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Considering Skype For The Enterprise

I recently wrote about how Skype is going to be using the revenue generated from the IPO to attack the business market. The company does a good job highlighting its penetration into fringe business cases--mobility and international calling--and emerging business cases, such as video calling, but perceptions of Skype as prone to security and other problems have been a barrier to enterprise-grade use. Should you consider Skype for enterprise-wide deployment? Let's discuss.



I recently wrote about how Skype is going to be using the revenue generated from the IPO to attack the business market. The company does a good job highlighting its penetration into fringe business cases--mobility and international calling--and emerging business cases, such as video calling, but perceptions of Skype as prone to security and other problems have been a barrier to enterprise-grade use. Should you consider Skype for enterprise-wide deployment? Let's discuss.

That Skype is setting its sights beyond the SMB is obvious. Read the Security and Exchange Commision S1 filing Skype just issued: "We believe there is a significant opportunity to better serve the communications needs of the small and medium enterprise segment, as well as larger enterprise customers."

In truth, tackling the enterprise will be an uphill battle for Skype. If you're like most IT managers, anything that smacks of P2P file transfer is something that you want out of your corporate networks. P2P file transfer programs are widely seen as leading causes of malware distribution, so there's a natural resistance to Skype, particularly with a distributed architecture that's radically different than the classical PBX and IP-PBX architectures. Notions of uptime metrics, scaling, etc must evolve in a network where there is no single switching complex or gateway. Skype is still seen as major security risk by most managers.

When I helped develop the new release of the Skype Administrator's Guide, I was fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time working with the engineers behind Skype for Business.  It was clear to me then that they understand these perceptions, and the potential security risks implicit in deploying Skype, the risks of malware distribution, eavesdropping and intercepted calls and more. They had thought through those issues and built in the necessary measures to secure Skype.

On a broader level, Skype has developed a new suite of business-focused products. Skype created a centralized management overlay to the Skype network, re-branding the Business Control Panel as Skype Manager. The software console allows businesses to create Skype accounts, purchase paid products, manage and pay for the use of Skype products by their employees.  

Skype also added ways of tying into existing telephony infrastructure. Businesses can connect PBXs to Skype through Skype trunks with Skype Connect (or what's been referred to as Skype for SIP). Skype Connect already has over 2,400 active global customers and has already been certified by Avaya, Cisco, SIPfoundry and ShoreTel, among others, as interoperable with their products. Skype for Asterisk allows for Skype integration into the Asterisk environments. At the same time, Skype is building out the necessary support services for delivering enterprises-grade services. Sales teams have been improved and there's talk about paid, 24x7 support.

So should you consider Skype for your Business? Certainly, if you're considering a new deployment, but even in existing deployments Skype has lots going for it. Keep in mind, however, that while Skype has gone to great lengths to improve  the availability of its network and to make it easier to diagnose problems with the client, all softphone quality remains unpredictable, highly susceptible to the processes running in the client and network traffic conditions. Skype already has consumer-grade telephones that can utilize its network. It should consider providing the same for business-grade telephones.

Directory integration will also remain an issue. Enterprises today have their personnel and extension information already stored in a directory, such as LDAP. Tapping into those databases will make Skype significantly easier to roll out within the organization. Finally, compliance remains a problem. Right now, there are no integrated compliance mechanisms with Skype. You can't, for example, log chats in Skype for Business in a centralized location. Similarly, calls are encrypted, which makes call logging a problem.

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