Hello everyone! Chris here, with a quick we’re-not-dead post. I don’t need to explain just how crazy these past few months have been. We experienced a surge in customers needing help setting up remote work systems (and securing them!). We’re still embroiled in the effort, which is why this blog went quiet.
I hope to resume regular posting by the end of summer. In the meantime, I hope everyone is doing as well as possible, and that all our businesses will bounce back.
If you’d like to share any frustrations you’ve had with Skype4B or Teams in the past few months, please comment below.
The advanced HD camera with intelligent group framing, 5x zoom and legendary audio performance that turns passive meetings in small spaces into powerful experiences. This camera is the ideal visual complement to Poly G7500, Polycom Trio and Group Series conferencing systems.
HD camera with 4K sensor for better up-close views with 5x zoom
Automatic group framing or speaker tracking with a 120-degree field of view so people can sit where they want
Simple single-cable connection to Polycom video solutions
Two built-in microphones for crystal-clear pickup
Premium optics and accurate color reproduction deliver true-to-life visuals
Flexible, easy installation and centralized management make this camera a breeze for IT
Let’s see how well this bears out!
Initial Impressions – Boxy, Big Aperture, Built-In Balancing Stand
Sorry, no breathless unboxing video here. Since I had Ben’s demo model, he’d already unwrapped it. Still, he kept it in the same box, so I have all components you’d receive with a new purchase.
The EagleEye comes with the camera, a power/data cable, manual, and a wall mounting plate with screws. The power/data cable is USB-C, and includes a screw-in clamp like the old VGA cables for monitors. Good to keep the camera connected, even if it falls!
The camera itself has two connections in its back, USB-C and Ethernet. As you’ll see from the photos, it has a big aperture – much larger than most webcams.
The camera itself’s bigger than most webcams. About 2.5″ cubed. It’s a little big for my hand, but not as heavy as you’d think.
You can see the microphones in these photos. They’re almost invisible. That doesn’t diminish their effectiveness though, as we’ll see during testing.
The bottom folds out to create a balancing stand. This way you can balance it on a laptop screen. Ben did so during our demo. I did it as well. Little on the rickety side with my laptop, but it works much better on a TV.
The EagleEye can output video at:
1080p60 – 1080p display, from USB or Ethernet.
720p60 – 720p display, from USB or Ethernet.
4K30 – You do get 4K from this, but it’s through USB only.
Test 1: Compatibility
Poly clearly meant the EagleEye Cube for use with its conferencing products. However, it’s also Certified for Skype for Business, Teams, Teams Rooms, and Zoom. So let’s do a few compatibility tests.
First, direct compatibility with Windows. I plugged the camera into my laptop. It recognized the EagleEye immediately. However, when I checked my Settings, I found a ‘no driver’ error. Uh oh!
I downloaded & installed the app, and voila! Full recognition.
Test 2: Skype for Business Integration
Next, I changed the default Video Device in my Skype for Business client to use the EagleEye. Several self-viewings and video calls later, I’d say it’s far superior to my built-in camera in terms of color quality.
However, at this point I have to give one caveat – don’t move the camera once it’s set! Whenever I moved it, I noticed a brief delay in the feed – about 1 second. Then the camera refocused and all was well.
After this I used it on my normal meetings for a couple days (Skype Meetings and GoToMeetings). While your experience may differ from mine, I will say that no meeting had a video issue.
Smooth playback. No audio trouble. My avatar window looked as sharp as a high-class TV.
Notable Camera Feature: Speaker Tracking
At this stage, I should point out one of this camera’s impressive features. The EagleEye incorporates smart sensing technology called “Speaker Tracking.”
Just like you’d expect, this allows it to automatically focus on the speaker in a room, adjusting the video feed to show them. The tracking zeroes in on a person talking, the most recent movement…even scuffing a shoe can draw its gaze!
If no one speaks, or multiple people talk at the same time, the EagleEye refocuses on the overall group in its field of view.
Test 3: Conferencing Platforms
I saw during the demo that the EagleEye worked natively with the Poly Studio X30 and X50. No surprise there.
I also wanted to test it on other conferencing platforms – like our in-house RealPresence Trio. The EagleEye is newer than the Trio…would they cooperate? The specs say they will. Time to confirm!
