Over the past six weeks, Microsoft have revealed their plans for Teams and Skype for Business. Let’s review the big news about Teams, and what it will mean for Citrix customers.

Unified Communications is evolving into what Microsoft call “Intelligent Communications.” The goal is to make it possible for workers to communicate more efficiently, with less context switching, and to be more productive.

At the recent Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft announced that Teams will be the primary client for intelligent communications in Office 365 (see Lori Wright’s blog post). Skype for Business Online customers will see the functionality that they’ve enjoyed converge into the Teams client. Microsoft Teams will offer comprehensive calling and meetings capabilities, built on a next-generation Skype infrastructure for enterprise-grade voice and video communications.

Already, Teams has introduced features, like scheduled meetings, Outlook calendar integration, meetings on mobile, and guest access. In the coming months, Microsoft will roll out audio conferencing (currently in preview) and calling features, such as inbound and outbound calls to PSTN numbers, call transfer, call hold, and voicemail.

Simultaneous with the Teams announcements for Office 365 customers, Microsoft announced plans for Skype for Business Server 2019 for customers with an on-premises communications infrastructure. The new Skype for Business Server release, part of Office 2019, was reviewed in Daniel Strader’s session at Ignite. Along with it, there will be an updated desktop client for Windows 10. It will interoperate with both Skype for Business Server 2019 and Skype for Business Server 2015.

Side-by-side mode

To facilitate the transition from Skype for Business Online to Teams, Microsoft committed to supporting interoperability between the Teams and Skype for Business clients, including universal presence, and messaging and calling interoperability. This side-by-side mode of operation will ensure that customers don’t lose any of the capabilities they’re accustomed to with Skype for Business as they embrace Teams. Also, Microsoft confirmed that there will be interoperability between the signaling and media stacks of Teams (which is built on the same Next Generation Core (NGC) as Skype Consumer) and Skype for Business.

How long will the Skype for Business client be supported on Office 365? Microsoft’s answer: “We plan to continue to support the Skype for Business service and client. We have no plan to remove Skype for Business from Office 365 subscriptions at this time.

Teams-only mode

As soon as the functionality of Teams fully meets the needs of an Office 365 customer, they can discontinue using the Skype for Business client. That’s Teams-only mode.

A closer look at the Microsoft roadmap

Additional details about Microsoft’s roadmap for converging Skype for Business features into a new, converged Teams client for Office 365 were revealed in late October. Some of the notable updates targeted for Q2 2018:

  • Telco voice line support
  • Screen sharing during chat and federation between companies
  • Support for meeting room devices
  • Meeting recording
  • Surface Hub support
  • Call queues
  • Boss and Delegate support
  • Consultative transfer
  • Calling between Teams and Skype Consumer
  • Support for certified SIP phones
  • USB HID support

Additional enterprise calling features like Location-Based Routing and Call Park/Pickup are due out in Q4 2018.

Skype for Business Server 2019 is planned to introduce Cloud-connected analytics and voice apps, enhancements to Enterprise Voice, and improved interop with Teams.

What does this mean to Citrix customers?

No doubt, as more and more Citrix customers embrace Office 365, Microsoft Teams will quickly become a “strategic app” just as Skype for Business is today. Already, 20% of our HDX RealTime Optimization Pack users – and we’re at over 350,000 Daily Active Users as of early November 2017 – are on Skype for Business Online. These Office 365 customers will want to host the Teams client on our XenApp and XenDesktop platform, whether on premises or in the Cloud. Many Citrix customers will initially use Teams to leverage persistent chat and threaded chat, and this will then expand to more complex features including real-time audio-video conferencing.

We have good news: Citrix is committed to delivering the Microsoft Teams client from XenApp and XenDesktop with a great user experience and comprehensive feature set while optimizing server scalability to minimize cost. We will continue the close and active partnership with Microsoft that enabled us to co-develop the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack for Skype for Business.

Immediately, Teams audio-video processing can be optimized for Windows device users by leveraging the Local App Access feature of XenApp or XenDesktop Platinum edition. We are working to document the capabilities and any notable limitations of this approach. Our HDX Engineering team made considerable improvements to Local App Access during 2017 in anticipation of broader use of this powerful feature.

If you prefer, the Teams client can be used side-by-side with Skype for Business, with redirected audio-video via the HDX RealTime Optimization Pack. This is especially helpful if you have Macs or thin clients running Linux or Wyse ThinOS, since Local App Access is limited to Windows devices.

Of course, subject to server capacity, you could also run the Teams client using server-side audio-video processing via our generic HDX RealTime technologies (see CTX133024 and CTX132764 for important configuration tips). These technologies provide a viable fallback when media redirection is not available. Since most servers today lack video hardware acceleration (H.264 hardware encode and decode), make sure you have CPU capacity to handle webcam video for a sufficient number of concurrent participants. If you take this approach, install the 32-bit Teams client since Webcam Video Compression is currently available only for 32-bit apps. The generic HDX RealTime technologies are currently supported by the Citrix Receiver on Windows, Linux, Mac and Chrome, with additional OS support to come.

And one more thing: ShareFile is already available as a Cloud Storage option within Teams.

Where does WebRTC fit into all of this? Besides the Teams desktop client (rich Windows client), Microsoft offers a Teams web client, a sort of “Teams Lite”. This is ideal for meeting participants who haven’t downloaded and installed the Teams desktop client. The Teams web client leverages WebRTC in the browser, so it doesn’t require a special Teams browser extension or plug-in. WebRTC enables the Teams web client to provide full media functionality. Citrix is currently developing optimizations for WebRTC-based web apps.

What about customers with on-premises Skype for Business servers? Telemetry tells us that these represent the majority of Skype for Business users today (80% at last check). Citrix will soon introduce a Long Term Service Release (LTSR) of our HDX RealTime Optimization Pack. Additional enhancements are on the roadmap and, of course, we are committed to supporting the Skype for Business Server 2019 release with our optimized solution.

Starting in Q1, we will share more details of the joint Citrix-Microsoft roadmap with our partners and customers under NDA. Meanwhile, Microsoft have an FAQ web page about the journey from Skype for Business to Teams where they are accepting comments and questions.

Derek Thorslund
Director of Product Management