Planning Skype for Business (Part 1)

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We are going to start a small series on how to deploy a brand new Skype for Business Server 2015 into an existent environment running Active Directory and Exchange Server 2016. This new release of Skype for Business Server has tons of new/improved features. Some of my favorites are: in-place upgrade from previous versions, support for Always On SQL feature, centralized logging and improved Snooper debugging tool, hybrid environment which supports CloudPBX feature, Video Interop Server (VIS) to integrate Skype for Business Server 2015 and Cisco video teleconferencing systems, built-in data call quality survey results, improved mobility and meeting experience to the end-users.

The first step before starting the technical process is to understand the roles available in this release and that is going to be the main goal of this article. We will show how to take advantage of Microsoft documentation to understand the inter-communication among Skype for Business Server roles, as well certificate, and DNS diagrams and planning tools to help during the planning phase..

Skype for Business Server 2015 roles…

The first stop in our journey is to recap the server roles available in Skype for Business Server, and here is a resume of each one of them.

  • Front End Server
    This role is required on any Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment. It always has a back end component which is an SQL Database that, depending on the design, can be in a cluster or in a separate server. When configured in Enterprise Mode, then a series of Front End Server are grouped together and they create a Front End pool and provide high availability and fault tolerance.
    This role is key for the Skype for Business Server 2015, it is responsible for user authentication and registration, presence information, IM (Instant Messaging) including multiparty IM conferences etc.
    Usually the first Front End will have the CMS (Central Management Server) which is the main database that is replicated to all servers, and it is responsible to keep the configuration of the entire Skype for Business environment consistent on all servers.
  • Edge Server
    If there is need to communicate with external users, and that external user can be an internal user located outside of the company, federated partners, or external users being invited to meeting, then the Edge Server role is a requirement.
    Another requirement for the Edge Server role is the use of mobile devices (including Android, Apple, and Microsoft devices) to use Instant Messaging, presence, conference and Call via Work feature.
  • Mediation Server
    This role is required when we want to integrate the Skype for Business Server environment with Telephony systems which will enable some cool features, such as: dial-in conferencing, Enterprise Voice (send and receive calls from your Skype for Business endpoints) and Call Via Work.
  • Director
    Director is a role that allows the authentication process to be performed however it does not home any user on these servers. They are used to improve the security where in a DoS (Denial of Service) attack the requests will be stopped at the Director level and not directly on the Front End Server.
  • Video Interop Server
    This is a new role in this new release of the product. It allows integration of Skype for Business Server 2015 with certain third-party VTC (Video Teleconferencing System), mainly with Cisco/Tandberg systems.
  • Persistent Chat Server
    This role allows a conversation based on topic to persist over-time, and helps team collaboration.

Now that we are on the same page about the roles available on Skype for Business Server 2015, we need to understand how the roles interact for several workloads, such as: IM and Presence, A/V and Web Conferencing, Enterprise Voice, Application Sharing and Broadcast Conferencing.

Before going to the Internet and trying to figure out what connects where, we can use a great resource from Microsoft called Technical Diagrams and they help the administrator to understand why some roles are required and how it integrates with other roles. The Technical Diagrams can be found here.

IM and Presence Technical Diagram

Besides showing the integration among server roles, the same technical diagram file has some additional pages that help the planning process by providing a great deal of details on the Certificate Requirements, DNS Configuration and CMS (Central Management Store) component.

Certificate Requirements for Skype for Business Server 2015

Server collocation…

One question that may come up is… Should we have a server for each role? The answer is simple, depends of the role. The best way to tackle this question is understanding which roles require a separate server, which are: Director, Edge, and VIS (Video Interop Server).

The role that can be collocated is Mediation with the Front End Server role.

Skype for Business Scenarios…

Skype for Business Team created a reference topology page which helps administrators to understand Skype for Business components that need to be evaluated during the planning phase, and since they provide some examples it is easy to understand what we should consider during the planning stages of the solution.

In the next article of this series we will cover the Skype for Business Planning Tool which will use the concepts that we are working here and add information on the tool to get an idea of the future environment.

Reference Topology for a small organization

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