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Microsoft Surface Hub: Microsoft’s Enterprise Collaboration Machine

Back in 2015, Microsoft introduced the Surface Hub as part of its Surface family of devices. It is best described as an interactive collaboration device that set its sights on productivity and collaboration in the enterprise, and itt started a bit of an idea revolution at the business level. If you don’t know what this device is, it looks a lot like a large TV, except that it features interactive document editing, video and audio conferencing, touch-screen capability, an interactive whiteboard, and high-end security. Built at a business-grade standard, this device is seen at conventions, lobbies, on sales floors, and is reportedly in use by more than half of the Fortune 100 companies. The collaboration story of this device was so compelling that many competitors have produced similar products in the same space, often with compelling initial pricing in tow. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing the spectrum of these competitive devices and, in many cases, Microsoft’s Surface Hub is a great choice and provides excellent value.

Your Tools. Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.

Microsoft’s Surface Hub gives meeting participants the tools they already use every day in Microsoft Office 365 and is deployable in many enterprise configurations. Once configured, the device utilizes one license and becomes a resource within the organization that can be allocated, managed, and booked. Just like any other resource in the enterprise, you can invite the device to a meeting in Outlook when it’s free and you’ll receive an automatic confirmation of scheduling. All of the upcoming meetings are visible on the device screen and, once the meeting begins, all invitees will be allowed access to the video and audio conference within Skype for Business. A main user in the room can then choose to log in and access their personal OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote. The whiteboard feature is also front and center. With 100-point multi-touch sensors, you can really get creative with uses for it. For collaboration, a user can log in and invite another user on another Surface Hub to participate, allowing the remote user to actively draw and create on the same infinite canvas.

When a meeting concludes, the meeting organizer can email out the whiteboard file to anyone they choose or upload it to a shared OneDrive document. Recipients receive two files; a PNG file of the meeting whiteboard in its concluded state and a OneNote version which can be amended long after the meeting ends.

Licensing Edge

The numbers tell quite the story. Various competitor solutions require perpetual per-user access licensing for conferencing, video, mobile, and so on. Assuming an organization has some sort of Office 365 licensing, Microsoft’s Surface Hub solution uses one basic Skype for Business license and one Exchange account per Hub. There is little doubt that an organization that is licensed with Office 365 will realize tremendous licensing advantages.

Enterprise Integration

Surface Hub devices run a specialized version of Windows called Windows 10 Team. The device integrates with SCCM, MDM, specialized provisioning packages, Active Directory, OMS, Azure Active Directory, BitLocker, and Windows Defender (on SCCM). What that means is that this is no rogue device. It is managed, monitored, configured, and updated as required by the organization both from the cloud and on-premise. There is no other device that has this capability.

The Azure Edge

People seem to like the saying “Software is eating the world.”  That is swell, but for a lot of organizations, software is needlessly eating their budgets. That’s what many clients have been finding out when they look at Office 365 and Azure and find out all that they can implement easily from within the toolset they already possess, including:

  • Certificate Authority
  • Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Mobile Device Management
  • Conditional access
  • App Management
  • E-Discovery
  • Intelligent Search
  • Backup and Archive
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
  • Email Encryption
  • Office 365 Analytics

That’s an incomplete list that is growing monthly. There’s also access to a world of Azure software features that is constantly emerging like Blockchain, E-Commerce, Internet of Things applications, and so forth. The Surface Hub is a gateway to deeper Office integration and deeper collaboration that is just a hop away from an entire realm of rich Azure features.


Surface Hub Room Dynamics

The Surface Hub collaboration scenario essentially revolves around the Surface and Skype model. I am no human mechanics expert, but it is a rational model that follows instinctive human tendencies. The Surface Hub comes in 55” and 84” sizes. There are three predominant zones:

  • Zone 1: Near screen
  • Zone 2: Small/Medium Huddle Spaces
  • Zone 3: Medium/Large Meeting Rooms

While the Surface Hub is compatible with external cameras, speaker arrays, and monitors, these are not necessary components to the core Surface Hub collaboration model. In most modern office scenarios, attendees carry their work laptops and tablets to meetings and visual attention is fixated on the nearest device available. This is quite different from solutions that integrate what, in many cases, amounts to a small television studio that requires special lighting, power, and network connectivity.

Don’t Miss out on Value

The Surface Hub may not be dominating tech headlines, but it is steadily winning over the enterprise crowd that takes the business collaboration motive seriously. This class of devices is designed for the space where enterprise meets collaboration, and it is difficult to ignore the capabilities of the Surface Hub collaboration device when it is combined with the Office 365 ecosystem.


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