How to optimize Skype for Business on any device.

As you read (you did read it, right?) in “Securing Skype for Business in a Mobile World,” storing sensitive Skype for Business data in the data center is a secure alternative to help ensure files, contacts, logs and more all stay safe within the corporate vault. And hosting Skype for Business on XenApp provides a secure and efficient way to keep the apps next to the data they use. Until you try to make a voice and video call that is.

Yes, logic would dictate that performance for voice and video would be degraded because of what we call the hairpin–or tromboning–effect. That is when you have your local camera, microphone and speakers sending voice and video to the data center where it makes a return trip to the person you are calling, who could be another 800 miles away.

Let’s look at the example in part one of this series, “Skype for Business – A Cyber Pirates’ Paradise?

I am in Boston. My company’s Skype for Business on XenApp is in our data center in Washington, DC. I call Penny, who is in Chicago and running Skype for Business on a XenApp server in Indianapolis. My voice and video goes from my microphone and camera in Boston to Washington, DC and renders in my virtual session. It then travels to Penny’s Skype in Indiana before hairpinning to Penny’s speakers in Chicago. And when she replies her voice and video goes from Chicago to Indy to DC to Boston. Phew! Talk about some frequent flyer miles.

It doesn’t take an expert in network communications to realize that this extra overheard–while proving to be secure–could foster a negative user experience. Now, it may sound trivial to think that my voice won’t match my video or that my video may freeze and stutter. But have you ever successfully watched a bad lip sync video? Or felt the frustration at a streaming video that constantly buffers? Pretty soon, your users stop using Skype for Business and circumvent corporate IT … again.

So, what do we do? To answer that we turn to basic physics and Archimedes. To wit:

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Going the [shortest] distance

Microsoft and Citrix joined developer forces to ensure that Skype 4B is able to run securely in a XenApp session, but with the same experience users expect when running in an unsecure, local instance. And what we came up with is called the “Skype for Business Optimization Pack.” I know, the name says it all.

As part of the jointly developed Skype Optimization Pack, we remove this hairpinning effect by having Penny and me initiate our video call just as we normally would, through the Skype server and using our Skype clients hosted on XenApp. Once the call is initiated, the Skype Optimization pack creates a secure point to point connection between my microphone and speakers and Penny’s microphone and speakers.

Think of it this way: we all remember the old movies and TV shows when there was a switchboard operator. People would initiate their call, ask the operator to connect them with “Penny.” The operator would take the phone cables and make a connection between their phone line and Penny’s, and VOILA.

This is just as it is with Skype. The operator is the Skype server initiating the Skype call. The switchboard lines are the virtual channel established direct from me to Penny.

It really becomes the best of both worlds. My Skype is hosted on XenApp, and with that comes the added security of chat logs, contacts, and file transfers, as well as session recordings stored centrally in my data center. Audio and video are made efficient and optimized with direct point to point access. When the conversation is ended, everything stays secure in the data center and Penny and I have a great user experience.

And speaking of my experience, when I bounce between devices throughout my day I don’t have to adapt to a new Skype for Business user interface. By provisioning it through XenApp, I only need to run one flavor of Skype on all my devices. Consistency is the key to productivity, not fumbling to find where a certain feature is when running Skype on my iPad.

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