Browsing the archives for the video conferencing tag.

Sneaking into a VoIP Webinar: Advice I Found for Lync Admins

Conferencing, lync server 2010, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Yesterday I attended the “Best Practices for Successful VoIP/UC Deployments” webinar put on by Enterprise Connect. I expected to receive some technical information that would be useful to Lync administrators. And I wasn't disappointed.

As I promised last week, here are some of the highlights I found relevant. If you want to see the whole webinar, there are slides and audio available at

Network Performance is Crucial

The issue of performance was central to the webinar. Not surprising, considering their prime considerations were bandwidth-heavy apps like VoIP and video conferencing!

There's a chart on Slide 6 that's worth the download right there. It lists out good performance metrics for five high-bandwidth services: VoIP/UC, Cloud Services, IP Storage, VDI and Video Conferencing. (I was a bit surprised that VoIP/UC was on the *low end*, but hey.) The metrics included minimum available capacity, latency, maximum loss and a few others. Useful when setting up Lync front end servers.

Next came a very Lync-relevant reminder: There are parts of any network connection that we don't control. Loss can occur in any of those parts and affect network performance. A WAN connection, router disruption, carrier latency…any of these can slow down your VoIP call.

The Problems Affecting VoIP and Unified Communications

Next up the webinar presenters (John and Matt) got more technical. They listed out common network problems affecting performance,from QoS configuration errors (something I don't think I've covered before) to an overly-busy router. Each problem was identified,and possible resolutions given.

For example, one presenter mentioned Call Admission Control as a possible cause of insufficient bandwidth. If certain users have consistent trouble with dropped calls, CAC may need adjusting of its max bandwidth for voice.

Should We Measure Performance All The Time?

I know, that's kind of a given. Measuring was a big focus of this webinar though; reminder after reminder about its importance. Especially since application servers like Lync deploy as services. Continuous measuring makes catching performance problems easier (not to mention less stressful for the admin!).

The webinar ended with discussing the PathViewCloud measurement tools from Apparent Networks. I'm not sure how useful it would be for Lync servers. But I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention it. And this webinar was certainly detailed enough to merit good attention.

Best Practices for Lync Admins

Before that though, the presenters gave 7 best practices for remote site UC deployments. I'm posting the 4 that looked right for a Lync Server admin to employ.

1. Prioritize key services/applications first and then expand – don't bite off too much at once. (Good advice. Roll out Lync's basics first as a test. Then try the VoIP.)

3. Define the location(s) that will leverage/be impacted by the new application/service, and understand the network performance to/from these locations. (You'll need to know bandwidth requirements between remote offices if you want to configure the Survivable Branch Appliance correctly.)

4. Establish baselines of what's actually happening today, before making ANY infrastructure changes. Understand what “levers” affect delivered performance. (Good advice to follow before adding any new servers. But particularly Lync Server, given how integrated with the whole network it can be.)

7. Understand performance from both directions; your central office out to remote locations AND vice versa. (If a certain office has trouble receiving email before Lync is deployed, don't ignore it.)

Performance Tools are Good. Lync Performance Tools are Better!

Let me finish by pointing out that there IS a software-based Lync Server 2010 Performance Tool available. It doesn't test web conferencing or Group Chat, but you'll get some numbers on how well your network handles VoIP, application sharing and other services.

Do you have a performance tool designed to work with Lync? Let's hear about it. Maybe I can blog about it next week.

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Path to Lync Server – Step 8: Train Users


On to Step 8 – training your users on Lync. Now we're away from the server and over to the Lync 2010 client.
Lync 2010 Client App
Lync 2010 image courtesy of Can't post screenshots of my own yet – darn client confidentiality!

Obviously, it looks a lot like your typical IM client. This works to your advantage – chances are you co-workers know their way around IM already. (You might have caught them IMing from work…)

In today's post I'll present materials to help you prepare for training your users on Lync. There's a combination of training materials, videos, and my own observations.

Training Materials for Lync

First thing to do is go here:
Lync 2010 Training – Microsoft Downloads
And download the training package. It contains 7 PowerPoint presentations that introduce the reader to each aspect of the Lync 2010 client. The following 3 are especially helpful for everyone who'll use Lync:

  • * Conferencing and Collaboration Training

  • * IM and Presence Training
  • * Voice and Video Training

Either use them to create your own training materials, or distribute them as an introduction to Lync features. You'll need more detail to train effectively though. So, here's a few more resources. All are freely available.

Using Instant Messaging

Lync 2010 starts with a blank window. Like any IM client, users will need to add contacts.

