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Skype for Business Online Service Ending in 2 Years

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it's planning to end its Skype for Business Online service on July 31, 2021, and it is encouraging customers to use the Microsoft Teams service instead.

New Office 365 customers will get directed toward Microsoft Teams starting on Sept. 1, 2019, the announcement added. Just the Skype for Business Online service will be getting axed. Users of Microsoft's Skype for Business Server product and the consumer Skype service aren't affected, the announcement assured.

The Skype for Business Server version of the product will be sticking around because Microsoft acknowledged that many of its customers still "need to continue to use Skype for Business Server for some users or geographies due to their requirements," according to a FAQ document on the transition, dated July 30.

Update 8/1: Microsoft plans to hold a 1.5-hour public Web presentation on how to migrate to Teams. The online event, called "Demystifying Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams Migration," is scheduled for Monday, August 26 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time (12 noon Eastern Time). Details here.

2 Years Advance Notice
Skype for Business Online, introduced in 2014, is Microsoft's unified communications service, providing presence, voice-over-IP, messaging and videoconferencing capabilities. The service is part of some Office 365 subscriptions.

Under Microsoft's Modern Lifecycle Policy, Microsoft is only required to give its Office 365 customers a 12-month advance notice that a service is getting discontinued if no successor product is available. However, Microsoft considers Teams to be good enough now for organizations to make the switch.

"Over the last two years, we've worked closely with customers to refine Teams, and we now feel we're at the point that we can confidently recommend it as an upgrade to all Skype for Business Online customers," stated James Skay, a senior product marketing manager in Microsoft's Intelligent Communications Product Marketing Group, in Microsoft's announcement.

Essentially, organizations using Skype for Business Online have two years to move to Teams. The two years is better than the 12 months advance notice Microsoft allots for itself, according to Jim Gaynor, research vice president for infrastructure and collaboration at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based independent consultancy.

"To look on the 'brighter side': Microsoft is giving two years notice (rather than the 12 months they promise to give before shutting down an Office 365 service), and the timing allows customers with calendar-year budgets to get any migration projects into the CY2020 budget," Gaynor said, via e-mail. "In a worst case scenario, they can have project planning discovery in the CY2020 budget; then have actual migration in their CY2021 budget for a 1H 2021 implementation."

IT departments should get busy with their migration plans, though, according to Dux Raymond Sy, chief marketing officer at AvePoint, a Microsoft partner that specializes in data migrations.

"While the 2021 deadline sounds far away, the transition can take longer than anticipated, so it's critical for IT teams to get started," Sy said, in a released statement. "Based on our own experience with this transition, I recommend a phased approach: 1. Gain executive buy-in and highlight the value of Microsoft Teams. 2. Incent early adopters to adopt Teams Only mode to experience streamlined communication and collaboration. 3. Encourage Microsoft Teams users to share quick wins and best practices with the rest of the organization."

Teams Only is the migration goal. It's also one of the "coexistence modes" that can be set by IT pros in the Microsoft Teams Admin Center when making the transition from Skype for Business. Organizations running Teams and Skype for Business together can't just disable Skype for Business, but will need to use the Teams Only mode to make the transition, according to Microsoft's FAQ.

Another coexistence mode is "Islands," which lets organizations using Teams and Skype for Business simultaneously. There's also a "Skype for Business Online" mode, but it'll be good for just a couple of years. These coexistence modes are outlined in this Microsoft document.

The End Foretold
Microsoft had previously indicated back in 2017 that the Microsoft Teams client would eventually replace the Skype for Business Online client. It's now clear that it's not just the client that's going away, but the whole Skype for Business Online service. That notion contradicts what Microsoft had published in 2017, when it indicated that the Skype for Business Online service would continue to be supported.

Back in 2018, though, Microsoft had declared that Teams could serve as a Skype for Business replacement.

Organizations using Skype for Business Online shouldn't be shocked by its ending, according to a Tuesday announcement by Microsoft's Shelly Avery:

We knew this was coming, we have been preparing for this for the past year, now we know the official date. We hope this does not come as a shock to you as MS Teams has taken center stage for Intelligent Communication and Modern Collaboration and Microsoft as an organization is not going to support Skype for Business (SfB) online for the long term. All of our investments and feature enhancements have been in Teams and Teams will continue to receive these investments for the future.

Avery added that "Teams actually has more features" than Skype for Business. She suggested that organizations can contact their Microsoft account team to get help on transitioning to Teams. They can contact technical specialists and customer success managers specialized on Microsoft Teams, as well as a FastTrack Program manager. However, to use partners affiliated with FastTrack, an organization needs to have purchased 150 or more Office 365 "seats."  

Microsoft's main resources for planning Teams transitions can be found at this Microsoft Web page.

Is 2 Years Long Enough?
Larger organizations could have trouble making the two-year transition to Teams.

"For large enterprise customers that were heavily invested in non-vanilla SfB Online deployments, the transition still looks a bit rough," Gaynor said. He added that the some of the Skype for Business Server users he's spoken with have been trying to avoid using Teams, largely because of organizational control issues.

"Most of our customers that I've spoken to are still largely using SfB Server on-premises," he said. "Only a few have been wholeheartedly embracing Teams. Most have some small adoption of hosted services (like Audio Conferencing) or hybrid deployments, and a handful have been trying to actively avoid adopting Teams. For a certain kind of customer that needs or wants a command/control approach to IT service, I think Teams (like Slack) represents a big challenge -- because it's not a discrete 'single task' tool and bleeds across several services (like SharePoint, OneDrive, Exchange, Groups, Yammer, just to name a few)."

Moreover, many organizations may be preoccupied with having to upgrade 2008-branded Windows or SQL Server installations. That point was made by a reader of a Twitter announcement by Anne Michels, a Microsoft Teams product marketing manager.

"Anne, that's a too early date," wrote Karl Wester-Ebbinghaus, a Microsoft Certified IT Professional, regarding the two years advance notice. "Many companies will be still busy with Server 2008R2/2012(R2) migrations."

The question of feature parity between the two services was brought up by a reader of another Microsoft Twitter post announcing the news. The features aren't all carried over in Teams. A guide that points out those differences can be found in this July-updated table maintained by Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Luca Vitali.

Microsoft also announced a few forthcoming capabilities. It's adding a Dynamic E911 feature for Microsoft Teams Phone System users, expected by year's end, that will route emergency calls to government call centers. It's adding a short chat retention period by year's end, which will permit storage for as little as one day before deletion. A new "Teams and Skype Consumer Interop" capability will be coming in 1Q 2020 to support phone calls and chats between those services. Contact Center and Compliance Recording capabilities will be getting support from Microsoft's partners as some point, as well.

About the Author

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

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