The make-up and dynamics of the enterprise workforce has changed. Companies need to offer flexible working conditions to attract and keep talent, rising real-estate costs has encouraged teleworking and high salaries demand high productivity in return. Collectively, these changes are driving an increased demand for products that support collaborative working.
Collaboration tools have been around for a long time — remember MSN Messenger? — but enterprise demands have out-stripped simple, standalone, tools.
Modern collaboration products — from vendors such as Slack, Trello, Dropbox, Cisco, G-Suite, and Microsoft — typically combine email, instant messaging, social networking, audio & video conferencing and document collaboration tools. Slack and Trello have focused on project management as the hub of their service while others have focused on communications: Cisco, for example, exploits the company’s long history in video conferencing and file sharing in their WebEx Teams product.
Adoption is highest among large enterprise, although SMBs are gradually taking notice, and the overall market is forecast to grow from $35 billion in 2018 to $60 billion by 2023.
A lot of this forecast can be attributed to Microsoft’s announcement which formalized their future intent for Teams – an event that many commentators have described as a game changer for the market.
Microsoft Teams looks set to dominate the market
Microsoft considered buying Slack a few years ago but the deal was passed over in favor of developing Skype for Business (Skype was itself an $8.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft in 2011). Teams was launched in early 2017, initially to the Education sector, and in September of the same year, Microsoft announced Teams would replace Skype For Business (SfB).
Insiders noted that SfB was never properly integrated with the Microsoft product set, resulting in high support costs and low user satisfaction, and to address these concerns, Teams has been designed afresh ‘with a new infrastructure for enterprise-grade voice and video communications…. users will see faster meeting join times and a better browser experience’.
In April of this year, Microsoft claimed to have over 135 million monthly active users for their Office 365 Business product and it was reported at the same that Teams had taken pole position as the collaboration product for large enterprise.
Given the tight integration of Teams with the rest of the Microsoft product set, it’s difficult to imagine Office 365 users going anywhere else for collaboration tools.
Considerations for implementing a network to support collaboration tools
A robust, high-capacity VoIP network is essential to support effective operation of Teams, or any other feature-rich collaboration product, and there are several considerations.
Quality of Service (QoS) is high on the agenda and our earlier article provides a summary of the main problems and solutions.
While most IP networks will have been implemented with support for real-time media in mind, the user population for Teams could increase quickly, so don’t assume your current network is fit for purpose. The Microsoft network planning and readiness assessment tools can help validate your current setup and make enhancement recommendations. They also provide a useful network configuration checklist.
Some types of network aren’t best suited to Teams and either need to be changed or avoided.
Office 365 relies on User Datagram Protocol (UDP) which some VPNS don’t support and most VPNs implement an extra later of encryption that could throttle Teams traffic. Split-tunneling — creating a separate VPN path for Teams traffic — could resolve the problem but might not be possible for all VPN implementations.
Wi-Fi networks might need modification to support high QoS real-time media. WMM (Wi-Fi MultiMedia) will prioritize media traffic and using 5GHz access points, rather than the more common 2.4 GHZ, will help too. Wireless vendors can advise on the best placement and configuration options.
Other network considerations include making sure the correct TCP and UDP ports are open and white-listing Office 365 traffic on intrusion detection systems.
Given the range of changes you might need to make, comprehensive network testing is essential before going live.
Besides the VoIP network itself, there are other quality-of-use considerations.
Devices used for audio and video — headsets, webcams, speaker phones — are often overlooked. Poor quality devices or out-of-date drivers will deliver a very poor user experience, so consider those at the same time as you are reviewing the network.
Microsoft actively encouraged third-party development of products to support Skype for Business by publishing protocol and codec tech specs. This allowed vendors such as Polycom and AudioCodes to produce tightly integrated products such as third-party IP phones (3PIP) and video conferencing units. The good news is that Microsoft has indicated these should be compatible with Teams, meaning if you’ve invested in SfB network products there’s a high chance they’ll be forward compatible.