Microsoft Skype for Business (SfB): Online Vs On-Premise


Skype for Business is an enterprise real time communications system to provide unified communications services. Enterprises can use instant messaging, presence, VoIP, conferences (audio, video and web conferencing) and PSTN connectivity. These features can be used within enterprise and between enterprises. External users from public internet can chat, call, conference with users inside the enterprise.

As a customer of Skype for Business, you can either deploy the services on-premise or chose to go for Skype for Business Online service. Both of the deployment models have gotten their own pros and cons. You should consider each of the pros and cons and decide what suits best for you.

On-premise solution allows you to avail all of the features, have full control of the infrastructure (servers and devices), and ability to customize the solution as per business requirement. However, it requires you to deploy required servers and devices, configure network and security and own the total cost of deployment.

Online solution allows the enterprises to have control of settings and configurations. However, they don’t have control over infrastructure servers and software. Enterprise can’t either fasten or slow down the upgrade based on third factors like compatibility with dependent applications or business applications.

Let’s look at the benefits and challenges an enterprises may enjoy\encounter if decides to go for Skype for Business (SfB) Online solution.

Benefits of Choosing Skype for Business Online

Total Cost of Ownership

Enterprises adopting Skype for Business Online save money on hardware, software licenses and services. This has potential to bring down the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

You don’t need to plan and buy the hardware for servers. This is a recurring cost which you have to keep paying with every upgrade of infrastructure, or expansion of firm.

In most of the cases, cost of software licenses goes down. There are various licensing plan which you can choose from. An optimized licensing plan can help you bring down the cost significantly.

You no more have to worry about the installation or major upgrades. Configuration and setup during major\minor upgrade requires you to spend a significant amount of total cost.

Enterprises save on backup and disaster recovery plan as well. A world class backup and disaster recovery solution requires you to spend significant amount of money. You end up saving on storage as well.

Features & Functionalities

Skype for Business Online solution offers many features and functionalities which On-Premise solution doesn’t offer.

Skype Meeting Broadcast is available for Skype for Business Online users. It lets you produce, host, and broadcast meetings to large online audiences. An enterprise needs to prepare the environment for hybrid with Skype for Business Online to extend Skype Meeting Broadcast to on-premise users.

Microsoft has made Cloud PBX available to Skype for Business Online users’ worldwide. Cloud PBX extends PSTN calling capability to Skype for Business online users without an enterprise having to manage the PBX infrastructure. Cloud PBX lets you eliminate separate PBX systems for users and move the functions of the PBX into the cloud.

You can assign and manage phone numbers using Office 365 admin console, and easily enable dial-in telephone numbers for your Skype meetings. It’s worth noting that the PSTN calling feature (using cloud PBX) is available in selected regions only. More regions are supported to enable dial-in telephone numbers.

What if your region is not supported? Such enterprises would be able to use existing PBX setup for voice calling (inbound and outbound). In order to achieve this, you need to setup a hybrid configuration. As of now, the hybrid option requires an on-premises Skype for Business Server installation.

(Image courtesy – Microsoft)

Skype for Business meeting dial-in via Certified Audio Conferencing Provider (ACP) is available for Online users. This service is not available to on-premise users.

Skype for Business Online reporting in Office 365 admin centre is available for SfB online customers. On-premise reporting is not as rich as online one.

Security & Compliance

Standard security and compliance settings are applied to Skype for Business Online customers. Microsoft has obtained various third-party audits and certifications for Office 365. This is to enforce trust in online services which are designed and operated with stringent safeguards.

This article helps us understand about these certifications in detail.

Challenges to Consider Before Choosing Online

Features & Functionalities

Following features and functionalities are not available with Skype for Business (SfB) Online services.

Skype for Business (SfB) integrates with SharePoint (on-Premise) to provide Skill Search feature to the end users. This feature is not available if SharePoint is not deployed on-premise. Or, if Skype for Business (SfB) is not deployed on-premise.

My Picture (URL Photo Experience) is not available for Skype for Business (SfB) users.

An important feature, Persistent Chat, is not available for Skype for Business Online users.

XMPP Service is not available for the Skype for Business (SfB) users. This service is used by Google Talk, Sametime and Jabber federation. Other enterprises using XMPP service can also federate with on premise Skype Deployment.

Skype for Business (SfB) Online service doesn’t support federation with AOL and Yahoo.

Note: Enterprises (using SfB Online) can explore third parties to federate with AOL and Yahoo users.

IM and File Filtering is not supported by Skype for Business (SfB) Online service.

Enterprises using Skype for Business (SfB) need to deploy Mediation Server and PBXs on-premise to enjoy full Enterprise Voice (EV) features.

On-Premise Unified Messaging can’t be integrated with Skype for Business (SfB) Online service.

Application Sharing, and Desktop Sharing Archiving are not supported by Skype for Business (SfB) Online service.

You can’t configure Network Quality of Service (QoS) for Skype for Business (SfB) Online users.

Meeting content retention in an on-premises deployment of Skype for Business Server 2015 is configurable through the Skype for Business Server 2015 Archiving feature. However, the retention period is pre-defined in online service.

Infrastructure Upgrade Control

Enterprises can’t control the upgrade pace of Skype for Business Online infrastructure. Neither they can fasten it up or slow it down.

Restricted Customization

Enterprises having SfB\Lync features injected in their business processes, need to carefully evaluate the customization supported by Skype for Business Online service.

Security & Compliance

There is no rich support of information barrier for Skype for Business (SfB) online users. You are not allowed to run those MSPL scripts or customized applications for online users. There are standard certifications for Office 365. However, your enterprise may have some specific compliance requirement which is easier to meet in on-premise solution.

Overall Assessment

Skype for Business (SfB) is an excellent enterprise platform to provide features like presence, instant messaging, audio and video calling, rich online meetings, and extensive web conferencing capabilities to the enterprises. These features can be leveraged either by deploying on-premise solution or by subscribing online service. Both of the models have their own pros and cons. An enterprise must prepare their list of requirements (features, security, compliance etc) and check which model suits best. The enterprises should also consider cost to implement the chosen model.

Disclaimer: Features and functionalities provided by on-premise and online service is subject to change. I would suggest to follow Skype for Business communities on social media to keep a tab on changes.

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