Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications tag.

Should You Spy on BYOD Users? The New Lync Online Client Devices Report Lets You

Lync Online

Last week, one of Microsoft’s Lync team announced a new reporting tool for Lync Online. The new Lync Online Client Devices Report monitors which mobile devices have been used to access Lync Online.

Announcing the Lync Online Client Devices Report – Office Blogs

Report data is collected on number of users, which device they used & when, and what kind of services they accessed (IM, calls, conferencing, video).

Useful data. For a lot of reasons. However, it brings up a very large concern. What about BYOD users?

Which Trumps: Work Flexibility or Privacy?

Essentially, the Client Devices Report means that administrators can spy on any device used to access their Lync Online service.

Client Devices Report - Courtesy of Office Blogs

Now, it’s important to make a distinction here. Many businesses are concerned about the BYOD trend eroding their IT security. With good reason, in our opinion. These are devices brought into & out of the office all the time. Most with very little (if any) administrative or security oversight.

However, privacy is also a concern. Examining users’ conversations on their personal devices? Too easy to cross the line and just spy on everything they do. And users know that.

Privacy vs. Protection

The delicate balance between safeguarding the office network and protecting user privacy is detailed in an October 21 piece on CMSWire by David Roe:

Microsoft Lync Can Spy on Enterprise BYOD Use – CMSWire

David makes a valid point about mobile malware. BYOD IS a security risk…we even documented evidence of such in a newsletter article last year:
10 Ways BYOD Threatens Network Security AND Your Private Data

That said, these are still personal devices. They may be used for work, but in many cases the user/owner has files they want to keep separate/private from work.

Lync is sort of a middle-ground. It’s intended for business communication, between all its services, and as such falls under most business’ intellectual property restrictions.

If You Institute Spying, Make It Clear

Frankly, I don’t think the BYOD trend will reverse anytime soon. Big manufacturers keep pushing out new devices. People will bring them into work & want to use them FOR work.

Since Lync’s primary purpose is office communication, there’s enough justification for instituting tracking with this new tool. But it’s also important to make clear what you are tracking and why.

  1. Maybe you want to maintain efficiency by using the data.
  2. Or you’re tracking to keep malware out of the network.
  3. Or maybe you’re measuring communications to identify where users are most productive.

All very good business reasons. Just make sure the employees KNOW your reasons.

My stance on the Lync Online Client Devices Report tool? If a client opted for Lync Online, and they had multiple employees with BYOD tablets, then I would recommend using this report tool. If nothing else, for 3-6 months as a data test.

Inform all users beforehand. Give the BYOD users the option of not bringing their devices into work. And make sure everyone knows that you’re collecting business data only, for business reasons.

Lync Online as a Testing Ground? Lync Server 2013 Next?

I didn’t see a version for Lync 2013 in the announcement. This tool (right now) is meant only to track Lync Online/Office 365 users. But I’m sure an on-premises version will come.

Could releasing the Client Devices Report tool for Lync Online first be a testing ground? Since it’s cloud-based anyway, data has to come & go between device and cloud server. Maybe Microsoft wants to examine which devices use what Lync services.

Or examine the workplace’s reaction to a new way of spying on users.

The new reporting tool will be available next month. We’ll see what kind of response it generates then. I have a feeling it’ll be a big one.

What do you think about tracking BYOD Lync data? Harmless data gathering, or invasion of privacy? Please comment or email me.

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Lync on Linux: How to Access Lync Services from Linux Computers

Lync 2013 Client, Lync Mobile, Reference, Third-Party Lync Products, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

In my post on MindLink Anywhere last week, I mentioned that one big value-add from the software was its ability to work on Linux. Options for accessing Lync services on Linux are limited. Though in the past couple years they’ve improved a lot, both in number and quality.

What else is available for “Lync on Linux”? Let’s take a look and see what’s out there.

Running Lync Server 2013 on a Linux Server? No. But you can access it from Linux computers.

Unless you install Windows Server in a VM, this isn’t happening. Lync Server 2013 is intended for Windows Servers. Which makes sense, honestly – Unified Communications hooks into Exchange and SharePoint, also Windows-platform servers. If Lync ran on Linux, it would do so in an underperforming state, users unable to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Fortunately, this does not mean Linux users are completely in the cold! There are ways to access Lync’s services on Linux desktops and mobile devices.

Linux Lync Clients

Sadly, there is no native Lync client for the Linux desktop. You must use third-party products to connect with Lync. Only a couple of them exist as yet.

Judging from my research, the most popular choice is Pidgin. Makes sense – one of the most reliable, full-featured IM platforms on Linux. Adding Lync to Pidgin? Just one more service.

Choose from any of the following blog posts to install Lync into Pidgin:

  1. Microsoft Lync on Linux – GeekySchmidt.com
  2. Configuring Pidgin to work with Lync server in Arch Linux – I Fix Therefore I Am
  3. Add a Lync/Office Communicator Account to Pidgin/Ubuntu – ITSwapShop.com
  4. Setting Pidgin Up for Lync 2013 – AskUbuntu.comWync-Logo

No matter the method, you may have to deal with limitations when using Lync through Pidgin. Commenters have claimed everything from having to manually add contacts, to voice and video chat not working.

