This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Microsoft Ignite 2018 conference coverage

Microsoft readies hybrid Skype for Business to ease Teams migration

Microsoft is working on a hybrid Skype for Business that would provide a stepping stone toward using the IP communications software on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Microsoft is preparing a hybrid Skype for Business that would let customers run features on premises and on the company's Azure cloud. The option addresses complaints that the vendor hasn't done enough to help companies take advantage of the benefits of cloud-based IP communications.

Microsoft plans to release the hybrid alternative soon, said Lori Wright, the general manager of Office 365 collaboration apps, in an interview at the company's Ignite conference.

"Some parts of [the hybrid Skype for Business] you may want to leave on prem for a while and some parts you may just want to go to the cloud with," Wright said. "We're working on some ideas for that."

IT administrators of several large businesses using on-premises Skype for Business expressed frustration this week at Ignite about the absence of a clear migration path to the cloud -- a problem a hybrid Skype for Business could address.

Companies that use Skype for Business Online can run the client side by side with Microsoft's Teams collaboration software, which will eventually replace online Skype. But on-premises Skype users don't have that option. Chat interoperability between the two clients, for example, only works for businesses that have their employees' identities stored in the Office 365 cloud.

Andy Bush, senior systems administrator at Cincinnati-based Great American Insurance Group, which has around 10,000 on-premises Skype users, said the company needs interoperability with Teams as a stepping stone toward a cloud migration.

Without it, Great American has prioritized putting email and document storage in the cloud instead. "So far, Teams is at the very bottom of the list, until [Microsoft gets] a better platform for migration," Bush said.

Teams lacks calling features

Many businesses that run Skype for Business in their own data centers are still in the early stages of considering a transition to Teams, and some aren't entirely convinced that the new cloud platform can meet their telephony and security needs.

"For the time being, Microsoft is saying that [Skype and Teams] are on the same levels on features," said Julien Ardisson, who does IT work in Germany for the global consulting firm KPMG. "We have to look at that, and the security aspects are very important too."

Microsoft announced last year it would eventually replace Skype for Business Online with Teams within the Office 365 suite. The company promised customers it would take all the core cloud-based Skype features to Teams.

However, on-premises Skype for Business has some advanced calling features that were never included in cloud-based Skype, and therefore, are still not available in Teams. The problem is particularly acute for companies that use Skype to handle customer calls in a contact center.

Underwriters Laboratories Inc., a global consulting and safety certification firm, plans to stick with on-premises Skype for the time being because Teams doesn't support an advanced contact center feature that lets the company route incoming calls to different locations during different times of the day, according to IT manager Sandi Glazebrook.

The company is also concerned about the quality of audio and video conferencing in the cloud, she said.

Microsoft plans to release a new Skype server that will extend support of the on-premises version through at least 2023. Microsoft said it developed the Skype for Business 2019 server primarily for large companies not ready to move to the cloud.

Dig Deeper on Team collaboration software