When I plugged it into our Trio directly, I received an ‘Overcurrent Failure Detected’ error. Searches indicated a problem with the USB port, which I tested with my laptop and discounted. Maybe just improper choice of connection on my part. Still, worth nothing.
Plugging the EagleEye into the Trio’s Visual+ unit instead worked perfectly. Our current camera is a Logitech C930e. I don’t know if you can see the difference, but I’m posting some photos of our picture-in-picture.
The 4K resolution activates by default. I didn’t have to tell the EagleEye, or our Trio, anything.
This is a screenshot taken on my phone, of me on the video in a Skype Meeting. Very meta, wouldn’t you say?
Now that it worked with our Trio, the test changes to behavior. Specifically, stress testing. How well would this fancy 4K, auto-tracking camera work under load? Will it slow down? Go pixelated? Crash on me?
I didn’t see any of that. During the demo, we had a presenter join us from New Jersey. Can’t get more ‘cross country’ than that. The video-to-audio connection went as smoothly as if he stood in the room with us.
As a second test, I invited contacts from two other locations into a Skype Meeting in our conference room. One was down in Southern California, while the other’s in Las Vegas.
Results were the same. We chatted for a few minutes, and found each of us saw zero jitter or lag time.
(I recognize that this is partly an issue of bandwidth, not just the camera. We have plenty of bandwidth here…but the Las Vegas contact didn’t. Standard cable connection. Still, no issues.)
The Verdict: One of the Best Cameras You Can Use for Online Meetings
Overall, I came away quite impressed with the EagleEye Cube. It’s a lot of camera in a small box. It’s “smart” enough to make conferencing more engaging, but not overly complicated or buggy.
The EagleEye Cube is compatible with these conferencing platforms:
Entry #7 in the “How it Fits” series is…the PSTN Gateway!
Like the Reverse Proxy, a PSTN Gateway isn’t a dedicated Server Role in Skype for Business. However, that doesn’t mean it’s optional. In fact, it’s critical if you want to use Enterprise Voice.
Without one of these three options – PSTN Gateway, IP-PBX, or SIP Trunk – you can’t call out of the office. Nor can anyone calling you reach you.
This post will explain why, and how to deploy a PSTN gateway for your Skype for Business Server.
The PSTN Gateway’s Primary Role
In a Skype for Business topology, the PSTN Gateway translates signals between VoIP and PSTN networks. This allows internal VoIP phones to connect out into the vast worldwide analog phone network. And vice versa.
Why would you need to do that? It’s due to the signal types used for voice calls.
The PSTN, or “Public Switched Telephone Network” uses analog signals to transmit your voice. However, Skype for Business uses a digital signal for its transmissions. Same with every other “Voice over IP” system.
These signal types are markedly different. If you tried to listen to a digital IP signal as-is, you’d get an ear-splitting howl!
That’s where the PSTN Gateway steps in. By converting one signal type to other, it allows for seamless voice communications.
It’s not the only solution—you can also use a SIP Trunk for the same purpose. I may do a post on SIP trunks as well, but for now, we’re focusing on the PSTN Gateway.
Main Components of the PSTN Gateway
PSTN Interface: The necessary hardware/software to communicate with the external PSTN network.
VoIP Interface: The necessary hardware/software to communicate with the internal IP network.
Listening Port: The gateway has to listen for signals from the Mediation Server. When creating a topology, you set the port for said listening. Default installs use port 5066 for TCP, and port 5067 for TLS.
DNS Load Balancing – In order to work in Skype for Business Server, a PSTN gateway must implement DNS load balancing. Since it may connect to a pool of Mediation Servers, it has to load-balance calls across the pool evenly.
Other Servers a PSTN Gateway Communicates With
Mediation Server. PSTN Gateways and Mediation Servers have a peer relationship. They’re both translating signals, within the topology and outside the network, to facilitate your conversations.
PBX. If you still have a legacy PBX, the Gateway can inter-operate with it. The Gateway essentially links the VoIP-enabled users into the PBX.