Another third-party client usable for Lync on Linux is Wync, made by Fisil. Wync is actually designed to work with Lync, and Fisil does offer support. Most functions work – Voice, IM/Chat, Screen Sharing and File Transfer.

I was only able to test it out briefly, but Wync was stable and made clear calls. (Tested on Ubuntu 32-bit desktop.) It’s great to see an actual Lync client available on Linux systems!

Lync Web App

Works, but only for attending Lync Meetings by default. No voice, video or IM.

Important distinction here: If you’re running Lync Server 2010, you will need Silverlight to run the Lync Web App. Silverlight is Windows-only. But there is a Linux version of Silverlight, called Moonlight.

Here’s an AskUbuntu discussion to help you work out Lync 2010 Web App with Moonlight. You should find Moonlight in your repository of choice…but if it’s not there, try these direct downloads: Moonlight for Chrome & Firefox.

If you’re running Lync Server 2013, Lync Web App does not require Silverlight. However, expect a very limited experience on a Linux desktop (if it works at all).

Android

I’ve heard people say that the #1 operating system in the world is actually Android–a Linux distribution. If so, Microsoft really should spend more effort on its Lync Mobile client for Android. The reviews are full of problem reports!

That said, I’m glad the client at least exists and is supported directly by Microsoft. Android isn’t poised to go anywhere but up, and I want a good solid version of Lync available to its users.

Lync Online on Linux?

Using Lync Online? You’ll still face the same problems as above. Fortunately, the same solutions also work. If you use Lync Online in a Linux environment, I’d say try Wync first, and then Pidgin. See which one works better for your day-to-day.

Here’s a blog post on how to get Pidgin working with Lync, specifically focused on using Office 365: Configuring Pidgin Instant Messenger for Office 365 LYNC – VincentPassaro.com

What About Skype?

There is a version of Skype available for Linux, so at least our Skype brothers & sisters are OK. A little better off than Lync users…at least for now.

If anything, this could be a positive sign for future versions. Depending on the upgrade path Microsoft takes for Lync & Skype integration, we may have ourselves a Lync client (or at least a Lync-friendly client) on Linux soon.

Linux Alternatives to Lync Server

What’s that? You only use Linux on your company’s servers? Well, I’m afraid it could be a while before you can enjoy Lync Server’s capabilities (if ever). But fear not! Alternatives do exist. None are quite the same as Lync, but they can give you the necessary communications tools.

Here are 3 popular Linux/open-source alternatives:

  • Avaya: Avaya has the Aura Platform for a VoIP, chat & video offering.
  • Twilio: Twilio is a cloud-based voice and text product suite that’s quite highly reviewed. Useful on the phone side, though not as full-featured as Lync.
  • Asterisk: Asterisk is a framework for building powerful communications systems. As I understand it, several enterprises have used Asterisk to build their own custom phone systems.

Of these, if I had to recommend a Lync Server alternative to a Linux-using business, I’d recommend Asterisk. Then Avaya.e00cb7b29fc9f70724e906d87e4e4dbf-tux-penguin-clip-art

Lync is Making its Way Onto Linux

While PlanetMagpie is a Microsoft shop and supports all Microsoft servers (not just Lync Server), sometimes I like to see how Linux is doing in comparison. It’s encouraging that there’s this much development regarding Lync. More is sure to come, both within the Linux community and from official channels. (Okay, mostly from the Linux community.)

Does your office use Linux and Lync? How do you make it work for you? I’d like to hear your experiences.

Next week, more reader inquiries! Join us then.

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MSPL: What It Is, and How to Use It with Lync Server

Lync Server 2013, Third-Party Lync Products, Voice over IP

I mentioned last week that I’d explore MSPL more. While researching the Automatic Logout post, I came across a few MSPL-related websites with lots of good information. This week I’ve found a few more–so it’s time to blog!

MSPL – Scripting for Lync Call Routing

MSPL stands for “Microsoft SIP Processing Language”. It’s a scripting language you can use to customize how Lync Server routes SIP messages.
MSPL Scripting Reference – MSDN
Frustratingly, the MSPL Script Syntax has been moved out of the Scripting Reference at MSDN. You’ll find it here instead:
MSPL Script Syntax – MSDN

How Does MSPL Work

The process of creating and adding MSPL scripts to your Lync Server is actually quite simple:

  1. Generate MSPL scripting, either by hand-coding or using an application (see “How to Create MSPL Scripting” below).
  2. Scripting is imported into the Lync Server front end via PowerShell cmdlets
  3. The Lync Server routes SIP messages (like phone calls) where you have directed them.

There’s an excellent how-to writeup at the Code4Lync blog: MSPL SCRIPT HOW-TO – Code4Lync
It documents script structure, when to use MSPL over UCMA, and describes the basic scripting syntax. Worth a read.

MSPL formats as XML when it’s ready for importing. Commenting is included too, so feel free to note your processes.

What You Can Do with MSPL

You are limited in scope to addressing SIP messages within your Lync Server environment. However within that scope, there’s quite a few things you can do with MSPL.

