Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications tag.

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.

Lync Server Type
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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2 Articles You Need to Read about Lync

Lync Online, Lync Server 2013, Voice over IP

It’s been a little while since I did a “Lync Love” post. I do like offering commentary on great Lync-related articles. I had one ready last week. And since then, a second one has popped up.

These are articles everyone interested in Lync Server (and its related technologies) should read. Let me explain the reasons why, below.

1. How PSTN voice in Lync Online will bring unified VoIP to the masses – BetaNews

Written by Derrick Wlodarz, this article raises some urgent questions about VoIP’s future.1279599_13140278a

Short Synopsis: Voice over IP, in its current form, can’t provide easy access to the PSTN. As a result, its services exist as a sort of ‘bubble’ next to the PSTN, trying to wiggle itself in. Adding full PSTN connectivity into Lync Online (part of Microsoft’s Office 365 offering) would go a long way toward improving VoIP’s standing.

There’s a lot of truth in what the author says. Lync Online is near-crippled without the PSTN. Skype’s proprietary network, while immense and well-used, does tend to wall its users in a little.

Where I disagree in part is the position that running your own Lync Server system is pretty much reserved for the Fortune 500. Not the case at all. Our own client experiences don’t match up. In fact, most of our Lync implementations were for businesses under 200 people.

Lync Online does have its limitations when it comes to making calls out. I happily support Microsoft adding such functionality.
The PSTN has been around for more than a century. VoIP has only seen notable use in the past decade or so. We will see unification…just give it time.

2. Law Firm CIO Makes the Case for Microsoft Lync – CIO.com

This is a detailed case study of a Lync Server implementation.  It’s terrific work; thorough explanations of the law firm’s situation, the decisions made, the steps involved in transition & so on.

I have to quote the section about achieving a successful deployment:
“We find most often that if a project fails, it’s because people aren’t addressing the user and change management issues,” he [Dean Leung, Holland & Knight CIO] says. “If you just deploy it and hope that they’ll adopt it, they may or they may not. If you focus on change management and really help build the business case as to how it’s going to help their workflow and their practice, that always leads to a successful deployment.”

Indeed!

Interconnectivity of services was the driver behind the law firm’s Lync move. They wanted more efficiency out of current communications. Especially when talking with clients.

Deploying Lync Server got them what they wanted – including the extras like changing call types or adding a whiteboard. Leung called these features “Phone+”. I rather like that. Might use it in future posts.

If you’re on the fence about using Lync Server, go read this article. Holland & Knight took their time and addressed potential issues with careful deployment planning. Very smart approach for any software change–particularly Lync.

Question for Readers: What would hold you back from switching to Lync Server? Please comment or email with your answers!

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Using Skype and Lync for Work – A Reader’s Experience

Unified Communications, Voice over IP

I was planning on testing some Lync plugins from GitHub today. But that will have to wait.

The other day I asked you, our readers, for a little help. Would someone who uses both Skype and Lync answer a couple questions about your experiences with the two systems?

And someone did! Peter from Psquared.net has come forward. His office uses both Lync and Skype (along with a couple other add-ons, as you’ll see). He was kind enough to answer my questions with great detail.

From my questions and Peter’s answers, I hope you’re able to get a good clear example of how businesses can use Skype and Lync in concert. CAN, mind you, not MUST. There are many different ways for Skype and Lync to interoperate…this is just one (albeit one that appears to serve Peter quite well)!

So let’s see what Peter has to say. The following is from his own words.

Q&A – One Company’s Skype/Lync Experience

1) What’s your Lync Server setup like?

We have a single Sangoma Lync Express appliance which hosts our FE [Front End Server], as well as VMs that host the Web Apps server and the Edge Server. It also has a special Sangoma software SBC VM image.

We still use a TMG2010 server for our Reverse proxy. I keep meaning to switch to a new VM running IIS ARR etc. but just haven’t gotten round to it – after all, it currently ain’t broke!

We actually use an Asterisk based IP-PBX for our main office PBX (Sark from Aelintra), but this has bidirectional links to Lync so our employees can use either Lync or legacy SIP for their calls – the phones are all Snom 820/821 phones with accounts for Lync (7xx extension numbers) and for the Asterisk extensions (all 2xx extension numbers)

The reason for still having the Asterisk box is that although we have Enterprise Voice, the built in Response Group Application is just too slow at connecting calls when used with the Snom handsets, so we have stuck with the Asterisk for the majority of calls.