How a PSTN Gateway Works in a Hybrid Environment
Let’s say you want to move users to Skype for Business Online, but you’ve already invested in an on-prem PSTN connection. Like a SIP Trunk or PSTN Gateway. Can you re-use that investment in any way?
Yes! You can configure Skype for Business to home users in the cloud, while still routing their voice calls through your existing PSTN connection. There are two ways: Use Cloud Connector Edition (CCE), or modify the on-prem deployment for hybrid PSTN.
I realize that Skype for Business Online has a retirement date. This option will not be viable very soon. Still, it’s useful to know, in case you need to take a similar approach with regard to Teams in the future.
The PSTN Gateway in Skype for Business & Teams
Obviously, the PSTN Gateway comes into play in an on-prem deployment. What’s the gateway’s equivalent in Teams? It’s Direct Routing: Voice Calling in Teams
From the Teams page:
“Microsoft Direct Routing enables people to use existing phone numbers with Direct Routing in Teams Phone System for a complete calling experience that includes dial tone.”
Software performing the role, as you’d expect in a cloud service. Now, you don’t have to use Direct Routing while using Teams; you can use one of Microsoft’s Calling Plans to make/receive calls too. Direct Routing exists if you have existing numbers and want to stay with your current telecom provider.
Where to Get a PSTN Gateway Appliance
As it’s not a Server Role, you’ll have to install an appliance to act as your PSTN Gateway. However, “where to get one” isn’t as easy a question to answer as it once was.
Why? With Teams rising and more businesses moving to cloud-based VoIP, the need for PSTN gateway devices has dropped. As such, some manufacturers have stopped making them.
Not all though. Sangoma makes VoIP gateways, as does Audiocodes. We’ve used both in deployments, and they will do the job.
PSTN Gateways Plug You Into the Global Phone Network
“Do you want to use a SIP trunk or a PSTN gateway?” I remember a co-worker asking one of our earlier Skype4B customers this, back in late 2015. Of course the customer didn’t know the difference.
After we explained though, they opted for the gateway. That customer is still on Skype for Business, in the same topology with the same gateway, today. Without the PSTN gateway, they’d have gone out of business years ago…because no one could ever call them!
The Mediation Server facilitates voice calls for Skype for Business users. A PSTN gateway makes sure those callers can understand each other.
What do you think will happen to technology like the PSTN Gateway, as the cloud expands?
I’ve blogged about Skype for Business all this time, and almost never touched on keyboard shortcuts! Shame on me.
As with most tech learning, this came up out of necessity. I wanted to learn two things in particular…shortcuts to:
Accept conversation invites right away, and
Change my Presence status.
Why two very simple processes? Due to a weird, inconsistent issue.
Some months back I began experiencing a strange delay when clicking “Accept” for conversation invites. I could click and click on the notification, but “Accept” just wouldn’t work for several seconds (up to 15!). Only if I waited a moment, THEN clicked, would the conversation window open.
We checked my system; no issues. Problem with Skype for Business? Possible, but we didn’t see anything weird in the system logs. I could deal with it, or find an alternative.
Well, what’s a good alternative? Keyboard shortcuts!
A little searching found me the proper shortcut for one of my two needs. The other however, Skype for Business does NOT have a native keyboard shortcut for. Instead, I found an add-on that adds in the exact function.
Here’s what I found, and how you can use it too.
How to Accept a Conversation Invite: Use Built-In Keyboard Shortcuts
First place to look, of course, is Microsoft’s knowledgebase. There must be some existing shortcuts.
Sure enough, Microsoft has a whole list. Some are pretty standard, having come from the Office universe.
Where’s the shortcut for accepting invites…ah ha! There it is!
Accept an incoming invite notification
(also works for accepting an incoming call)
WINDOWS KEY + SHIFT + O
That’s not the only useful-right-away shortcut for Skype for Business, of course. Here’s a few more:
One shortcut covered. Yet I don’t see one for changing Presence status. I wanted a Presence-changing shortcut to, shall we say, maintain focus on my work. Taking advantage of “Do Not Disturb” works wonders for productivity.
Alas. More searching says that, gasp! No native keyboard shortcut exists for changing Presence status. Am I doomed to keep changing my Presence manually, day in, day out?
