About Me

My Photo
TsooRad is a blog for John Weber. John is a Lync Server MVP (2010-2014). My day job is titled "Principal Consulting Engineer" - I work with an awesome group of people at CDW, LLC. I’ve been at this gig in one fashion or another since 1988 - starting with desktops (remember Z-248’s?) and now I am in Portland, Oregon. I focus on collaboration and infrastructure. This means Exchange of all flavors, LCS/OCS/Lync, Windows, business process, and learning new stuff. I have a variety of interests - some of which may rear their ugly head in this forum. I have a variety of certifications dating back to Novell CNE and working up through the Microsoft MCP stack to MCITP multiple times. FWIW, I am on my third career - ex-USMC, retired US Army. I have a fancy MBA. One of these days, I intend to start teaching. The opinions expressed on this blog are mine and mine alone.

2015/03/18

Altia Systems PanaCast

Are you tired of paying a small fortune to setup a small conference room with a video system for Lync (SfB)?  Have you looked at installing the equivalent of an old Microsoft Roundtable and been put off by the expense?  Has the Lync Room System route started to look like a more expensive solution than you want to consider?

Some of the smaller solutions are made to sit on one end of the room, and then you have to cluster your attendees at the other end like sheep  And then you have a bit higher end. Those solutions are more like a higher-end solution but still, you end up clustering your attendees at one end of the room.  Both of these examples are nice pieces of equipment, but still…not what you are looking for?  You want that panorama thing, where you sit all the way around a larger table, and yet can still see everyone, natural-like?

Be still my beating heart, here comes PanaCast.  Altia Systems has a product that might just be the answer you are looking for.  Compatible with a wide range of devices, PC, mobiles, and yes, Office 365, PanaCast offers you a human-eyeball-compatible view of the conference room.  According to the PanaCast experts that I interviewed, this equates to somewhere between 160-200 degrees of vision.

Of course, we must be a bit skeptical about the manufactures claims, but this thing comes pretty close.  Here is official blurb noting the two different deployment methods.  You can take a deeper look at this solution here.

image

The Setup

I unboxed the unit and spent about 30 seconds in the assembly phase.  Power, and network.  Done.  For informational purposes, I have this plugged into a switch, so this is truly a stand-alone video unit.  I had to do a firmware update, and that took me another five minutes.  After that, PanaCast was up and ready.

There is some software to download and install, and once that is done, the entire thing is drag and drop. Get the required software here.

Take a look at the datasheet here.

Here is what it looks like for me, setup in my lab:

image

The PanaCast is sitting in the corner of my palatial office space, and is covering a 90 degree view.  Note that the camera, like almost all cameras, is sensitive to lighting levels.  The ethereal glow on my face is literally the screen lighting from two flat panels.  This next view is the same camera, but now I have moved it to right in from of me.

image

Note the increased field-of-view - easily 180 degrees as you can see the contents of both corners.  Again, notice the light sensitivity – I like my windows open and the sun coming in – but this causes issues for collaboration cameras.

Skype for Business Connection

What is important to know is the PanaCast camera is essentially a Lync -errrr- SfB endpoint.  Meaning that you can drag and drop this puppy into your meeting like you would any other user.  To quote Jackie Gleason: “…how sweet it is!” OK, enough entertainment value.

Inside the PanaCast view, you can, as an individual user, zoom and pan, just like a real human sitting in the real conference room. I can adjust my view to focus on a specific spot in the overall view, like the whiteboard, and YOU can focus on something else – like the clock on the wall and wish the meeting was over. Not that any of us do that. Any user in the meeting has full control of their own view.  What I do with mine does not affect where you focus. And you can have more than one of them in a meeting. 

The PanaCast system will work with Office 365, it is really just another SfB user.  Interestingly, for my lab setup, Altia shipped me a unit, and we initially hooked it up to one of their Office 365 demo accounts.  Seamless.  Then I asked for hooking it up to my lab environment – I was worried that I had a non-standard SSL certificate on my Edge.  No worries – the PanaCast zoomies took my user info, my domain data, and poof!  PanaCast is logging in as my domain user. 

The PanaCast sits on your network, uses your power, your IP, your piece of Category 6e cable, yet it talks to an Altia server out in cloud-land.  By device, Altia knows who the individual camera is supposed to be, and handles it from there.  Altia is selling this as a service also.  So if you have a pure O365 Lync deployment, the PanaCast will just work as it did for me in my lab and as it did for their demo account. So nice.

Let’s Wrap it Up

I think you should consider contacting Altia for a demo and see if this system impresses you as much as it impressed me, and if it might have a spot in your solution set.

YMMV.

2015/03/13

SSRS into existing default instance

Are you trying to install SQL Server Reporting Services onto an already built default or named instance of SQL?  Does it error out telling you that the instance already exists and you need to choose another, and you don’t wanna choose another?

Then you might want to read this.  Yes, it is for a really old version of SQL, but hey, it works.  I just tested this on SQL 2014.

Run the below command at the Windows command prompt to start SQL Server setup on the active node.  Make sure to run this command after changing the root directory of the command prompt to the location where you have placed the SQL Server setup files.

Setup.exe /SkipRules=StandaloneInstall_HasClusteredOrPreparedInstanceCheck /Action=Install
This bypasses the SQL install logic checks.  A downside is that the setup routine skips the auto-magic SSRS Native mode configuration. You will need to do a manual configuration of the SSRS using the Reporting Services Configuration Manager.
This is no way implies that if you do a SQL Availability Group, and put SSRS on both (or all) nodes, that the SSRS is now in a DR state.  In fact, some really useful reading for doing the DR process with SSRS in this posture can be found here: 

https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh882437.aspx

YMMV

2015/03/09

Plantronics Voyager Edge UC

Optimized for Lync does not always mean optimized for your usage patterns, the size of your ear canal, or even how the buttons work with your fickle fingers.

You may need to try out quite a few to find what works for you.  Or, you can just trust me to guide you through the Bluetooth earpiece minefield.  After all, how I use my Bluetooth device is how everyone should be using it, yes?  And my ears and fingers are clearly the reference standard for all 6+ billion consumers on this planet. 

Well, they should be.  My momma says I am special.  My SO says my momma meant it the other way ‘round, but I am ever hopeful.

Into my life comes this Plantronics Voyager Edge UC, Optimized for Lync, and either a replacement for, or perhaps a new twist on my favorite, go to Bluetooth device, the Voyager Legend UC.

image

Last week I had something else plugged into my ear and into my work laptop (and Lync).  For the coming week I will be using the Voyager Edge UC.

Here is the official market-speak and feature set.

There is also some software that purports to be Lync/Skype compatible…

Software-enabled functionality

With Plantronics Hub, get the added value of:

  • Call control across multiple softphones
  • Battery meter conveniently displays headset battery life remaining in PC icon tray
  • Headset control panel allows for customization of settings, including call notification and related options
  • UC presence automatically updated when on a call; not only on PC calls, but also when on mobile calls (Microsoft Lync and Skype only)

Well, it does all that true enough.  I won’t ever use that stuff, but it might be the deciding factor for you.

SfB Link previously known as the Lync Link.

