Brad Anderson at Synergy 2016Back in January, Citrix and Microsoft launched our co-developed “v2” solution for delivering Skype for Business in virtualized environments. To meet the needs of many of the world’s largest Financial Services customers, the 2.0 release targeted Skype for Business 2015.

Now, we are pleased to announce availability of HDX RealTime Optimization Pack 2.1, designed to work both with the June product update to the Skype for Business 2015 client and a soon-to-be-released update to Skype for Business 2016.

As Microsoft Corporate VP Brad Anderson emphasized at the Citrix Synergy conference in May, “This is the only VDI solution that Skype for Business has been optimized for.

And did you catch the great demo showing the interoperability between NetScaler SD-WAN and the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack? If not, be sure to watch the video. And don’t forget that NetScaler also offers a great load balancing solution for your Skype for Business servers, with support for client pre-authentication and advanced traffic distribution methods.

Besides being “Skype for Business 2016-ready,” what else is new in this month’s 2.1 Optimization Pack release?

State-of-the-art audio-video technology

Our previous 2.0 release used H.264 video encoding on two-party calls but Microsoft’s older proprietary RT-Video codec on conference calls. The new release is able to leverage H.264 on conference calls, too. And it uses an updated H.264 implementation featuring Scalable Video Coding (SVC) and Forward Error Correction (FEC). The result is superior performance and video quality.

In addition, the SILK audio codec has been added to our HDX RealTime Media Engine. SILK was developed by the Skype team to deal with the challenges of delivering real-time speech over the public Internet. Although this codec is not currently supported by the Skype for Business Audio-Video Conferencing Server, it can be used on two-party calls where it generally delivers superior audio quality compared to RT-Audio or G.722.

Federation to consumer Skype

For businesses that interact with the public, federation to consumer Skype opens the door to improved customer service. A financial advisor can use Skype for Business to communicate with clients who have the consumer version of Skype. A doctor can use this technology to interact with a patient at home.

Endpoint location identification

The 2.1 HDX RealTime Optimization Pack passes endpoint location information such as IP address, MAC address and next-hop router to the Skype for Business client. Initially, the Skype for Business client uses this information to support Emergency Services (e.g. E911/E999/E112). Obviously, in a virtualized environment it is critical to distinguish the location of the user (user device) from the location of the hosted Skype for Business client, or emergency response personnel might be dispatched to the data center by mistake!

Interop with audio recording solutions

2.1 has been designed for compatibility with third-party server-based audio recording products, used in various sectors for auditing and training purposes.

QoE reporting

The Optimization Pack collects various metrics on call quality. In 2.0, you may have noticed some of these in the Call Statistics feature of the Optimization Pack’s systray icon (the “bowtie”). Now, in 2.1, Quality-of-Experience (QoE) metrics such as loss and jitter are passed to the Skype for Business client for reporting purposes. This can be very helpful to Help Desk personnel in identifying, for example, a subnet where a bad router is causing excessive packet loss.

Early feedback on the “v2” solution

Since 2.0 Paul McEwen at Synergy 2016was launched in January, I’ve received very positive feedback from customers and partners on the new “v2” architecture and the quality of the solution. It was great to hear UBS CIO Paul McEwen speak at our Synergy conference about how XenDesktop and the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack, now in full production for many thousands of users globally, have contributed to UBS becoming “completely agile” while saving “tens of millions” in costs and ensuring the security of confidential data (since chat logs, file transfers and contact lists stay safe in the data center).

Here’s a sampling of some comments I’ve received in email since 2.0 was launched:

  • “It’s an amazing experience. The [Microsoft-Citrix] partnership is clearly working.”
  • “A very good experience. We’ve tested both Windows and Macs. We tested with wireless and wired and also tested meetings on O365.”
  • “Kudos to Citrix for working with Microsoft on this. The Optimization Pack has wowed us. It’s pretty exciting. I’ve been able to do things that I’ve never been able to do.”
  • “Our experience with 2.0.100 has been really good. This technology will help drive VDI adoption across our company. It will also result in a significant cost savings. We are now starting to pilot Office 365.”
  • “The Skype [for Business] 2.0 solution is truly solving business issues and is a great testament of what the collaboration between Microsoft and Citrix can bring to us as a customer.”

You can be sure the joint Citrix-Microsoft team greatly appreciates hearing from you so thanks to all who took the time to send us a note!

What’s new in Skype for Business 2016?

What are the new features that Citrix customers can look forward to with the upcoming product update to the Skype for Business 2016 client? You’ll find them well-documented on Microsoft’s web site. And in addition to feature enhancements, the Skype for Business 2016 client is nimbler than its predecessor, with reduced CPU consumption and snappier performance.

Where to learn more

The full set of new features in the 2.1 release is described in the online product documentation. You can also view the recording of my Synergy session SYN107 “Deliver Skype for Business with XenApp and XenDesktop,” which contains valuable tips based on real world implementation experience along with a copy of the slides with complete speaker notes is available for download by Synergy attendees.

If you need any technical assistance with the release please feel free to make use of our Support Forum. And we’d love to hear your comments on this Citrix-Microsoft collaboration and your thoughts on what you’d like to see next; perhaps a media engine for ChromeOS or the HDX-Ready Raspberry Pi?

Derek Thorslund
Director of Product Management, HDX

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