UCaaS: Part #1 – planning to provide Skype for Business as a service?

Over the years of consulting services, managing and deploying UCC solutions, virtualization,… you might have thought several times about: why not provide them to all my customers from as a packed service?.
It’s nothing new nowadays – you called it ‘cloud’, hosting services, …

cmn_en_fig_services_vvc_sip_02

I’ve been planning and designing it for quite some years. So why not just share some memories, experience and concepts?
I decided to call it, since the 0 day, UCaaS – Unified Communications as a Service. Looks a cliché now, but it’s short and easy to catch 🙂 but also much broader than just providing Skype for Business

In this first part, I will just do a global overview that applies to any XaaS. I will focus on Lync/Skype4B on later posts.
Look at this one as a cooking lesson, starting by the main topic: the Kitchen 🙂

#1 It’s a service, so you need to see more then installing a couple of servers and connect the users! Before getting to that stage think, discuss and question about everything that comes to your mind.
Why? because we are about to run a business, any resource costs something and you need to count them on your selling price !

#2 We can go this way:
* buy a server, put on your basement or garage, connect to the internet, rent/create a webstore site and ready! (it can actually work)… or,
* everything below this line (more or less complex and as a existing company you might already have)

I like to group things to be easy to read and explain . Be aware that you might not need to own or have all on your side (you can just rent datacentre space, VM’s, backups).
UCaaS-model

datacenterBase infrastructure

The ‘hardware’, where you place it and how you reach it: Servers, Storage, Backup robots, Switching, Routing,  Firewalls, Load Balancers, Rack/Datacentre space, energy, internal and external connectivity (cabling, telecommunications, internet), …
By the way: all these also have something called ‘yearly maintenance costs’ if purchased and you will need to allocate some earnings  to replacement them when it’s time.

if planning big, consider consulting Hardware providers that support ‘pay as you grow model’. Many of them have cloud-ready solutions from small footprint up to large scale (and you can find some nice surprises on less-known brands)

virtualization-and-nos-150x150Support infrastructure

Some invisible, but ‘must have’ systems:

  • Virtualization- of course you will use it 🙂 and on this one we can even have mixed scenarios as the group above (virtual firewall, load balancers,…)
  • grafana-150x150Monitoring – Ever heard of an SLA ? if you are providing a service you will have to agree on an uptime. How can you measure and show to the customer? How can you detect failures or when you need more resources?
  • Backup and DR – Are you ready to loose your data? what about the customers data?
  • cybersecurity-590x393-150x150Security – you will need to manage patching and upgrades, antivirus, IDS, IPS… it’s a dangerous world outside, waiting to steal your customer data or take down you business.

 

management-dashboard-500x311Customer interfaces

This is your front porch and you should not hide it. If the prospective customers don’t like it, will they trust the inside of the housing?

  • Customer infrastructure connectivity – the way that the customer systems and users will connect to your services. The simplest way is the internet, but it would require for some services, WAN, private networks and interoperability/integration solutions.
  • The customer portal/tools – This can be from a simple status/account/billing view up to a self-provisioning, self-management
  • Ticket / support handling – five customers might be easy to deal with phone calls and emails, but what about 30,100,…?

Softwaresoftware-icon-150x150

I include on this section separately, because not everybody is aware of some legal aspects. Let’s take a look at Microsoft products: you cannot just buy a Windows license, install on your server and charge it to one (or more) customer(s) for a running service there.
Microsoft is clear on this: if you are a Hosting/Service Provider, you need to buy licensing throw a SPLA .
Like Microsoft, VMware and many other vendors provide (or enforce) this model and is not a bad option:

  • The advantage is that it allows you to pay monthly for what you really use –
    this is the pay-as-you-use model
  • The inconvenient is that you need to report the usage periodically and allow auditing to your business

My advice is:

  • as a Service Provider, contact the vendor and explain your intentions. They will help you to find the most profitable solution… most of the times.
  •  Don’t try to find ‘loopholes’…trust me: it will cost you much more later!

xml-formShared services

Here you put all the platforms and services that can be shared between multiple.
Great examples are web servers hosting multiple websites. But pushing your skills to the limit, you can have a lot more. Multitenant solutions also would fit on this group.

Dedicated your best resources planning them! This is where your cost savings make a difference.

140912_cloud_phoneDedicated services

This is what your best customers are looking and willing to pay for.
It’s your cash cow – the more you have here, the quicker your revenue increases. These business models have more opportunities, specially combined with standardized offers.