Inserting the USB dongle into my USB hub resulted in near-instantaneous connection.  There was some momentary confusion because my Calisto 620 also has a BT-300C-M dongle. 

image

But, the sharp-eyed reader will note the icons are subtly different – not to mention they have different name designations.  And you have to know that being SfB (Lync) kinda guy, I sat there in a call flipping back and forth between devices just to prove I could (and SfB could) do it.  After that period of insanity, things were copacetic and worked as expected.

Pairing

You can pair this earpiece to your computer and the phone at the same time.  Slick Willy never had it so good.

Battery Life

Only 6 hours.  Hmmmph.  If you talk for 6 straight hours, I suggest that you start looking for work as a talk show host. Me?  Being a tad more normal, I am more concerned with standby time, and getting a few conference calls worked into the day – and this unit seems to last well enough for that.  In a nod to the product team, there is only so much you can do to fit a battery into a device of this size.

Audio Quality

Audio Quality is standard Plantronics; that means it was well above acceptable if not setting the standard.

Controls

I think I am seeing a trend in the “ear-device” marketplace where everyone is trying to cram as much functionality as possible into a smaller package.  If it was up to me, I would  stick with a bit bigger size, and a bit bigger controls.  Having said that, all the controls worked as advertised.  I like the mute feature – nothing like getting yourself muted and the other end is none the wiser.  Makes getting coffee much easier.

Downloadable Software

Once paired with my iPhone, the AppStore offered me the Plantronics Hub software.  Handy.  And it sort of works.  I am not too much on fiddling with the settings – most times the defaults work just fine for me.  However, I can see where some of these changes could be for the better if that is your bent.  Should you really want to get fancy, you can download the Plantronics Hub software from here for your workstation/laptop.  2 of my other testers liked the options offered by the download.

Conclusions

I have to say that I will not be using this device in the future.  I found the controls difficult, and the fit in my ear was not the greatest.  However, in fairness, I passed this device to three other testers, and they all liked it.  So, it must be me, as usual, swimming upstream.

YMMV

2015/03/06

Jabra Stealth UC MS

Jabra sent me a relatively new toy – a smallish Bluetooth earpiece that is Lync Optimized.

image

You can read up on the official Jabra-speak here.

I wanted to try this little gem because of the (lack of) size, but it still touted up to six hours of talk time. And it is S-M-A-L-L.

Here is the official feature list:

  • Smartphone voice control button for remote activation of Siri / Google Now
  • Noise-Blackout dual microphone technology reduces background noise
  • HD Voice for high definition sound quality
  • NFC for easy pairing
  • Stream music, podcasts or GPS directions
  • Incredibly lightweight; only 7.9g (0.28oz)
  • Small, sleek design; L2.57 x W 0.61 x H 0.95 in
  • MicroPOWER technology provides up to 6 hours talk time

Pairing with my phone was dirt simple.  Pairing with my laptop so as to use the Stealth with Lync was even easier.  Plug in the provided USB dongle, and turn on the Stealth.  Done. 

Being Lync Optimized means that you have full call control synchronization.  About the only thing I don’t like about this little earpiece is the beep-beep when muted.  

Out of the box, there is a little dinky 5 minute guide; if you are interested in a bit deeper technical content, you can get the datasheet here.

Overall, this is a good solid earpiece, and it just might be perfect for you.  I wore it for several hours with no issues, and there was plenty of battery left – the handy voice announcement is telling me I have three hours left.

You can get one right here.

YMMV

Plantronics BackBeat Pro

What do we have here?  Another toy!  How lucky am I?

image

BackBeat Pro by Plantronics  Officially, here is the feature list:

 

Pairing

Paired with laptop – but could not get it to give me audio.  Don’t know why.  I stopped trying after a bit;  I don’t like using BT on my laptop – BT drivers tend to screw with parts of the Office Suite so for several years now I simply disable BT on the laptop.  So, for me, nothing lost.

Paired with my iPhone first time out, and worked nicely.  It was a little disarming to not have a microphone boom in front of me, but the audio quality for the voice sending portion of this headset was good-excellent.

image

 

Audio Quality

Pandora music quality was excellent.  Volume was more than acceptable; there was more dB available than I find comfortable blasting into my gourd.  Frequency response, while I am not a human KHz meter, seemed to reproduce music well. The BackBeat Pro won’t ever replace my Infinity Studio Monitors in terms of pushing air, but hey, this thing is feeding straight into your ears.  And hugely impactful bass requires some size in the drivers with the ability to push air around.  Adele Rolling in the Deep has a thumpy bass line along with a solid drum beat – a good test of the music quality for bass response.  Even Garth Brooks sounded great. Overall, Music quality on the TsooRaD Goodness scale is at least a 9.

Controls

Holy Controllability Batman!  This thing has more controls than the space shuttle.  Well, maybe that is a tad exaggerated.  When paired with my iPhone, the BackBeat Pro rocked.  Full control of my play lists, and switching between music and using the phone was seamless.  Very well done. 

There is software for added functions, updating firmware, and for creating an entire Zen user experience. 

The Lync Link

Seeing as how I could not achieve BT nirvana with my laptop, what I did was leave the BackBeat paired to my phone and fired up my Lync Mobile client.  Nifty.  You have to love Lync Mobile.

Conclusions

A very nice piece of kit. Overall comfort level is excellent, audio quality is excellent.  Functionality with my iPhone was standard Plantronics goodness.  All of this and you get the Plantronics build quality also.

You can get your very own BackBeat Pro right here.

YMMV

2015/03/04

Plantronics Blackwire C725-M

Do you work in a noisy office environment?  Does that noise get in the way of your concentration? Do you tend to put up some music on to mask that noise? 

Plantronics might have an answer for you.  The Blackwire series of Optimized for Lync headsets has another winner.  the C725-M.  Noise cancelling, stereo, and a set of features that might well make this your go-to headset.  Here is the official market-speak.  It even comes with a nice soft carry case.

image

The short list of goodies incudes:

From the top down we have:  YES, sweet!, maybe, handy, Pandora John approved, I don’t care.

You want more detail?  OK, fine.  The ANC works really well; I would prefer over-the-ear rather than on-the-ear.  Could be just me, but what is the point to ANC when the noise can just go around? 

Smart Sensor?  This puppy answers the call just by putting the headset on.  This might be a little odd to some, but this auto-answer feature is also on my Voyager so I am used to it.  Once you try it, you may never go back. 

Professional audio quality?  I think this will depend your definition of what “good” is. 

Inline controls?  See below.  But they work well.

Music? Personally, based on my testing, and knowing that the stream on Pandora is different from 3g to Wi-Fi. my tired ears could tell the difference.  And sounds pretty nice on both. 

As to the case, I don’t care, I don’t use them.  You, however, might think that the case is the best thing since the corner gas-station.

Errata

The microphone boom can go on both sides.  It all folds flat.  The ANC is really nice.  It answers the call for me. The inline module volume control has different tones for up and down.  The ANC is really nice.  There, now I have said it three times.

The line cord is a bit stiffer than some I have seen.  Which I like.  Less tangle coming out of Mr. Backpack.  Plantronics also has a comprehensive download and support site.  There is even specific software to enhance your Lync user experience.  Nice.

Comfort is a solid 9.5+ on the Tsoorad Goodness scale.  Not too much weight, and I did not feel like I had my head in a vise.

