Eugenio Marongiu - Fotolia

Microsoft releases Skype for Business 2019 server

The Skype for Business 2019 server includes several new hybrid cloud features and simplifies the migration path from the on-premises product to cloud-based Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft has released the 2019 server for Skype for Business, reaffirming its commitment to the on-premises product for several more years even as it pushes customers to the cloud-based Office 365 suite.

Skype for Business 2019, made available this week, will extend support for on-premises customers through at least 2023. It also improves the platform's security by adding support for the 1.2 version of the Transport Layer Security protocol for protecting digital communications.

But the 2019 server does not include any substantive on-premises feature upgrades. Instead, Microsoft has focused on making it easier for businesses to begin using certain cloud features, even while keeping calls, messages and user accounts on premises.

Businesses that want to use Skype for Business 2019 in conjunction with the Exchange 2019 server will be forced to store voicemails and run their auto attendants in the cloud. That will require those customers to sync their user profiles with cloud-based Azure Active Directory.

Microsoft will also give businesses the option of analyzing call data in the cloud, while still hosting those calls on the Skype for Business 2019 servers. The feature would provide businesses with both on-premises and cloud-based users access to a single dashboard within Office 365 for troubleshooting voice problems.

"It's pretty clear that Microsoft's direction is cloud first," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. "They are trying to provide the tools that Skype for Business on-prem customers can use to ease their migration to the cloud, rather than continue to develop Skype for Business with its own added, robust features."

One-step migration from Skype 2019 to Microsoft Teams

Microsoft has declared that cloud-based Microsoft Teams will eventually replace Skype for Business as its platform for unified communications and collaboration.

But organizations using the Skype for Business 2015 server, or the Lync 2013 server, have complained that there is no easy path for migrating users from the on-premises product to Teams. Those companies have to move users to cloud-based Skype for Business Online first, and then to Teams.

Skype for Business 2019 will make it possible to transition users directly from on-premises Skype to Teams. However, many enterprise customers have said that Teams does not yet support the advanced telephony features they need. Microsoft developed the 2019 server, in part, to appease those customers.

Cisco, Microsoft's main rival in the UC market, hasn't been as forceful in pushing customers to the cloud. Instead, Cisco has focused on creating hybrid products and pricing plans that let companies take advantage of both the data center and the cloud, Lazar said.

"I think there is a concern among Microsoft customers that they are being forced to cloud," Lazar said. "There are bound to be some Microsoft customers that say, 'You know, I'm not going to cloud; I don't see the value in it, why are you forcing me?'"

At the same time, some Microsoft customers are glad the vendor is aggressive about the cloud because it is helping to speed up an inevitable process, Lazar said.

Dig Deeper on Team collaboration software