It has every group of systems serving unique customers:

  • It should be a ‘block model’ – same deployment and standardized procedures, automation and self service tools, will keep operational costs low and predictable.
  • But you can also include very ‘$pecific $olutions’ – these one gives you the opportunity to upsell consulting and managed services.

Skype for Business services model would fit on this group… but it might also fit for the group above? 😉

desperate-business-broker-face-bad-investment-concept-48317142Not there yet

If you already own a company then this is known to you: Work office place, furniture, energy, personal computers, HR, billing / account management, mobile devices, transportation/gas… you also pay for that, right

All done! What now?

presentation-screen-with-business-activities-download-royalty-free-vector-file-eps-14696After joining and calculating all the pieces, test yourself doing at least these questions:

  • What is the cost per service/per user? How much a VM with a specific size costs?
    This is the lowest value will charge for your service.
    => Capitalism rule: to earn money you need to sell it for more than you pay for
  • What is the break even point?
    simulate, over and over the time! Be ready to answer: how many customers (or users) do you need to have to cover all the costs made so far?
    Whomever is going to put money on this will make do that question before writing the checks (even yourself if you got the money)
  • What is the ROI?
    Investors, banks or stake holders will look for this (and many other tools).
    If you need financing you need to promise when and how much will you pay back.
  • Psychological one: are you an entrepreneur?
    It needs investment analysis, financial control, technical know-how, purchasing/selling/negotiation skills, HR management, and so on. As the business creator you need deal with of them.
    This will not be a one-man-show for long. Sooner or later you need help trust and delegate to others. Starting with someone it will look less difficult.

This might seem directed to start-ups guys, but it applies to existing companies. Product and/or Business developers need also to assume the above challenges, the problems, assume risks and responsibilities.

You are putting you neck and reputation on it and get ready to accept failure.
But of you planed all (not just a suicidal gambler), showed you the balls, and if successfully, the personal reward is priceless.

It’s still not over! there are some more strategic decisions for a go-to-market, on part 2 (writing in progress).

 

The minimal amount of servers for a full HA Enterprise Pool: less than 4

By the end of 2015, I started enumerating some challenges that the Lync/Skype topology presents when you just need minimal resources and provided some answers. Since the beginning of Microsoft UC and the more I dig inside the product versions, I came with some out-of-the-box personal challenges:
– 4/Feb/2012 – Installed a Standard Edition Lync 2010 in a Domain controller (DNS, CA) – LyncIn1Box
– 11/Dec/2016 – Installed Skype for Business 2015 in a Windows Server Core – The smallest Skype for Business front-end server

As strange as it sounds, there are some small companies around the world that depend on Lync/Skype for critical business mission but don’t have enough resources. Companies with small amount of users can go for Office365, but it might no cover all the features of the on-premises. Pool pairing (1 STD Edition + 1 STD edition) might also not be possible if there is no feasible secondary location.

A short technical review of what roles you need to cover for High Availability (HA):
* Front End Lync/Skype server roles
* Back-end databases  – you need a SQL mirror or a Cluster/Always-On
* File Share – can be provided by a DFS or a File Share cluster

Now we can start asking: how many resources do I need to deploy the above HA ?
Here some possible answers. Note that ‘something’ means that a SQL HA needs 2 Instances and a sort of a witness (either a SQL server or a File Share/disk quorum)

Microsoft recommended: 5.x (5 servers + something)

Following Microsoft recommended practices, you will need 3 front-end servers and a redundant back-end database. File Share can be easily deployed on the Back-end servers.

MS-recommend-EE

Microsoft minimum: 4.x

As Microsoft allow the usage of two Front end server, but: “This small pool will not provide a robust high-availability solution like a larger pool would, and needs extra care in managing“.

MS-minimal-EE
My recommended PoC: 3.0

By joining all the roles across 3 windows servers, you can have one server down and the built-in automatic failover mechanisms will take care of that.

MY-recomended-EE

My minimum PoC : 2.x (2 servers + something)

Redundant means at least two systems, so this is the absolute minimum :). It has the same risks as Microsoft states for two servers.

MY-minimal-EE
The main reason is the fabric quorum: If you unexpectedly loose a server, the fabric cannot elect the owner of the several roles… even if there is only that server. There will be the need of a ‘soft’ quorum reset (manually or a triggered task)
But if you shutdown a server/services gracefully all services will be transferred to the working node.

