Srini Raghavan Discusses The Skype Operations Framework (SOF)

Srini Raghavan Discusses The Skype Operations Framework (SOF)

By Jim Burton August 26, 2016 Leave a Comment
Microsoft-Logo and Unified Communications Strategies
Srini Raghavan Discusses The Skype Operations Framework (SOF) by Jim Burton

In this Executive Insights podcast, Jim Burton of UCStrategies is joined by Srini Raghavan, Partner Director - Skype for Business Product, Engineering & Operations, Microsoft

The topic is the Skype Operations Framework (SOF), a guide and toolset for implementing and managing a reliable, cost-effective communications service based on Skype for Business. 

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Transcript for Srini Raghavan Discusses The Skype Operations Framework (SOF)

Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton, and I'm joined today by Srini Raghavan from Microsoft. Microsoft has a new project called Skype Operations Framework. Srini, can you give us a little outline about what the framework was all about and why it was developed?

Srini Raghavan: Absolutely, Jim. Thank you for the opportunity. So before that my role at Microsoft is as part of the engineering team. I'm part of the Skype for Business product team, and I head currently an engineering program called Customer Lifecycle Services. The reason for us to have started out with this program was the shift to the cloud. You know that we have been working towards moving to the cloud for a while now. Skype for Business has done a fantastic job in terms of being an on-prem solution in the past in terms of how we deliver enterprise voice, web conferencing, IM and presence, collaboration…basically a UC solution, right?

Over the last seven years, since the onset of Office 365 and BPaaS before that--the shift to the cloud requires new thinking in terms of how businesses and enterprises and partners, more importantly, actually think about delivering and operating Skype for Business, so that's a very important aspect of it, and that's the genesis of why we thought that, hey, as opposed to people doing this on their own, any number of different permutations and variations, we wanted them to have a single framework that actually encompasses the best practices of what we have developed over the years, and making sure that that is the official approach to how customers can plan, deliver and deploy and operate Skype for Business.

Jim: Well, that's great. What are the foundations for this Skype Operations Framework, which I will refer as “SOF” from this point on?

Srini: Got it. SOF is actually a framework, which is derived from the traditional service management methodologies. Microsoft used to have something called MOF, Microsoft Operations Framework, for the on-prem world of the past. The foundation for that is actually the traditional service management, but how do we apply that to the cloud and specifically in the areas of UC or unified communications? The three key phases are plan, deliver, and operate. The foundation actually gets mired in terms of, when you start planning for this, it's very important for customers to start looking at things such as network assessment. How do you start doing network assessment? It's such an imperative, and such an important thing.

When you move most of your workloads from being an on-premise solution or from a traditional telephone or telecom solution to the one that's done in the cloud with cloud PBX or PSTN in the cloud, which Skype for Business offers, you have to start thinking about how do we build this on the foundation of a strong network. Network assessment is a key aspect of it. How do we start design and preparing the users, and also how do you deploy them, whether it is a client, devices, phones, room systems across your enterprise and leading into adoption? At the end of the day, the most important metric for a customer is the ROI, which is derived from adoption. How well do you use an adopt your service? Also it doesn't stop there. They have to go from that point to say how do I keep it running every, single, day at top quality, which include things such as how do I monitor, troubleshoot, diagnose, support, and run the service? Those are the fundamentals of what the framework is all built around.

Now in terms of the specific foundation for SOF, we have this thing called phases, about which I talked, plan, deliver, and operate. Then we have a specific set of stages within those phases. These are things such as envisioning, assessing, designing and preparing, which fall under planning. Then under deliver you have enable, deploy, and hands adopt. Then under operate you have monitor, report, support, and run. Then we also provide a set of IPs if you will. It's actually a combination of tool sets, as well as, IP that Microsoft provide in terms of running and building these services.

Then partners can actually take a combination of IP activities and these steps and create their own offers, if you will. These offers are basically the basis for packages of activities, which can drive a product customer outcome and success, and that can include a complete work down structure, project plan, metrics, and KPIs in terms of how they want to run it. It's a multilayer approach. The one thing that I want to call out is that this is open source, this is public today. They offer it to both customers as well as to partners. It's available at

Jim: You mentioned how important network assessment is. I guess I view network assessment as something that you do initially to make sure that the network is ready for deployment but then also as something to continue to monitor networking. Can you talk about that a little bit because I know that you've had a program for a couple of years now just about focusing in on network assessment?

Srini: Absolutely. When people think about network assessment, a few customers that I have talked to…we have built a lot of expertise in terms of running services not just at the back end in building the cloud but as well as running them for large and dedicated, we call them, Office 365 dedicated servers, which is running them on dedicated hardware in Microsoft's datacenters for these large enterprise customers. We have learned a lot in terms of what makes many of them successful and what makes others not so successful. The fundamental difference actually boils down to having a great network as an underlying foundation.

