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Optimizing Skype for Business performance in O365

A Microsoft IT case study


When Microsoft IT began its transition to Office 365, the team responsible for Lync and Skype for Business services was already involved with a major performance improvement effort as part of the transition from Lync to Skype for Business. This work included categorizing service challenges and large-scale, long-term planning for improved performance and availability both on-premises and in the cloud. This improvement project expanded to include an intense evaluation of the cloud management service and strategic work to prepare the network environment and optimize for the cloud, as well as a cloud migration plan that took advantage of flexible hybrid opportunities.

Preparing the network environment

Knowing that a Skype for Business cloud migration would require changes to the network environment for optimal performance, Microsoft IT took advantage of the Microsoft Click-to-Run technology to reduce complexity and IT overhead, allowing Office 365 to manage Office and Skype for Business client updates. By moving to the cloud, Microsoft IT was able to manage updates and ensure the most current versions of the client at all times, guaranteeing availability of the newest features and the greatest reliability.

Because real-time communication is extremely sensitive to network conditions, Microsoft IT also prioritized a deep understanding of three key elements of capacity and traffic planning before they began cloud migrations. To understand capacity and traffic planning:

  • They analyzed federated traffic with external organizations in a hybrid environment to prevent potential bottlenecks at the network edge.
  • They developed a deep understanding of the traffic flows within the network to optimize routes for voice traffic.
  • They ensured that their private connectivity, which reduced complexity in the network integration for Skype for Business in Office 365, had the appropriate markings for quality of service and guaranteed prioritization to the Office 365 network.

Historically, major IT investments have included tools, systems, and personnel for managing infrastructure and applications; moving to the cloud shifted some of those burdens to Office 365 and enabled Microsoft IT to focus more resources on adoption and improving control over the Skype for Business user experience. Microsoft IT has seen fewer incidents caused by network changes, because dedicated network links now connect users directly to server farms in the cloud. In Office 365, the risk of user or service impact caused by internal network changes or configuration drift is greatly reduced.

Key takeaway

  • Migrating Skype for Business Server to Skype for Business Online in Office 365 may allow IT departments to shift resources from internal IT infrastructure and applications to adoption efforts and a more managed user experience.
Optimization for transition to the cloud

Because of the real-time nature of the Skype for Business service, optimizing performance is even more critical than with other Office 365 services; even a few seconds of lost voice, video, or data affect user productivity. Therefore, before Microsoft IT could migrate Skype for Business to the cloud, it was crucial to evaluate change and develop new strategies for availability, reliability, and performance.

When Microsoft IT began to transition Skype for Business to the cloud, the existing wireless networks were optimized for data, but not for real-time communications such as voice. With the increase in the number and variety of mobile devices in the workplace, use of wireless connections more than doubled during meetings in less than a year. Additionally, transitioning to open floor plans to reduce physical footprints and accommodate new working models resulted in increased user density and additional meeting spaces. To accommodate channel overlap and improve signal optimization in this changing wireless environment, Microsoft IT re-tuned their wireless access point placements and deployment configurations based on analysis of changing user behaviors, varied user density, and new floor plan trends.

At the same time, Microsoft IT was seeing widespread increase in Windows 8 machines that were optimized for Wireless N network hardware rather than wired connections. Microsoft IT standardized the environment for wireless N, ensuring clear communications by proactively making sure that its wireless network drivers were as current as possible and continuing to actively push driver updates.

Key takeaway

  • The increasing popularity of mobile devices and open floorplans in the workplace requires analysis and potential redesign of network configurations, as well as increased focus on driver updates.
Using hybrid deployments for flexibility

The Microsoft IT Skype for Business migration to the cloud is occurring in phases. Even more complex than the SharePoint migration, the Skype for Business migration to Office 365 is part of a much larger deployment that also includes the launch of Skype for Business Server 2015 and the new Skype for Business client software. The Microsoft IT ecosystem for Skype for Business involves 218,000 users in both on-premises and Office 365 environments; of these, 30,000 are currently in the cloud, producing 3.5 million streams per month. This hybrid environment allows Microsoft IT to provide global public switched telephone network (PSTN) connectivity for both Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online while optimizing performance and the user experience. Processes and applications are moved into the public cloud environment as quickly as possible.

Microsoft IT currently provides global enterprise voice in the cloud and will remain in a hybrid configuration until global services are available online. There is high user satisfaction with the current hybrid environment; a cloud user and an on-premises user can have a seamless conference in a shared environment without any awareness of its hybrid nature.

Office 365 implementations will vary greatly by organization, with some small organizations moving easily to a total cloud environment and larger organizations using longer-term hybrid scenarios. Like Microsoft IT, other large IT departments may experience challenges that will influence performance planning for Skype for Business migration, such as application requirements, telecommunications investments, carrier limitations, partner dependencies, and number of users. Fortunately, the flexibility of gradual hybrid deployments can mitigate many of these challenges.

