Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications tag.

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.

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.

—-
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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