There are four key aspects for making sure that your success and quality of a unified communication or something such as Skype for Business works really well. The first are obviously your devices, which are your endpoints and devices could be phones, could be PCs, could be headsets, all of that. The second is basically the network, the network between you and actually the network connecting to the internet and then connecting to our datacenters where the services are hosted. That's an important aspect of it. The third aspect is also how well the service is running at the back end, which is our service, our cloud, the performance of that. That's important as well. The last piece of it is, when you have these endpoints are you really running the latest and the greatest in terms of client versions? Many times we realize that that's important as well because we may have fixed many things in the latest and the newest iterations of the clients because it's a rich meeting solution, but many customers still run four or five versions older, where many of the performance fixes have been already addressed, so those are important elements, but as you can see the network assessment is a key foundation to all of that. It's not a one-time activity. What we are doing with respect to SOF is basically saying, we are taking it from there to say that it's an ongoing and continuous monitoring and audit of your network. That includes things such as network configurations on proxies and firewalls and making sure that you have the right devices configured in the right way or they throw up errors, and we can monitor that. It also includes whether you have the devices such as load balancers or devices such as LAN accelerators or packet shapers in the mix and what are the recommendations for those. All if this constitutes a solid-network assessment, which is, one time you'll have to do a brush forklift clean-up so to speak, but then it's an ongoing maintenance of that and a making sure of that it runs every single day for every single call. It's the same way at the same level of quality, so to speak. This is where the customers either can do it themselves, or we have some great partners, who actually come into play, where they provide this on an ongoing service on a continuous basis where they bring in the tools, which we offer. They do an assessment, as well as, they provide this continuously throughout the entire lifecycle of the customer side on the service, so that you have a great experience every single day.

Jim: I was talking with one of your major channel partners once, and I made a comment about the need for network assessment. They were a partner with Nectar. They indicated to me that they had sold over 100 Nectar solutions the year before, and out of those, 98 of them were ones that they were managing, which I think for your channel partners is a really good story because a lot of the channel is looking at the ways, as the business models for them have changed from selling hardware to cloud opportunities. Having managed solutions such as network monitoring and management is an important part of that, which by the way kind of brings up my next question for you, which is how will you deliver this and how do partners gain value from providing SOF?

Srini: Got it. That's a great question. One comment on some of the partners that you made, Jim, is Nectar is a great partner of ours. They are a great IT pro tools partner, and they provide network assessment as well as network management solutions as well across the companies. We have many others as well that we have certified. We are proud to have them as a part of our portfolio. In terms of how do they get started, the whole idea behind this is to make sure that this is not just some esoteric framework, but this is a very practical, hands-on guide. That's the main thing we've started out with.

We wanted to provide a common language for people to talk about. Today you don't have a common taxonomy when you talk about how do we go about implementing and running this? So we wanted to have that as a beginning saying hey, is a common language that we can create that's important across the partner ecosystem, across the customers, users, Microsoft, and everyone else in the network providers. The second is to be able to provide a practical guidance tools and processes that they can starting from day one, which is built into the entire customer lifecycle. How can they start using this?

They can get started today at The first step is to obviously learn about it. We have run a series of daily webcasts and classes, if you will, on Skype Academy. If you go to, you'll see that. These are daily training and classes. There are some recordings from the past conducted by the Microsoft Skype CTOs, architects, as well as our internal product folks that provide you with the starting point of saying, hey, if you want to get, for example, Cloud PBX and PSTN conferencing deployed, how do we start with that? What does envisioning really mean in terms of the driving of key results for us to get started?

There's a high-level, architecture workshop for them to start to look at in terms of saying hey, how do we create a high-level-solution design and execution as a part of this deployment process? There are a number of these, and we are going to enhance in terms of adding more to this in the coming days. That's why SOF is not a point in time. It's actually a version one is what we launch at WPC, and we will launch more as we go along. It will include things such as…hey, if you want to migrate from on-prem to the cloud how do we go about doing that? That's also part of this SOF implementation as well.

Then there are more enhancement to come, so I would say stay tuned on it. But the first step is to go to if you want to do it yourself. If you want you can start to partner up with any of the MSP or managed-services providers, which we have. Some of them are trained. Some of them are getting trained. They are getting trained every day as well. They can bring you that expertise, and they can bring you the SOF methodology into your implementation and deployments.

Jim: Well, I think that's a great opportunity for the channel partners because it's such a complicated business that end user are going to look for help and guidance, so the having of these programs out to help your channel partners is really a good one.

Moving on to another question, I know that there's a fast track program for Office 365, so how does SOF differ from that?

