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Microsoft Enables Lync-to-Skype Video Calling

Microsoft has enabled video calling capability between Lync and Skype.

It's now possible for organizations using Microsoft's Lync unified communications solution to establish video calls with users of Microsoft's Skype communications service for consumers -- and vice versa. The enhancement opens the door for businesses using Lync to connect with 300 million-plus Skype users via video.

Microsoft already had enabled instant messaging and voice-over-IP connections between Lync and Skype, but video was the missing piece. Today's announcement fulfills Microsoft's promise that it would deliver video integration by year's end.

Microsoft previously announced that Lync Online and Lync Server will be called "Skype for Business" when that new product rolls out in the first half of 2015. Currently, the new video calling capability between Lync and Skype requires that Skype users have a Microsoft account, which may cause some user confusion. Skype users can link their Skype IDs to their Microsoft accounts to facilitate such connections. However, when Microsoft releases its Skype for Business products next year, that potential stumbling block likely won't be there.

Limitations and Requirements
There are a few other limitations right now for the new Lync-to-Skype video calling capability. It currently requires the use of an updated Lync 2013 client by organizations, either on Android, iOS or Windows platforms. On the Skype side, video calling just works for Skype for Windows or Skype for Mac desktop users.

Microsoft plans to expand the video calling support in Skype clients, "starting with Android and iOS in the coming months," according to its announcement. It's also planning to make it easier for Skype users to find contacts worldwide via some Skype ID improvements, but that improvement will arrive with the Skype for Business product next year, Microsoft has indicated.

The video connection service has to be set up by IT pros managing Lync Server or using Lync Online, according to a Lync team blog post. Lync Online users can just turn on this capability via the Office 365 management portal. Those managing Lync Server 2013 need to follow the documentation in this TechNet article. However, video connections will already be enabled for organizations that have established Windows Live Messenger federation, according to the Lync team post.

Video connections will work for organizations with Lync 2010 or Lync 2013 servers, but the most recent Lync 2013 client application has to be used, according to Microsoft. Organizations that are having problems establishing Lync-to-Skype connections may find answers in this troubleshooting FAQ.

Once video connections are enabled on the back end, users of Lync or Skype clients can connect with each other by adding users to their contacts lists. That's done through an "Add a Contact Not in My Organization" menu selection in the client application. Establishing such a connection will also enable presence information to be exchanged.

Apparently, there's no multiparty video support yet. It's maybe only possible to establish video connections between single parties. At least that seemed to be the implication of a comment by Frank Fellows of the Lync team. He wrote that "Lync-Skype connectivity currently enables on[e]-on-one conversations."

Security and Bandwidth
The new video interconnection capability between Lync and Skype is supported with "enterprise class encryption of both media and signaling using TLS [Transport Layer Security] and SRTP [Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol], enabled by default," according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft is using its own SILK audio codec for these Lync-to-Skype connections and the proprietary H.264 video codec for video connections.

Microsoft's announcement didn't go into the details about how enabling video connections might affect an organization's Internet bandwidth constraints, but it is a possible consideration, according to Curtis Johnstone, Dell Software's senior UC architect and a Microsoft Lync MVP.

"It's obviously dependent on how much it's used, but in my experience many enterprises are often [caught] off-guard until problems start to arise and then they lack the network visibility to figure out what is going on," Johnstone commented, via e-mail.

Lync does let organizations "control who is enabled/disabled for use of public audio and video with external contacts," he noted. Organizations also can use various reporting tools to track external video use.

Johnstone pointed to Dell's Unified Communications Command Suite Analytics product as one such tool. It can show who has permissions for external Lync video calling and it can tally up the number of audio and video calls for all users.

"We cannot isolate 'to a Skype' client yet, but if they see a sharp spike in external video usage, they at a minimum will not be caught off-guard and [will] get [a] look at the network layer more to see if it is impacting performance," Johnstone explained regarding Dell's Analytics tool.

It's possible to use network-level tools to discover bandwidth use by applications, too. Dell's SonicWall device has that capability and lets organizations block certain applications, according to Johnstone.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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