Microsoft is a publicly listed, global company based in Redmond, Washington, U.S. It offers a broad UC solution set under the umbrella brand of Skype for Business (SfB; formerly Lync). The on-premises UC solution is Skype for Business Server (SfBS; formerly Lync Server). The cloud UC solution is Skype for Business Online (SfBO), which is licensed as part of the Office 365 portfolio. The Server deployment has significantly more PBX and telephony capabilities than the Online configuration, so it is critical that planners distinguish between these two offers. Microsoft also has some additional UC configurations, most notably Skype for Business Hybrid.
Microsoft made some year-over-year improvements to SfBS 2015; notably, an improved client for mobile devices and improvements to its video and meeting capabilities (including the release of SurfaceHub), with plans for an improved Mac client to be released in September 2016. However, the bulk of Microsoft's SfB development and marketing improvements during the past year were targeted at the Office 365 portfolio, including SfBO. Most notably, it added a range of telephony capabilities to SfBO that, while new to market and not proven, represent significant emerging capabilities for that platform.
Microsoft has partners capable of hosting and operating SfB Server for enterprises, both stand-alone or as part of an Office 365 configuration. Although this approach does overcome many of the telephony limitations of SfB Online, it also introduces complexity and cost.
The SfBS solution will be useful to a broad range of enterprises. Enterprises with advanced telephony and video feature requirements should ensure that the necessary functions are supported and, as is true for any VoIP deployment, should undertake a thorough network readiness assessment. Often, working with a Microsoft Skype partner helps to ensure the deployment is as successful as possible.
- Microsoft can bundle the SfB product with its broad range of well-established business, collaboration and office products, enabling it to leverage its dominance in enterprise IT and office solutions.
- Microsoft offers an attractive roadmap that includes on-premises, cloud and hybrid. It also has a strong partner network with which to address the diverse range of enterprise requirements on a global basis.
- Microsoft's financial position is strong. It earns a Positive rating according to Gartner's financial statement scorecard methodology, due to its strong profit margins, its ability to generate cash and its solid balance sheet.
- Enterprises regularly report dissatisfaction with the quality and capabilities of the SfB audioconferencing and videoconferencing functionalities and often maintain separate conferencing services for business-critical use cases, as required.
- Microsoft now offers several PSTN and telephony options as part of SfBO and Office 365, and is encouraging on-premises customers to migrate to an online deployment. However, the SfBO telephony functionality is new to market and has limited references, so enterprises should use a "try-before-you-buy" approach to ensure everything works as expected from all their locations.
- Skype deployments require selecting multiple partner solutions. Microsoft has more than 900 partners in the SfB certification program (a number that is likely to grow), and while Microsoft is improving its partner program, determining which partner to select remains a challenge for enterprises.