Our biggest use for Lync is internal IM, but it’s also key for our disaster management plans – in the event that the office cannot be reached due to bad weather etc. then staff will remote desktop into the building and use the Lync client for all calls in and out of the building. We would change our call routing so all calls will go straight through the Asterisk box direct to the RGS service on Lync – as these are then Lync Client then the call connect delay is minimal. This is all much easier to handle than achieving the same with our Asterisk box which would require everyone setting up soft Sip clients and all sorts of other tricky bits, not least due to the lack of multi-endpoint registration to a single account.

2) Can you tell me a little about the people who use Skype? Just customers, or maybe partners?
man-talking-on-phone-md
We use Skype to connect primarily to customers, though a few partners as well. Primarily we use it for doing initial web based meetings and demonstrations of our products with new customers. However, we have quite a few customers in India and in East Africa and Skype is ideal for them to save a fortune on international calls!

Because of the relatively high cost of a Lync deployment for small sites, we actually don’t have any active Lync federation with any customers, so Skype is what gets used for “free” calls to us and vice versa.

3) What kinds of errors do you come up against, user-related or otherwise?

The biggest issues we have are to do with initially getting Skype based contacts into our Lync Contacts List. If you add the user, but they haven’t requested to contact you first, then the Skype user doesn’t always seem to get the Contact Request. If they do, but then discard it by accident then you end up with a real problem as it doesn’t seem that you can re-send the request – even deleting the contact from Lync and trying again doesn’t seem to resend the request.

The opposite is also true – even with your Lync Permissions set to allow anyone to contact request you, some requests just don’t seem to come in from Skype users, and if they do but you accidentally reject it, you’re stuck again. After a lot of removing from both ends and re-trying you sometimes get the requests come through and then you can connect without any problem.

The main issue is that it’s obviously great for IM and voice, but with video not supported, we often end up getting the person to join a straight Lync Web Conference instead. Being honest, most of the time we just go straight to this anyway as it obviously works without any Skype client install so is good for locked down users like education sites, but also means we can do multi-person conferences. Skype can do these, but at a cost!

When we get Video to Skype with the next release of Lync that will be a big improvement, but we’re really comfortable with web meetings now, so not so critical.

4) From your site, you work with radio software. Do you find Skype is more conducive to good-quality recordings? Or is Lync better? How do they compare?

The Skype audio codec is excellent so when we do Skype-Skype it’s always good. However, we have a full broadcast studio here with professional quality microphones and hi-def Microsoft webcams, which means that when we do Lync Web Conferences we always get comments on how amazing the quality is and how clearly the end user can hear us – important when we’re aiming to sell audio equipment and software to them!

We know that a lot of our customers are using Skype for doing Outside Broadcasts to get high quality audio back to the studios, so they obviously like the Silk codec, so when we get to see that in the next release of Lync it will be quite interesting to see how that sounds!

5) Do you use any add-on services for either Skype or Lync?

We use Skype Connect to actually give us “real world” phone numbers in Eire and the US which are routed directly into our Asterisk phone exchange – this is not ideal as there is quite a connection delay with 2 or 3 rings before Skype forwards the calls on. We have looked at using 3rd parties to provide us real world numbers on TLS streams that could be fed into Lync, but these are expensive and complicated to setup compared to Skype.

We also looked at using WorkAnywhere, but as this is licensed by the number of queues, not by the number of end users, it’s much too expensive to justify.

6) What’s the most common cross-platform communication you do for both systems? Chat, voice calls, conferences?

Chat is easily the biggest – even while typing this email I’ve handled 3 or 4 Lync IM conversations with people here in the office, and also with a supplier who open federates so we can do nice quick IM checks with them as to how they get on.

For Skype, we primarily use it for voice, but we do do some IM as well.

In terms of sales, we use Lync Web Conferences a lot – these have saved us a huge amount of travelling to show customers (and potential customers) new features and “how-tos” for existing deployments. We’ve never actually done a Lync to Lync conference as we just don’t seem to have any customers on it! But because the Web client can work for anyone with a modern browser, it’s ideal for use for demos and training sessions.