Here are two examples at Channel9:
Lync Server 2013: Use an MSPL Script to Forward IM Calls
Lync Server 2013: Use an MSPL Script to Enforce Custom Privacy Settings

MSPL lets you control routing of calls, Instant Messages and even video from one SIP address to another. Roughly, the more SIP-enabled endpoints you have, the more MSPL routes you can make.

How to Create MSPL Scripting

Like I said before, you can hand-code MSPL, or have an application generate it for you. Last week I visited Matt Landis’ blog and found he’d posted on an MSPL application called SimpleRoute.
The Masses Can Now Make Microsoft Lync MSPL Scripts Via Free Tool from Colima – Microsoft UC Report

I tried this tool out myself. And it works exactly as Matt describes–very easily! I selected Audio/Video call and routed one SIP address to another (using a fake number of course). This only took 3 steps.

Generating MSPL in SimpleRoute

What’s especially valuable about SimpleRoute is that, once you create an MSPL script with it, SimpleRoute actually helps you install it. Remember Steps 2 & 3 above, about importing scripting into Lync Server 2013?

Well, take a look at this. This is what SimpleRoute displays after you click Save:

MSPL Import Instructions in SimpleRoute

==============================
Detailed instructions on how to import the saved script (in an .am file) into the Lync front end via PowerShell. How’s that for helpful?

Download SimpleRoute here: Colima – Customize Lync Routing

MSPL: Good for Basic, User-Level Call Routing

MSPL is a very specific scripting language. It’s pretty much designed to do one thing and one thing only–change SIP routing within Lync Server 2013. I’ve said in the past that I like tools which focus on one job and do it well. MSPL is another example of this.

Administrators should look to MSPL if they want to customize call routing down toward the user-level. Say an employee leaves and you want to route their calls to someone else, right away. Use SimpleRoute to generate some MSPL. It’ll take care of that for you.

Have you used MSPL in your Lync Server environment? What did you do with it? Please comment or email! We’d love to hear about it.

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Third-Party Software for Lync Server: What are the Qualified Lync Applications?

Third-Party Lync Products

The other day we went through a list of hardware approved for Lync use. (Lync Add-On Hardware for Client Enhancement and Server Capability: 10 Examples)

But third parties don’t just make hardware for Lync. There’s a whole host of third-party software too!

Thanks to Shaun, a reader, for sending me his Lync experience and this URL:
Qualified Lync Applications – Office TechCenter

On this page is a list of third-party software applications Microsoft has approved for use with Lync Server. They are designated as “Qualified Lync Applications”.

What do these applications provide?

  • New Attendant Consoles
  • Billing and/or better reporting tools
  • Extensions for Lync 2013 clients (including mobile)
  • A Contact Center
  • Persistent Chat enhancements (these particularly interest me)
  • Recording tools
  • Software-defined networking

And a few more. Let’s go through the list and see what we find.

Samroxx Attendant

A new attendant console for Lync. Very easy to install – I had a free trial downloaded and running in less than 5 minutes. Setup takes a little bit longer, as it appears (at least in the trial version) that you must enter contacts yourself, instead of relying on Active Directory. Samroxx did grab my account information from Active Directory though.

samroxx

As you see from this screenshot, the Samroxx interface is very clean, and options are clearly listed. If you opt to use a third-party attendant console with Lync Server 2013, this is a pretty good choice.

Zylinc Attendant Console

Another attendant console. This one seems beefier though – it has more features, like calendar updating and statistics.

Zylinc-Attendant-Console_EN

Image courtesy of Zylinc.com.

Plus it works for both Lync Server 2010 and 2013. This in itself could provide a useful transition from 2010 to 2013–the interface for reception wouldn’t change.

No demo option I saw. But they do offer a product sheet: Zylinc Attendant Console Product Sheet (PDF)

Verba Recording

Call Recording add-on for Lync Server. While Archiving Server does some of this, it does have its limits Extending recording capabilities is a huge benefit – not only does it protect against lost productivity from confusion, but it helps with legal & regulatory compliance.

Two things I particularly like about Verba:

  1. It records all calls, IM conversations, and videos – media Archiving Server doesn’t record.
  2. It’s a server-side solution. Nobody has to install software on their PCs, which means everyone is recorded by default.

I’ll book a Verba demo and report back on my findings soon.

MindLink Mobile Chat

Persistent Chat is one of my favorite Lync tools. However it suffers from one notable limitation – mobile access. Or lack thereof.

MindLink extends Persistent Chat onto mobile devices (phones and tablets). It also works on Mac and Linux computers, extending Lync’s chat capabilities across pretty much all platforms. MindLink even integrates with email and SharePoint.

I’m signing up for a MindLink demo too. Watch for a future post on this too.

Many More Third-Party Applications – Have You Tried One?

These are only a few of the 95 total “Qualified Lync Applications”. I’ll revisit the page later, go through more software, test the ones I can, and report back. Feel free to do the same (and let me know what you find)!