Lync Link

Of course, this blog would not be appropriate if I did not tie this device into Lync in some fashion.  Plantronics says the C725-M is Optimized for Lync.  How did that portion of the testing go?  Easy-peasy.  Plug n Play.  I had zero issues – all I did was plug into a USB port and I was up and running. The Inline module works as expected. Audio voice quality is excellent.

Summary

A winner.  No need to say more.

You can get one right here.

YMMV.

2015/03/02

Asus Mobo & Server 2012 R2

Did you need to update your lab server?  Do you run a high-end gaming or media platform and need a boatload of RAM so you obtained an Asus mobo so you can have 32 or 64 GB of RAM?  Did you decide to go with a Windows Server 2012 R2 as a workstation host for the goodies you get with that?

If so, then I will make the guess that you discovered that the Asus-supplied driver disk claims that your operating system is not supported.  Horse pucky says you – with Windows 7/Server 2008 and Windows 8 (and 8.1)/Server 2012 (and R2) the core of the operating system is much the same and drivers will work on both, right?  Very frustrating to know something should work and be turned away by a mechanism to save the consumer from themselves.

This is now the second time I have run into this little gotcha; and for the second time, I worked around the issue the same way.  I suppose you could go find all the drivers and try to load them individually; however, one of the problems is that the LAN driver is a toughie.  Downloading the drivers and suite software direct from Asus runs you into the same issue – “your operating system is not supported” and you start questioning your sanity and direction in life.  My first experience with this was with Server 2008 R2 and an Asus P8z68 board.  This weekend I ran into this issue using a Asus Sabertooth X79 board and Server 2012 R2.  Specifically, I am using this mobo here.

What is the issue?

The *.ini files don’t include a proper operating system identifier that tells the driver/utility disk that it is OK to install for Server 2012 R2.  Very frustrating knowing that the drivers and whatnot will work just fine – well, there is an issue with the on-board Ethernet controller (and Intel 82579v) that the Server 2012 R2 doesn’t like – but I have a fix for that as well. 

A little error comes up with the audio drivers, but in my case, this is a headless VM host, and I am not too worried about that aspect of installing.  As it turns out, the audio driver install routine pitches and error, but then continues to install and works just fine.

The Fix

OK, so what do you need to do?  First, copy the CD to somewhere on a writeable drive.  Then find EVERY *.ini file in the resulting file structure.  You should end up with something like this:

image

and here is the end of the list…

image

Yes, that one line reads “264 File(s)”  that is a lot of them!  But, we do want to be successful, yes?  Note also that the very FIRST file listed is not “AsusSetup.ini” or “AsusSetup64.ini” – this is important. 

Let’s Dive In!

Cannonball, Can Opener, perhaps a graceful Swan dive or something you would see off the 10 meter board in a formal diving competition, pick your poison.  What you need to do is modify every last one of those ini files with the name “asussetup.ini” or “AsusSetup64.ini” – not the worlds best task for a Friday night, but you do want this to work, yes?

FWIW, I used this tool here.

Start by looking at the file \bin\Ascdinst.ini in your favorite editor, and find this piece:

WNT_6.3H_64 = Win81_64  --- Without getting too deep into the weeds, this line reads “Windows 8.1 Home Edition”

What you need to do is realize that this:   WNT_6.3I_64 = Win81_64 represents Server 2012 R2.

If you are trying to do this little routine with Server 2012 (why?) or Server 2008 (or R2) (why?) you can use these lines:

Server 2012 R2: WNT_6.3I_64 = Win81_64

Server 2012: WNT_6.2I_64 = Win8_64

Server 2008 R2: WNT_6.1I_64 = Win7_64

Server 2008: WNT_6.0I_64 = Win7_64

For those of us who are font-challenged, or maybe just a bit dim or blind, the “I” in those strings is a capital i.

What is going to happen here is that the installer is going to read the installed operating system as WNT_6.3I_64 and equate that to win81_64, which is supported for install.

At any rate, in your favorite editor, you want the appropriate section in the ascdinst.ini file to read thusly:

WNT_6.3P_32 = Win81_32
WNT_6.3P_64 = Win81_64
WNT_6.3P_32_MCE = Win81_32
WNT_6.3P_64_MCE = Win81_64
WNT_6.3H_32_MCE = Win81_32
WNT_6.3H_64_MCE = Win81_64
WNT_6.3H_32 = Win81_32
WNT_6.3H_64 = Win81_64
WNT_6.3I_64 = Win81_64

Once you get that first one done, the asussetup will be happy.  The other 263 files need to be done also to enable the individual components to install properly.  Happy grepping!  or, Happy notepad ++’ing, or however else you choose to do it. Yes, I know I said that some of the files don’t need to be done, but you never can tell which.  Actually you can, if the WNT_6.3H_64 line is not present, you don’t need to worry about that ini file.  But, do you really want to mess around with looking at each file?  No, I did not think so.  Pick a tool and use it.

As a nit-picky technical note, for your purposes, you really don’t need the WNT_6..3H_64 line at all, so you can just grep every ini file on the disk, and if it finds the WNT_6..3H_64 line in the file, replace it with WNT_6.3I_64 = Win81_64. Which *I* did not do, because there is always the chance that I might, for some reason known only to Microsoft, need to install the Windows 8.1 Home Edition on my 64GB Lab server.  You never can tell.  I might come down with a severe case of stupid one day.

LAN Driver

In a twist of technicality that I have no desire to attempt unraveling, Intel does not produce a driver for the 82579V GB Ethernet Controller that supports Server 2012 R2.  Don’t ask me to elucidate, I said I don’t know.  But, what remains is that even when you work your way through 264 different ini files doing the above routine, the LAN driver on the disk is going to barf on you because it doesn’t like Server 2012 R2.  Again, I don’t know why.

What I do know is that you can do the Device Manager thing, and tell Windows itself to install the 82579LM driver, which works splendidly.

image

If you go here: https://downloadcenter.intel.com/download/23073 and actually read the fine print, you will find this:

NOTE: The following devices do not have driver or software support for Windows Server 2012 R2:
- Intel® Ethernet Connection I217-V
- Intel® Ethernet Connection I218-V
- Intel® 82579V Gigabit Ethernet PHY

So, it would appear that the 82579LM driver is going to have to suffice. As you can see, I have plenty of traffic on the network, but as a fraction of the speed provided by the NIC, it doesn’t even make a pimple on the radar screen…

image

When we do a little file transfer to get a feel for actual speed, it certainly looks like we are getting GB speed.

image

 

Summary

At this point, remember that the first file you do is different from the rest in the terms of naming convention.  All the rest you need to worry about will say asussetup*.ini.  There is a bunch of language ini files; I don’t think you need to worry about those, unless of course you know something about language files being bit-specific that I don’t know.

Oh, BTW, this Asus board rocks.  Although I am not sure I will ever need all 30 USB ports.

YMMV

2015/02/19

International Call Test Number

Do you need to test outbound calling to international numbers but your customer doesn’t have anyone just sitting there waiting for your call (how dare they)? Well, Australia to the rescue!

This number is an automated time of day announcement from Australia,so you won’t be harassing anyone.  Keep in mind that your test will incur at least some charges to your customer, so make sure they know ahead of time.

