Decommissioning Skype for Business internally at Microsoft

May 18, 2021   |  

It’s been a long journey, but decommissioning Skype for Business on premises across Microsoft is complete.

Almost.

Just a few more special lines of business to go, and then all of Microsoft will be able to benefit from the better performance and collaboration capabilities found in Microsoft Teams.

“A lot of customers think we’ve completed the migration,” says Scott Kovach, a service engineer for Microsoft Digital. “The reality is, we are about 95 percent of the way there.”

A subset of employees relies on the specific functions within Skype for Business to complete their work. Some of these features are necessary for interacting with external partners, so prematurely moving these users to Microsoft Teams could disrupt operations.

“Once this is all complete, we can see the benefit of retiring our old assets,” Kovach says.

Phasing out the communication platform has taken a fair amount of time and effort. Fortunately, Microsoft Digital, the organization that powers, transforms, and protects Microsoft, has developed specific communication and migration strategies for decommissioning Skype for Business.

[Learn how to update your organization’s federation with Microsoft. Find out how Microsoft is leading a successful transition from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams.]

When it’s time to say goodbye

Skype for Business used to be a central tool for communication at Microsoft. In keeping up with the company’s digital transformation needs, Microsoft Digital needed to update the service to support a modern, cloud-based enterprise.

“We had infrastructure pools built across multiple regions like North America, Singapore, Asia Pacific, and India,” Kovach says. “We were anticipating a full move to the cloud, essentially a lift and load, removing the server infrastructure ownership burden on IT and instead leveraging Skype for Business Online.”

Moving to the cloud would help alleviate some of the bandwidth and asset-heavy requirements of Skype for Business on premises, improving the experience for the employees who used the service and the engineers who supported it.

“We wanted to get onto the cloud with Skype for Business Online. That was going to be our initial step,” Kovach says. “We were anticipating doing that in totality.”

Then something big happened.

We had an opportunity to be the first Microsoft Teams customer, and that’s important.

– Scott Kovach, service engineer, Microsoft Digital

“Microsoft Teams came out,” Kovach says. “Skype for Business didn’t have the cool stuff Teams did, the core components, like collaborative capabilities. Teams was more than just a chat and calling platform.”

The arrival of a new service changed Microsoft Digital’s perspective on decommissioning Skype for Business.

“We had an opportunity to be the first Microsoft Teams customer, and that’s important,” Kovach says. “Teams was going to be more reliable and perform better, which drove the goal of migration. But we found that some users were still dependent on Skype for Business.”

According to plan—sort of

Most of Microsoft’s migration to Microsoft Teams was fairly textbook.

“We mapped everything out that we knew about from a service perspective and put it into buckets,” Kovach says. “Those buckets were then further dissected to determine what could be accomplished now versus what couldn’t be done due to product limitations.”

Certain users could be moved to Microsoft Teams without much disruption because they had a status of “No Dependency,” meaning the user’s day-to-day activities didn’t rely on features exclusive to Skype for Business. At launch, Microsoft Teams didn’t include all the features and functionality that Skype for Business did, which created unique circumstances and exceptions for decommissioning Skype for Business.

“These other users or services couldn’t be moved because they were either dependent on a service or they opted out during the grace period,” Kovach says. “When we evaluated those buckets, we then assigned them to quarters based on what we thought we could do during our projected timelines.”

Most of this work could be done in parallel, but certain areas took much longer than initially estimated.

Farnaz Hafezi sits atop a waist-high brick wall in a backyard.
Farnaz Hafezi guided several efforts in the process of decommissioning Skype for Business, including coordinating communications with external partners who might be affected. (Photo by Farnaz Hafezi)

“Initially we wanted to make sure we weren’t impacting sales or teams with specific feature needs,” says Farnaz Hafezi, a program manager with the Seamless Teamwork team in Microsoft Digital who helped coordinate the migration of several teams. “Now we’re in a situation where backends and little groups are using Skype for Business and they might not even know it.”

A large enterprise like Microsoft requires specialized tools for all the calls, chats, meetings, and collaboration that takes place with different internal and external parties. Microsoft Teams largely took over these responsibilities, but certain communications existed only on Skype for Business and its infrastructure.

“From the user perspective, it looks like everyone is moved to Teams, but the Skype for Business servers are still up,” Hafezi says. “We can still see a lot of activities in the old infrastructure. When we dig into that further, we find these accounts.”

