Is Skype for Business (S4B) for everyone? Like anything we have to deal with in life it depends. There are many factors to take into consideration when considering S4B as your VoIP communication platform. Clearly there are many benefits to consider but there are just as many negative aspects of the platform as well that get over looked when going through the evaluation process. For me, it has been a love/hate relationship with pretty much everything Microsoft does. I think it mostly has to do with change and Microsoft has been through a lot of change over the years.
The one thing everyone needs to take into consideration is that hardware is dead. We have solved all of the communication problems from wireless to optical and everything in between. Software is the new reigning king and will be for the foreseeable future. You think I am wrong? I have two words for you “Virtual Machine”, moving on. What I mean is that legacy PBX’s were built in hardware and were very stable, rock solid, never say die even! They have been in existence since the early 1950’s. Software based PBX’s have been in existence for maybe 15 years.
S4B has certainly matured over the years and has integrated itself in to the desktop via the Microsoft portfolio of applications. That in itself is a positive an a negative. Let’s take a look at the core of the S4B solution it is revolves around two core servers the Front End Server and the Edge Server, they comprise the bulk of internal and external communications with the enterprise. The S4B solution relies heavily on DNS both internally and externally, so not for the faint of heart it your IT skill set is more administrative than networking. S4B will push your limits from the initial setup all the way through general maintenance. When it is working, everyone loves it. I use it everyday and can’t imagine not doing business with out it. When it is not working, everyone wants to rip it out.
S4B handles the stability issue by providing the ability to add multiple Front End servers in to a cluster or pool. Keep in mind that the licensing for the platform is based on the Front End server so each time you add one, you will be dropping more coin for a full setup. For large enterprises this is probably not a concern but a requirement. In smaller organizations this tends to break the budget; you can operate S4B with a single Front End without any issue and enjoy all of the benefits. Then a hard drive failure will occur or other issue will creep up and the cash will be flying out the door to fix it. So plan ahead and stick to the plan. Spend the extra money on hot swap-able hard drives, operate in at least RAID Level-1 do not kid yourself.
Microsoft has had a heck of time penetrating the small and medium market segment for several reasons. First is the cost of the platform out of the box and the required expertise to implement and support. Second is the licensing which if you ever have trouble sleeping break out their licensing documentation for S4B, problem solved. There are two basic licensing options for the desktop, internal calls only or both internal and external (PSTN) calls. To make PSTN calls, the minimum license required is an E3, the E5 license gets you access to both on-premise and on-line clients accessl. To be fair, Microsoft rolls in a lot of other extras in to that license including access to the latest Office products and a management portal to centralize everything.
Sticker shock. You didn’t include the desktop licensing in to the budget for your S4B implementation. The typical E5 license per seat is $35 per month or $420 annually. That is an extra $21,000 per year for a company of (50) employees. Ouch. So how is a small SMB supposed to save money on communications with $35,000 in hardware and software and another $21,000 per year in licensing? Over three years, you will have spent upwards $90,000.
As much as I love using S4B, it is not for everyone for many reasons. There are alternatives and I use them as well to ensure we have options for our clients and can offer an objective real world solution that works for significantly less money. As always the best client is an informed one!