Adding Contacts: Here's that two-click add I mentioned before. Lync 2010 Help – Adding Contacts (video)

Adding External Contacts (outside the organization): Doing this isn't much different from adding an internal contact. Type the contact's email address in Lync 2010's search field. Right-click the search result, and then click Add to Contact List.

Once users have their contact list set up, they'll need to know about Presence.

Changing Presence Status: Easy. Have the user type what they're doing in the “What's Happening Today?” field atop Lync 2010. Then, below their name, they should select what their status is – Available, Busy,Away,etc. There's a handy reference table here with all the Presence Status options.

Making Calls Through Lync

Before a user tries to make a call, they should verify that their audio devices (speakers, mic, headset) work with Lync 2010.

I suggest pairing users up to test their audio. Use the first three steps on this guide to verify that they can make and receive calls:
Select Audio Devices, Place a Voice Call – Quick Start

Once they're sure they can use voice, this quick video works for a step-by-step reminder to making calls.

Join a Conference

There are guides for joining conferences, of course.

But the best way to do this (I think) is to run a conference yourself, and invite people in. (See the next paragraph for how to do that.) I'd recommend small groups at a time, so you can answer questions without getting overwhelmed.

Start and Run a Conference

This Quick Start Guide will show users how to schedule a conference, or start one unscheduled.
Quick Start: Set up, Start, and Join an Online Meeting

If users want more control of the conference, they can read about more advanced options – record the meeting, add video – in this guide.

Lync Training for the Masses

That's most of the standard user actions you””””ll come across. If you'd like more, browse this list of Lync Help videos.
I'll post more how-tos as they come up.

Speaking of coming up – is there something specific in Lync 2010 you'd like me to cover? Leave it in a comment, or email me with your idea. We're already starting work on our own Lync Server/Lync 2010 Client guide. Ideas will be blogged, and (if you give permission) added to the guide as applicable.

Next week I'll pause the “Path to Lync Server” series again, to bring you a special post. I've been told about a new Lync tool…and I think you'll want to hear what it does. See you then.

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Walking Through the Lync Server 2010 Planning Tool

Conferencing, lync server 2010, Reference, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Yesterday I read that a planning tool was available for Lync Server 2010 RC. No way I'd pass something like that up for a blog post. You can download the Planning Tool here:
Microsoft Lync Server 2010 Planning Tool RC – Downloads

Installation takes only a second. A server isn't required (which is good, because I don't have access to one right now!).

I thought I'd do something a little more intense this week–a walkthrough of the entire planning tool. Give everybody some ideas on how Lync is set up, and what's needed from you to make it happen.

Below are brief descriptions of what's on every window, and how it fits into Lync Server. Plus screenshots I took of each window as I went through. Enjoy!

(This is a LONG post with big images. So I'll put a “Read More” here to make it load faster.)

Continue Reading »


Lync Server Roles and What They Do


The other day I was reading J. Bruzzese's excellent piece on, Microsoft Lync 2010: Finally, a Communications Server Worth the Effort. I happen to agree, but one thing jumped out at me.

The new Lync Server Roles were mentioned, though not in great detail. I thought, “What information is out there on the server roles? I should check.”

So I did. And I found out that while some server roles are discussed a bit, others have been left for IT people to simply figure out at install.

Let me fix that – at least in part. Here's an overview of each Lync 2010 Server Role, focused on their intended function in the Lync family (or “site” as the new terminology goes).


Archiving and Monitoring – Just like the name says. This server role monitors your Lync Server usage. Archiving archives IM conversations, Group Chat and conference logs.

Audio/Video Conferencing – Conferencing is integrated into Lync Server; a separate client (like Live Meeting was) isn't necessary. This server controls that integration.

Central Management – Main configuration server. The Central Management Store provides a master configuration database that sends configuration information out to all the servers deployed.

Director – The Lync Director server regulates user pools. It's usually on the front-end server.

Edge Server - Like they did before, Edge Servers make communications with external users possible. Lync Edge servers have also added DNS Load Balancing (helps reduce the need for Hardware Load Balancers).

Group Chat – The Group Chat feature allows users to discuss topics over time, with those discussions saved and searchable. Think of it like a bulletin board or discussion forum, built right into Lync.

Lync Web Application – Maintains the new Silverlight-based Lync Web App client. In case you conference with non-Lync users who'd like to join in without installing extra software.

Mediation – Handles mediation between servers and gateways. If there's a break in Lync's communication,the Mediation Server Role allows the call to bypass itself and flow from the Lync Server directly to a gateway or IP-PBX.

