We do a lot with Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business across Office 365, On Premise and Hybrid. Without Enterprise Voice, the architecture and the placement of a Skype for Business solution is pretty straightforward and comes down to cloud strategy more than anything else. On premise Enterprise Voice is well established, but can you really move all your voice to Cloud PBX? Well, yes and no… (come on what would you expect, I am a Consultant, you’re going to get a Consultant’s answer)
First off, we need to establish what the differences are, in short:
- On Premise Skype for Business allows you the full features and functionality of Enterprise Voice and access to APIs to integrate to Contact Centre or Call Recording etc.
- Office 365 provides no access to the Skype for Business APIs that you can access with the Skype for Business Server
- Office 365 actually provides Cloud PBX functionality in two ways:
- through Microsoft provided PSTN and PSTN Conferencing services.
- through local breakout for PSTN and conferencing by using the Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) which allows for routing to legacy PBXs and allows you to migrate away from traditional telephony.
- Hybrid offers a part on premise and part Office 365 solution giving you the best of both worlds and also allows for a combination of Cloud PBX and Local PSTN breakout whilst still allowing for legacy PBX routing.
Is Office 365 ready for Enterprise Voice and PSTN? Largely yes. The key point here is that (at the time of writing) not all functionality you’d expect is available yet; Response Groups for example are on their way but not currently available and if you are planning your solution correctly, if a function is not available, you need to plug the gap. The other key area that is being worked on by Microsoft is that of access to the APIs. In fairness to Microsoft, hosting such a complex and large platform does mean that if you want to allow applications to communicate with Office 365, you have to make sure that testing is executed thoroughly. I am strongly with Microsoft on this approach, they need to be 100% certain it is carried out correctly and securely.
In reality, this means that if you have a need for Contact Centre, Call Recording or some other kind of application integration (and by this I mean integrating it properly, not like some of the fudges/ workarounds that are available on the market right now) then Office 365 with PSTN or CCE is not going to tick all your boxes. A lot yes, but not all.
This is where Hybrid comes in to its own. If you already have a Lync 2013 or Skype for Business infrastructure on premises, then consider using it in conjunction with Office 365. Put information workers in Office 365 and leave those who require more complex voice functionality on the on premise infrastructure (or get someone else to host it for you) and that way you can have all the functionality you need for all your users. This nearly always results in a reduced on premise foot print. As Microsoft releases more functionality in Office 365, then move more users over to it. Look at it as a migration strategy, not a sliver bullet… not yet anyway.
What are some of the points to watch for?
- Consider ExpressRoute! As Office 365 is accessed over the public internet, and you are planning to use voice over that marvellous unmanaged connection, you need to consider ExpressRoute. This is an agreement that ISPs have that will allow for QoS. If you are running your voice services from the Cloud, you should really have this in place.
- Users on Cloud PBX will have different Conferencing details (although Modality Systems has a very nice tool to deal with that).
- Users in response groups will all need to remain on premises.
- Make sure you understand the licensing models fully, not many understand the Cloud PBX licensing models yet and where the PSTN Conferencing/ Cloud PBX PSTN add on comes in to play when looking at E3/ E5.
- Don’t be afraid of Hybrid, the technology has been about for quite some time, just treat it as a stage of the migration to Cloud PBX.
- When defining solution SLAs, remember that Microsoft only offer a 99.9% uptime, if you have Cloud PBX, then even if you define a 99.99% SLA or OLA, you will be subject to the Office 365 SLA.
In summary, Cloud PBX is coming down the track like a freight train, it doesn’t cover all possibilities, but you can certainly look to reduce your on-premises footprint now, whilst planning for the future.