Calling from the US:  011-613-966-94916

You may need to mod the international access prefix for your country, or make sure that your Dial Plan rules do what is needed.  Most users who make these calls will know international access numbers, after all, they are already making these calls.  Your PBX counterparts will also know the appropriate codes – or, they should know.

 

YMMV

2015/02/18

Upgrade Lync 2013 to Skype for Business 2015

Here we are in the 1st half of 2015, and the anticipated general availability of Skype for Business 2015 is fast approaching.  Microsoft has started to release details surrounding this new version of what could possibly be (and my opinion is) the best and fastest growing collaboration and communication tool on the market today. According to available data, 90% of the Fortune 500 use Lync in some capacity, and 89% of enterprises that trial Lync are including Enterprise Voice, Lync 2013’s flavor of SIP-based VOIP.  With that in mind, and leveraging the popularity of Skype, Microsoft has rebranded the Lync Server as Skype for Business Server 2015 for this new version release.

With all that in mind, and keeping in mind that upgrading what might be the core communication application for your organization, we need to start looking at what the planning process is going to look like for this upgrade evolution.

In this article, I will outline what I consider to be the crucial considerations.  I am not going to try to detail the product enhancements in this version, nor the pros and cons of taking this action; we will focus on the overall upgrade process and what your organization will need to consider BEFORE embarking on the procedures.

The General Idea

First off, Skype for Business Server 2015 (Skype4B) does not support three version coexistence.  This means that Microsoft recommends that if you are partially into an upgrade to Lync 2013 that you continue forward and complete that process.  If you have not started, then stand pat and upgrade from Lync 2010.

If you have Lync 2013, then you can take advantage of the in-place upgrade that is now available.  If you are on, and staying with Lync 2010 until upgrading to Skype4B, then you will be building new servers and moving into/onto them.  There is no path from OCS 2007 R2 or earlier.

Next, the overall flow is inside out, user pools first, then the supporting Lync server roles are upgraded; mediation servers, directors, and Edges.  Yes Matilda, there is still a director.

A Few Specifics

All of the Lync 2013 infrastructure that we know and love is going to look the same in Skype4B.  DNSLB, HLB, Reverse Proxy, firewalls, Web Access Servers, Persistent Chat, pool pairs, virtualization support, SBS/SBA; it is all there.  About the only significant change that I see is the support for SQL AlwaysOn Database Availability Groups.  If you wish, SQL clusters and SQL Mirroring are still supported. If you have mirroring now, there is a spiffy procedure to upgrade your mirror to AlwaysOn.

If you are using SQL AlwaysOn today with Lync 2013 – you can move straight into the upgrade, but Skype4B will never know that the supporting SQL is in an HA posture.  While things SHOULD work, you will be firmly in a non-supported scenario with Skype4B topology not having all the facts.

If you want to get the SQL AlwaysOn, keep in mind that the AlwaysOn requires SQL Enterprise with the attendant cost.  Unless your database team is dictating AlwaysOn for some technical or business reason, I simply cannot see the benefits of AlwaysOn over mirroring; but that could be just me.

Lync 2013 will run on Windows Server 2008 R2.  So will Skype4B.  However, if you take this route, you will be pretty much dead ended – Server 2008 R2 is getting a tad long in the tooth.  Take a look at the support cycle, and then make your own decision.  For the most part, I have been deploying Lync 2013 on Server 2012 R2.  If this is the case for your organization, or if you have been doing Server 2012, you should be OK.  But I would be thinking twice about moving forward with an in-place upgrade of Server 2008 R2 hosts. Server 2008 R2 uses a version of Windows Fabric that will update to Fabric 2.0, but about 100 or so bug fixes did not make it into v2, so using Server 2012 and 2012 R2 will get you the upgrade to Fabric v3, which is the optimum platform for Skype4B.

Whichever server host you choose to use, even the in-place upgrade has some prerequisites to install before running the Skype4B setup.  As you might expect, the Lync 2013 servers should get all windows updates and the prerequisites before moving forward; the upgrade process will error out if it thinks something is missing.  Nothing new here, but be prepared.

SQL again!

SQL on the front ends needs to be SQL 2012 SP1 (Express) to get the direct upgrade treatment.  So you might need to figure out some time to handle this before starting the core upgrade project.

Topology Builder

The Skype4B Topology Builder is going to be needed before you upgrade the first pool, and the Lync 2013 Topology Builder won’t open a topology that has been upgraded.  Most folks run Topology Builder on one of the Front End servers in Lync 2013; but you cannot get to the direct upgrade features from the Lync 2013 Topology Builder.  You are going to have to get the Skype4B Topology Builder onto something else; documented supported platform information is not available at this time, but a good guess will be x64 and Windows 8 or Server 2012 and up.

You are going to want to keep the Central Management Store until last.  Obviously, if you only have one server, this won’t be a possibility.  But if you have only one Enterprise Pool, you might want to consider standing up a 2013 Standard Edition to move the CMS onto; this will create a fall back position for you should things get ugly.  I also think that a judicious upgrader will run export-csconfiguration and export-csLISconfiguration before starting; again, for the obvious fall-back planning.

If you have Survivable Branch Appliance (SBA), there is no current upgrade available.  Microsoft is leaving that process to the SBA vendors.  You will need to plan for a maintenance window during the upgrade as the SBA pool will be in resiliency mode while the central site pool is down for the upgrade. After the pool comes back from the upgrade, the SBA will register back into the central site just as before, so no worries there.  According to the good folks at AudioCodes, it will most likely be until June 2015 before a vetted SBA upgrade process is fully tested; until then, the Skype4B pool will work with the Lync 2013 SBA just fine.

SBS will direct upgrade provided you have all the host server items covered just like on an SE or EE pool.

Pool Pairs

To direct upgrade pool pairs, the entire pool needs to be down.  I suggest that moving all of your users to the other pool whilst upgrading will be a prudent move.  Note that this does NOT MEAN doing a pool failover, just moving the users off.  You might also want to consider a little disaster proofing by moving the conference directories.  And keep in mind that your SBA structure will be down while the central site pool is down for upgrade.  I suppose you could redo the SBA backup registrar relationship, but I think that is way more work than is called for.

Conclusions

Skype for Business is coming and there is a different light at the end of this particular tunnel.  To whit, we can do in-place upgrades.  The supporting SQL backend and how to handle that aspect of your environment will need examination and forward planning.  Likewise, the host server version will demand attention and presents some decision points.

YMMV

2015/02/17

Lync QoS calculator

 

I pushed the rock away from the entrance to my cave and discovered that MVP Pat Richards has once again put out an awesome tool.

Quality of Service (QoS) Calculator – Plan Your Network, GPO, and Lync Config More Easily

http://www.ehloworld.com/2821

Check it out. Great stuff.

YMMV

2015/02/13

Lync 2013 Mobile call failure

Isiah Hudson, CDW UC Consultant, reports the following:

Failures of IM and calling to Lync 2013 mobile clients in two very specific scenarios. The findings are listed below:

 

Issue

When an IM is sent from an internal user (using any Lync client) to a user on the Internet using the Lync mobile 2013 client. The Internal user would get an error message saying the IM failed immediately after the Lync 2013 mobile user accepts the IM.

…or…

When a call (audio or video) is initiated from an internal user to a Lync 2013 mobile user on the Internet the call results in a failure.