Reach Application Sharing – As the name implies,this role handles sharing of applications between users while chatting or conferencing. Information was hard to find, but I presume the 'reach' means this role also allows application sharing with third parties not using Lync.

Survivable Branch Appliance
– This role helps keep remote offices connected. If there's a break in communication (say the network goes down), the Appliance Role will route calls through a local gateway out to the public phone network. So calls can continue even while the network's being fixed.

Unified Communications Application Server – This one was the hardest to get specific information on. As you might expect, it helps with recording voicemails & passing them to Exchange. I'll have to go into more detail when it arrives.

Web Conferencing – Provides a foundation for hosting Web conferences (with integrated audio/video from the Audio/Video Conferencing Server).

Rest assured, this is only a preliminary. I intend to get first-hand information on all of these server roles soon. When Lync Server is RTM, I'll be recording everything I can for future posts.

Speaking of, what do you think? “The Lync Insider” or “Lync-Updates”? Which sounds better for an OCS/Lync blog like this?

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OCS 2007 R2 Architecture Poster Available for Download

Conferencing, lync server 2010, OCS 2007, OCS 2007 R2, Reference, Unified Communications

Last week Microsoft released a new version of the Office Communications Server 2007 R2 Workload Architecture poster. You can download it here (free, MS login required):
OCS 2007 R2 Workload Architecture Poster

The timing on this might seem odd. After all, we're charging full-on toward Lync Server 2010's release right?

Even so, this is a handy reference tool to have. For OCS 2007 and for Lync 2010.

The reason I say that is because it divides architecture up into four distinct functions: IM and Presence Workload, Application Sharing Workload, A/V and Web Conferencing Workload, and Enterprise Voice Workload.

Having these functions split up does several things for you:

  • Easy reference for discussion

  • Implementation aid if you don't use OCS
  • Troubleshooting aid if you do use OCS
  • Preparation for Lync

Now, the architecture in Lync Server is bound to differ from this. What I mean BY well, anyommunications system like Lync will need.”

Lync 2010 will need fewer servers than OCS 2007, to boot. So it should be a simpler architecture.

Familiarize yourself with OCS' architecture and be pleasantly surprised when Lync rolls out!

A couple additional points I want to make about the OCS 2007 R2 poster:

  1. Make a list of all the ports you'll need to use and keep it handy during implementation (OCS or Lync). Port collisions can cause a lot of trouble fast; head them off ahead of time.

  2. Note the positions of the hardware load balancers. There are that many for a good reason.
  3. If there's a part of this that will change the most in Lync Server, I'd say it's “Certificate Requirements.” Virtualization, altered server roles,and the integrated PBX capabilities will all change that.

I recommend this to all companies who use OCS 2007 right now,as well as any companies considering Lync Server 2010. Download and keep it handy!

Any other downloadable OCS/Lync resources you know of? Post them here and I'll highlight them in future posts.

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Lync-Updates: Pricing, New Mac Client, Web Client

Conferencing, lync server 2010, Microsoft Lync, Unified Communications

“Lync-Updates.” I kind of like that. Sounds catchy.

Anyway, I promised to post more on Lync Server 2010 as information became available. And so it has – lots of new information. Important stuff like pricing rates, licensing, and new Lync communication clients. Things OCS users and planned Lync users will need to know.

Lync Pricing

Lync Server is offered in Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition. Standard Edition requires that all the server components (and its database) be kept on one PC. What you'd expect for SMB configuration. Enterprise Edition allows you to separate the server components & database onto multiple PCs, using load balancing for better speeds. Very useful for larger businesses communicating via multiple offices.

Lync Server Standard Edition will cost $699; Enterprise Edition, $3,999. That doesn't include setup time of course. But these prices are holding steady at the same rates OCS 2007 R2 had.

With Lync, Microsoft lowers price of Office Communications Server – ITWorld

Also, the cost of individual licenses isn't included. Like all Microsoft server apps, there”s a license to use its client software. Or in Lync's case, three licenses.

The 3 Lync Licensing Levels – Standard, Enterprise,Plus

OCS 2007 had the Standard and Enterprise CALs. Lync Server 2010 is adding a third – the Plus CAL.

Standard CAL – Your basic individual license. It grants instant messaging,Presence, conferencing and PC-to-PC calls. You must purchase a Standard CAL before you can purchase an Enterprise or Plus CAL though.

Enterprise CAL – This license adds in more conferencing capabilities. Multi-party video conference, application sharing, support for joining a conference with a PBX or PSTN phone…that sort of thing.

Plus CAL – The Plus CAL licenses much of the voice capabilities in Lync. Like receiving calls from a PSTN line, call forwarding, and initiating a multi-person audio conference (Lync and PSTN lines).

