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The Journey to Hybrid UC with Microsoft, Part 1

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Two Takes on the Ideal Teams and Skype for Business Hybrid UC State

what does hybrid uc mean?

In our ever-expanding set of conversations and engagements with enterprise customers regarding the Microsoft Intelligent Communications platform set of applications – Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams – there is one theme that seems to frequently resonate louder than most. Hybrid. However, no customer seems to have a clear sense for what the ideal hybrid UC state is….or should be. As many roads increasingly lead toward Microsoft Teams, there is a lot of confusion and a variety of routes upon which the typical IT professional can get lost, and a lot of questions arise.

  • Once Teams is enabled for collaboration, if Skype for Business is left running voice on-prem will users be confused by the multiple ways of doing IM and meetings?
  • For migrations from Cisco to Teams, how can the transition from Cisco voice to Teams voice work?
  • With Slack running for collaboration purposes, and Teams for voice (and eventually for collaboration), what does this hybrid UC coexistence scenario look like?

This Part 1 post will outline the official Microsoft guidance for UC hybrid perfection. Part 2 will follow up to provide the Unify Square overlay advice, based on our Unify Square experience with Teams in the field.

At the end of the day, there is an endless set of possible hybrid combinations and scenarios. But we need to be pragmatic about what the realistic set of workable scenarios could and should be. Given the complexities (both technical and social) of the various migration scenarios, it’s very reasonable to expect – no matter what guidance or messaging may come from Microsoft – many enterprises to operate in various hybrid UC modes through at least 2025.

The Five States of Hybrid UC

To Microsoft’s credit, although some of their public messaging may imply that enterprises are moving quite quickly to a non-hybrid solution, they have nevertheless still done a very credible job of painting the hybrid map. Here’s an overview of how it looks:
Hybrid UC: Migrating from SfB to Teams

Skype for Business with Teams: Collaboration–only mode

This is what we like to refer to as the “start slow and carefully” mode. Here your organization continues to use Skype for Business in all its glory, but slowly phases in the notion of persistent chat/collaboration using Teams.

Skype for Business with Teams: Collaboration and Meetings mode

Here IT can elect to still keep Skype for Business and Teams mainly separate, however Teams can begin to be used to schedule and conduct meetings.

Islands mode

Things start getting serious here for two reasons. First, Microsoft has elected to make this “mode” the default set-up for Teams. So, for IT organizations who wish to be a bit more “conservative” (see modes 1 and 2 above) with how they start off their hybrid adventure, there is extra work involved to move away from the default Islands mode. Second, in this mode, Teams users can immediately use Teams with all its capabilities with other Teams users, so all kinds of user adoption and interop issues will emerge right out of the gate. As long as you’re prepared for this sudden deep dive, the instant pilot approach here may be OK for you.

Teams-only mode

You may also refer to this as the “end of the road” mode. This is where the Skype for Business client no longer provides basic IM, presence indicators, chat, calling, or meeting capabilities. Simply put, users here must use Teams as their primary communications and collaboration tool. In this mode, the Skype for Business client can only be used to join existing Skype for Business meetings or meetings on Skype for Business organized by non-upgraded users or external parties.

Skype for Business–only mode

And finally there is also a mode for the users which you simply do not want using Teams at all (at least not yet) in any way, shape or form. This may be because of certain training issues, or because of certain endpoint device compatibility issues, or other reasons. While users are operating in a Skype-only environment, users will be able to communicate with Teams-only users by using the interoperability capabilities between Teams and Skype for Business.

Because of various testing, interop and development reasons at Unify Square, we are currently deployed in the Islands model, whereas most of our customers are operating in Collab-Only or Collab + Meetings Only modes, as part of their evaluation and early adoption of Teams. We expect that most customers will fluctuate between one of these 3 modes over the course of the next couple of years.

The Hybrid Upgrade Journey

A gradual upgrade journey delivers a specific upgrade mode to a specific group of users (also referred to by Microsoft as a cohort), depending on their communications and collaboration requirements. Over time, the entire organization can converge into using Teams only and eventually replace Skype for Business. However, if your organization has compelling business reasons to keep Skype for Business—such as a dependency on a Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA)–based solution that integrates with line-of-business applications, or an ethical wall solution currently available for Skype for Business only—you can upgrade a majority of users to Teams-only mode while retaining Skype for Business users in one of the Skype for Business modes for a portion of your user population.

Hybrid UC: Microsoft cohorts

The Forgotten Needs of a Hybrid Approach

In addition to planning out which mode is right for you and how the hybrid transition should take place, there are also a few key “must haves” which are frequently forgotten when diving into a long hybrid UC coexistence operation:

Deploying Hybrid UC

  • Performance monitoring & management: A Skype for Business (on-prem) and Teams (cloud) hybrid solution often means your IT is trying to manage data, networks, equipment and “platforms” from different vendors and service providers. As such, with all the moving pieces it is much harder to get a complete, accurate and real-time picture of what’s happening across your entire solution. Proactive performance management, coupled with a monitoring system that can simultaneously view both on-prem and cloud is now more important than ever. You need to know about potential problems immediately to maintain an efficient workforce and a positive user experience.
  • UC Expertise: Understanding, planning for, and maintaining dual platforms and infrastructures is no easy task. You need the proper expertise to support a hybrid deployment. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, you may need to find the right partners to help you facilitate the integration and deployment — and that can add to your costs.
  • UC Management: Hybrid introduces an increased array of questions regarding who owns what. If a call fails, for instance, is an on-premises application or the cloud provider responsible? Troubleshooting and triaging issues is more difficult in a hybrid environment than in either an all-hybrid or all-cloud deployment. As such the idea of turning to a UC&C managed service (if only as a temporary bridge measure) might be advised to help smooth over the initially complex waters of the hybrid voyage.

While we can expect a full deployment of Microsoft Teams in the long-term, it’s important to recognize that there are several paths to get there. Following Microsoft’s guidance for hybrid UC is a great starting point, and a good opportunity to evaluate which path makes the most sense for you and your organization. In our Part 2 post, we will provide insight from the Unify Square team, incorporating our experience in the field, as well as taking into consideration our various best practice approaches. Our advice will complement the initial guidance offered by Microsoft to help you getting your enterprise “team” on a clear path to Microsoft Teams.

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