A year ago, Citrix and Microsoft released our co-developed solution for delivering Skype for Business in virtualized environments, launching it at Citrix Summit 2016 in Las Vegas. And now we are pleased to introduce version 2.2 of the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack for Skype for Business. So, what’s been happening during the past year and what’s new in version 2.2?

Market Reaction

Unquestionably, the new “v2” architecture has been very well received, and I greatly appreciate the thoughtful emails that many customers have sent expressing their appreciation. Here are a few more customer comments (see my June post) that summarize the positive market reaction to the new HDX RealTime Optimization Pack:

The Optimization Pack works flawlessly. A very good user experience.” – IT Director at a large U.S. health insurance company

Users are very happy with the video and audio quality. Citrix admins are happy because of the decreased use of resources in the datacenter. Skype admins are happy because they don’t have to change anything in their infrastructure. This is an awesome solution. Great quality and user friendly.” – Solution Architect at IT service provider to several European banks

It’s great! Sound quality is superb.” – IT Services consultant at a global provider of audit, consulting, tax and advisory services

As the Microsoft update [to Skype for Business 2016] came out [in September] we instantly tried to install and test it and it works great. It’s quite easy and works from the beginning.” – IT Infrastructure Manager, European supplier to AEC industry

Deployment and implementation was very smooth and the fact that it doesn’t require any special configuration or management is awesome. It just works.” – IT Engineer at a U.S. provider of payroll, HR and benefits outsourcing services

From Evaluation to Full Production at Large Scale

Our focus during 2016 was on helping customers progress from evaluation into full production. This is “where the rubber meets the road” because our large customers have very complex Skype for Business deployments that include a wide array of third-party products. From the optional telemetry in recent updates to the Skype for Business client we see at least 60,000 active daily (weekday) users of the v2 Optimization Pack, and the number is growing quickly as more customers update from pre-September releases and continue to expand their roll-outs. Our installed base now includes several customers with thousands of active users; the biggest Optimization Pack deployment is 40,000 users but they’re not counted in the telemetry.

So, we now have proven that the solution is highly scalable, as well as interoperable with a long list of audio devices, webcams, IP phones, USB handsets, conference bridges, transcoders, gateways, server-based audio recording products, etc. It has been a lot of hard work and it sets our solution apart from anything yet to come onto the market. It will take a long time before any competitor can catch up! There’s a big difference between a demo and a battle-hardened enterprise-ready proven solution.

Close Partnership Between Citrix and Microsoft

There’s a lot more to the Citrix-Microsoft partnership than collaboration on software development, although that also continued during 2016. We introduced and refined a joint support model, so that customers with valid support contracts who experience an issue with this solution can open a trouble ticket with the vendor whose code they suspect to be causing the issue, that is, Microsoft for Skype for Business or Citrix for the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack. The vendor receiving the trouble ticket will triage the issue and escalate as appropriate. Each vendor can open trouble tickets with the other vendor as needed, eliminating the need to pong the issue back to the customer for redirection.

Our weekly meetings between the Engineering teams continue, our Test teams regularly exchange pre-release software, and we conduct joint roadmap planning. No other workspace virtualization vendor can legitimately boast this close working relationship with Microsoft’s Skype for Business team.

Continued Innovation and Joint Roadmap Planning

In parallel with building a large installed base during 2016, our engineering teams continued to collaborate to enhance the joint solution. We have a large HDX RealTime development team here at Citrix, and so we were able to bring many important innovations to market over the past 12 months. Here are some highlights of what came out during 2016, subsequent to our initial product launch:

This innovation will continue in 2017. And now we are pleased to introduce version 2.2 of the Optimization Pack. Here’s a glimpse at what’s new in 2.2.

Higher resolution video on low-end devices

Version 2.2 enables higher video resolutions to be achieved on Windows Embedded and IoT thin clients with low cost CPUs, leveraging onboard video acceleration hardware for CPU offload. Of course, this benefits PCs, laptops and other Windows devices, too. Version 2.2 also supports H.264 hardware encoding available in UVC1.1/1.5-compliant webcams, for both Windows and Linux devices. Yes, you can achieve HD video even on a device with a relatively low-end CPU.

Call Admission Control

Call Admission Control (CAC) is a feature of Skype for Business aimed at controlling voice and video bandwidth utilization across WAN links in large enterprise networks. This feature works by tracking bandwidth utilization due to all audio and video calls on the network, and applying bandwidth policies controlling per-call and aggregate bandwidth usage. Optimization Pack 2.2 supports CAC in all network configurations supported by Microsoft, for both on-premises and remote devices.

And a Few More Little Goodies

  • You no longer need to have admin rights to install the HDX RealTime Media Engine.
  • The Optimization Pack now provides connection, call and device status through Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). This includes software versions so that administrators can more easily identify devices that need updating.
  • Warnings messages generally used to encourage users to update the media engine on their device can be turned off for acceptable though mismatched combinations of the RealTime Connector and the RealTime Media Engine.

Citrix recommends using Optimization Pack 2.2 with the latest Skype for Business client updates, currently 15.0.4885.1000 and 16.0.7571.2072 (the December 6th Product Updates).

What’s Next?

Stay tuned for another exciting announcement in January at Citrix Summit 2017. If you’re a Citrix partner attending Summit, be sure to come to our TECH308 session on Tuesday, January 10th. Meanwhile, be sure to download Optimization Pack 2.2 and experience virtualized, high definition Skype for Business video for yourself!

Derek Thorslund
Director of Product Management, HDX

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