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Skype for Business 2019 nudges users to cloud

Skype for Business 2019, released in preview this week, will extend support for on-premises unified communications deployments through at least 2023.

The Skype for Business 2019 server will extend support for on-premises unified communications customers for several years, while also encouraging those users to move telephony, messaging and management features to the cloud.

Microsoft released a preview of the 2019 server this week ahead of its expected launch in the fourth quarter of 2018. The product will support on-premises customers through at least 2023, even as the vendor pushes the adoption of its cloud-based collaboration suite Office 365.

"It's not just about cloud, and we know that we have to continue our commitment to serve customers who are on-prem or who are not yet ready or able to move to the cloud," said Lori Wright, the general manager of Microsoft Teams and Skype, at the Microsoft Inspire conference last week.

While an entirely on-premises deployment of the 2019 server will be possible, Microsoft is taking steps to encourage users to adopt specific cloud tools. For example, persistent messaging -- chat histories saved indefinitely -- will not be supported in Skype for Business 2019.

Microsoft will also let Skype for Business 2019 customers store voicemails in the cloud for all employees. In fact, cloud voicemail will be the only option for businesses wishing to connect the Skype 2019 server with the Microsoft Exchange 2019 server.

Skype for Business 2019 customers will be able to upload call quality data to a cloud-based Office 365 dashboard. That will enable businesses with a mix of cloud and on-premises technologies to monitor and troubleshoot all the communications from a single interface.

"There are an awful lot of Microsoft Skype for Business on-prem installs out there, many of whom won't move to the cloud for the next several years. So Microsoft will need to continue to provide support, as well as feature enhancements, for that installed base," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Skype for Business 2019 simplifies the path to Microsoft Teams

Microsoft plans to discontinue cloud-based Skype for Business Online in favor of the Office 365-based team collaboration app Microsoft Teams, but the company has yet to provide a timeline for that change.

Currently, on-premises customers using Skype for Business 2015 must migrate users to Skype for Business Online before moving them to Teams. However, Microsoft designed the 2019 server so that customers will be able to migrate directly from on-premises Skype to cloud-based Teams.

Microsoft may have simplified the migration path because it plans to discontinue Skype for Business Online before the end of the 2019 server's lifespan, said Jim Gaynor, a vice president of the consulting group Directions on Microsoft, based in Kirkland, Wash.

Microsoft has not said how much longer businesses will be able to run the Skype for Business 2015 server in a hybrid deployment with cloud-based Office 365. After October 2020, Microsoft is expected to stop releasing feature updates and bug fixes for the 2015 server.

There were no big surprises in the 2019 server preview unveiled this week, Gaynor said. Microsoft previously indicated it would target the platform at enterprise voice customers that need on-premises support beyond 2020.

"The few new-and-shiny features they have are about making it easier to manage a hybrid [cloud] environment from one place -- Office 365, of course -- or simply to move to Office 365 -- Skype for Business Online or Teams," Gaynor said.

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