How to Change Presence Status with the Keyboard: Use StatusKey
Skype for Business Has Many Keyboard Shortcuts – But Could Use More
Keyboard shortcuts are one of those things we rarely think about. They’re always waiting for use, but we don’t realize it until another factor throws them in front of us. In this case, it was a strange notification issue. (That still hasn’t gone away…might be a post on it later.)
I hope this post has been that other factor for you!
That said, I’m a little surprised at the relatively few shortcuts Skype for Business has. Some of its major functions don’t have any associated shortcuts. Randy’s done a great job with StatusKey…but if Microsoft had Presence-related shortcuts, he wouldn’t have had to develop it in the first place. What gives, Microsoft?
Hello readers! We interrupt your holiday-shopping, end-of-year-system-checks madness for the final Skype for Business Insider post of 2019.
You may have noticed that posting frequency went down this year. That’s due to the indefatigable demon we know as “Lack of Time.” This demon plagued me pretty much every day.
I apologize for the frequency drop. Don’t worry though—I can explain!
2019 Year in Review
2019 was a pretty good year for PlanetMagpie. Our Texas office is growing, we completed several new websites (and have 3 more in the works), and we added several new Support customers.
We expanded the number of services in our cloud data center—mostly related to data security and automated backups for customer accounts. (I don’t need to tell you how much the cyberattack risk has grown this year!)
We even got a new office dog! Meet Homer.
You can see more of him, and the other dogs, over on our Instagram.
Unfortunately, all the activity left us behind on some internal projects…including this blog. It’s not going away! Don’t worry. We still have many topics to address.
Speaking of, let me address the big one. What, in my mind, constitutes the biggest change in the growing Teams ecosystem this year.
The Big 2019 Teams Announcement
We saw something in 2019 that flabbergasted me. I had to check the announcement source three ways to make sure it wasn’t a prank.
It wasn’t. We are getting a Linux client for Teams!
Now, we’re a Microsoft support shop. Almost all of our customers use Windows machines. The rest use Mac first, and Linux a distant second. Still, I see this as a huge step forward in “Linux on the Desktop” business acceptance.
Besides, I know many of you use Linux and wanted the Teams client. It’s still in beta, but you got it!
What’s Coming in 2020 for the Blog
I have two major goals for this blog next year:
Document the full experience of moving from Skype for Business Server 2015 to Skype for Business Server 2019. We’ve provisioned some resources for this already; just need to fight the Time Demon for the necessary time.
Major updates for existing posts. Some of the popular posts need a little polish. Others need big changes, in light of tech developments since their publication. I don’t plan on removing any how-to posts; people still visit for Lync-related material, so I want them to find what they need.
It looks like we’ll begin to see the “big wave” of Skype for Business-to-Teams migrations next year as well. I’m watching customers for any useful information encountered during migration.
Final Thoughts for the Year (Your Feedback Welcome)
Now, my last & most important item of business. What Skype for Business/Teams-related topics would YOU like us to cover?
Please share your ideas & requests in the comments.
We at PlanetMagpie hope everyone has a safe & happy holiday this year! We’ll see you back here in January, ready to tackle the big 2020.
You’ve heard the phrase, “an overabundance of choice?” We’ve reached that point for video conferencing solutions.
After I did the Video Interop Server post, I looked around a little more at video conferencing solutions. I found an enormous selection out there: Zoom, MegaMeeting, Join.me, Google Meet, MeetMonk, GoToMeeting, Vox.io, WebEx, WhatsApp, and so on…
We don’t need this many. Which compelled me to blog about the topic…because it can cause a serious problem with business-to-customer communication. Let me illustrate.
Too Many Video Conferencing Alternatives Clog Up Real Communication
In Ye Olden Conferencing Days, you used the phone lines. Conferences focused on audio first, and later, emailed files. Video came from an expensive equipment add-on, or not at all.
Now we’ve swung way off in the opposite direction. Video’s easier than audio to start up, on dozens of different platforms.
The market drives some of this, I know. Seems like we’re outpacing the market though, in a mad dash to find ‘the next video innovation’ before anyone else does. Problem is, this leaves a pile of mostly-functional, good-enough video solutions on the table from which businesses must pick.