Key takeaway

  • A gradual hybrid transition to Office 365 allows companies to migrate to the cloud while continuing to maximize their investment in their existing on-premises telephony equipment.

Advanced analytics functionality in Excel 2016

Excel 2016 provides capabilities that allow users to further enhance your data analysis experiences and share their data and analysis more effectively across their company. These features, usually suitable for professional business analysts, come with all premium plans of Office 2016, including Office 365 ProPlus, Office Professional Plus, Excel 2016 Standalone, and now also in Office 2016 Professional.

Here is the list of the advanced analytics features:

Advanced analytics and modelling capabilities with Power Pivot

With the full Power Pivot management UX, users can benefit from advanced modelling capabilities like Diagram View, KPIs, Hierarchies and DAX Calculated Columns.

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Advanced connectivity options with Power Query

For corporate users who require advanced connectivity and importing features, Microsoft has added the option to connect to corporate, big data and cloud data sources, such as Oracle, DB2 or MySQL database, a variety of Azure data sources, such as Azure SQL Database, Salesforce, Hadoop files and many more.

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Advanced collaboration

With an addition of Power BI license, users will also benefit from a corporate data search and will be able to share their import and transformation queries with other analysts within their organization through the means of a Corporate Data Catalog.

New ways to get the Excel business analytics features  3

-Microsoft Excel Team

Enhance visualization using new charts in Excel 2016

Waterfall—visualizing financial statements with ease

Most business owners seek to better understand their finances in order to ensure their success. Profit and loss statements can help explain the bottom line of your business. However, quickly understanding and communicating your gains, losses and balances by viewing financial statements can be challenging. With a Waterfall chart, you can quickly illustrate the line items in your financial data and get a clear picture of how each item is impacting your bottom line. The example below shows the income statement for a bookstore. It’s clear to see that the cost of inventory nearly cut net revenue in half while operating costs accounted for an additional third of net revenue.

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A Waterfall chart provides a simple visual of the running total of your financial data, identifies the contributions and provides clear subtotals, giving you a ready-to-present financial report in a few clicks.

Histogram—exploring and analyzing a distribution

For a bookstore owner, it is important to continuously find new ways to attract customers. Stocking books with both high-end and low-end prices can help appeal to a wider range of readers. The new Histogram chart can display the distribution of the book prices in inventory so the bookstore owner can ensure inventory can meet the customer’s needs.

Commonly used in statistics, a histogram automatically displays the frequencies within a distribution. In this example, the horizontal axis represents the book price. Each column, called a “bin,” shows the number of books within a given price range. Here we see that this bookstore has a good distribution of books, both high-end and low-end.

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Excel now makes it is easy for you create the Histogram chart. After creating the chart, use the intuitive options to change the bin ranges to dig deeper into the data.

Pareto—finding the largest impact

Continuing with the bookstore example, the owner now wants to focus on quality control by reducing the number of returned books. Each day, a number of books are returned and tabulated for various reasons—maybe the book is a defect or the customer bought the wrong book. The Pareto chart will help the bookstore owner to see the most common reasons customers return books.

Using the Pareto chart, you can automatically sort the frequency of the most prevalent issues (the bar graph) and then show the additive contributions of each issue as you move along the horizontal axis (the line graph).

In the example below, each column represents a reason for a book return. The line graph shows how each column, or issue, contributes to the overall total of returned books. Notice, from the bar graph, that the “defect” category caused 2,025 book returns. From the orange Pareto line in the chart, we see that this means defects contributed to 40 percent of all book returns. By improving on just the top three reasons for returns—defects, incorrect pricing and wrong products—the bookstore owner can address over 80 percent of the returns!

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The Pareto chart allows you to prioritize the improvements you want to make in the bookstore to address the most critical issues.

Box & Whisker—bringing statistics to distribution

Like the Histogram chart, the Box & Whisker chart shows the distribution of information. For deeper analysis, this chart goes further by providing key insights about the distribution in one view, including range, quartiles, mean and outliers. And you get all of this information with a few clicks.

In this example, we are able to compare the price distribution of books by genre. The Box & Whisker chart automatically groups the books by their genre and displays the characteristics of the distribution of pricing in a way that can be easily analyzed. Notice that the book prices of Romance have a wider range and is especially skewed by the one $300 item.

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Box & Whisker chart adds a visual angle to Excel’s statistical functionality, creating a simple snapshot view of the data’s characteristics.

Treemap—analyzing across hierarchies in one view

For the bookstore owner, it is very useful to know which book genres provide the largest source of revenue. But what if you could easily identify the largest revenue generators for each level of genre categorization … in one view? The Treemap chart is an ideal visualization for this purpose because it provides a hierarchical view of your data and an easy way to compare different levels of categorization.