Srini: Fast track is our onboarding program, if you will, that Microsoft offers. If you are a customer of Office 365, and if you have greater than 150 seats or licenses, you are eligible for fast track as a program, which provides you with onboarding, handholding if you will, throughout the stages of the customer lifecycle, until you get deployed. Office 365 looks at all of the workloads, but if you want to implement, if a customer or a partner wants to implement some advanced workloads such as Skype for Business, such as Cloud Voice, such as Cloud PBX, PSTN conferencing or PSTN calling, SOF is an extension of fast track. Fast track folks, the same folks use this methodology along with the Skype for Business people and architects helping customers to onboard and complete their deployments. It includes a plan and deploy stage, and not the operate stage, which is actually run by managed service providers and channel partners. That's the differentiation between the two. One enhances the other so to speak when it comes to some complex workloads.

Jim: Thank you for that. I know that you’ve really touched on this, and I just want to make clear for those listening in. What's the current focus of SOF, and how will the framework be updated?

Srini: Got it. The current focus for SOF is basically starting with getting deployed on the Cloud PBX and PSTN. Then we also have deployment guidance with respect to say, if you want to start to use voice and also publish phones and devices such as Polycom phones and also with the implementation of call-quality dashboards. CQD is an important aspect of it because it helps you to monitor your Skype for Business online media quality health. There's actually a way to do that. It's this session of SOF aspect of that helps in terms of how do we configure the call quality dashboard, how do I use it for answering my Skype for Business online service?

Those are the key aspects of the current version of SOF. As we think about the future iterations of SOF, we look at things such as migrations, if you will. How do we start to migrate you from on prem to online? That's an important aspect as most customers have asked us about that piece, importantly, asking, how do I go from on prem to online? That's one piece. The other piece will add things such as, how do I get healthy? Okay. I have gotten healthy, but how do I stay healthy, get healthy and stay healthy in terms of whether it is my network or my quality on the Skype for Business calling or even meetings? We'll have different stages of that as well added to the service. There are also things such as, we'll start to look at adoption pieces. Once I’ve started a successful implementation of it, what is the user adoption story, how do I drive adoption and usage? And even things such as health checks.

How do I do spot health checks and audits on a time-to-time basis? Those are things which are coming in the subsequent versions of SOF, which is actually a continuous process. That's what you can expect from us, enabling new SFB capability is another one. As we launch new features and new Skype for Business capabilities, we will add that to the future releases. We'll also add things such as multiregional planning. For example, if you are a multinational company, and if you are spread across multiple regions in Europe, Asia-Pacific, and North America, how can you publish your tenant to show up as a single tenant across all of the regions but still benefit from the proximity and the geoaffinity to that user and that location? Some of those things are ones that we will add in the future releases.

Jim: It's interesting. As you’re going through all of this, I'm thinking of wow, there's a lot to do here. The other thing is in some ways, it's about time. These are very, very complicated implementations, and I know that there've been a number of channel partners who have helped to make these implementations work, but it seems as though you're going to simplify it just to make it a little bit easier for everybody both for an end user to adopt and for the channel partner to help implement, so I applaud you on this effort. I think that it's going to go a long way. I'm sure you’re finding positive feedback from both channel and customers.

Srini: Yeah. Absolutely, Jim. Since the time of the launch at WPC, the Worldwide Partner Conference, the amount of feedback and responses that we have gotten from customers and partners alike is very encouraging. It's absolutely fantastic. In many cases we hear comments from customers who have gone through this versus do it yourself or they have been going through folks who didn't have a common framework. Some of the gist of the feedback is hey, we used to just do this by trial and error, or we used to have to go and have to figure it out in terms of what it takes to do a really solid implementation of Skype for Business even if it is for online not on-prem alone, but this one actually provides us with a very structured approach, and know the actual business and technologic outcomes. Right. That's the whole idea behind this, which is how do they get predictable, consist, repeatable outcomes every time and stay that way? Yes, the feedback has been very encouraging in terms of how we get going.

Jim: Yeah. One of the other things that I really like. There is a lot of anticipation and anxiety about moving from a CPE version of a product and moving into the cloud. It sounds as though you're doing a lot to address that and to help people do that migration, which I think is going to be very, very powerful and very successful because it's always a tough transition moving to new platforms, and having a way to make it easy for people to do that is going to be very helpful I think.

Srini: Absolutely.

Jim Burton: We have a conference called the BC Summit every year. It's November 1-3 in Palms Springs. Zig Serafin is going to be one of our featured speakers, and I know that this will be an important topic for the attendees, who are made up of a few end users, a lot of channel partners, and the industry consultants, and so I think this is going to be a hot topic for his discussion when he speaks to our crowd in November, so I look forward to hearing more. It sounds to me as though we will expect a few updates to the program by that time.