This issue only impacted Lync 2013 mobile clients. The Lync 2010 mobile client worked fine in all IM and call scenarios.

 

Tell-Tale Signs

After the IM or call is accepted by the Lync 2013 mobile client the following a SIP/2.0 403 Forbidden message is generated by an FE server with the following information in it:

ms-diagnostics: 24118;Component="RTCC/5.0.0.0_UCWA/5.0.0.0";Reason="Application accepts invitations via static registration only.";Source="whatevertheFEservernameis.ad.local"

 

Solution

A ticket was opened with MSFT and after a couple of months of working on it the problem was the public certificate on the reverse proxy for the Lync external web services had SAN names in them that were not resolvable by public DNS. I am told by MSFT support that the Lync 2013 mobile client will try and resolve all SAN entries of the public certificate presented to it at sign-in. If it cannot resolve any SAN entry on the certificate you may experience the problems outlined in the Issue section above.

 

Take Away

Make sure all SAN entries on the public certificate you put on your reverse proxy for Lync can be resolved to an IP address or you will have a bad time.

And there you go.  Nice work Isiah!

YMMV

2015/01/19

Lync Server 2013 Cookbook

A new book on Lync Server 2013 is coming out soon.  This book is done up in different categorical task headings so you don’t have to read the entire book to find something useful.  Need some security pointers?  Head to chapter one.  Need to figure out some Enterprise Voice details?  Chapter three might just have your answer.  I found chapter nine to be a personal favorite.  And chapter 12 is a must read for anyone associated with any aspect of supporting Lync 2013 or 2010.

Here is a list of the chapters:

  1. Security
  2. Authentication
  3. Dial Plans and Voice Routing
  4. Integration with Exchange
  5. Tools and Scripts
  6. Designing Lync
  7. Resource Forest
  8. Hybrid and Lync Online
  9. Monitoring and Reporting
  10. Backup and Restore
  11. Controlling your Network
  12. Debugging

This book is not out yet; what I reviewed was a pre-copy provided by one of the co-authors, fellow Lync MVP Fabrizio Volpe. The author list, if you are curious:  Alessio Giombini, Antonio Vargas, Fabrizio Volpe, Lasse Nordvik Wedø. 

All in all, great stuff.  You can pre-order your very own copy here: 

https://www.packtpub.com/networking-and-servers/lync-server-2013-cookbook

YMMV

2015/01/14

Lync RGS Queue Monitoring with Advatel Espera

Lync Server, in the midst of everything it does so well, is not a call center.  But, Lync does not want to be a call center – that functionality is well provided by a raft of third-party ISV-types who specialize in providing Call Center services or software.  But when you look at those specialized services and software, what is missing is the immediacy of the small group, and what is present is a hefty price tag.  To answer the smaller need, Lync Server offers the Response Group Service.

One of the key features in call center software is the ability to monitor the actions of the various agents and groups to ensure that calls are being handled in a timely manner – in other words – allow business decisions to be made with actual data and not guesses.  But there is nothing built-in to Lync that matches this ability. The Lync 2013 Resource Kit RGAgentLive tool – part of the Lync Resource Kit – does not answer any of these questions.

Lync Response Groups offer a small-case solution; from one or two RGS workflows or dozens – and I know of organizations that have, literally, hundreds of Response Groups workflows. However, once you have decided to use Lync RGS, and you have business critical operations that use the RGS, how do you monitor the performance and response of the RGS?  And what if you have more than a few that you need to monitor?  How can you tell if the agent groups are responding to the RGS calls in a timely manner?  How can you decide if you need more agents to handle the call volume?  How can you determine if you are meeting your performance metrics or who is doing what?  Are your agents even logged into the system?  Are they being good RGS answer people?

Advatel Espera

In this article, we will take a look at how Advatel Espera helps provide answers and information it can provide to organizations who are using Lync Response Groups.  First off, here is where you can get the official market-speak.  In reading through that material, you will realize that Espera has two components, the real-time monitor, and the reporting piece.  Personally, I was first interested in the reporting piece, because, face it, the Lync monitoring server reports, while it does have all the information that Espera uses, is not exactly what is known as “user friendly.”  In the end, I liked the real-time monitor aspect just as much as the reporting.

Here is the official blurb straight from Advatel:

AdvaTel is a Microsoft ISV and TAP development partner where Espera is a Microsoft Lync ISV Qualified Solution which will provide enhanced real-time dashboard display and reporting by leveraging on the built in features of Response Groups without adding any additional hardware. Lync has some excellent call queuing capabilities within their Response Group technology. They provide for inter-flows and over-flows etc. and a number of call routing capabilities. The problem is that the “missing link” was users cannot “see” the queue status. Hence the critical and vital need for Espera Real Time and Espera Reporter.

Server Setup

Espera has two major components, and a client-side install.  In the client-side install, there is a separate Lync 2010 and Lync 2013 installer.  The server setup is very straightforward.  The documentation for the install is extensive, heavily reliant on screen shots; and if you cannot follow along and get your server installed, then you need to find a different profession.  Really.  The documentation even covers using 2008R2 and 2012 and the differences.  Two thumbs up to whoever put together the documentation for the server install.

You will need to have a server upon which to install the Lync Server Core components – an application server if you will.  I used a 2012 R2 virtual and had zero install issues.  The application server needs to be listed in the Lync Topology as Trusted Application Server.

image

Part of the server setup is to configure permissions on the LcsCDR, Rgsconfig, RgsDyn, RTC, and XDS databases on whatever SQL server you have setup.  The install documentation does not cover SQL 2012 R2, so you may have to read between the lines a bit – however, I got it done with minimal effort.

image

Once you get the server installed, the configuration to match up with your Lync environment is also straightforward.  There are some highlights… in my case, the “Auto Configuration” did not work so well.  This necessitated a short period of me flailing away trying to figure out just what went wrong.  Not finding any obvious error, I cleverly turned to Espera support. 

Here is what I was seeing:

image

As it turned out, the answer was staring at me… the “Lync Address (or DNS)” auto-filled to the SQL server that held the LcsCDR, which looked OK to me; turns out that field is very literal – it needed to be my EE pool FQDN.

image 

Once past that little blip, things were copacetic.  Note that the “Printer Service” is failing because, duh!, there is no printer installed. 

Two nice things about Espera. First, Reporting has the ability to send email reports via schedule or on demand (by scheduling a one-time report).  I had a bit of an issue getting that to work – turns out that the email server setup does not need to have user credentials, if you put them in there and don’t hit the check box, the SMTP process won’t kick off. If you configure it like this you should not have any issues.  I am assuming you know how to authorize Exchange (or some other SMTP server) to receive email from specific IP addresses… you also need to include your allowed email domains.

imageimage

The second nice thing is a feature not found in Lync at all – a wrap up option – which gives the agent handling the call an opportunity to classify the call on termination.  Handy, and more on that later – but you need to tick the check box on the server to get that feature enabled.

image

Client-side setup

So, the host server is built (or you used an existing server), Espera Server is installed, now let’s look at the client-side work.

If you use Lync 2013, you can skip a bit.  But if you use Lync 2010, you will need to make a few mods to a config file. 

Here is the configuration file change details.  Even I got it done on the first try.

