Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tracking Santa–with the help of Norad

For those of you in the holiday spirits, here’s a fun web site to visit: http://www.noradsanta.org/. If y9ou look around, you can find a cool set of videos, all with a great deal of humour and some pretty interesting views of the real Norad.

This post has nothing to do with PowerShell or Lync – but the site’s still fun.

Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Microsoft Lync Improvement Suggestions

In the LinkedIn Microsoft Lync Server 2010 group, MVP Pat Richard posted a link to the Lync Improvement Suggestions site. From this site, the community can make suggestions for new features in Lync, and can vote on the usefulness. The theory is that great ideas bubble up to the top. The site also shows those ideas that have been completed.

I think this is a super idea. The only downside is the disclaimer at the top of the web site page: “NOT SUPPORTED BY MICROSOFT”.  Nevertheless,knowing how good Microsoft is at following sites like this, it would be amazing if they didn’t at least take a look at the popular suggestions.  Of course, if you know the current product, many of the popular ideas are not really a surprise: Better response groups, Requests for take control of the client (for the help desk) and many more. Many of these seem ‘obvious’ – we’ll see how many get implemented.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Installing Lync 2013 without Domain Admin Permissions

In many organisations, permissions are guarded carefully and are not given out lightly. Domain Administrator and Enterprise Administrator privileges are rarely given out to anyone. On the one hand, this is a good thing as it reduces the number of people who have all powerful user accounts and therefore reduces the risk of those with such powerful accounts doing damage (either accidentally or intentionally). ON the other hand, lack of privileges can make installing enterprise software packag4es, such as Lync Server 2013 more difficult.

In a recent blog article, Andrew Price, sets out how you can install Lync Server 2013 without Domain Admin permissions. As the first paragraph sets out, you DO need Admin rights on the Front end servers in order to carry out the installation, but that permission is local to the FE Server (and other key Lync Role servers including Mediation and Edge).

This article makes good reading for anyone planning on installing Lync Server 2013 and you work in a permission scarce environment.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

EU Approves Skype Takeover by Microsoft

Last week, it was widely reported that the EU had finally approved the take over by Microsoft of Skype. Like all too many big company mergers or take overs, the actual deal is often done far after the initial announcements. I have to say when I read the announcement (http://www.courthousenews.com/2013/12/11/63651.htm) I had thought this was all done and dusted a long time ago. The original take over was announced in 2011 and was objected to by at least some of the usual suspects, including Cisco. The General Courts of the European Union rejected the argument that Microsoft’s dominant position would destroy their (Cisco and others) ability to compete for enterprise customers.

I have long felt that Skype could be Microsoft’s method of delivering Enterprise Voice in the cloud. As I saw it, Skype (rebranded to avoid confusion) could easily become the component of Lync Online that enabled users to make and receive PSTN calls via the cloud. That so far has not happened.

2014 is looking like being a very interesting year!

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User Extensible Lync Control Panel

I just found a really cool post by Lync MVP Superstar Matt Landis (http://windowspbx.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/extensible-powershell-driven-lync.html) which describes an extensible Lync control Panel. This tool is based on using Dell (Quest) PowerGUI and PowerShell. It looks relatively trivial to add stuff to this control panel (or adapt what’s already there.

PowerGui always had this ability-you can add new nodes to the PowerGui control and add scripts that do things at each node. Ad Matt’s post shows, you can more or less create your own control panel that both looks very similar to the Control Panel inside Lync but you can also add things that are missing.

See the URL above for more details, and also look at a short demo of this tool. With a bit of PowerGui skills and some PowerShell knowledge, you can extend this to do anything you want – for example, you could build in reports and controls for DNS, AD, etc. (all things that support your Lync environment).

Unfortunately, I can’t find anywhere to download it from – but have asked Matt for this. I’ll post more when I get it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lync 2013 Client Cumulative Update

Microsoft has recently updated both the Lync Server 2013 and the Lync 2013 client. While most Lync folks tend to concentrate on the former, the latter often includes much wanted and much needed functionality (as well of course as bug fixes). The most recent client update contains a number of features that have been long requested. These include:

  • Spell checker  - as you type IM’s, Lync can now check the spelling which is useful particularly in IM sessions with clients where having fewer typos is a good thing.
  • Photos of sender and receiver – this enables you to see photos in an IM chat or conference of all the participants. This may be overkill in some cases, but in others (e.g. in an IM conference with a large number of participants) it can be really very useful.
  • External photos – pictures from external locations was a feature of Lync 2012, but in the RTM version of Lync 2013, this feature was dropped. But now it’s back – although it need some administrator input in order to enable users to point to external photos.
  • Persistent Chat conferencing – this feature enables you to start a conference with the folks currently in a persistent chat chat room.
  • Recording options – you have the option to record sessions (something available in the RTM version) but now you can record in different resolutions. It looks like you can only record on one resolution.
  • Sign-in Logs option – troubleshooting client logins has always been possible, but with the CU, there is a Sign-in Logs option in the Lync client which enables users to both view and copy logon information and send it to the help desk for more assistance.