The idea that Lync Server 2013 would need “extending” might make some think the software is incomplete, or immature. Not so. One software application isn’t perfect for all situations. That’s why so many release APIs and work with third-party developers to create extensions. Firefox has its Add-Ons. WordPress has its Plugins and Themes.

Lync Server has Qualified Applications. Use them to make Lync run like you need it to.

Does your business use a Qualified Lync Application? Please comment or email me with the details. I’d like to hear about the application, what you use it for, and how well it works.

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RHUB Conferencing Software: More a Threat to WebEx Than Lync Server

Conferencing

Last month, a reader commented on my post Exchanging Protocols: The Latest on Lync and Skype Integration. Matthew mentioned RHUB as a secure conferencing software provider, billed as ‘unprecedented’ security.

This week I had time to test out RHUB’s TurboMeeting conferencing software. Glad I did too.

Useful? Very!
Secure? Yes, though I have questions here.
How does it stack up to Lync Server? Well, let’s go through my findings and determine that.

The TurboMeeting Demo

I signed up for a demo on RHUBCom.com – there are “Try It Free” and “Demo” buttons right on their homepage. I downloaded the TurboMeeting demo file, but it wouldn’t load for some reason (maybe my Windows 8.1). A zipped version of the download worked OK.

Here’s what the TurboMeeting client looks like on loading:

rhubturbomtg1

I entered my email and password. The meeting server address is “demo.rhubcom.com” for their Demo. Had to locate this in the Quick User Guide.

Now we have the main client window:

rhubturbomtg2

Huh, no meetings listed in the demo…let’s make one!

“Interactive Meeting” is the default, so let’s try that first. (I’m also curious about the “Remote Access to This Computer” option.)

I invited myself to join on another computer (henceforth the “attendee”) via email. Two things to note right away:

  • The email text looks very similar to Lync and WebEx. This is good; it encourages familiarity and gives simple instructions on how to join a meeting.
  • This is an impromptu meeting; a way to schedule the meeting for later is not immediately apparent.

On my other computer (“attendee”) I accepted the meeting request. The RHUB demo prompted me to download & run the TurboMeeting client. Like Lync Meeting and WebEx, it went through the automatic process of loading the meeting client in a snap.

But here’s the interesting thing. When the client finished loading on my attendee computer…my host PC shared its desktop!

rhubturbomtg3

Look at the top left of this screenshot. See how it says “Share My: [Screen]“?

I didn’t choose that option. TurboMeeting defaulted to Desktop Sharing on its own.

There’s an advantage and a disadvantage to this default.
Advantage: Fewer steps for sharing in a meeting. (Note: You can choose between open applications to share as well, with a click.)
Disadvantage: Maybe you didn’t want to start a meeting with a shared desktop. It happens. If so, there is an option under Tools > Preferences: “Show my desktop when a meeting starts”. Uncheck this to avoid defaulting to Desktop Sharing.

The meeting caused a little bit of lag between the host and the attendee computers. Just enough to notice; maybe a quarter of a second. Not a big deal.

Finally, I tested the voice quality. Since it’s just me on the calls, I got some echo (both computers are in the same room). I expected that. Voice quality is good; comparable to Lync’s.

Remote Control: 2 Ways to Achieve Remote Access

While in this two-computer/single-person meeting, I decided try out the “Give Control” button.

Clicking it gives a small drop-down with two options: “Reclaim Controller” and names of attendees. Click another attendee to grant them control of your keyboard & mouse.

Caveat: The computer which controls another must be set as Presenter. Use the “Change Presenter” button to do this. Then, Give Control to another attendee. (I typed this paragraph remotely from the attendee, while my host PC was Presenter and had Given Control to the other.)

This works similarly to using Lync for remote access, as I blogged about before.

The meeting suddenly ended after I returned control to the host. There’s a 15-minute timeout on the demo. I decided to reconnect and try out the “Remote Access to This Computer” option.

It starts up the same way – create a meeting, enter a password for access. Instead of a meeting Subject, you enter a name for your computer. And Invite by Email is not available this time. TurboMeeting does allow you to copy the meeting information though, which you can then email to attendees.

In the case of remote access, the password is encrypted & not shown to the attendees. You must give it to them another way – either in the email you send, or via IM/phone/yelling it across the hall (I don’t recommend the last option).

Once the meeting connects, you’re immediately granted access to the host’s computer. Again, I’m typing this paragraph from the attendee via TurboMeeting Remote Access.

The lag I mentioned before grew worse this time. About half a second on the attendee. I’m sure corrections can be made to improve the response time.

An attendee TurboMeeting window has different options than the host. Here you see the buttons for File Transfer, Start Webcam and Record along the top:

rhubturbomtg4

Better test these too. I initiated a file transfer between my other computer and the host. (What file to send…how about a screenshot of the process?)

rhubturbomtg5

I also did a test Record of both typing remotely, and a brief activation of the webcam. (Not brave enough to post it though!)

TurboMeeting automatically prompted me for a save location when I stopped recording. It saves as a .exe file though – a file format many spam filters will not allow through. Easy to share other ways, but sharing a recording via email could prove difficult.

