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Microsoft Spotlights New Skype Systems from Hardware Partners

Microsoft recently touted its hardware partners' efforts around Skype Room Systems (SRS), even as the Skype for Business platform itself is in flux.

SRS products are meeting-room consoles offered by hardware partners that integrate with Microsoft's Skype for Business unified communications service, offering voice-over-IP, messaging, presence and videoconferencing capabilities.

Microsoft confirmed at last month's Ignite conference that it is moving Skype for Business capabilities over to its Microsoft Teams collaboration service. However, the Skype for Business Online service and Skype for Business Server products are continuing. Microsoft is promising that partner-built SRS products will work with Teams, too.

"Looking forward, the new enhancements to Teams will seamlessly integrate with Skype Room Systems," Microsoft's announcement stated. "Skype Room Systems will be automatically updated to support meetings scheduled by either a Teams user or a Skype for Business user." 

Current certified Skype for Business clients also will work with Teams, Microsoft promised last week.

On the SRS products side, some partner progress was described during Ignite. However, specific SRS availability details may have gotten garbled. For instance, many of the SRS products were described as being available for "preordering," which didn't really explain whether they were actually available for use. The Logitech SmartDock SRS product, however, has been available for a whole year.

"Logitech is actually the only vendor currently shipping a Skype Room Systems product (Logitech SmartDock)," a Logitech spokesperson explained earlier this month via e-mail. "And Logitech has been shipping since last year."

Logitech SmartDock
The SmartDock SRS is currently available from Logitech resellers and has the following requirements, per Logitech's datasheet (PDF):

  • Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with Core i5 or Surface Pro with Core i5 or higher (2017)
  • Microsoft Windows 10 Enterprise
  • Skype Room System Software
  • Room resource account for Skype for Business 2015 or later
  • Internet access via Ethernet with DHCP enabled
  • External Display or Projector with HDMI input
  • Logitech ConferenceCam (recommended) or other Skype Certified A/V Devices
  • 100-240v AC Power
Logitech's SmartDock Skype Room System display.

Crestron SR
Another SRS product, the Crestron SR, is "now generally available," according to Microsoft's announcement last week. It can be purchased from Crestron partners Synnex Corp. and Tech Data in North America or from Tech Data Maverick in Europe.

The Crestron SR Skype Room System display.

Polycom MSR Series
Polycom announced in September that its next-generation MSR Skype Room Systems series of products is "now available for preorders," and that those products will work with the Teams service. In terms of availability, the Polycom MSR products "will be available worldwide in Q4, 2017," according to the announcement.

Polycom's MSR Skype Room System (MSR300) with display, audio and camera.

Lenovo Hub 500
Lenovo's Smart Hub 500 is a new SRS product entry that Microsoft introduced during Ignite. Lenovo seems to be rebranding it slightly, calling it the "ThinkSmart Hub 500." The product can be tested, but availability is expected to happen early next year. In a September announcement Lenovo indicated that "pilot programs with Lenovo Smart Hub 500 begin later this year with product availability and pricing expected in first quarter of 2018."

Lenovo's Smart Hub 500 ("ThinkSmart") Skype Room System display.

Legacy Equipment Support
Microsoft's announcement also noted that organizations will be able to use their existing (or "legacy") video teleconferencing equipment for Skype for Business meetings through work being done by hardware partners. Currently, two partner solutions are available, namely the Polycom RealConnect service for Office 365 and the Pexip Infinity Fusion for Skype for Business.

Polycom's RealConnect is a "cloud video interoperability service" that works with both Polycom and Cisco Systems endpoint devices. There also is a Polycom RealConnect Hybrid service that's conceived as bridge for Skype for Business Server users. The RealConnect Hybrid service, scheduled to become available sometime this month, "connects Skype for Business on-premises users with existing video devices through Polycom video interoperability service in Microsoft Azure," according to Polycom's description. Organizations ready to move to the Skype to Business Online service can then switch to Polycom's RealConnect for Office 365 service.

The Pexip Infinity Fusion for Skype for Business product is a "video interoperability gateway" certified by Microsoft for non-Skype video teleconferencing devices, such as products from Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize Yealink and others. It works with the Skype for Business Server 2015 product. Pexip also is planning to support the Microsoft Teams service with a video teleconferencing interoperability product based on its Infinity Fusion product, which will enable "the full experience of video, audio and content sharing." That product supporting Teams "is currently under development," the company announced last month.

Microsoft's announcement also noted that BlueJeans Network plans to deliver a "cloud video interoperability solution for Microsoft Teams," with launch planned for the first half of 2018. BlueJeans already produces a Skype for Business add-in that "brings together the messaging and online meeting capabilities of Skype with the benefits of the BlueJeans platform," according to a September BlueJeans announcement. The company has a BlueJeans Enterprise Video Cloud, which is used to deliver videoconferencing services.

The various SRS products emerged from "Project Rigel," a Microsoft collaborative effort with partners that was announced last year. The aim of Project Rigel was to add Skype for Business unified communications capabilities to meeting room equipment. Microsoft also sells its own Surface Hub conferencing devices. However, Surface Hubs are conceived as being in a different market, since they include Microsoft Office and a large touchscreen with white-boarding capabilities, on top of unified communications.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.