Dial Plans is, what it currently looks like in Preview, and why it is freakin' awesome. I hope many of you that have been exploring and testing with Cloud PBX are as excited about this as I am! In the next post, we will go over some of the cmdlets that were introduced for the purposes of managing these new Tenant Dial Plans. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Tenant Dial Plans, check out the Skype Operations Framework training via the Skype Academy:

https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Skype-Operations-Framework-Skype/Tenant-Dial-Plans-Preview-training/ba-p/43521

Stay techy, my friends!


Friday, February 3, 2017

#Skype4BRecap - 02/03/2017 - MVP Changes, PSTN Calling in Spain, Tenant Dial Plans (Preview) Training

Two weeks in a row, the #Skype4BRecap has been published on time! Now I just need to keep up the momentum. This week was a big week for Skype for Business and other Microsoft UC community news, so please pardon the fast-speaking; I had a lot of good content to get out in a short period of time! Bigger topics include some major changes to the MVP Award program, General Availability (GA) of PSTN Calling in Spain, and some new video-based training of Tenant Dial Plans (Preview), but you can check out the full list of topics below. Enjoy the episode:


Topics

If you would rather watch the episode at my YouTube channel instead of in the window above, check it out here: https://youtu.be/5lXp9iFnBfE

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Monday, January 30, 2017

#Skype4BRecap - 01/27/2017 - AudioCodes S4BO Certification, S4BSwitcher, Consultative Transfer

Finally, an episode that was published on time! The blog post may have been posted the following Monday, but at least the episode was published Friday morning for the first time in...months! It was quite a busy week to cover, and there were some really good things to take note of. Check out the Topics section below for a complete list of everything talking about:




Topics

If you would rather watch the episode at my YouTube channel instead of in the window above, check it out here: https://youtu.be/GABJ4tm53-I

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

#Skype4BRecap - 01/20/2016 - Skype Operations Framework CQD, Avaya Bankruptcy, E911 Fix, January Training

While the episode was a few days late, there was still some really good topics to be covered. While much of the "newsy" attention was given to Avaya's Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing, other great announcements like the launch of the Skype Operations Framework Quality User Experience module took center stage. For a complete listing of topics, see the section at the bottom. And of course, be sure to watch the episode below:



Topics

If you would rather watch the episode at my YouTube channel instead of in the window above, check it out here: https://youtu.be/CdZisP0eHM0

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Friday, January 13, 2017

#Skype4BRecap - 01/13/2017 - MSUC.Chat on Jan 27, Cloud PBX PSTN Calling Dial Plans, Consult Transfer

The news of the week this week by far is the ability to create and configure Dial Plans, with EXTENSIONS, for Skype for Business Online, Cloud PBX, PSTN Calling users! However, that's not the only thing worth mentioning. Check out the video below, and don't forget about the links to the various topics discussed below that:



Topics

If you would rather watch the episode at my YouTube channel instead of in the window above, check it out here: https://youtu.be/Rx2cmO6gjBg

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Plantronics BackBeat FIT Unboxing & Review

This last Christmas I received a Plantronics BackBeat FIT as a gift from my amazing wife, and I was thrilled! Granted, we may have made it easy on each other by creating Wishlists on Amazon, and shopping for each other based on that, that is beside the point.

A little over a year ago I won a Plantronics Voyager Focus UC headset at the Charlotte Skype for Business Users Group, and I was very impressed with it's audio quality, both via speaker and microphone (Check out the #Skype4BRecap Episode where I demo this headset, give my 2 cents: https://youtu.be/X4Wie8Z_JtY). It's comfort level was also unrivaled in my experience, so it has been my go-to ever since. Therefore, when I saw Plantronics had a wireless headset designed for running, exercise, and fitness in general, the drooling began and I knew I had to take it for a spin! Below is my experience with unboxing the BackBeat FIT, and my take on its comfort, quality, and effectiveness.

First, a bit about the BackBeat FIT!

Features & Specs


  • Wireless (wired headsets/earbuds REALLY frustrate me, especially for exercise)
  • Bluetooth v3.0 Capable
    • Streaming Audio (Music, etc.)
    • Phone Call Answer
  • Batter Life
    • 8 Hours Listen Time
    • 6 Hours Talk Time
  • Wireless Range: 33 Ft. (10 meters)
  • Waterproof design (meets IP57 Standard) with additional sweatproof nano-coating - VERY important for exercise!
Moving on, let's open the box and check these things out!

The Un-Boxing


Plantronics not only does an excellent job on the quality of their products, but careful attention to detail is also given on their presentation and packing.

Merry Christmas to me!
Turning the box to the side allows you to get a good, clean view of the headset before even opening the box. You will notice that opted for the Black Core color , but the BackBeat FIT also comes in Power Blue, Sport Grey, Stealth Green, and Fit Fuchsia.

Transparent Side-View
The front of the box is actually a flap that can be opened like the cover of a book. This is really nice, because it lets you get a good look at the entire headset behind the transparent plastic casing without ever having to open the box. The inside flap also demonstrates how the carrying case for the headset can be flipped inside-out to serve as an armband during exercise.



Alright, let's crack open the top, and get this thing open, shall we?! When opening the top flap, you will notice that there are two "webbed" tabs on each side of the top tab that are attached to the top with one side, and to the rest of the box on the other side. This prevents the top tab from being fully folded back, assisting in a clean design and preventing potential damage to the box. There is also a small folded tab for you to grab onto, allowing you to pull out the entire contents of the package smoothly.


Grabbing that small black tab, I gently pulled out the entire contents of the box...


The box should now be fully empty, and we see the exposed headset, which is still very effectively secured in the inner-packaging components. Like I said, Plantronics' attention to detail and quality extends beyond the product to the packaging, at least in this case!