Change Espera Client Communication Type
1. Open the "EsperaClient.exe.config" file located at 
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Advatel\Espera Client\bin\EsperaClient.exe.config”. 
NOTE: You may need to open this file with administrator access so that you can save the
changes.
2. Change the value of 
<add key="TcpRemoteServerAddress" value="0.0.0.0" /> 
with the FQDN or IP Address of the Espera Server.
3. Change the value of 
<setting name="CommunicationType" serializeAs="String"> 
from
<value>Lync</value> 
to
<value>TCP</value>
4. Save and close the "EsperaClient.exe.config" file
5. Close the "Espera Real-time Window" (if open)
6. Exit the "Espera Client Launcher" from the system tray (icon near the clock)
7. Start the "Espera Client Launcher" from "Start>Programs>Espera Client"

I also had some issues getting Espera components configured and installed, but those issues were purely on the odd workstation environment I have in my lab.  It turns out that the .net4 installer included with the Espera Client did not like running on my workstation from inside the zip file.  And then the .net4 installer did not like running outside of the zip unless I invoked it from a cmd session using explicit runas /user:administrator.  No, the workstation is NOT a domain member – which may or may not have contributed.  FWIW, the workstation is a Win7x64 virtual.  But, no matter, in the end I leveraged my good looks and excessive charm and overcame the evil operating system.  My Win8.1 Lync 2013 client installed without issue.

Espera places a sidecar on the Lync client.  Without going into morbid details of what is what here is the Lync 2013 client running on a Win8.1 and this example is the Espera system administrator account:

image

Here is the Espera client, this time on Lync 2010, running as a regular RGS agent – not and administrator.  Notice the difference in the number of Espera buttons available to each level of user.  Chicken.Hawk has administrative and supervisor functions lit up, and the other account does not.

image

Also note that the client functions are covered in the Espera documentation, so I am not going to go over all of them here.  But I will note that the two “key” looking buttons will change function depending on the RGS itself…is the RGS workflow formal or informal?  If informal, when the Lync client signs in, the Espera client will just log into the RGS monitoring functions as well.  If the RGS is formal, the buttons serve to allow the agent to manually sign-in/sign-out.

Your RGS agents might well be working remotely – not a problem. Espera will cross the Edge server.

At about this time, you should probably realize that I am not going to start quoting 100+ pages of user documentation.  However, we are going to look at some basic configuration – and that is done using the aforementioned administrator/supervisor login.  You should get ahold of the user documentation – there is some serious configuration that you can do to customize Espera real time, and reporting, so as to get the most out of this product. However, I cannot find anything out in the wild that you can download so you could read and follow along here.  I suppose you could register for an account up on advatel.com.au.  But I did that and did not see the user guide available.  You can contact this email address to get the Espera documentation: espera.support@advatel.com.au

Here is my administrator real-time display:

image

I only have two RGS workflows in my lab, so the results are a bit sparse.  However, here is the configuration screen options – you can see that a full implementation could easily have a full screen of RGS monitors – and you can get this up on a large screen up on the wall – just like in a call center.

image

Here is my other RGS agent looking at a different view.

image

You can color code things so the supervisors can see at a glance that something might be amiss.

image

Espera Reports can be emailed, either on demand, or on a schedule.  The reports can be in CSV format for you to play with, or they can be in xps format for immediate consumption.    The reporting has some canned reports, but some inventive person can also create custom reports. Here is an example – in this case the agent wrap-up report where the agents can classify the call when the session is complete.

image

Conclusions

Lync 2013 has a Response Group Service that can function as a quasi-light-weight call center.  Because of the expense and complexity of full-blown call center software or services, the RGS is perfect for some environments.  Suppose you have an IT help desk with 6 agents, and you want to keep track of performance and enable the agents to be more aware of what is going on with their primary job function.  Advatel Espera might well be the tool for you.  Easy to install, customizable, and enables management and agents alike to better tune their performance.

The server side install was fairly painless, and running on minimal (by today’s standards) resources.  The client-side install was, for the most part, easy-peasy (outside of my wacky Win7x64 workstation). My experience with Espera support was excellent, and Advatel responsiveness to my idiotic questions and naive product suggestions was refreshing. 

I have not done this Lync add-in tool justice in this review.  My lab only has two RGS workflows, and I have a limited number of resources to use as agents. Accordingly, here is a three minute video, and if that whets your appetite just a little, I suggest you contact Advatel and get a full demo. 

The demo I saw was very good, and if I had RGS like some of my clients, I would be taking a long look to see if Espera would fit in and help solve my problems. This is a Lync add-in that I can recommend.

 clip_image001

YMMV

2014/12/22

Lync analog device off hook dial (AutoDial)

Do you want your analog devices to dial out to the world? Do you need to have your analog device do off-hook dialing?

Both of these issues came up on a recent project.  If you are using 3PIP/OIP phones such as Polycom VVX or AudioCodes HD4xx, then fellow MVP Anthony Caragol has an outline for you.  But what about that phone in the parking lot?  Or the phone at the security fence?  Or the elevator?  Or the emergency phone in some other secure area?  Or maybe you have a door system that needs to dial just one number when a user takes the phone off hook?

We have outlined two different requirements here, and outside of using a Lync Optimized phone, the analog solution is the same, with a twist to make the device work to the outside world (outside of Lync).

First you will need a gateway.  For this exercise, I used an AudioCodes MediaPack MP118, and then validated the solution against an AudioCodes Mediant 800 E-SBC with FXS ports.  In this article, I will show the MP118 configuration.  I tested the solution using my Tsoorad.net lab, an Intelepeer SIP trunk, and I used two el cheapo AT&T 210 analog phones that I purchased at the local bodega.

The purpose of the gateway is to connect the analog phone device to the system and then transcode the analog device to SIP codecs for use with Lync.  The gateway needed some tweaking to get the connections to work – notably, I not only wanted the device to work with Lync, I wanted the devices to be able to call one another in case your (example) elevator needed to call the security desk which for some reason was still on analog. 

And once I got past that hurdle, I then wanted the analog device to be able to call anywhere allowed by a voice policy, to include the off-hook dialing being able to contact a third-party security provider if necessary.

Setup

So, here are the elements needed:

  • an analog phone or phones
  • a media gateway of some description
  • Lync voice policy
  • Lync analog device configuration
  • Some method of connecting Lync Server to your PSTN provider (I used a SIP trunk as mentioned above via an SBC)

Here is how it looks:

image

Configuration Tasks

This is what it takes, configuration-wise, to accomplish our goals:

Determine what LineURI the analog phones will use, and if you are going to assign full numbers to the analog ports or just an extension.  I am doing 4 digit extensions.  My two analog devices will be +19992349011 (port 1) and +19992349012 (port 2).  Then get a valid IP for the gateway.  I will be using 1.1.1.9 for the MP118.

  • Setup analog devices on MP118 per port
  • Configure Proxy set zero for “prefer routing table”
  • Setup/Configure off hook dials to specific number
  • Configure analog call analog digits to dial 12
  • Setup MP118 on Lync as PSTN Gateway
  • PSTN Usage, Route, Trunk configuration
  • Configure Lync to call analog device
  • PSTN Gateway, PSTN Usage, Route, Trunk configuration
  • Configure csanalogdevice to allow off hook dials to a public number

Let’s dive in.  I will be grouping the Lync tasks together and grouping the MP tasks together as well.  The Lync environment can already call the world, so nothing is needed there.

