Managing Skype Room Systems and Surface Hub devices
Time wasted in meetings—whether hooking up devices, fiddling with settings, or dealing with connection problems—is so common that we often shrug it off as a normal part of the business day. But just five or ten minutes lost by half a dozen employees adds up when it happens regularly. To get meetings started faster and provide attendees with the best possible meeting experience, we have stopped viewing meeting rooms as technology silos and started focusing instead on an end-to-end, transactional view of the meeting experience: a service view.
Microsoft has a vision of all meeting room technologies being united into a single, cohesive, end-to-end solution. That solution empowers meeting attendees to collaborate more effectively and helps IT managers to monitor and rapidly remediate any problems—sometimes even before meeting room users notice them. We are improving how we manage meeting rooms, and those improvements are moving from development, the lab, and pilot testing into our solutions.
Our vision for managing meeting rooms
Meetings are business-critical activities that need to be supported holistically. Our vision of the meeting room is to integrate devices and technologies into a reliable, predictable, and highly available service. We provide tools for administrators to manage meeting room infrastructure easily and efficiently. We exploit the telemetry that is increasingly available from devices to create both real-time and historical views of meeting data so we can understand, optimize, predict, control, and, if necessary, correct the meeting experience.
Specifically, our vision for improving meeting room management focuses on:
- Treat meetings as a service. View meetings as an end-to-end service rather than as a collection of devices and technologies. Develop and use quality-of-experience metrics to measure and improve the meeting service.
- Use and enhance management tools. Use management tools such as Microsoft Intune and Operations Management Suite (OMS) to facilitate and integrate conference room system monitoring and administration. Free administrators from tedious and time-consuming tasks—such as parsing logs—by creating alerts and alarms that intelligently notify support staff. And finally, work to enhance the capabilities of those tools to support meeting room manageability.
- Collect scattered information in an easily accessible location. Collect and consolidate information about the capabilities, configuration, and location of all meeting room devices in one place. Aggregate and correlate telemetry from all relevant sources in a cloud data warehouse. Get a consolidated, real-time view of the health of devices, technologies, and services.
- Enable remote device management and automate routine and predictable processes. All patching, updating, reconfiguring, resetting, self-healing, and remediation should be able to be done remotely. Enable remote troubleshooting. Integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) for remote sensing and power management.
- Align and optimize people, processes, and technology. Use good management practices with an integrated, long-term view to avoid problems and optimize results.
Challenges for managing meeting rooms
We still face many challenges managing meeting rooms. Most of those challenges have been around for a long time. Others—such as the proliferation of devices—are new. Among the challenges are:
- Systems and devices are proliferating and becoming more sophisticated and complicated. New meeting room technologies offer opportunities for vastly improved meetings. However, new technologies also introduce new and challenging difficulties for us. The IoT also offers many new capabilities—but adds management overhead.
- Support is still mostly reactive and processes are still mostly manual. We’re still tracking the health of meeting room devices and systems manually, if at all. Data about devices and their locations is sometimes scattered. We depend on meeting participants to report problems, but too often those problems simply go unreported.
- Many meeting room devices and systems are incompatible. With the “bring your own device” culture, there are many platforms, protocols, and devices that our employees can use to connect to meetings. Our plan is to offer meeting room systems that allow people to connect easily regardless of their device or platform.
- Metrics are lacking, limited in scope, and not real-time. It is difficult to measure and analyze meeting quality-of-service and quality-of-experience when our data is not current and comprehensive.
- Troubleshooting and remediation must still be done on-site. We’re still not taking advantage of the ability of many modern meeting room devices to stream information about their configuration and status—and to even be reset remotely.
How we’re making it easier to manage meeting rooms
Microsoft IT is working to improve the meeting experience by improving meeting room manageability. We’re developing procedures and best practices for managing audio-visual gear in thousands of Microsoft meeting rooms worldwide. Teams from across the company—including product development, facilities, IT, and others—are studying all aspects of meeting room manageability, focusing on improving the meeting room experience.