Some Observations to Add

  • It seems that the strongest services for each – IM and Conferencing for Lync, Voice Calls for Skype – are Psquared.net’s focus. They’re using the service which makes the most sense for the communication medium.
  • I’ve heard good things about the Sangoma Lync Express Appliance, but never had the chance to work with one. I’ll have to look into it more.
  • Curious doubling effect with the Asterisk PBX. Sounds like they have VoIP partially overlapping. Though it does make for an excellent disaster recovery setup!
  • Introducing the Silk codec into Lync may in fact be the driver for broader Enterprise Voice adoption.
  • The contacts error in #3 seems very similar to the Contact Removal trouble I had a while back: How to Remove Old Federated Contacts from Your Lync Contacts List

Thanks very much Peter! This is excellent insight into Skype/Lync interaction. Again, you’ll find his business at Psquared.net.

 

Is your Skype/Lync experience different? Have you experienced problems using either Skype or Lync? Please comment or email…I’d love to talk about it!

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Lync Love: March 2014

Exchange Server 2013, Lync 2013 Client, Lync Online, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Need to stay head-down this week. I was planning to continue my exploration of Lync plugins from last time…but, no rest for the busy!

So for today’s post, let’s take a look out in the Lyncosphere and see what we find.

Exchange Server 2013 SP1: What’s New – WindowsITPro.com
Discussion of Exchange 2013′s Service Pack 1, released last month. A very thorough article on it too. It covers SP1′s intended purpose, what to watch out for, the new features, and background on the Exchange service model (Cumulative Updates similar to Lync). If you haven’t already installed SP1, read this for a useful reference.

Lync-Skype-Office 365 Goes Off-Hook – TelecomReseller
This article covers some of the same points I made in Exchanging Protocols: The Latest on Lync and Skype Integration.
Not sure I fully agree with this line: “MSFT will finally smash them together a new UI will emerge probably in 1-2 years to simplify their product offering.”
But, the reason I included it in Lync Love is the images. There’s a big diagram outlining the Lync-Skype-Office 365 architecture (interactive), and a chart of codecs used. Good for a visual reference on both.PosterCutout

Announcing the Release of the Lync Server 2013 On-Premises Architectures Poster – NextHop
Speaking of visual reference! NextHop recently posted an architectural guide for running Lync Server 2013 on-premises. As with previous posters, this one’s extremely detailed and required reading for any Lync administrator.

Microsoft Warns of Looming Exchange Server 2003 Support Deadline – Redmond Channel Partner
Most of us are aware of the looming Windows XP deadline. (Only 3 weeks away!) At the same time, Office 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 will meet their end.
Hopefully everyone is off of Exchange 2003 by now! But just in case, here’s a reminder. And a nice punctual list of the available upgrade & support options for Exchange 2003 holdouts.

I also came across a long article on VoIP and Lync Online. It deserves its own post as a response. You’ll see that one soon.

Next week, I’ll take a stroll through GitHub for some more Lync plugins to test. See you then!

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Exchanging Protocols: The Latest on Lync and Skype Integration

Lync 2013 Client

Last week, we had the Lync Conference in Las Vegas. (I was not able to go. Sad.)

One big thing to come out of that conference was news about more cooperation between Lync and Skype.

If you’ve read this blog a while, then you know I like to follow the Lync-Skype integration.
Lync-to-Skype Connectivity is Here. But Don’t Forget the Provisioning! (June 12, 2013)

So this was definitely welcome news. Especially when I read through the changes announced.

What’s Coming: Lync 2013 gets HD Audio, Skype gets video calls peer-to-peer

Essentially, the changes involve an exchange of capabilities. Lync will gain access to Skype’s SILK codec for HD audio. And the Lync Server architecture will allow peer-to-peer media connections – granting Skype more direct access to establish video calls with Lync users.

Simon Bisson has an excellent rundown on this at ZDNet: Lync and Skype together – here’s how it will work

Both Skype and Lync are gaining new protocols too – STUN, TURN and ICE. The big value on this is that both systems will be more friendly to newer mobile devices.

Which side is harder to update – Skype or Lync?

Since Microsoft has control of both Skype and Lync Server, this whole “capabilities exchange” might seem silly. Why don’t they just rewrite one to fit into the other? Or both?

I don’t think that would be smart. In fact, I think Microsoft is taking the smarter road by playing it safe.