Even worse: Some of these conferencing solutions won’t/can’t talk to each other!
For instance, Skype for Business and Zoom will integrate for video.
If you want to join a Skype Meeting with a GoToMeeting client? Got some bad news for you…
What Too Many Solutions Results in for the Video Conferencing World
In terms of ‘boon’ or ‘brambles,’ I think we’ve passed the boon stage. Video conferencing is ubiquitous; any business can run its meetings from virtually anywhere. That’s the good part.
The bad part is, we’re in a ‘Brambles’ stage now. Too many solutions, not enough interoperability. A thousand islands with not a bridge in sight.
This causes the major problem I referenced above: If your business uses one video conferencing solution, and your customer uses a different one, odds are high you won’t be able to use video in your communications!
“But Chris,” you might ask, “We have Zapier now! This isn’t a big deal anymore.”
True! We do have the Zapier connectors/”Zaps”, and I’m very glad for those. They have a good number for video calls.
However, this goes around the problem instead of solving it. An add-on can’t always match native functionality. Some internal networks won’t allow add-ons either.
Now, Zapier can’t halt the spread of video solutions, nor should they try. They’re responding to an existing market with their apps, and I wish them continued success.
Unfortunately, the brambles continue to grow.
Companies making the video solutions want to ‘own’ their customers’ communications. Interoperability, for whatever reason, doesn’t appear a high priority. Even though it could easily extend a solution’s long-term use.
Where does this go? I see two possible paths:
1. Continued Fragmentation. People keep their platforms. The existing software gains more users. A few may choose to inter-communicate, but mostly keep to their own systems. This preserves the frustrations of one business having conferences with another. We end up with a minefield of video solutions, each jealously guarding ‘their’ user base.
2. Slow Consolidation. People begin to move to similar platforms, for the sake of integrated communications with other companies (e.g. vendors). Some platforms die out, whether by choice (Microsoft retiring Skype for Business in favor of Teams) or by withering (users move away from the platform to another option).
If one of these seems more likely to you (or you have a third option), please comment below.
In the meantime, if a business doesn’t have a video conferencing solution & wants one, what should they choose?
2-Minute Guide on How to Pick a Video Conferencing Solution
This by-no-means-comprehensive guide should help you select a few video solutions to test. That way you’re not spending hours comparing features, fiddling with hardware, or stressing over connection issues.
Hello “Insiders!” I know I haven’t posted much lately. Went on a short vacation, and we’re now in the middle of 5 (yes, five!) website builds running at the same time
I’m also working on a couple big posts. The Time Lords willing, I’ll have them up before the end of the year.
In the meantime, let’s talk retirement.
Skype for Business (Online) Retiring in 2 Years
If you haven’t heard, MS will retire Skype for Business (Online) July 31, 2021. After that, it’s Teams all the way in Office 365.
No big surprise. We all knew it was coming. But what’s important for me to point out is that this retirement date only applies to the ONLINE version. The one on which Teams has chewed almost since its launch day.
That’s not the case for Skype for Business Server. Our good old on-prem version will stick around a while longer.
Skype4B Server Version Remains Supported Until 2025
Skype for Business Server 2015 mainstream support ends October 13, 2020. Extended support remains available until October 14, 2025.
Skype for Business Server 2019 will receive mainstream support until January 9, 2024. This is interesting though—its Extended support will also run until October 14, 2025.
Both versions of Skype for Business Server running out of support on the same date, a little more than 5 years hence. That’s still a good chunk of time to use the software.
Where does this leave you? A retirement date that far out, and only on one version, means nobody needs to run around in headless-chicken mode. Here’s some suggestions depending on your current Skype4B situation:
If you’re on Skype for Business Server 2019 or plan to migrate there soon – Keep doing what you’re doing. Let us know if you need help with setup.
Running Skype for Business Server 2015? Consider a move to Server 2019 next year. You’ll still have plenty of time with full support to get your money’s worth.
If you’re on Skype for Business Online & considering a move to Teams – Weigh the schedule in light of your workforce. If you have a large employee base, start planning now. If you’re in a smaller company, no need to panic. Run the move when you expect a slower time (does anyone have those anymore?).