The Security Question

RHUB places high value on making their conferencing software secure. It’s called out frequently on their site, and in product descriptions. I also found mention of it in a press release on MarketWatch.com: Why RHUB Web Conferencing and Remote Servers are so Secure.

There is one point which I must question here. RHUB points to access security as a weak point. “Practically anyone” can get in with a meeting ID and password. RHUB’s response is to create a virtual VPN limited to specified IP addresses. While that is indeed good security, it can seriously cramp remote conferencing capability.

Since the default option (at least in their demo) is to immediately start a meeting instead of scheduling, you could wind up inviting people who are connecting from unauthorized IPs. Their office network isn’t authorized, or they’re in a coffee shop, or logging in remotely. Instant security snag.

I could be missing some information; if so, I happily invite RHUB to comment here with their input. The security approach here is a strong one. I’m just concerned that when it comes to something dependent on multiple inputs like web conferencing, it can trip organizations up.

Final Thoughts

I’d draw a parallel between RHUB’s TurboMeeting and Lync Server 2010. A sturdy solution for its intended purpose (online conferencing), which could use a little more added. Is it perfect? No. But neither was Lync Server 2010. When we got Lync Server 2013, several issues were polished out & handy features added. I believe the same thing will happen with RHUB, giving us a superb Conferencing-only option.

Since it focuses on conferencing only, the vendor who should worry the most is Cisco WebEx. TurboMeeting is very similar to WebEx, but loads a little faster and has a cleaner client-side interface. Their focus on security is bound to win favor from WebEx users too.

Competition is always good in business. I like that we have TurboMeeting as a conferencing-only alternative. It’s not Lync, but it isn’t trying to be. It wants only to be a strong, secure conferencing solution. And in that, it does the job well.

(For everything else, there’s Lync Server! Sorry Mastercard.)

Have you used RHUB’S TurboMeeting? What was your experience with it? Please comment or email. If you’ve tried another conferencing solution, I’d love to hear about that too.

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Lync Add-On Hardware for Client Enhancement and Server Capability: 10 Examples

Third-Party Lync Products

Readers, I apologize for no “Stress Test” post yet. Stress testing is best done after a Lync Server infrastructure is set up…but before users being working with it. Since we already use ours, I’ll have to set up a test instance in order to run stress tests. I’ve asked for server room access to do this, but it could take a little while. I promise; you’ll have the post as soon as I can complete the testing!

Now, on to today’s post. A reader emailed in, asking about the MyIntercom device I wrote about last year. He wanted to know if MyIntercom would integrate into Lync 2013.

Interesting question. I researched it and eventually concluded that, no, it will not directly integrate right now. They are similar in the sense that MyIntercom and Lync both facilitate audio/video communication…but the MyIntercom software would need add-ons to transmit its data to a Lync client.

Which got me thinking. What other kinds of third-party devices are out there, which DO work with Lync 2013?

We already know about plenty of desktop phones from Snom, Polycom, Logitech, etc. We know about the Jabra headsets and conferencing room speakers from previous posts. And we know about the Lync Room System.

But what else?

Logitech Speakerphone

Photo courtesy of Logitech.com.

I went searching. And found a whole bunch of devices ready for Lync use!

So many in fact that I couldn’t list them all if I wanted to. I’ll instead select a group of Lync add-on hardware, at the client-level and the server-level, for you the reader to browse. Some we have worked with at PlanetMagpie; some we haven’t (yet!).

Maybe one of these devices is just what you need right now. Maybe the list will inform your future Lync Server upgrade. Either way, I hope the list helps!

Client-Level Devices: Cameras, Computers, Headsets with Extras

  1. Polycom VVX Camera: A USB video camera you can add directly to your desktop phone for conferencing. Listed as an add-on to PolyCom VVX phones, but since it’s USB it may work with other Lync-capable phones. (Any reader used these? If so, please comment!)
  2. Polycom VVX Expansion Module: Expands PolyCom phones into an advanced call handling system. Helpful to receptionists who need to manage a bunch of incoming calls. (Ours would love it–I’ll send her the link!)
  3. Logitech Conference Cam Series: One of the reigning champions of high-quality conferencing tools, Logitech has several conferencing cameras geared toward Lync Meetings. –I’d love to talk with a Lync expert at Logitech. Anyone know a Logitech manager I could talk to?
  4. Logitech Mobile Speakerphone P710e: (Pictured above.)  This device is particularly interesting to me for two reasons. One, it allows for an on-the-fly Lync Meeting using your phone or tablet. Two, it’s certified both for Lync and Skype use. Which increases its lifespan, keeping it viable while Microsoft continues to move forward on Lync/Skype integration.
  5. Lenovo ThinkCentre All-in-One PC: I want one of these. A Lenovo all-in-one, integrated HD speakers, built-in arm…and since it’s listed in the Lync Catalog, it’s obviously ready for Lync 2013 use!
  6. Jabra Motion UC MS: The Bluetooth headset for Lync 2013 users. Why shouldn’t we have a headset just as sexy as regular cellphone callers? The Jabra Motion comes with a touchscreen on its stand too, and it’s certified for use with Cisco and Avaya as well as Microsoft Lync.