Another great thing about these licenses is that the price for Enterprise and Plus CALS is only $107 – as opposed to the $139 you needed per OCS 2007 Enterprise CAL.

Microsoft's Lync Server Pricing / Licensing Page

New Clients for the Mac and the Web

Let us all welcome the Mac to the Lync family! Coming with Office 2011 for Mac will be a new Lync client. Communicator for Mac will ship with the new office suite (also available as a free download if needed) as part of Microsoft's strategy to bring real-time communication features into Office for Mac.

According to ZDNet, a new Web client is coming as well. OCS had CWA (Communicator Web Access), of course. The new web client for Lync however will be Silverlight-based. That should translate to a fast-loading client you can use on almost any machine (including mobile).

Microsoft to add Communicator client for Mac to its Lync line-up –

There's the big news so far. No delay announcements that I've seen, so I'm still assuming we'll see Lync Server 2010 by the end of the year!

Any other news about Lync? Maybe you have some input of your own? Leave us a comment and let's talk about it.

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OCS on the iPad? You'd Be Missing Something

Conferencing, Instant Messaging (IM), OCS 2007, OCS 2007 R2, Voice over IP

I'm not a huge Apple fan. But I've played with a couple iPads friends have bought in recent months. I sat down to write today's post and my thoughts trailed toward the iPad.

I thought, “Since OCS' Communicator will run on the iPhone, would it work on the iPad too?”

On the surface there's no reason why not. The iPad is larger. Better screen. It has a microphone and speaker built-in. Just about everything in Communicator DOES work on iPad – IM, VoIP, audio conferencing.

Except for one thing – video conferencing.

Why? The iPad doesn't have a webcam.

With a tablet, you'd expect the ability to do video calls. Sure, you could watch the other person talking to you if THEY had a webcam. But they couldn't see you – not without a webcam plugged in (somehow). Only hear you. And that's at best a clunky solution for an otherwise-slick mobile platform.

Why Consider OCS on the iPad/Tablets?

The iPad has kicked off a big interest in tablet PCs. At least some of the 3 million iPads sold are used by businesses already. (I saw a bunch used as slideshow displays at the Web 2.0 Expo.) With Dell, Samsung and other companies rushing for the tablet market, it's practically a given that tablets will be used as PC replacements in force.

When we get there though, will OCS be viable for communications on them? That's the question.

Conferencing/VoIP on Tablets – A Future Possibility

At this point it's largely a matter of speculation. Even on the current fast-track, companies probably won't embrace tablets for mobile communications soon. (Not while laptops & smartphones do the job.) I'm sure Microsoft will make OCS apps for tablets. But they may not see widespread VoIP or conferencing use, even if tablets go mainstream in business.

At least,until Apple puts a camera in the iPad.

What do you think? Are iPads (or other tablets) slipping into your workplace? Do you think they'd be viable communications devices,for everything from IM to Conferencing?

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Rename and a Revamp – New Features of Communications Server 14

Conferencing, OCS 2007 R2, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Last week at TechEd, Microsoft announced the new features of Communications Server 14. Frankly, I”m not sure why the new version is named “14.” But that's not what I wanted to write about anyway.

What I'm blogging about today is a few of the features announced. More specifically, how those features translate into new benefits for small business OCS users.

Many of 14's updates focus on simplification: Easier administration, more unified front-end interface (Unified Communication – get it?). The main small-business advantage comes from a more comprehensive client application. All communication channels ready and waiting for you.

1. The Rise of Communicator 14

Every service goes through the Communicator 14 client. Live Meeting was originally separate from the Office Communicator 2007 client. (They were developed separately at first.) Communicator 14 has it built in. All conferencing capabilities, in fact…along with IM, voice calls, Presence, even a visual Voicemail menu.

2. More Roles Virtually Capable

In 14 there's support for virtualizing almost all OCS server roles (AV Conferencing, Archiving, Edge Mediation, etc.). Putting in a new Communications Server 14 setup becomes more appealing if there are fewer physical servers needed than for OCS.

3. Web Client Following You Around

14 includes a new Silverlight-based web client version of Communicator. Very handy if you have people who live on netbooks or smartphones. I've played with Silverlight a little too; this client is almost guaranteed to be much faster than CWA.

4. Avoid the Media (Server) and Still Call the Office

There's a new media bypass,reducing the need for a mediation server. It allows a front-end server to go “direct SIP,” meaning you can call into (supported) PBX phone systems without mediation. In other words, simpler setup, and you can still call non-VoIP phones.