About the 2.x equation:
* If you use a SQL mirror, a SQL witness is required (which actually means an additional/existing Windows server)
* If you use SQL clustering/Always On, you will need: (1) a file share witness -doesn’t have to be a Windows but can count as a server :)- (2) a quorum disk (share storage) – and this is the ‘true’ 2.x

Final thoughts

Deploying this ‘minimalist’ solution is more about ‘out-of-the-box-thinking’ than tweaking (actually it’s only one). The normal Skype for Business setup wizard will install normally all the roles defined on the topology.

Notes about this ‘minimal counting’:
* It’s about adding Skype services: it assumes that you have a Windows Domain, a CA and a sort of Load Balancer.
* SQL Clustering/AlwaysOn is still on test stage, but the service failover should behave similar as the Mirroring.
* If you already have a SQL HA in place at the datacentre, you can reuse it. This will make MY and MS minimal requirements equal to 2.
* At this time I excluded the Edge, Office Web App roles or Persistent Chat. The first one will required more resources, the second role… is for an updated post 😉

Skype4B interoperability: Cisco Expressway

Cisco Expressway “offer users outside your firewall simple, highly secure access to all collaboration workloads, including video, voice, content, IM, and presence. Collaborate with people who are on third-party systems and endpoints or in other companies. Help teleworkers and Cisco Jabber mobile users work more effectively on their device of choice. Cisco Expressway allows you to do all this and more.” (source)

Using Skype for Business terminology, this is the “Edge Server” of Cisco. But it besides the described functions, it has one that allows you the integrate Cisco Video endpoints (desktop client, video conference rooms up to telepresence system) with Lync/Skype for Business clients that allows SIP dialling from both sides with audio and HD video: search for the contact and press the call button.

 

The infrastructure configuration is based on a ‘dedicated expressway’ configured as a Skype for Business ‘trusted application’. The rest is all about SIP domain ‘static routing’.

CiscoExpressway-Interoperability
Expressway topology for on-premises Skype for Business and Cisco video endpoints 

Great features of this integration:

  • IM & presence is possible between systems;
  • Desktop sharing is supported;
  • Both Cisco and Microsoft can share a single SIP domain;
  • Skype for Business remote clients can use the Expressway on the DMZ (TURN server) for audio traffic with Cisco endpoints;
  • Skype for Business clients can make and receive audio/video calls with external parties whom the Cisco has federation with.

There are also some limitations:

  • Presence is based on SIP simple. Only can have the status ‘Available’ and ‘Busy’;
  • Skype for Business clients can join a multipoint conference in Cisco, but Cisco endpoints cannot join Skype meetings.

 

In conclusion, although it’s not a better solution than Polycom, the Expressway leverages the existing investment  already done on Cisco infrastructure and can be extended to a complete 3rd interoperable federation solution:

CiscoExpressway-Federation

Lync (Skype for Business) November 2016 update – duplicate IM’s

ISSUE

On November 2016, Lync 2013 (Skype for Business 2015) customers start reporting cases of  duplicate of IM messages.

CAUSE

The issue started appearing after the installation of November 2016 client update (KB3127934) and it affects the receiver only.

skyp4b-kb3127934-issue3

duplicate-imsSteps to recreate the issue (credits go to Alex) :

  1. Send an IM to an user
  2. Do not open the IM toast on the receiving user
  3. Send another (or more) IM the that user
  4. Open the notification toast of the receiving user and you will noticed that only the first IM line sent is not repeated

The issue does not occur when the IM conversion window is open.

Applying the December 6, 2016, update for Skype for Business 2015 (Lync 2013) (KB3127976) also causes the same issue.

Skype for Business 2016 clients are also affected on the same way by their corresponding monthly cumulative updates. There is an oldest thread on Microsoft community that was reopened by another 2 persons that report the same behaviour and uninstalling the KB3127934 would solve the issue.

SOLUTION

Apply the January 3, 2017 update for Skype for Business 2015 (Lync 2013) (KB3141468) or Skype for Business 2016 (KB3128049).
It is mentioned on the resolved issue list (no root cause provided):
“Assume that you send continuous instant messages (IMs) to a user in Microsoft Skype for Business 2015 (Lync 2013). Then you allow the toast notification window to be auto accepted. In the conversation window, you find every item but first gets duplicated. Also, in the Conversation History in Microsoft Outlook, you find that the conversation window shows duplicated IMs. “

I successfully tested and confirmed that it solves.