Server-Level Hardware: Gateways, SBAs, Expansions

  1. Sonus SBC Gateways & Survivable Branch Appliances: We’ve used the Sonus SBC 1000 and SBC 2000 as Survivable Branch Appliances for clients’ branch offices. They have larger gateways too, the 5100 and 5200, if you need more than 600 concurrent sessions running.
  2. Juniper Wireless LAN APs: We are a Juniper partner and use their wireless APs in our office as well as client networks. They are certified for Lync Server use, and wireless call transmissions hold up very well.
  3. Sangoma NetBorder Media Gateway: I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it bears repeating. Sangoma gateways are powerful Lync appliances. Use them as a Survivable Branch Appliance, a VoIP gateway to the PSTN, or both!
  4. PolyCom Packaged HD VideoConferencing Solutions: If the Lync Room System is a little big for you, but you like the idea? Try one of these freestanding video conferencing stations. (Let’s hope they don’t automate the rollers though…I’d feel weird if these stations drove themselves right up to your desk!)

You can see more Lync-approved products like these here:

Does your office use Lync Add-On Hardware from this list (or a device NOT on this list)? If so, please comment or email. Either way, I’d love to hear your experience with it.

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What is the Lync Room System?

Conferencing

Reader emailed me asking about the latest update to the Lync Room System (see “What’s ‘Room PC View’?” below). And I realized…we’ve NEVER talked about it here on the Lync Insider!

So I’ll answer his question, of course. But along the way, let’s do a little introduction to the Lync Room System too.

Introduction to the Lync Room System (or LRS)

The “LRS” is an integrated hardware & software endpoint designed for conducting Lync Meetings in a conference room. Microsoft created LRS in partnership with Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom and SMART.

The LRS consists of a special Lync 2013 client, touchscreen monitors, video cameras, audio, and a tabletop meeting console. This kind of setup creates a much more immersive conferencing environment than regular Lync conferencing.LRSrender

You’ll find a full introduction post at TechNet: The Lync Room System (LRS) – TechNet Blogs

(Image taken from TechNet Blogs page, Copyright Microsoft.)

Who Can Use the LRS, and What For?

Unlike the standard Lync 2013 client, the LRS client is designed specifically for conducting video conferences. Businesses mid-market and larger can set up the Lync Room System in their conferencing rooms to run their meetings with internal and external contacts. (LRS has the same interoperability with other systems that Lync Server 2013 does.)

Because the LRS is assembled using dedicated hardware and thus requires higher up-front investment than a standard Lync 2013 client, it’s not generally recommended for small business use.

Do We Need to Have LRS to Run Conferences?

No. Lync Server 2013’s Conferencing functionality works with all its clients as-is. The LRS is intended as a standing “Lync version” of a conference room. Think of it like a dedicated workstation – you go to the conference room, touch the meeting console to activate, and begin a scheduled Meeting.

What Kind of Hardware is Needed?

You’ll need at least a meeting console, audio, a video camera and one display. See this list of video options for Lync for supported partner hardware: Video Solutions Qualified for Lync – Lync Tech Center
(I like Polycom myself; very reliable hardware.)

What’s “Room PC View?”

Here’s where we come to our reader question. The reader, K, asked:
“I saw this post yesterday. Never heard of Room PC View before. What is it? How does it work?”
(Slight editing to remove personal details.)

Like all its software, Microsoft updates the Lync Room System regularly. Its June 2014 update for Lync Room System includes a new feature called “Room PC View”.

This feature essentially lets a presenter push a button and display content from a PC connected to the LRS console. Microsoft added it because some LRS users connect a computer to their LRS and leave it there 24/7.

(Never seen this happen in person, so I’m guessing it’s meant as a storage location for conferencing-related content).

Room PC View is optional; if you just want to plug a laptop into the console and display PowerPoint occasionally, you don’t need it. Here’s some more information (this is the post K asked about): Lync Room System June Update Now Available: New Room PC View! – Office Blogs

How Would We Install the Lync Room System?

Consult this deployment guide: Microsoft Lync Room System Deployment Guide – Microsoft Downloads Obviously, you’ll need to have some form of Lync Server installed already (I would strongly recommend on-premise Lync Server 2013). The installation process is quite detailed; multiple PowerShell cmdlets are needed to enable LRS accounts, connect them to Exchange & Active Directory, and update Conferencing Policies.

Acquiring the LRS software itself is done through Microsoft’s partners (Crestron, LifeSize, Polycom and SMART). Makes sense, since you’ll have to pick up the hardware necessary to run it first.

And that’s our introduction to the LRS! It’s basically a super-strong conferencing station. Great for big important meetings with shareholders, partners, vendors, and the San Jose branch office. K, I hope this post answers your question.

Does your business have a Lync Room System? If so, please comment or email me. I’d love to hear your experiences using it.

Join us next week for a post on stress-testing your Lync Servers.

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Lync VS. the PBX – Is Conferencing Driving Adoption More Than Voice?