5. Alert! Call #2467 is Failing!

I really like this one. There's a new Monitoring Pack in Communications Server 14. If calls are failing or their quality drops, alerts will show in the Monitoring Pack. You can even boost the audio quality if it”s degrading!

6. SQL Backend Moved to Express Lane

The Director server role will include a SQL Express database in 14. So there's no more need for a separate SQL backend. That means even fewer servers running.

There's even more features than these too. A very thorough overview is on the “Inside OCS” blog.

A smaller, more streamlined communications system. Appealing to small business cost and space concerns, wouldn't you say?

What are you looking forward to in Communications Server 14? Drop us a comment and let's talk.

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6 Things to Check Before an OCS Conference


You”re about to have your first full-on Live Meeting conference with a client! OCS is all set up; you”ve got the cameras ready in case they want to jump to video. VoIP is set up, Mediation server is a go, Edge server in place. Let”s call them up, right?

Not so fast. Check a few things first. You wouldn”t want your first OCS conference to crash would you? Might cause problems with the client, if they think your conferencing setup isn”t up to snuff.

These are 6 things to check in your OCS setup before any conference is held. I”m assuming basic OCS functionality is already taken care of; these are things you might not think to check right away. But they can "tangle the lines" if they”re not addressed.

1. Test the VoIP connection by calling someone outside your internal network.

If they can”t hear you/you can”t hear them, there”s a problem on the Mediation server or VoIP gateway. (Run video on this test too, if you plan to use video in the conference.)

2. Check the Edge server for invalid certificates.

A run-through of the Edge server”s event log will tell you if there”s any certificate issues creeping around. If so, these should be resolved. They could potentially mess up your client”s external connection to your OCS setup if not.

3. Double-check your SIP domains.

If you used (as most Edge servers do), make sure it”s an FQDN (fully-qualified domain name) and it”s not blocked by any firewall rules. This can scuttle any external connections if not checked.

4. Is public IM federation turned on & running?

Just in case you want to send over a link during the conference. If your SIP domains are okay, this shouldn”t have any configuration problems.

5. Run the OCS Remote Connectivity Analyzer.

This Analyzer is a Microsoft tool (beta) that tests remote connectivity to an OCS server. It will even auto-discover the needed port and Access Edge.
Ask your client to run the Analyzer on their end before the conference. It”s free and web-based, so it should be quick & easy:

(The Communications Server Team blog has a write-up on it here: Office Communications Server Remote Connectivity Analyzer – Communications Server Team Blog)

6. And as a last check, make sure that your Internet connection is solid.

If that goes down,well…there”s not much else you can do,is there?

If everything checks out here – you”re ready to have your chat.

P.S. – Jeff Schertz of PointBridge Blogs has a detailed review of connectivity needs too. With a few handy diagrams.

Did I miss anything? Is there something you like to check in OCS before any big conference session? Let us know in the Comments. Be as detailed as you like; it helps everybody!

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The Top 3 Questions People Ask Us Re: OCS 2007


When you”re experts in something, people ask you questions. The same questions. Over & over again.

I”ve blogged about many of the things our customer ask us in the past. Still, a recap now and then doesn”t hurt. And since we”ve had several sales meetings that were almost cookie-cutter when it came to the questions they asked, I figured now”s the time.

This is a trio of very common questions we get asked about Office Communications Server. (There”s actually about 6 or 7, but I”ll save the rest for a later post.) If you”ve had a burning questions about OCS but thought it was too basic to ask? It”s your lucky day.

1. What can we use it (OCS) for?

Use it to communicate with co-workers, clients and partners. Via text, voice or video.  It runs all of that through the Office Communicator client on your desktop or mobile.

2. Does it work like a regular phone?

Yes, but not 100% the same. There are handsets you can use with OCS; that”s pretty much a regular desktop phone for you. Otherwise, you can use the mic & speakers in your computer to have a voice conversation. Kind of like Skype, except OCS is more secure and incorporates tool for sharing business information while you chat.

Note: When people ask us about this, they”re also curious if OCS lets you talk with regular desk and cell phones too. The answer to that is yes, if you have an IP-PBX gateway installed. (We use gateways from Cisco,Aculab and Dialogic.)

3. Will it work with our phones?

Unless your phones are SIP-capable ,no. Regular phones use standard telephone lines. OCS 2007”s voice capabilities run through VoIP, which uses Internet connections. The tech”s too new for the older phones to use. You”ll have to make some changes.

Any other OCS questions you”d like an answer to? Leave a comment, or email me. Next week I”ll post the Top 3 Questions we get about the new Exchange Server 2010.

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