Skype is a unique communications system. Built to be consumer-grade, and possessed of a huge worldwide following. Lync is made within the Microsoft architectural standard; popular, but designed as an interconnected system working with other Microsoft platforms.

Merging the two – or even modifying both to seamlessly work together – will take a LOT of programming changes. Introducing those changes one step at a time, allowing users to adapt and measuring the real-world usage, makes the most sense.

Which is exactly what they’re doing.

I suspect it’s actually harder to update Skype, since it has its own protocol structure and prides itself on peer-to-peer communication. Which might be why Microsoft opted to allow peer-to-peer for video calls to Lync users.

Plus, it takes advantage of PIC (Public IM Connectivity), which already exists in Lync Server. Saves time, less hassle.

Where are Skype and Lync going next?

I made four predictions last year, in a January post – Messenger Users Moved to Skype By March. Lync Users are NOT Next.

These new protocol exchanges between Lync and Skype figure into Prediction #4 – “Lync and Skype stay separate, but interoperate.”

Allowing Skype to run video calls peer-to-peer – something it’s already famous for doing – indicates that Microsoft wants to keep the functionality (mostly) as-is. Building Lync connectivity and security around it means the user’s experience is pretty much the same…just better on the backend.

Plus, with the interoperability and friendliness on mobile, we could see #3 coming about in the next couple years too. (That would be “A new Lync-Skype hybrid app replaces both platforms,” by the way.)

Call to Readers!  Do you use Skype and Lync for work?

Okay, let me ask you for a little help. I’d like to talk with a reader who uses both Skype and Lync. (Must be at least one of you out there!)

If this is you, and you want to help out, I’d appreciate asking you a couple questions about your experiences between the two systems. You get a link and a spotlight here on the blog, when I write it up!

Please contact me at chris.williams@planetmagpie.com, or leave a comment on this post.

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Examining Lync's Connection Tools: OCSUMUtil

Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013

Apologies for the late post this week, readers! We’re engaged in some server moves & updating. I don’t have a whole lot of time available. But the blog must go on!

We’re continuing our “Examining Lync’s Connection Tools” series this week with OCSUMUtil.exe.

What Does OCSUMUtil Mean?

It stands for ‘OCS Unified Messaging Utility’, which I believe is its original name. However its official name – at least according to TechNet – is “Exchange UM Integration Utility”.

Many people refer to it as just ‘OCSUMUtil’, so we’ll do that here.

What Does OCSUMUtil Do?

Its primary purpose, as you might guess, is aiding in Lync/Exchange Unified Messaging integration. It does this in two ways:

  • Creating Active Directory contact objects for Auto Attendant and Subscriber Access numbers used in Enterprise Voice.
  • Verifying that each Enterprise Voice dial plan matches its corresponding Unified Messaging dial plan. (According to TechNet, this is only necessary if you’re using an Exchange Server earlier than Exchange 2010 SP1.)

This has been its purpose since OCS 2007 days. In fact, I think it’s the longest-used connection tool in our series.

(If I’m wrong, please comment and set us all straight!)

How Do You Use OCSUMUtil?

Instructions for its use in a Lync Server 2013 deployment: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg398193.aspx

When you implement Unified Messaging, you’re essentially connecting Lync Server and Exchange Server together. They will coordinate communications data like voicemail, Auto Attendant activity, etc. The PluralSight blog has a good listing of the features involved in Unified Messaging. I’ll give more detail on this topic later.

By using the OCSUmUtil tool, you’re facilitating the creation of connections between Lync Server and Exchange Server. It’s not the central component of integration, but it’s very important to Subscriber Access (which allows people to access their voicemails) and Auto Attendant (which answers & redirects certain calls for you).

You’ll run OCSUMUtil from the /Support/ subfolder on the computer where you installed Lync Server. When the tool is open, you’ll click ‘Load Data’ to find your Exchange forest.

OCSUMUtil.exe
See Blog.Schertz.name for the full image.