We are creating an end-to-end device and services lifecycle that moves us away from the old, reactive, support model that relies on customer calls to being able to monitor devices in a unified view using alerts and alarms. Devices will be able to detect errors and automatically correct them (self-healing), or we will use remote tools or automation to resolve issues without dispatching a technician. Issues will be resolved before meeting room users are even aware of a problem.
Our primary measure of success is: How long does it take us to detect a problem? After we detect a problem, we measure mean time to resolution. The faster we can identify and resolve issues, the higher our meeting room availability and the less inconvenience for the people who rely on us.
Projects in development
To improve the meeting room experience, we are developing the following features to incorporate into customer products and services:
- Automated and integrated device provisioning, commissioning, and remediation.
- Collecting and warehousing both historical and real-time telemetry about meeting room devices, which we display end-to-end in OMS.
- Real-time device monitoring that incorporates alerts, alarms, and input from the IoT.
- A meeting health index, operational health index, scorecards, and diagnostic views that measure meeting experiences consistently across an enterprise.
- Unified management, reporting, and analytics tools for Skype for Business deployments on a single screen in the Office 365 administration portal.
Meeting room collaboration solutions
Figure 1: Microsoft Surface Hub
Microsoft currently has two meeting room collaboration solutions: Surface Hub and the next generation of Skype Room Systems.
Microsoft Surface Hub is a large (55-inch or 84-inch), interactive whiteboard device that’s designed for collaboration and videoconferencing. It has responsive, natural inking (you can write on Surface Hub with a stylus) and advanced touch capabilities. Surface Hub runs on Windows 10 and supports Microsoft Office, including Skype for Business and PowerPoint for fully interactive presentations.
The next generation of Skype Room Systems is a meeting room device integration solution that uses a specially configured Surface Pro tablet in a smart dock as a meeting room touch control. Meeting room devices—such as projectors and telephones—connect to the dock. Meeting attendees can control the audio and video in the room using the Surface Pro touchscreen—they can also connect to remote attendees who are using Skype for Business.
Microsoft management solutions
Microsoft management solutions—such as Intune and OMS—are being enhanced to help administrators manage Surface Hub and the next generation Skype Room Systems easily and in a similar manner. We use Microsoft Intune and OMS to run Surface Hub and Skype Room Systems.
Microsoft Intune is a cloud-based solution that provides mobile device management, mobile application management, and PC management capabilities. By using Intune, you can give employees access to corporate applications, data, and resources from virtually anywhere on almost any device—while helping to keep corporate information secure.
Microsoft Operations Management Suite is an IT management solution that helps you manage and protect your entire IT infrastructure, including Surface Hub. As of September 2016, support for the next generation of Skype Room Systems is in development. You can use OMS to track the health of Surface Hub devices and to understand how they are being used. When a Surface Hub sends log files to the OMS service, issues—such as servers being offline, the calendar not syncing, or the device account being unable to log into Skype—are displayed on the Surface Hub dashboard of OMS. You can use the dashboard data to identify devices that aren’t running or that are having other problems so that you can fix the detected issues.
Managing Skype Meeting Room devices
Here are four steps to help you manage Skype Meeting Rooms in a more integrated, systems-based, end-to-end manner using processes and software that are available today.
Step 1: Find and record device capabilities, configurations, and locations
The first step toward setting up an integrated, end-to-end approach for managing Surface Hub and the next generation of Skype Room Systems is to create a detailed database of all the equipment in the system, including capability and configuration details and locations. A spreadsheet may be adequate for this task in small to medium organizations. If you work at a larger organization, you may need to consider asset management tools and third-party services. What’s important is that you record the location and all of the relevant details of every device and centralize that information.
Traditionally, this kind of device information has been used for dispatching technicians and managing device patching and upgrades. In this integrated approach, you will import some of the key information into Microsoft Intune to enable it to simplify managing meeting room devices.