Conferencing, Lync Online, Lync Server 2013

Lync is experiencing serious growth in business environments. Both via on-premise Lync Server 2013 and cloud-based Lync Online. While this makes us happy, I find myself wondering what’s driving the increase in adoption.

Is it the prospect of replacing your old PBX? Or something else?

I’ve spoken in the past about adding PSTN calling to Lync Online. It’s a popular demand, and for good reason. Yet Lync Online is still gaining subscribers without it.

Lync Server 2013 is, in my opinion, doing even better. Full communications feature set including PBX-replacement-level Enterprise Voice. Takes some setup (like PBXes do) but once it’s in place? Fully-functional phone system with a dozen extra services available.

Hmmm. Maybe those extra services are more popular than we think. Maybe it’s the additional tools which continue to propel Lync Server, more than its PBX replacement power.

Conferencing Emerges Stronger

In an article titled Lync voice capabilities mature, but can they replace PBXs?, Antone Gonsalves includes an infographic from Infonetics Research. The infographic details the fastest-growing UC (Unified Communications) applications.

What’s the most popular? It’s not voice – it’s video conferencing.

Video Conferencing71% of survey respondents (largely enterprises from what I can tell) use it now, with 88% projected to use it by February 2015. Next up is Web conferencing, at 65% currently using and 83% projected to by February 2015.

(Go read the article for more; it’s well written with lots of good data. I’ll wait right here.)

Voice is not among the top 4 applications in this graphic. That doesn’t mean it’s not popular – can’t have a conference without voice! – but it does show another power behind Lync’s drive forward.

Video Conferencing is included in Lync Online. It’s limited to Lync clients, but at least it’s available. Aside from price, this may be a big reason behind Lync Online’s popularity.

Either way, more Lync use is more Lync use. Expansion into more businesses, more testing & updating for its communications tools. Both for Conferencing and for Voice.

I remember when first reading about Lync Server 2010’s Enterprise Voice. “Wow, a whole phone system built in!” It was exciting–then. Now? Now we just get frustrated when there’s a hiccup and we can’t make calls.

Why Voice Isn’t the Biggest Adoption Driver (But Still Surpasses the PBX)

I think there are two reasons Voice is not the biggest pull for Lync:

  1. Voice is seen as ‘ordinary’. We’ve grown used to having the ability to make a phone call from just about anywhere. Voice is essential for conferencing, but it’s not seen as the ‘major’ feature. Video is.
  2. The rise of texting via smartphones. I recall seeing a statistic somewhere saying more people text on their phones than make calls!

While this doesn’t help Lync Server adoption, it doesn’t much hurt either. In fact, I think this information could help push the PBX even closer to the recycling bin.

A PBX doesn’t include video. If you even want the option, you have to introduce a whole other system, such as Cisco’s Telepresence Server. And if you’re adding servers, you’re increasing complexity to the point of diminishing returns. Fast.

Smart businesses are moving to integrated solutions like Lync. Hence why Lync Server surpasses the PBX – even if we’re more interested in video conferencing than making calls, we can get both & more from 1 software platform.

Did you replace a PBX with Lync Server? What motivated you to switch? Please comment or email me. I’d love to hear your stories!

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Lync Blogs are Disappearing – Right When We Need More Resources!

Lync Server 2013

Don’t Worry, Lync Insider Isn’t Going Anywhere

While on the hunt for ever more Lync Insider topic ideas, I browsed through my blog list. There’s a lot of good Lync blogs out there: Justin Morris on UC, Jeff Schertz’s Blog, Lync’d Up, NextHop…

Wait a second. What’s this I found at NextHop?

“…as Microsoft moves toward frequent updates across all Office products, we’ve decided to consolidate future blog posts to the Office blogs platform (blogs.office.com) and technical content to the Lync library on TechNet.”

Consolidated? Why would NextHop consolidate? Seems to me like other Microsoft blogs should consolidate into NextHop, not the other way around.

Speaking of, it seems that the Lync Team Blog is also merging into Blogs.office.com. Two major Lync blogs going from focusing on Lync Server’s many capabilities, to becoming one voice among the many Office technologies.run1

On the surface it does make some sense. With Office 365 growing, Lync has gained attention as part of the online Office suite. Its Lync Online option gives some users an affordable way to use some of Lync’s main functions.

But from the comments left on NextHop and Lync Team Blog, it’s clear many of us do NOT like this! Not only does it diminish Lync’s stated importance, but many users don’t want to use the public cloud/Office 365. They’d rather keep Lync on-premises. See for yourself: NextHop Blog is Being Consolidated – Comments

I don’t blame you at all! On-premises Lync Server has more options & more power than Lync Online. Losing these blogs means we lose resources. I’m not happy about this one bit.

Right now, Lync Server is known by two versions: on-premise Lync Server 2013 and cloud-based Lync Online. It’s gaining popularity on both fronts. And complexity, as more Skype technology is intermingled. The next version of Lync Server could introduce major changes for Web-based communications. Our community has summits, conferences, thousands of members worldwide…and lots of questions.

We don’t need fewer Lync-devoted resources. We need more!