As I see it with this CU, the good Lync client just gets a bit better. So far, I’ve not heard any horror stories but like all Lync CUs (client and server side) be sure to do your own testing. I am not aware of any issues with this CU, but the way that these releases are implemented means you should take the time to test before rolling out – just in case.

For more information on the CU, read Byron Spurlock’s article on Windows IT Pro site.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Microsoft Unified Communications User Group London

The UK, in particular London, has a UC focused user group which meets on a regular basis, quarterly. The group is known as the Microsoft Unified Communications User group London or MUCUGL.

The last meeting was in October and I see the slides for that event are now up on SlideShare. You can see the presentations from the MUCUGL web site at: http://mucugl.co.uk/.

I just wish I could make it to the MUCUGL events – I seem to be out of the country every time they meet.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Another Vulnerability–and another Patch

Yet another security vulnerability in Windows, Office and Lync has been discovered that could enable remote code execution. The vulnerability is triggered if the user views content that contains specially adapted TIFF files. The vulnerability was first noted in security advisory 2896666 published in early November.

The fix is Microsoft Security Bulletin MS13-096. To resolve the fix, there are a number of potential patches that need to be applied – these now appear to have shipped via Automatic Update. So for home systems, if you are using Lync, or office or later versions of Windows, make sure your systems are all patched (Microsoft/Windows update should do the trick). If you are an an oganisation that managed software updates, make sure the updates for this security bulletin are applied.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lync Phone Devices

Like most modern VOIP voice products, Microsoft’s Lync communications product supports both soft phones and physical phones (aka Lync Phones). Soft phones are the phone client, running in software on your pc, laptop, or device. I personally have my Lync client on my phone, Surface tablet, laptop and desktop. 

The physical phones are free standing devices that look like your traditional feature phone, with different models having different features. With Lync, these phones are devices with an operating system that runs the Lync client. From a Lync Server point of view, they are just client end-points, with an IP address and a user logged on. that way, should you get an incoming audio call you can answer it just like you did with your old PBX phone. Lync phones.

Under Microsoft's Unified Communication Open Interoperability program, 3rd party solutions are tested and qualified for interoperability. Qualified devices such as phones gateways, load balancers, etc. are an important aspect of any Lync deployment. The vendor process makes interesting reading. There’s a lot to it, but having qualified solutions is important all the way around.

Telecom Reseller magazine features an interview with Nir Pardo from AudioCodes where he discusses some of the aspect of IP phones. Nir notes two categories of Lync phones:

  • Optimized for Lync – these are devices that in run the Lync Phone Edition client on some specialised hardware devices produced by a third party. These devices provide full support for all Lync functionality.
  • Compatible with Lync – these devices run OEM software and support most, but not all of Lync’s function.

As an example of the difference between these two categories, Lync Optimized devices handle call parking, malicious call tracing and the ability to search Lync’s contact list. Having said that – ‘compatible’ phone devices from Snom do handle both call parking and contact searching.

But does this distinction matter much – are these terms just marketing jive? Well at one level there does seem to be a pricing difference – Optimized for Lync phones seem to be more expensive.

In my view they do matter – to get the most out of a Lync investment you want your users to be able to use all the features of the product. And with some compatible devices may not provide access to Lync’s full features set, you end up with a sub-optimal implementation.  While devices in both categories provide presence and a range of other features, the Optimized devices do offer more.  Having said that, in many cases, your users are probably not going to really need all those features – and some compatible phones do offer most of them. At the end of the day these two categories enable you to find phones that fit some users at a cheaper price point while providing those who really need it with slightly more expensive hardware.

Snom have developed a short white paper on choosing the best phone for Lync. Naturally the paper is a little biased in terms of the products covered, but it does provide some additional background on Optimised vs Compatible devices that is probably worth reading.