In this example, we can see each sub-genre grouped to its parent genre automatically, by color and proximity. The size of each node, marking a sub-genre, represents the total revenue of all books under that category. You can easily see that most of the revenue comes from Children’s books and Romance books, but also that 1st Readers and Young Adult titles are the most lucrative.

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With Treemap, large datasets with innate groupings can be effectively visualized in a simple way. Treemap draws the big picture, so you can draw comparisons between similar or competing products.

Sunburst—revealing every level of your hierarchy

While using a Treemap chart is ideal for comparing the relative sizes of groups, the Sunburst chart shows the full hierarchy of the groups to provide deeper analysis capabilities. With a Sunburst chart, it’s easy to see the largest contributing segments within a hierarchy of multiple levels.

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The visual layout is intuitively natural for finding how each slice is broken down to the most basic contribution. The Sunburst is versatile, displaying any number of levels for any category.

These six new chart types provide a rich new set of storytelling tools in Excel, Word and PowerPoint that enable you to do more with your data. Additionally, each chart can be customized to fit your specific needs with the intuitive design tools you are already familiar with in Excel. Use these features to change style and layout of the chart, add chart elements, like legends and data labels and fine-tune the fonts, colors and effects.

-office Blogs

With Excel 2016 Data Analysis has become easier

Faster and easier ways to get data

Before analysis can begin, you must be able to bring in the data relevant to the business question you are trying to answer. Excel 2016 now comes with built-in functionality that brings ease and speed to getting and transforming your data—allowing you to find and bring all the data you need into one place. These new capabilities, previously only available as a separate add-in called Power Query, can be found natively within Excel 2016. Access them from the “Get & Transform” section on the Data tab.

Business Analytics 1

Use these capabilities to connect to data from a wide range of sources—like tables in public websites, corporate data in databases and cubes, cloud-based sources like Azure, unstructured data like Hadoop and services like Salesforce—then bring the data into your workbook’s data model or display them as tables within a worksheet.

The Query Editor, which opens when creating a new query or opening an existing one under Get & Transform, provides intuitive data shaping and transformation options, enabling you to prepare a data set with only the information you want to see and in the way you want to see it. Each step you take to transform the data can be repeated and rearranged to help you work faster and more efficiently. When you refresh the data connections, every step you took to transform the data is preserved. And once you have the information prepared, you can share your queries easily with others.

Additional features available under the Get & Transform section include accessing recent sources you’ve used in previous queries and options to combine queries together. With a premium version of Excel 2016 (MSOffice ProPlus or Office 365 ProPlus) and a Power BI license, you can also use search to discover corporate data available to you across your company that is shared in a corporate catalog or even share your own queries with others.

Integrating the Power Query technology also provides benefits for programmability. With these features integrated into native Excel, you can use VBA and the Object Model to program a related query and transform actions. And if you need more than the predefined actions provided, you can use the powerful query language (M) to create additional actions and capabilities.

Streamlined data analysis

Excel is known for its flexible and powerful analysis experiences, through the familiar PivotTable authoring environment. With Excel 2010 and Excel 2013, this experience was significantly enhanced with the introduction of Power Pivot and the Data Model, bringing the ability to easily build sophisticated models across your data, augment them with measures and KPIs, and then calculate over millions of rows with high speed. In Excel 2016, we focused on making these experiences more discoverable, consistent and streamlined, so that you can focus less on managing your data and more on uncovering the insights that matter:

  • Automatic relationship detection discovers and creates relationships among the tables used for your workbook’s data model, so you don’t have to. Excel 2016 knows when your analysis requires two or more tables to be linked together and notifies you. With one click, it does the work to build the relationships, so you can take advantage of them immediately.
  • Creating, editing and deleting custom measures can now be done directly from the PivotTable fields list, saving you a lot of time when you need to add additional calculations for your analysis.
  • Automatic time grouping helps you to use your time-related fields in your PivotTable more powerfully, by auto-detecting and grouping them on your behalf. Once grouped together, simply drag the group to your PivotTable in one action and immediately begin your analysis across the different levels of time with drill-down capabilities.
  • PivotChart drill-down buttons allow you to drill in and out across groupings of time and other hierarchical structures within your data.
  • Search in the PivotTable field list helps you get to the fields that are important to you across your entire data set.
  • Smart rename gives you the ability to rename tables and columns in your workbook’s data model. With each change, Excel 2016 automatically updates any related tables and calculations across your workbook, including all worksheets and DAX formulas.
  • Multiple usability improvements have also been made. For example, delayed updating allows you to perform multiple changes in Power Pivot without the need to wait until each is propagated across the workbook. The changes will be propagated at one time, once the Power Pivot window is closed.