This has thrown a wrench in decommissioning Skype for Business.

“We’re definitely trying to shut down the service, but we’re careful not to disrupt our employees’ work. Often, we need to communicate with them first,” says Sarah Lundy, a senior content publisher with Microsoft Digital who helped with user readiness. “Maybe they don’t know that their system account still runs on Skype for Business, or they opted out of a Teams upgrade years ago and they’ve forgotten about that. We try to communicate as simply and clearly as possible about what will change.”

When Lundy and Hafezi communicated with owners of system accounts enabled for Skype for Business about moving their accounts to Teams, they learned something surprising.

“Sometimes these accounts are used for physical phones, for example,” Lundy says. “Simply shutting down Skype for Business would result in some common area phones in buildings throughout the world going dead. We don’t really know what the impact will be until we get there.”

Cleaning up after the party

One area of particular difficulty—federation services—has required extra effort.

Federation, or external access, is a way for users to find and connect with people at other organizations. It’s a trusted channel so people can safely communicate with outside contacts through Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business.

Federation change looks simple, but it’s a complex effort that requires a lot of internal and external coordination and communication.

“We don’t always know which external organizations are communicating to us through Skype for Business,” Hafezi says. “Finding these users is considered to be the last part before we shut down the servers.”

There are two types of federation models: open and closed. Open federations rely on auto-discovery and weren’t impacted by Skype for Business servers being retired. The older approach, closed, is a restricted configuration. Without remediation, closed connections would be severed by shutting down the Skype for Business servers.

“If there are specific domains or customers using a closed federation model, they may be impacted,” Hafezi says. “They’ll need to change their configurations so that we can safely shut down the servers.”

By looking at DNS reports from Microsoft’s tenant, the team was able to pinpoint some of the external customers and partners who might be using Skype for Business to engage with Microsoft employees.

“It’s not 100 percent accurate,” Hafezi says. “Once we find people still using Skype for Business, we can work with our sales and customer support organizations to help them communicate the change to customers and partners.”

Reaching these external contacts has required Microsoft Digital to cast a wider net.

Teammates in Microsoft Digital who work closely with Microsoft’s customer-facing organizations helped Hafezi and Lundy communicate to the right audiences, including communities of Customer Success Account Managers.

“They have channels that I wouldn’t know about because it’s targeted towards a very specific role,” Lundy says. “We’ve been able to make that bridge and share information across newsletters and meetings so that we can reach customers we can’t communicate with directly.”

The message from Hafezi and Lundy is clear.

“If you have a customer that these parameters apply to, make sure you have a conversation with them so they understand the steps they must take to stay federated with Microsoft,” Hafezi says.

It’s a group effort

Decommissioning Skype for Business on premises is nearing its completion, but getting there required giving several small areas special attention.

India required location-based routing in Skype for Business, which wasn’t yet available in Microsoft Teams but now is, which has allowed us to fully migrate our users in India,” Kovach says. “We’ve decommissioned several of our regional server pools, even getting to the point where we did transition mediation to other regions during the process.”

And the benefits are already clear.

Shutting down old assets like Skype for Business removes the cost of on-premises infrastructure and helps take advantage of modern cloud-based infrastructure.

“We’ve had great support globally,” Kovach says. “That’s really kept us on track. Overcommunication gave us peace of mind. When we decide to move past or disable, we can do that with a comfortable certainty that we are moving in the right direction.”

For Hafezi, migrating to Microsoft Teams and decommissioning Skype for Business emphasized the role communication plays in any effort.

There are different dependencies across Microsoft. Understanding user needs and the potential impact allows you to communicate appropriately.

– Sarah Lundy, senior content publisher, Microsoft Digital

“Stay in contact with stakeholders,” Hafezi says. “There are all these things you learn from conversations that you wouldn’t know otherwise.”

Lundy agrees.

“There are different dependencies across Microsoft,” Lundy says. “Understanding user needs and the potential impact allows you to communicate appropriately.”

As the journey reaches its conclusion, there’s an opportunity for others to learn from the Microsoft experience.

“When we started to unravel everything, we saw how complex it got,” Kovach says. “We’ve beaten down the path a bit as a first and best customer, and the service is in a state now where moving to Microsoft Teams will give you what you need and more.”

Learn how to update your organization’s federation with Microsoft.

Find out how Microsoft is leading a successful transition from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams.

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