This certainly under lines the need to plan devices carefully in terms of what the users need, what they want and what the budget allows. For many users, the Lync client will be their preferred way to interact with Lync and other Lync Users. The Lync Phone device gives you options – but make sure you do the planning and read the fine print! And be prepared to test carefully and thoroughly.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why VOIP over Wireless May Not Be A Great Idea

Lync, when it first released a mobile client did not support voice over WI-Fi. In an article I stumbled across today, I was reminded of why that was. Adam Ghent, admittedly a couple of years ago, laid out some of the reasons why VOIP Over WiFI was not quite the holy grail that some Lync competitors saw it as being! IN particular, Wireless is not all that good with real time media, combined with the fact that most  wireless deployments were carried out without regard for real time media.

Now since this article was first published a couple of years ago, Microsoft has announced WIFI support for VOIP so you CAN do it, but again the question is whether this is a good thing. If you are deploying Lync, while VOIP over Wifi may appear attractive, consider your wireless infrastructure carefully. Does it support QOS? Can a voice call be transferred fully if the client moves between access points? And if you have roaming support turned on – what happens when the phone moves out of wireless range – hint it uses data over the telephone which for some plans can be considerably more expensive than using GSM et al.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lync End User Training–For Lync 2010

I just came across a free download at Microsoft.com: Microsoft Lync 2010 training. This training consists of 7 separate PPT decks that cover key features of Lync 2010 clients, including:
  • Lync 2010 Attendant
  • Lync 2010 Conferencing and Collaboration
  • Lync 2010 Delegate
  • Lync 2010 IM and Presence
  • Lync 1020 RGS
  • Lync 2010 Voice an Video
  • Lync 2010 Web Application
If you are rolling out Lync 2010, these could be useful training aides. You could consider recording using a tool like Camtasia, and put it on your internal web site as refresher training for staff, particularly new staff.
I’ve not managed to find any such training for Lync 2013 (yet). Pointers welcome!

Thanks Simon for picking up the non link. Fixed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SPs coming for Office, SharePoint and Exchange 2013-but not Lync

I notice over on Peter Bruzzewse’s InfoWorld column, more information about the upcoming Service Packs For Office, SharePoint and Exchange 2013. A key focus of these upcoming service packs is to bring the on-premise versions of these tools up to par with what’s being delivered in Office 365.  Office 365 has a much more frequent update schedule although the changes at each update are correspondingly smaller although over time these differences mount up.
Peter notes many of the features coming – and yes there are likely to be AD Schema changes too. One key feature of Exchange 2013 SP1 is the re-introduction of the Edge server role. This role was, for some reason, omitted from Exchange 2013 RTM, but is now brought back, although it’s unlikely, the article suggests, to have much in the way of major feature enhancements. Sounds a bit like Public Folders.
One thing missing from all this is SP1 for Lync. I am guessing that there is a good reason for this – there won’t be a SP for Lync 2013. Traditionally, the Lync team have eschewed Service Packs, relying instead on Cumulative Updates on a fairly frequent schedule. So is there going to be a new version of Lync? Well, probably -  but the real question is when.
My guess is that any new version will not be disclosed until the Lync Conference in February 2014 in Las Vegas. If it is announced then, we’d likely see a preview late Spring to early Summer and then see RTM in the autumn. Of course, this is only just a huge guess – if it’s correct you heard it here first, but if not, then it’s just another uninformed rumour.  Having said that, we’re sort of due for a new version in the coming 18 months at least. We’ll see.
But in the mean time, get planning on the updates to Office, SharePoint and Exchange 2013.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lync PreCall Diagnostics–For Win 8.1

I just noticed a new application in the Windows 8 store – Lyn 2013 PreCall Diagnostics. You can view details about this app from clicking on the hyperlink, but to use it, you a) must have Windows 8.1 and must install from the Windows Store.

This application enables you to examine the current state of the network and look at how that might impact the media quality should you place a call. What you get is a D shows a graphical view of your network metrics  including Network MOS, Packet Loss and Interarrival Jitter.

If you are working with Lync, especially Lync Enterprise Voice, this is likely to be a very key troubleshooting tool.

My only reservation is that it requires Windows 8.1 and does not appear to run on Windows 8. I really want this on my laptop, but simply cant afford the day or more it would take to reinstall the OS and all my apps.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Lync 2013 Case Study–Evidence, Evidence, Evidence!