Restating Our Commitment to a Quality Lync Server Blog

To those looking for blogs talking about Lync Server technology, may I humbly suggest subscribing to the Lync Insider. Get email updates by signing up in the box on the right.

Our primary focus is (and will remain) on-premises Lync Server. Though we will cover all Lync-related material as needed, including Lync Online, SharePoint integration, hardware, etc. All to benefit our understanding & use of Lync Server.

As a welcome for any new readers joining us, here are some links to some of our popular posts:

Let me conclude today’s blog post with a quick poll. One question only. Please select your choice and click Vote. Answers will be collated and used as foundation for future Lync Insider posts.

What type of Lync Server do you use?

Have a question about any version of Lync Server? Please comment or email it in.

We’ll return next week with posts on using Lync as a remote desktop tool (like LogMeIn). See you then!

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Why I Think “Universal Communications” is a Ways Off

Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

At the Lync Conference in February, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft Corporate VP for Lync and Skype Engineering said,

“The era of universal communications is here to stay. That’s what the next decade is going to be about. It’s going to change your and my life. In fact, 1 billion people in this decade will use Microsoft universal communications.”

Lync-Skype Chief: ‘Era of Universal Communications Is Here’ – Redmond Channel Partner

Bold words. Very ambitious. But are they realistic?

I’d sure like to think we’ll have universal VoIP (with video!) by 2024 or so. The capabilities it would generate for everyone – huge opportunities for developing countries, more expansion away from crowded cities, simple & powerful businesses popping up everywhere…

The problem is, I’m not sure 10 years is a realistic goal.

Why? There’s one small problem…and it’s not one Microsoft can fix by itself.

The Problem Isn’t Microsoft, It’s Internet

It’s not that I don’t believe MS couldn’t pull off the tech angle. They’re already a long way toward it. Lync Server, Lync Online, Azure cloud services, Skype federation, better hardware all the time, worldwide reach, huge development team…

They can make Lync-style Voice over IP universal. I believe that.

What I question is the infrastructure. High-speed Internet infrastructure capable of supporting Voice over IP, and related technologies like video and conferencing.

The Difficulty in Getting Fiber Connections (Even for Businesses)

Let me tell you a brief story. Some months ago we contacted Comcast about getting a high-speed connection into our datacenter. We wanted it for secure backups, cloud service, and – of course – the fastest Lync calling speeds we could get.Universal Communications Loading...

But Comcast wasn’t interested. They would have had to pull a new line into the area. That meant workers and downtime. Both of which they wanted us to pay for. Up front.

So we talked to AT&T. Fortunately, AT&T WAS interested. In fact, AT&T was happy to do the fiber setup, plus cover the cost! It’s part of a program they have running to help turn on fiber connections for local business use.

Read the whole story (and the AT&T program’s details) at our main blog: The Fiber Option: Super-Fast Internet for Innovation District Businesses (And Beyond) – PlanetMagpie Blog

So our connection problem was solved. But, one has to ask – if this is a common issue in rolling out high-speed Internet connections, how long will it take for a “bandwidth build-out” big enough to support Pall’s Universal Communications?

The Form Universal Communications will Take

From the Channel Partner article: “Pall defined universal communications as having five pillars: global reach through the cloud, video everywhere, the ability to work across all devices, context and application intelligence, and a consistent experience for work and life.”

1 billion people using all these services in the next decade? Tall order.

In terms of present technology in use, we’re not that far off. Global reach via the cloud and consistent work/life experiences can be had. The sticking points will come with ‘video everywhere’ and ‘ability to work across all devices.’

Mr. Pall is most bullish on the video. I agree with his notion that “you should be able to reach anybody anywhere in the world with video.” However, video does require bandwidth to support it. While we have lots of bandwidth going around via mobile 3G/4G tech, it hasn’t reached worldwide saturation yet.

I think the form Universal Communications will take is very similar to Pall’s 5 pillars. Though all of them will require a foundation of solid, universal Internet access. That comes not only from technology, but economics. Which is why it won’t happen all at once.

What I Think Will Happen: Staged, Cyclical Spread of High-Speed Internet & Lync

Stage 1: Lync Online receives PSTN calling. (Yay!)
Stage 2: Further expansion of Lync Server/Cisco/RingCentral implementations for VoIP
Stage 3: Infrastructure Build-outs (Fiber, wide-area Wi-Fi, etc.)
Stage 4: Cycle between Stage 2 & 3, expanding their areas of influence as they go
Stage 5: True Universal Communications

Stages 1 and 2 are proceeding. According to an RPC article last week, Lync Server 2013 deployment is expanding like crazy. (Our own IT consultants are also seeing more interest for Lync among Silicon Valley businesses.)

It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft delivers on the “PSTN Calling for Lync Online Users” promise. Stage 3 is where we’ll either see rapid expansion toward “Universal Communications”…or we’ll see economics slow things down.

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What do you think? Is infrastructure the key to Universal Communications, or a potential slowdown? Please leave a comment or email. We love to hear readers’ thoughts!

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    The Lync Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft Lync Server 2013, its predecessor Lync Server 2010, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., Tech Writer & SEO Engineer for PlanetMagpie IT Consulting.
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