MP118 setup

After you get the gateway plugged in to power, connected to your switch, and hook the phones up to it, the MP118 should look something like this.

image

Note:  in AudioCodes-land, at each screen, if you make a change, you need to “Submit” the change, or you will have a nice surprise later – namely, your change won’t be there like you think it should be.

Open up VOIP | Control Network | Proxy Sets Table, and modify Proxy Set ID 0 (that is zero).  You can see my pool name listed there, and the options to get the MP to respect the DSN load balancing.  Note the port assignment tacked onto the end of the FQDN.  If you don’t do that, you won’t get very far.  My method is going to leave the IP Group Table undefined.

image

Here is the SIP definitions that match my Lync environment.  Note that OOBE for the MP is to have 5060 where you see 5068.  Again, if your Lync is using 5068 (the default) for Mediation Server, then you will need to change these to match, or again, you won’t get very far.

Under SIP Definitions | Proxy & Registration, note that we are using the default proxy, but to get the analog ports to talk to each other (a bit later) we will change this a bit now, If we want to route all calls, even intra-gateway calls, to Lync, then leave this alone, or, you can set the “Prefer Routing Table” to “yes” now. If you set this, Lync will not know about the intra-gateway calls – meaning there will be no CDR for the calls in the monitoring database.

image

Moving to GW and IP to IP | Hunt Group, here are the ports defined, and you can see where I am using 4 digit extensions.

image

I think my Hunt Group Settings are the default…

image

Now look at the Tel to IP Routing.  The “Dest IP Group ID” of ‘-1’ means use the internal default.  Which is the default Proxy Set 0 because we defined a Proxy Set 0.  So, now you know why we told the MP to prefer the routing table…which is right here.

image

If you don’t do this, the MP will route ALL calls up into Lync.  If you route all the calls up into Lync, then Lync will need to be told to send SOME calls back to the MP  - so it can get to the other defined ports on the Media Pack. This might be the desired behavior if you have a need to get a record of all calls – necessary in some compliance environments.  A little bit later, we are going to be doing a configuration with Lync that will allow this loop-back routing, and if you decide to go that way, you can do away with the “prefer routing table.”

In the IP to Hunt Group Routing table, we need to tell the MP to accept incoming SIP invites from Lync:

image

You are remembering to click on those pesky submit buttons, yes?

OK.  Almost done with the MP setup.  Go to the Analog Gateway | Automatic Dialing settings.  Here we are telling the gateway that if Port 1 goes off hook, then wait 5 seconds and proceed to dial 800-468-7827.

image

And lastly, let’s get the analog phones to dial 12 digits so they can call out for pizza.  You can find the “Max digits in Phone Num” field in the “DTMF and Supplementary | DTMF & Dialing”

image

You can still dial just 4 digits, but you will have to wait for the 4 seconds defined in the “Inter Digit Timeout (sec) parameter before the gateway will stop expecting more digits and move forward.

OK, the MP is done.  Click on that Burn button up at the top and let’s move on to the Lync 2013 configuration.

Lync 2013 Setup/Configuration

You will need to define the MP as a PSTN gateway in Lync.  Without going into the grisly details shown in the hyperlink, here is my Topology Builder for Tsoorad.net:

image

After you get that defined and published, open up the Lync Control Panel and go to the Voice Routing tab.  We are going to need a few things, like normalization rules, a route definition, and a calling rule on the trunk so that Lync only sends 4 digits to the gateway.  We could define the gateway ports as full 11 digits, which would do away with the need for the called party translation, but I like to be difficult.

Here is the normalization rule that takes 4 digits that start with 90 and makes it into e.164 format:

image

Now we need to have a route.

image

and assign that route pattern to our 1.1.1.9 trunk/gateway, and make sure the local PSTN usage is associated so the route/trunk becomes an active component.

image

Moving over to the trunk configuration, we need to create a called number translation rule so that the trunk strips the e.164 down to just the four digits that gateway is expecting. You might need to create the trunk.  In my case I made a trunk at the pool level, and it looks like this:

image

image

and the called number rule looks like this:

image

At this point, Lync can call the media pack gateway ports, the gateway ports can call Lync, or each other and all is good in the universe.  But we still want the media pack gateway port to be able to go off-hook and call an outside party, right?  The reason it cannot do that now is that Lync does not know just who that user at 9011 or 9012 is, or whether or not that user is allowed to make calls to anywhere.

To get an analog device to accomplish this dialing behavior, Lync needs to have some definition.  Enter the cmdlet new-csanalogdevice.  I will wait whilst you catch up on your reading.

Now, that wasn’t too bad.  There won’t be a quiz, but just to give you a flavor of the test that COULD occur, here is my two analog devices defined in TsooRad.net:

image

Note that I defined the common name, LineURI, and maybe more importantly, the DisplayName and DisplayNumber – because once you do this, things start displaying like this in all your other clients.  I also made a point of defining a SIPAddress – otherwise you get a contact object with a GUID as a SIP address.  Not so hot.

Dialing 9011 in a Lync client shows that the call is being sent to “MP118-1” and your trace logs will show the same.

image

Big note

I started off this exercise using tel:+19992349011;ext=9011 format.  But empirically, the media pack gateway did not like getting the ext= format – it could not find a match for that.  I don’t know why.  What I do know is that once I removed the ext= format, calls went through as expected.

These two CsAnalogDevice definitions are showing no VoicePolicy and no VoiceRoutingPolicy.  Remember that we have things defined at the site level?  Well, these CsAnalogDevices will now act just like a real user.  The absence of a defined user policy will result in the object getting the automatic site settings for Voice Policy.  Because I have this set to allow all my critical test users to make any call they want, the analog devices can make any call they want also.  You may want to think through the implications of that for your environment and make appropriate changes. 

These analog device definitions are also what will perform the call loop-back function mentioned earlier.  If you need to have all your calls logged for compliance, leave off the “prefer routing table” mentioned earlier, and the gateway will send the call destined (for example) from port 1 to port 2 out to Lync.  Lync will perform a reverse number lookup, find the last four matching our 9012 definition, and place a call to that 9012.  Our PSTN usage in the default voice policy will allow passing the call to a route, in our case the 1.1.1.9 trunk, the trunk will strip the call down to four digits and send it.  When the call lands on the gateway, the gateway will look at the hunt group, find the 9012 number assigned to port 2 and connect the call.  Wala!

Summary

We wanted analog phones connected to Lync, make calls to other analog devices on the same gateway, call other Lync devices, call out to the world, and do automatic dialing as needed.  By making some judicious changes to the gateway defaults, and create some specific configurations inside of Lync 2013, we have accomplished our goals.

Footnote

This configuration may or may not meet licensing requirements vis-à-vis AudioCodes Lync Analog Device licensing.  It may also not meet some of the “best practice” recommendations that insist that Media Pack gateways always be connected to an Enhanced Gateway.  This is because some of the fancy features for Lync phones won’t work; however, my phones don’t seem to have transfer or conference call buttons, so I am not missing anything in the way of features.  You should check with your AudioCodes retailer to confirm your licensing level.

Mea Culpa

I am sure that there are many folks out in Lync-land that could do this setup in their sleep; those folks are brighter than me.  I had to consult Jeremy Silber (CDW) and Karan Mehta (AudioCodes).