You Don’t Have to Move off Skype for Business (Server) if You Don’t Want To
If it sounds like I’m still swinging in Skype for Business Server’s defense…well, I am. I like the platform for its power and its usability. It has a reliable history to boot. In fact, we still have one customer running Lync Server on-prem! (I think we’ve tried to move them off for what, 2 years now?)
What do you think of the Skype for Business Online retirement?
If your organization has decided to move off its Skype for Business Server deployment to Teams, you’ll hit an in-between period. A time when some users are on Skype4B, and some have moved to Teams.
Can they still communicate with one another during this period?
It’s possible…but it’ll take some extra configuration. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to do.
How to Make Skype for Business and Teams Talk to One Another
Before any Skype4B user can talk to a Teams user, the disparate systems have to talk to one another. Therefore, you’ll need to setup communications between your Skype for Business Server and your Teams tenant.
Essentially, any on-prem deployment must move to a Hybrid deployment. If you already run Skype4B in Hybrid mode, half the work’s already done. You can skip the Part 1 section below & move to Part 2.
But before you do that, let me call out a major communication limitation.
Limitations on Native Interop
Before we dive into the config work required, let me make this point. Users talking between Skype for Business and Teams will have ONLY TWO TOOLS to communicate:
That’s it. No video conference, no group chats, no emojis or file transfers. Not available.
If you have a long transition period, doing the config for this limited communication toolset may make sense. However, if you’re doing a fast cut-over (e.g., less than 4 months), then it doesn’t seem worth the time investment. I would recommend skipping it in that case.
Still here? Great! Let’s talk about making Teams and Skype4B talk.
Part 1: Setting Hybrid Mode with Azure AD Connect
If you’re not already familiar with Azure AD Connect, it’s basically a connection between your Skype for Business Server’s Active Directory and an Office 365 tenant. AD Connect synchronizes your users’ accounts in Active Directory with Azure Active Directory on O365, and vice versa.
This sets up the question of homing. If you created all of your users in your own on-prem Active Directory, then the users are ‘homed’ locally. If you have Teams users you created within your Office 365 tenant, those users are ‘homed’ in Azure Active Directory.
This is important for one reason: Interop between Teams and Skype for Business users only works if you home the user online.
Effectively, you’ll have to transfer all of your Skype for Business users up into the Teams O365 tenant. They’ll still use the on-prem server (in fact they won’t even notice the difference), but they have to live up there to talk to Teams users.
This post would run on forever if I detailed the whole AD Connect setup process. If you do need to set this up, please refer to these MS documentation pages:
Select the users, and click the Action dropdown menu. Choose Move selected users to Skype for Business Online.
In the wizard, click Next.
You may see an Office 365 prompt. Sign in using an administrative account. (Must end in “.onmicrosoft.com”!)
Click Next two more times to complete the move.
Now it’s time for Part 2.
Part 2: Change Users’ TeamsUpgrade Modes
Every Teams user has a mode assigned to it. Same with Skype4B users. The default mode is “Islands” – meant to signify the user as either on the Skype for Business ‘island’ or the Teams ‘island.’
Now, that won’t work if we want people talking between islands. Each & every user, on both sides, needs to have this mode changed for interop.
Other possible modes are:
TeamsOnly – For Teams users only
SfBOnly – For Skype4B users only
SfBWithTeamsCollabAndMeetings – This is called “Meetings First,” meant for using Teams’ meetings as an introduction to the platform.
SfBWithTeamsCollab** – This is the mode we want. It facilitates native interop.
In SfBWithTeamsCollab mode, users still use Skype for Business for IM, calls, and meetings. (If you used SfBWithTeamsCollabAndMeetings mode, your users would use Teams for meetings instead. Everything else is the same.)
As I understand, that’s pretty much it. Changing this mode allows Skype for Business users to chat with Teams users, after all the prerequisites are in place.
(By the way, this process also sets up the users to move completely to Teams. It doesn’t mean you have to move them, but you save yourself time this way.)
Teams, Can You Hear Us Now? Good!
I remember our team having some serious issues with Azure AD Connect, the first time we hybridized a Skype for Business Server. (In fairness, that was over 3 years ago. The tech and documentation have improved since then.)