Srini: Absolutely. I'm part of Zig's org, by the way. Zig was the one who unveiled e-launch at WPC, SOF at WPC, and since that time I think we are just running at a fast pace in terms of keeping this up to date. As I said, even since the time we launched we had a lot more topics, if you will, and functions and enhancements to the framework including things such as, how do you deliver network readiness, making sure that you have user enablement right, managing call quality as I said before, those are important elements and there is more, which is being added.

Jim: Srini, I know that the channel is an important part of this solution, being able to help customers  with implementation, so how do they fit into this and what are you offering them?

Srini: That's a great question, Jim. Everything that we do with SOF is about partners, right, partners and customers. When I say partners, these are first-party partners as well as third-party partners. First-party partners are partners such as MCS, our own service organization, who are also getting up to speed on SOF because they provide these valuable services to our customers day in and day out in terms of supporting them. For the partners who have been traditionally in the space of on premise or on-prem Skype for Business and providing either a hosted solution or on premise solution and then they provide some service around it, I think there is a new economic play here for them as well, which is very compelling.

The number one thing is the SOF itself. There is nothing like SOF that existed in the past. The fact that we are putting so much investment and energy into SOF, which is all focused towards…how do we build a solid voice solution in the cloud, which is softwared by a partner. This is not just a one-time implementation of it. We went through some of this in the past. It includes things such as, if you were to do network assessment we provide a prescriptive guidance in terms of how you can do that with some essentials. We also have some advanced network assessment pieces that they can use and build their own offers on top of it. We also provide some tools, and they can build their tools on top of it. It is a not a one-time deal. It's actually a continuous monitoring, continuous optimization, and in some cases a network-transformation service that can be offered specific to Skype for Business.

Even though Microsoft provides the services from the cloud, you need someone to really – most of the customers we talk to, have this need for operating. Someone to be able to run it for them in a way that this is a mission-critical voice in video communications. That's what this is. This is actually a voice and telephony and video communications service, which is very mission critical for companies. Being that, they need to have a level of confidence that a particular partner is actually trained in this and they are capable of providing this to them every day. I'm talking about large enterprises. We work with the partners in terms of building out their offers if you will, built on SOF, so that they can go to market with those offers, which is potentially a new revenue stream because in many cases we also make connections through our field to customers. The customer always has the choice in terms of who they pick, who they choose, but we at least have that connection that's made and said hey, this is a list of SOF partners, if you will, which did not exist before. So from that perspective it's a new opportunity for them. It's a new way for them to be able to derive some ongoing recurring revenue that never was before with the online space, online customers.

Jim: Well, this is really good because what you do is you create a revenue opportunity for your partners, which they certainly can appreciate, but you’re also then creating an opportunity for your partners to help their customers, which of course they appreciate, so this all sounds good.

One of the things, as somebody from the outside to help me fully appreciate the emphasis that Microsoft makes on this, is they are taking somebody with your background, having run the development team, having run the cloud organization, and now giving this responsibility to you. They’re putting this under one of their top players and making sure this is an important program, so I think that will be an indication to the world of how much Microsoft is behind this new program, and how important it is to make sure it's going to be successful.

Srini: I appreciate that comment, Jim. Prior to this role, I used to run the product management for our cloud services. Prior to that I ran service engineering and operations in terms of building this ground up from when it was Lync on-prem to a cloud service. The important aspect is not that as much as the learning, which we have derived from all those years. In terms of building this in the cloud, it was a long and arduous journey, right, and if you remember this was only an on-premise product, so the journey from there to where we are, which currently caters to over 100 million tenants or customers if you will across 24 different datacenters. That's phenomenal and we want to be able to bring the operational excellence of driving that, and for within Microsoft as well, and bring that same rigor, or the customer-lifecycle excellence to customers and partners alike.

Jim: What I'd like to do in the next, say, six weeks, two months, timeframe is maybe to get one of your partners whose been using this as the framework and get them to talk about how it's worked for them and how it's helped an end customer have some success. We'll plan on getting that coordinated and do another podcast in another month or so.

Srini: Yeah. Absolutely. Happy to do that. We work with a number of partners today, and not just work with them in terms of the getting of them onto the SOF framework, but also working with them and with customers, together to make sure that we work on them for the first few implementations together, so that we are the same page and we make sure that we have the right investments in those areas ourselves. We're really putting the money where our mouth is, if you will. We want the partners to be successful, so I'm happy to make some connections, and we can do that in the next version of this.

Jim: That would be great. Srini, thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it. I'm happy to help get this message out because I think it's an important one for the industry and for those people who look at either a deployment of Skype for Business, or realizing that they're either going to do it or they're in the middle of the process, there are some new tools to help make that transition easier. Thank you very much.

Srini: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for the opportunity and for sharing your thoughts with your audience on Skype for Business and Skype operations Framework and the partner program that we are developing. Thank you. So long.

Jim: My pleasure. 


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