Connecting Technology and Business.

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.