Getting a closer look at the headset in the packaging, we see the multiple points where the headset is secured by the packaging still. Also, though it is a little difficult to see due to the black color of the packaging attached to the main white packaging component, we can see that the bottom black packaging component can be gently disconnected from the small button-shaped corners. The picture above shows the black packaging component still attached at each of the four corners, while the below image shows each of the corners detached.



With the corners detached, the white packaging component can be lifted off of the black packaging component, revealing the headset carrying pouch and paperwork/documentation.


The pouch easily slides out of the black sleeve containing it, and the papers are revealed in a separate slot beneath it.



Unzipping the pouch and pulling it open reveals the USB charging cable (yes, USB only), and the straps for use as an armband during exercise.



To get a the full idea of how this pouch will function as an armband for workouts, simply flip it inside-out. You now have a Green arm-band carrying case that matches the color-scheme of your BackBeat FIT. You will also notice that the black portion of the case, which is now internal, has a slot that provides a place for you to store things like Drivers License or credit cards.


Overall, I have to say I was VERY impressed with the design, quality, and especially comfort level of the pouch. It is also made from fairly stretchable material, allowing it to fit a wide variety of different smart phone types. I have a Samsung Galaxy S6, and while the material did need to stretch a tiny bit to fit around the phone and zip up, it did so without an unnecessary amount of stretching; I was not at all concerned about the fit.

Ok, let's turn our attention back to getting that headset out of the white packaging component. First, the front of the component. As we can see, the headset is being held secure by a point at the top of the neck band, and a point on each of the ear pieces.


Flipping over to the back side, we can see that each earbud is secured snuggly behind the white packaging component.


To start removing the headset from the package, hold it firmly in one hand, while gently using a finger from the other hand to push out the first ear bud from the back of the packaging. Repeat this step on the second earbud.



With the earbuds free, gently pull the headset free from the two bottom tabs (the ones holding down the headset at the base of the ear portion), one at a time. Doing this allows you to pull the headset up past the security tab at the top of the neck portion of the packaging. Given that the material of the band-portion of the headset allows for a little stretching, you could probably free up the top neck portion in the beginning by just stretching it a bit, but I am always a fan of un-packaging devices like this as gently as possible.



We are now free to fully remove the headset from the packaging! This view allows you to see them standing freely in their natural position, as they will be worn.


Here the set is flipped open to get a good look at the design and structure of the earbuds and the entire ear components.


Finally, let's have a brief glance at the many languages that we can learn to operate this headset in:



And there you have it, the headset, pouch, cord, and documentation has all be un-boxed!

Close-Up and Powering On/Off the Device


The below view is a close up of the bottom of the bud that provides the connection for the USB charging component. There is a small ridge that allows you to use a fingernail to pry this open, and then it outer covering slides out of the way of the opening without becoming detached. Would hate to lose the covering! When closed, it seems to hold snuggly in place, but not so snuggly that it is difficult to get back open. Good design!


There is a small ridge that allows you to use a fingernail to pry this open, and then it outer covering slides out of the way of the opening without becoming detached. Would hate to lose the covering! When closed, it seems to hold snuggly in place, but not so snuggly that it is difficult to get back open. Good design!


While my headset came with a big of a charge for initial use, I plugged it in right away anyway, just to get a feel for how the charging process goes. The connection is smooth, easy to connect, and quick clean up when the charging is finished.




As we can see below, we have a nice warm red light on the earbud piece while it is charging:


When ready to power it on, there is a very small shiny black tab at the top of the earbud with the 'phone' button. It protrudes outward from the earbud, ever-so-slightly.



Press and hold this little tab for a few seconds, and the earbud will light up blue for a couple seconds to let you know it has turned on.


In similar fashion, you will hold this same small black tab down for a few seconds to turn the headset off. Once it lights up red for a couple seconds, it has powered down.



Quality Assessment


Physical Quality

As I have mentioned several other times throughout this post, I feel that Plantronics brings a high-level of quality to all of their products, and the BackBeat FIT has not proven to be any different in this regard. From the packaging, to the materials of the device, and even the arm-band pouch, you really get the feeling that no corners were cut in the design and manufacturing of the device.

Audio Quality

Keeping in mind that this device is designed for being light-weight, flexible, and durable to physical activity and sweat, the audio quality is surprising excellent. Obviously it cannot stack up to the crisp and clear quality of something like the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC, but again, it is a different type of device, and that level of quality is likely not possible to achieve in a device designed for fitness and exercise. Those caveats being what they are, the quality on the BackBeat FIT blew me away, and I have been very pleasantly surprised!


Comfort Assessment


Comfort was a huge part of my assessment. I have traditionally found it extremely difficult to find an exercise headset that is supposed to fit around your ears like the BackBeat FIT is designed to do, while still achieving a reasonable level of comfort.

I don't honestly know what Plantronics has done differently in the design of the ear components from other vendors, but I found the BackBeat FIT design to be not only comfortable, but almost unnoticeable, during usage! I have not yet had the change to take it for a run, but I did use it during some extensive yard work, and yes, I was able to assess how they felt with a good sweat worked up, and they maintained a very reasonable comfort level. I'll spare you a sweat-drenched pic, but this shows how the BackBeat FIT looks during wear:






In Summary...


Overall, the Plantronics BackBeat FIT is an incredible wireless headset for exercise and fitness. It's comfort level, audio and device quality, and overall management makes this device entirely worth the list price at Plantronics' site (though you may find a break in places like Amazon, etc.). I will be using this headset for all future workouts for quite some time! If you have one, or end up getting one yourself, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Next up, I need to take this thing for a spin with a Skype for Business call or two. I know the audio might not be quite as good as what I am currently using, but it certainly is more compact and easy to carry for on-the-go conversations!