Still, I urge caution if you need to deploy it in your existing on-prem environment. If possible, use a staging environment to test AD Connect setup first, so you’re comfortable. I believe that’s what we did.
What’s your status with Teams and/or Skype for Business? Using one or both? Comment below on your communication situation.
Sounds like an easy way to kick off a meeting, doesn’t it? If you’re using a RealPresence Trio, you have this functionality available.
Poly (formerly Polycom) has made several updates to their Trio conference systems since introduction. Not only have they helped with stability and audio/video clarity, they’d added third-party integrations. Lots of them.
In this post we’re talking about three of the latest—three that enhance a Skype Meeting’s usability. Alexa, AirPlay, and Zoom.
Alexa for Business Integration: “Alexa, please schedule a meeting for 10:30…”
The latest RealPresence Trio 8800 firmware includes an integration for Amazon’s Alexa for Business. You know what that does—adds voice commands into the Trio. To use it for business though, you’ll have to connect Alexa for Business to a “conferencing provider” of your choice: Cisco WebEx, BlueJeans…or Skype for Business.
Business Case for Alexa Integration: I see this as a primary convenience improvement. Too often we’ve seen customers start their Skype Meetings like this:
Team members enter conference room.
Someone taps a button on the Trio.
Loud dial tone as it connects, because someone forgot to turn down the volume after the last meeting.
Then a conversation somewhat like this happens:
“Did it connect?”
“I don’t know, I don’t hear anything.”
“Are they muted?”
“I think it failed. I’ll try again.”
[After 2-3 other attempts taking up to 10 minutes…]
“Oh! You can hear us now?”
“Yes, can you hear us okay?”
“Yes. All right, we can get started.”
Let’s avoid all that wasted time, shall we? Just ask Alexa to start your next meeting.
AirPlay Integration: Extra Screen Sharing Power
If you’re an Apple fan, you already know AirPlay. Good news for you—the Trio 8800 now lets you use it for AirPlay too!
This integration does one thing and one thing only: Screen mirroring. Once the Trio’s configured to activate its AirPlay integration, anyone in the meeting can share content on-the-fly.
We tested this one on-site too, using a MacBook Pro (it also works with iPhones and iPads). Worked flawlessly. Interestingly, I found that AirPlay content supersedes any Skype for Business shared content (a PowerPoint file, for instance). When the person sharing via AirPlay stops, the Skype for Business shared content reappears.
You configure AirPlay on the Trio the same way you do Alexa for Business: Adding a features.cfg file to the device’s Trio Web Interface. Parameters listed in the documentation below.
Business Case for AirPlay Integration: Participation boost! This integration makes it easy for attendees to share content off their phones or tablets. People don’t have to lug their computers into the meeting. Just a couple taps and you’re the one presenting.
Zoom Integration: Control a “Zoom Room” with Your Trio
Last year, we had a customer request a Trio 8800. We asked if they planned to use it with Skype for Business, as they were on Office 365 already. They said no. They’d just started using Zoom…and they wanted to use the Trio with it.
This took a little configuration finesse on our end. Thankfully, you don’t have to go through the same process. Zoom and Poly partnered to integrate the Zoom Rooms software into the Trio.
A “Zoom Room” is their version of a fully media-enabled conference room. It does require a computer, but otherwise gives the same functionality as a Skype for Business-enabled conference room: audio/video conferencing, screen sharing, and a simple control system.
The integration allows you to use a Trio as a controller in a Zoom Room. In other words, you’d use the Trio much as you would in a Skype for Business setup. Start/end meetings, use its speakers, & control the screen sharing.
NOTE: If you bought a Trio 8800 separately from the Zoom Rooms hardware, you will need to provision it. See the setup notes posted below for the steps.
We did these new integration tests on the very same Trio. It’s still in our conference room, subjected to all sorts of firmware mangling. (It’s all in the name of testing, honest.) Which means if these integrations work on our battle-worn Trio 8800, they will work on your latest-model Trio 8800 too.
How do you use your RealPresence Trio? Leave a comment, or message me to share.
Entry #6 into the “How it Fits” series is…the Video Interop Server, or VIS!
