Microsoft Skype for Business Online’s Retirement is this Month! What to do?

So, you’ve been living under a rock, or you’ve just been busy with everything else, it doesn’t matter, if you’re either using Skype for Business Online exclusively or in a hybrid state with Lync Server/Skype for Business Server, you need to take action this month.

Within this blog post we’ll be looking at the Skype for Business Online to Microsoft Teams journey and where special care and attention should be applied. Should you wish not to use Microsoft Teams, you’ll need to start planning your own journey away now to avoid interruption!

So why is Skype for Business Online going away?

Lets get up to speed first with why this change is happening. Microsoft have two cloud based Unified Communications (UC) platforms, Skype for Business Online and Microsoft Teams.

Skype for Business was based on Lync Server which was Based on Office Communications Server (OCS), when Microsoft built Skype for Business Online it was based on this iteratively improved legacy software platform and Microsoft themselves have expressed the modern “built for the cloud” approach as one of Teams’ key benefits, over Skype for Business Online. Making it a likely decision factor vs stretching OCS/Lync/Skype for Business past its original designed architecture.

Secondly it makes more sense for Microsoft to have a single product that meets the UC needs vs developing two products that have commonly been seen as competitors to each other as their interactivity has been less than seamless.

What should I do?

Firstly, you should take stock of what services you’re using, ask yourself the following questions.

Am I based in China?

If you’re based in China, you’re likely actually using “Skype for Business Online operated by 21Vianet (China Sovereign Clouds Instance)” and this end of life date doesn’t impact you immediately. I would still recommend reviewing the discussion points below, as the rest of the world discontinues use of Skype for Business Online you’ll find reduced help available from the community and manufacturers, or even complete abandonment.

Microsoft Teams is only available on their “Global Internet” and not via 21Vianet at present, hence there’s no announced end of life for Skype for Business Online within the 21Vianet service, but it’s good to keep monitoring what’s happening outside the 21Vianet platform.

Am I hybrid or just online?

If all your users are just online, you’ll have an easier time migrating as Microsoft will be doing the heavy lifting for you. You should look into the co-existence modes that Microsoft offer and review the upgrade guidance available to control the journey in a way that best suits the business.

If you’re hybrid (you currently have Lync Server or Skype for Business Server hosting users & Skype for Business Online users), you need to make a decision, you either need to move them entirely to Microsoft Teams, or bring them back to your Lync Server/Skype for Business Server infrastructure. When deciding this, ask yourself if you require any Lync/Skype for Business related features that don’t exist within Microsoft Teams.

Am I using Lync/Skype for Business Specific Features?

Despite Microsoft’s claims for feature parity between Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, it’s simply untrue, there are features Microsoft are deliberately not bringing to the Microsoft Teams platform and it is up to you to determine if you use/need them. Lets look at some of the key features either missing or implemented differently.

PSTN Calling (Non-Microsoft Based)

If you’re using Skype for Business for PSTN calling, either directly to a full Skype for Business server infrastructure or via a Cloud Connector Edition solution, you may be routing these calls via your traditional SBCs or gateways. In the event you’re currently doing this and need to continue to do so, you’ll need to look into one of the Microsoft Teams options available for PSTN calls, this could be going down the Microsoft route, adding Direct Routing to your current SBC/gateway (if supported) or if the service is available (it’s in public preview at the time of writing and not internationally available yet) you can use Operator Connect.

Skype Meeting Broadcast

The Skype Meeting Broadcast feature has a direct replacement called Teams Live Events, however if you currently use Skype Meeting Broadcast with your on-premises users, you will no longer be able to access the Skype Meeting Broadcast service from the end of the month and will need to ensure your hybrid and co-existence configurations allow you to leverage Teams Live Events.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

If you’re using a VDI solution such as Citrix or VMware Horizon you may require an upgrade to your environment before you can leverage Microsoft Teams, this is because the Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams clients are completely different and have different requirements for optimisation. See the Microsoft documentation “Teams for Virtualised Desktop Infrastructure” to find out more about if your VDI platform is compatible.