YMMV

2014/12/04

Lync Conferencing Cost Analysis

I think that I can confidently say that 100% of my Lync deployments (and most of the OCS deployments) contained the concept of using Lync web conferencing; most times with dial-in conferencing.  The idea is that the organization can save money by replacing an existing solution.  But most times, the organization has little or no idea how much, and why, they can realize savings.

So, here is some real data to digest, tear apart a little, and see what and where we can generate some savings.  This data comes from a company of about 3500 users.  So keep that in mind as we work along.  A smaller organization will have smaller numbers, larger organizations will have larger numbers.  I have customers whose conferencing minutes run in excess of 7 figures each month, and they don’t just squeak over 1 million, they run in the several million per month. 

A bit farther down, I make a fairly broad assumption that our imaginary organization could implement Lync for $60K.  Before you poo-poo that number, do some math on your own for an Enterprise Pool of three Front End servers, two edges, a SQL server, a Web Access Server, and we’ll be nice and assume load balancers can be used for Reverse Proxy and that the load balancer already exists.  Go ahead and do some figuring.  Make sure you pony up for about 160 hours of consulting, because you will actually save money doing that also.

Because not everyone will have the same cost basis for things like hardware, software, labor, services, and a whole range of stuff, we are going to ignore those concepts in this analysis, and just focus on service replacement and cost avoidance as it applies to the usage of the services, not what is costs to put the services into place.   We will use a flat cost assumption down below to represent this cost category.

Let’s Begin

So first we need to understand the data. I did not just dream this stuff up; I got this data from a real life deployment, with real life users, doing real life tasks.  I used Lync’s monitoring server and related reports to generate a summary of conferencing data over a 30 day period.

image

and

image

Based on the data given for a one month period, and then comparing the data with the report descriptions for Conference Summary Report in Lync Server 2013 and PSTN Conference Summary Report in Lync Server 2013 we can reach several conclusions.  Before we talk about conclusions, we will wait while you complete the reading.

First off, the PSTN usage reports appear to be a subset of the Conferencing data on one hand, but then appear to be totally separate data on second look.  For instance, both reports have a column for “Total A/V Conference minutes.  For the Conference Summary Report, this value is 85,572, for the PSTN report, this value is 72,135.  OK, so PSTN appears to be a subset of Conference Summary.  But wait, maybe not!  In your reading assignment up above, note that both reports have this data, and that both describe the data to be the same.  Should this be the case, then we could expect both reports to have identical data, yes?

Name

Can you sort on this item?

Description

Total A/V conference participant minutes No

Total amount of audio/visual participant time. For example, if one participant spent five minutes in an A/V conference and another participant spent three minutes in the same conference, the total A/V conference participant time would be eight minutes.

But such is not the outcome we see.  In fact, the two fields differ, in our data set, by over 28,000 minutes.  The difference is to large to be dismissed as a rounding error; clearly, there is a separate set of data being represented, OR, the descriptions for each report are wrong.  Digging in a bit deeper, we can find two days where the data indicates that the PSTN report reflects those conferences that INCLUDED PSTN connections; therefore; the number in the PSTN report are, in some cases, the same as the Conferencing Summary, and in other cases are just PSTN minutes.  Confusing, but there you go.  But still, understanding the layout of the data enables us (finally) to make some (semi-) educated judgments on what the data means for our business cost and how your organization can save money by using Lync for conferencing.

OK, here is the data in question, and yes, it is an eye-chart:

 image

What’s the big deal?

Conferencing hosts charge per subscription, per connection, and for the minutes per user. This means that when someone creates a conference they need a subscription that allows them as a user to create the conference, then each user who connects to the conference incurs a connection charge, and then the clock starts on everyone, individually.

Per user charges run all across the board, so we won’t attempt to quantify that; suffice it to say that it can run from zero to about $0.30.  A 10 person conference just cost $3.00.  And per user minutes can run relatively cheap to 5-10 cents per minute.  Clearly there is money to be made, or saved.

After consulting with my friends at Intelepeer, I think you could get the per minute cost down to $0.015 per minute.  And if you go with a toll free number on a negotiated plan of some sort, you may just be paying for the minutes.  Seeing as how most organizations already have a SIP trunk in place to provide the PSTN connection, we can ignore that cost as well because the cost is already sunk to provide regular calling services.

We can see from the data that a majority of the conference minutes (208k of 314k) were PSTN minutes.  Maybe some user training would result in more Lync conference joins to avoid those minutes, eh?  But still, if we have a $0.02 per minute rate for each participant, and assuming a $0.05 rate from a popular provider plan, we just saved $6265.08 this month.  We will wait whilst you break out your calculator to confirm my math.  Over the year, assuming our numbers are the mean rate, we are talking $75K for the year.  Nothing to roll your eyes at. 

Connection fees are something else.  And not having hard numbers from providers makes a tough analysis.  But we can make a few broad conclusions based on the data set.  Assuming a mid-pack connection charge of $0.15, our sample data just saved us 21,637 connection charges for a nifty $3245.55 and keeping with the mean stance, $38K for the year.

And what of the subscriber charges?  Conference hosts usually charge an additional fee to allow your users to be conference organizers.  This charge depends on the plan.  Our sample data shows 201 unique conference organizers.  I have no idea what those charges might be per negotiated plan – suffice it to say that you need to know that a typical plan is audio only, doing video and having a web conference service on top will cost you more. Here is a typical audio only plan layout – web and video will schlank you for more. You can also see that I have been conservative in my cost numbers.

image

The larger your organization, the more likely you are to be able to get around the “per organizer” fees, so for our purposes, we will ignore that cost argument because we know how great everyone is at negotiating separate contracts.  But for talking points, those 201 users could easily cost about $19/month each, another $3819 per month; $45k for the year.

Conclusion

We did ignore the costs associated with servers, licensing, and connections.  And if you use a service provider to help you develop your architecture and design your Lync environment there will some other costs.  So let’s make the assumption that $60k will get you your servers and licensing and a friendly, knowledgeable Lync consultant to figure out your environment and get everything installed and configured.  We will assume that existing infrastructure will provide VM resources, storage, data connections, load balancers, and firewall protection.

Our sample data showed some 314K usage minutes of which 208K were PSTN.  Based on some rudimentary number crunching, I think we determined that our sample organization can save $45k in subscriber fees, $38k in connection fees, and $75k in per minute fees.  Saving $158,000 a year ($13,166/month) is nothing to ignore.

Remember that we did not price out anything but audio conferencing. My $60k figure would get you audio, video, and web conferencing. You may rightly assume that someone needs to keep this thing operational – a hidden cost that is hard to quantify.  In my experience, I think that doing Lync administration is maybe a .25 FTE, depending on the size of the deployment. So, being really generous, and hoping to sabotage my own ROI results, we will call that .25 FTE as being equal to $25k.  That will run our first year costs for Lync all the way up to $85,000.

Depending on your install base for Lync, the ROI for installing Lync 2013 just for conferencing alone might be less than 12 months.  In our example, and using our assumptions, the ROI is 6.5 months.  Using Lync as your conferencing solution has the prospect of allowing your organization to avoid some significant costs.

Have you done your own research?  Do you have your own data?

YMMV