Of all the Server Roles, I have the least experience with this one. We’ve only done one install of it, for a customer with an older Cisco conferencing setup. It did the job, and made the customer happy.
Newly-introduced in Skype for Business Server 2015, VIS made a bit of a splash on debut. Because it leveraged existing video conferencing hardware, you didn’t need to spend extra on new hardware when deploying Skype for Business. You could reuse what’s already in place. We all love cost-saving!
This post, like the other “How it Fits” series, will give an overarching take on the Video Interop Server’s function and use case. It has not markedly changed since introduction, and ships with both Skype for Business Server 2015 and 2019. You may never need to use one…but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there!
The Video Interop Server’s Primary Role
The VIS acts as an intermediary for Skype for Business and legacy Video Teleconferencing Systems (VTCs). These are older conferencing room systems businesses have used for years. Cisco, Polycom, and several other brands make VTCs. It appears Microsoft meant the VIS to work primarily with Cisco TelePresence VTCs.
By creating the server, Microsoft helped many companies with older conferencing hardware extend its useful life. Remember all the money you sank into that conferencing room’s video setup? Big screen, high-quality (for the time) cameras, expensive phone/speaker equipment, wiring? With a VIS, you don’t have to scrap all of that for new hardware. The VIS allows those video systems to connect to & join Skype Meetings.
You can also use VIS for peer-to-peer calls on the same hardware, with some limitations.
VIS is primarily designed to interoperate with the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) and its connecting endpoints. I’ve seen mentions of people connecting it to non-Cisco conferencing systems, but I don’t have a concrete example. (Do you? Please comment with the details!)
Main Components of the VIS
1. Video Converter. A VIS is almost single-purpose: it converts video streams between the formats used by Skype for Business and legacy VTCs.
Let me explain a little more about how this works. Skype for Business uses the H.264 video codec. However, it also maintains support for the RTVideo codec for interoperability. This allows legacy conferencing systems to transmit their video data into the system. But the Skype4B servers may not fully understand the legacy video transmissions.
Which is why we have Video Interop. It performs the conversion & translation functions necessary to make everyone see & talk to one another.
As you can imagine, this takes a little more bandwidth. When implementing Video Interop, it’s wise to make sure you have a comfortable amount of bandwidth available. Otherwise the VIS will bump streams down to a lower resolution, causing poor video quality & even attendee drops.
2.SIP Trunk. Not necessarily a Server Role, but the VIS needs a video SIP trunk to communicate between itself and a legacy VTC.
Other Servers a VIS Communicates With
Front End Server. VIS talks directly to the Front End Server. Please note, you cannot collocate VIS with a Front End Server; it must have its own server/pool.
Edge Server. Since VIS must venture outside of the internal network for some third-party VTCs, it needs to associate with an Edge Server/Edge Pool. This is set up within Topology Builder.
How a Video Interop Server Works in a Hybrid Environment
You implement the VIS as a standalone server, in on-prem topologies. As such, this is the only way it will work in a hybrid deployment. Microsoft may have reasoned that since larger companies are more likely to use (and want to keep) Cisco legacy VTCs, they’re opting for on-prem deployments anyway.
The VIS in Skype for Business Server 2019 & Teams
Skype for Business Server 2019 does include Video Interop Server. I expect that future Cumulative Updates (CUs) for Server 2019 will expand its interoperability to more legacy video platforms.
Teams however is a different story. Since it’s all cloud-based, and Microsoft built VIS as an on-prem Server Role only, we don’t have such an option for Teams users. Nor will we. Those companies with legacy VTCs still on-site are out of luck.
Or are they? You do have one option…a third-party Cloud Video Interop service. An add-on service that performs the same function as VIS, made by a Microsoft Partner like Polycom or BlueJeans. If you invested thousands into a now-older Cisco conferencing setup, and are looking at Teams, go with this option.
VIS Extends the Life of Your Video Conferencing Hardware
Personally, creating an entire Server Role to handle one use case seemed like overkill to me. At first.
However, since then I’ve come to understand the reasoning behind VIS. Given how bandwidth-intensive video is—not to mention how demanding older teleconferencing systems can be!—it does make sense to include a gateway devoted to it. In so doing you also make said hardware last longer, saving on costs. Which makes Management happy!