As I teach Lync, I find the students in the classes eager for proof, evidence, that Lync really does deliver. It’s all fine and well me repeating the words on the slides, or in my Instructor’s Guide – but seeing a real life customer with real life experiences of the REAL good and bad news of any product is like gold dust. Some case studies read like they were written before the product went in and avoid any discussion of real benefits and problems encountered.

The case study for Mattersight over on BizTechmagazine.com makes good reading.Mattersight is a consulting company that The case study notes Lync has saved Mattersight money. The cost of implementing a replacement cost roughly 1/3 what replacing their old gear might have cost.  Most of the savings they have achieve, the article notes, are from reduced licensing costs. Additionally, “Lync can be ‘setup ok [white box] servers that are far less expensive than other UC Systems”, the article notes.

The article also notes that whilst savings are pretty important, what really sold Mattersight on Lync was the way it’s dispersed employee could work more collaboratively. Clearly this was a huge benefit for Mattersight. But I can understand that its’ very hard to put a hard-money amount on what this is work to Mattersight.

A nice success story that shows some of the hard and soft benefits which can accrue through adoption of  Lync. I look forward to more evidence like this.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Sending an Lync IM using PowerShell

I just saw a neat script over at Microsoft’s scripting center – Send Lync IM with PowerShell. It does what it says on the tin. But there’s some good news and some bad news with this script.

First, out of the box it won’t run because the reference assemblies do not exist. No problem – just load the SDK. Ahh – but the SDK requires you to have Visual Studio installed. A bit tedious to enable one to play with it, but I understand.

To send an IM with the client dll loaded is done in several steps involving first getting the client details, then getting a conversation, looking up the contact you want to send the message to and finally sending the IM.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Lync’s Reverse Proxy–Continuing Availability of TMG technology

As most Lync IT Pros know, in order to connect remote users and get full fidelity requires both an Edge server and a reverse proxy. The Edge Server is a Lync role – to implement, you just add the edge server to the topology builder, then install the software on the edge server. Assuming you have all the ports setup properly on the firewall, installation of the edge is pretty near trivial.

The Edge server does most, but not all, the work required to connect remote users to you Lync infrastructure. In order to get full fidelity for remote users, you also need to implement some other reverse proxy. Features like group expansion and a bunch more require a reverse proxy feature.

Microsoft has always been careful to point out that any reverse proxy will fit the bill – and did not mandate a specific Microsoft solution. Having said that, for years, the standard recommendation was Microsoft’s most excellent Threat Management Gateway (or ISA server as it was previously known).The bad news is that Microsoft has discontinued TMG as a product, and has not really provided an alternative. This decision has understandably brought disappointment to the market. I’ve long believed that the reverse proxy role really should be integrated into Lync’s Edge Server to reduce the number of servers you need to support your remote user population – but thus far that’s not happened.

The good news is that one of Microsoft’s OEM partners, Celestix are able to build the TMG technology into their MSA appliance range until 2023. They will also continue to provide their comprehensive technical support services, ensuring that customers have many more years’ service from TMG. See here for more details.

So if you are considering deploying Lync and have not yet chosen a reverse proxy solution, then this might be one to take a look at. I don’t have any costings so I do not know how much (or little) this solution will cost. Celestix’s product are marketed in the UK by Satisnet, based in Bedford (www.satisnet.co.uk).

Monday, December 02, 2013

Exchange 2013 Service Pack 1 Coming Soon!

Over on Microsoft’s Office blog, Microsoft announced that a full service pack, SP1, for Exchange 2013 will be coming in the new year. That Service pack is, in effect, a single rollup patch that incorporates all the current cumulative updates.

For me, the most important feature of this upcoming SP is Exchange 2013 Support on Server 2012 R2. This means that I can build out my Lync 2013 farm using the latest version of the OS for both the Lync and the Exchange VMs. Yeah!

Both Exchange and Lync use a CU scheme to roll out updates for on-prem customers. These are regular updates and each one is cumulative. An SP then is sort of an uber-rollup. This is a really nice approach, IMHO. Hopefully, this will allow MSDN and TechNet to offer an SP1 included version of Exchange for building VM test farms.

Lync uses a similar cumulative update model, but thus far has not incorporated them into a formal Service Pack. I can understand it, but at the same time, it would be nice to be able to get ahold of a fully patched version of Lync – downloading all the patches from the Internet just takes time, especially for test labs. Mind you, the Lync team work on a different release rhythm and have been able to do updated versions faster than the Exchange team. We’ll see what happens in the spring!