  1. In the SIP Dial Plans list, select the UM dial plan for which you want to create contact objects. Click Add.
  2. In the Contact box, either use the default organizational unit, or click Browse to search for another one with the OU Picker. I’ll presume you want to use the default, since most admins will.
  3. In the Name box, either accept the default dial plan name or enter a new one. (For example, if you’re creating the Subscriber Access contact object, name it “Subscriber Access”.)
  4. Enter a new SIP address for the contact object in the SIP Address box (or accept the default).
  5. In the server list, select the server where you want to place the contact object (either Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition’s Front End pool).
  6. In the Phone Number list, select “Enter phone number” and enter a standardized phone number.
  7. Select the type of object you want in the Contact Type list.
  8. Click OK to finish creating the object. Repeat these steps for any more contact objects you need to make.

For another perspective, see the Lync and Exchange UM Integration post by Jeff Schertz. As is his usual, he talks in good step-by-step detail about using OCSUmUtil in the course of a Lync Server 2010/Exchange Server 2010 integration.

Potential for Error

While you can encounter an error just about anywhere, I noted in my research that OCSUMUtil has a higher-than-average potential for error. If either Lync or Exchange UM are not properly configured prior to using OCSUMUtil, it will give an error. Also, if you configure OCSUMUtil incorrectly, it will error out.

Handy for troubleshooting, but it does mean you have to go back & fix things. I haven’t personally encountered an OCSUMUtil error, but searches have told me of a couple types:

  • If you select the Director (or the Director is selected by default) in Step 5 above. It must be a front end server.
  • If there is no number (or an incorrectly-created number) in Exchange for Auto Attendant or Subscriber Access.

Next time, I’ll blog either about our last connection tool, Online Directory Synchronization…or some hands-on updating work. Check back here next week to find out!

Have you encountered an error while using OCSUmUtil? Or did it go smoothly? Either way, share the experience with us!

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Lync Updates for January 2014: Server 2013, Phone Edition and Lync for iPhone All Updated

Lync Server 2013

We interrupt our “Connection Tools” post series for a special announcement!

I went through the month of January, and (almost) didn’t mention the latest Lync Server updates from Microsoft.

There are two: One for Lync Server 2013, and one for Lync Phone Edition.
Lync Server 2013 Update – January 2014
Lync Phone Edition Update – January 2014

Can’t let January finish without calling these out, now can we?

Sign-On Troubles, Stability Improvements – What These Updates Do

I went through all of the listed updates (all 15 of them!). You’ll find an assortment of reliability/stability updates, fixes for issues either new or mentioned in previous CUs, and a couple new feature additions.

Most of the updates included in the Lync Server 2013 Update are:

  • Front End Service cannot restart if someone has a special character (such as @ or &) in their user address
  • The RTCSrv.exe Process crashes on Edge Server
  • Unified Communications API tries to access Exchange Server 2010 when a user signs on to Lync Mobile, causing multiple events to appear in Event Viewer
  • Can’t dial out or share a video in a Lync Web App meeting on Lync Server 2013
  • Enables support for “Operator Assistance” from the PSTN during a conference
  • Stability Updates for Web Conferencing Server, Conferencing Server, Core Components
  • Mediation Server can’t forward a call’s history-info header or the referred-by header to the PSTN gateway
  • The Response Group Service redirects calls to the queue overflow call action improperly
  • Users in Distribution Groups don’t receive Persistent Chat invitations
  • Fixes Listed in Prior Cumulative Updates: October, July, etc.

Updates made by the Lync Phone Edition Update are:

  • Voice distortion when you resume a call on hold by using Lync Phone Edition for Aries phones
  • Exchange integration fails, when an Exchange mailbox is enabled for Exchange Online
  • Multiple updates from previous Cumulative Updates governing Polycom phone usage

Even if you do not have any of these problems, I encourage you to apply these updates ASAP. We all know how valuable it is to stay up-to-date. Minimizing the chance problems may occur.

Bonus Update – Lync 2013 for iPhone

There’s more! According to iClarified.com, Lync for iPhone has been updated as well.

It now has full iOS 7 Support. As well as the added ability to view PowerPoint presentations during a Lync Meeting (a notable feature it previously lacked). Lync for iPhone is not quite as full-featured as Lync 2013 for desktops–but it comes close. IM, meetings, calls, all covered by Lync Server’s security.

If you already use Lync on your iPhone or iPad (like me), you’ll have received the update by now. If not, search for “Lync” in the App Store.

Now, you have a few updates to make, right?

We’ll be back next week with the Lync Connection Tools series. Will it discuss Online Directory Synchronization, or OCSUMUtil? You’ll have to join us back here to find out.

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