Third Party Audio Conferencing Providers (ACPs)

Put simply, Microsoft have no interest in allowing the use of third party ACPs in Microsoft Teams. As ACP integration was enabled via Skype for Business Online, this feature will cease to function entirely. Microsoft have provided three paths forward, these are:

  • Use Microsoft Audio Conferencing
  • Use the third party provider separately and disable VoIP for meetings
  • Stop using audio conferencing

More information on these scenarios can be found here.

Devices: Handsets, Video Interoperability and Room Systems

This part becomes extremely specific to your own scenarios, you may be have users with individual devices that interact with Skype for Business such as certified headsets or handsets, or even room systems or video interoperability solutions. As mentioned above, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business are completely different software solutions and architectures and as a result you can’t presume a device or solution certified for Skype for Business will work seamlessly with Microsoft Teams, if at all!

Be sure to audit your devices, confirm Microsoft and vendor compatibility with Microsoft Teams and whether that has any dependencies such as a firmware update or limitations.

There’s no way I’ll meet the end of month deadline, what will happen?

Microsoft aren’t waiting around, if you haven’t migrated by the start of August, Microsoft are going to help you. You’ll receive a message from Microsoft in the Microsoft 365 Message Center and Teams Admin Center, 90 days before the migration date Microsoft assign to you. But Microsoft are going to start coercing your migration before this point by making some changes.

The main change to highlight is: All of the features listed above that go end of life (EOL) at the end of July, will no longer be supported from that date, if you have issues you can’t expect Microsoft to provide fixes or code changes. From the 1st August 2021 you can’t rely on any of those features to remain functional.

Secondly, any users placed into TeamsOnly coexistence mode will no longer be allowed to leave this mode. Users can still be moved from Microsoft Teams to Skype for Business Server however.

Okay, anything else I should consider?

Your users will likely have federated contacts and scheduled meetings planned for after your migration. To avoid upset it’s handy to migrate these. Microsoft will attempt to do this themselves but there are a few restrictions:

Contact Migration Constraints

Microsoft will migrate all non-distribution list contacts for your users automatically, but this process will only take place if your users sign in within 90 days of the upgrade. Should you have users with extended periods of leave, it may be worthwhile considering a password reset for the account and signing in, to prevent data loss. Microsoft have provided no alternatives for contact transfers.

Meeting Migration Service (MMS) Constraints

The MMS will attempt to replace the now invalid Skype for Business meeting invites with new invites, however this provides a far more significant challenge. I strongly recommend reading the full Microsoft Doc here but a summary of key points is provided below.

  • MMS can be disabled at a tenant level and also set to ignore changes to Audio Conferencing. You can check your MMS configuration by running a Skype for Business Online/Microsoft Teams PowerShell and running the “Get-CsTenantMigrationConfiguration” cmdlet
  • MMS will not work with an Exchange On-Premises based mailbox (or any other non-M365 based mailbox for that matter!).
  • MMS won’t amend meetings when your users are migrated from cloud to on-premises.
  • Meeting content such as whiteboards will be lost in the migration.
  • Meetings with over 250 attendees won’t be processed.
  • If you accidentally had MMS disabled before migrating your users to Teams, you can run the “Start-CsExMeetingMigration” cmdlet to process users manually.

Any final tips?

There are great resources and support available from Microsoft and Microsoft Partners to help you through this migration, and considering the short time frames remaining it’s worth getting the opinion of a trusted expert if possible. However aside from this here’s some handy tricks:

  • Create test accounts to practice migration caveats, after the end of this month all new accounts will be TeamsOnly so get a few accounts made now and use them to experience the planned migration path you wish to take without disrupting your users with a one way ticket to Teams.
  • Check your machine resources will be able to support Microsoft Teams, it’s a lot more resource intensive vs Skype for Business.
  • Check your networks. Microsoft have a network assessment tool to gauge if it’s suitable for Microsoft Teams, as your staff counts may be fluctuating at present it’s good to get an idea of what the peak utilisation will require and if your network can handle this or if you need to start planning for Quality of Service (QoS) or infrastructure upgrades

Best of luck in your migration plans!

By micoolpaul

Technical Consultant at Nexus Open Systems. Focusing on Veeam, VMware & Microsoft Productivity and Infrastructure stacks.

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