Note: For a detailed discussion of how to set up a new Surface Hub, see Microsoft Surface Hub administrator’s guide and Prepare your environment for Microsoft Surface Hub. Setup for the next generation of Skype Room Systems is expected to be similar.
Step 2: Enroll devices in Microsoft Intune and Operations Management Suite
After you gather the required device information, you can use it to configure your meeting room devices. For Surface Hub (and soon, the next generation of Skype Room Systems), you can make or change device settings in two ways:
- Locally, using the Settings app on the device.
- Remotely, using a mobile device management (MDM) solution, such as Microsoft Intune or VMware AirWatch. To manage devices remotely, each device must be enrolled in an MDM solution. If you are managing more than just a few devices, you will benefit from remote management.
Note: Local and remote management are not mutually exclusive; every device can be managed locally, and many devices can also be remotely managed. However, if a device is remotely managed, any changes to local settings that are also remotely managed will persist only until the next time the device syncs with your MDM solution. When the device is synchronized, the settings and policies defined in your MDM solution are pushed to the device, overwriting the local changes.
Enroll devices in Microsoft Intune
You enroll each device in Microsoft Intune by entering fundamental information—such as the device’s name, MAC address, IP address, and conference room alias. Then you can use Intune to apply settings to your devices using a configuration policy. Using Intune also enables you to set up your devices for use with OMS. You can also use Intune to push new firmware and updates to your devices when and how you choose. You don’t have to use the traditional method of making changes on a schedule. Using Intune gives you more flexibility, and it’s a lighter weight, lighter overhead solution than traditional management and patching solutions.
Enroll devices in Operations Management Suite
You can enroll Surface Hub in OMS locally by using the device’s Settings app, or remotely using Intune. (We expect a similar enrollment process for the next generation of Skype Room Systems.) After you enter the required device information into Microsoft Intune, Intune adds a workspace in Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS). By using the OMS workspace, you can get real-time data from your devices—including heartbeat, alerts and alarms, and other information about the end-to-end transactions between the user device running Skype for Business—and the hardware and software processes on Surface Hub and other devices.
For example, a prototype version of Microsoft Intune can configure a device used by the next generation of Skype Room Systems, and then a prototype version of OMS can monitor that device for errors. Any errors that OMS detects can be turned into alerts or alarms, or they can become an escalation in incident management software. The prototype OMS solution can also be configured to attempt to auto-correct, self-heal, or otherwise remediate detected issues. If necessary, OMS may also reboot the device.
Some meeting room management functionality is currently available in OMS, but as of September 2016, it is limited. Similarly, a meeting room device dashboard is currently available in OMS, but it has a limited number of views. We’re developing rich analytical views of both the next generation of Skype Room Systems and Surface Hub in OMS. Our goal is to provide details about device hardware and software processes along with dashboard alerts and events. We plan to develop a unified alert stream that displays the errors and alerts from other devices in the room in addition to errors from individual devices. This will provide two complementary views: a device view and an end-to-end conference room view.
A solution development guide is also in development. It shows how to receive and display device information in OMS so that you can develop custom solutions.
Figure 2: A dashboard in Microsoft Operations Management Suite showing heartbeat information for three Surface Hubs
Step 3: Operate and monitor configured meeting room devices
After you configure your devices using Microsoft Intune and OMS, your meeting room management system is operational and receiving real-time telemetry. As the enhancements to OMS become available, we expect that telemetry from devices will enable reports on the availability, utilization, and capacity of each device. We also expect that there will be an integrated console view where you will be able to see where any issues are occurring. The console view is also expected to show the notification and escalation processes that you have in place with your support staff.
Step 4: Measure user experience and call quality using Office 365 admin center
In addition to the current and future capabilities of Microsoft Intune and OMS, the Office 365 admin center is scheduled to add management, reporting, and analytics tools for Skype for Business in late 2016. This enhanced functionality will allow IT administrators to understand usage patterns, analyze call quality, and troubleshoot issues in both cloud and hybrid Skype for Business deployments.
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Meeting room technologies
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