Designing and Configuring Unified Messaging in Exchange Server 2010 : Unified Messaging Features

2/24/2011 12:49:12 PM
Exchange Server 2010 extends the UM features first introduced in Exchange Server 2007. Unified messaging seamlessly integrates voice messaging, faxing, and electronic mail into a single Inbox. This frees up the user from having to manage separate accounts and Inboxes for these three types of messages. With the new role, there are a number of new features.

Telephony Integration

With unified messaging, Exchange Server is integrated into the telephony world. This integration takes place between the Exchange Unified Messaging server and gateways or Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs).

In a classic set of telephony and electronic mail systems, shown in Figure 1, there are two separate networks that deliver voice messages and electronic messages (email). In the telephony system, there are separate components for the PBX, voice mail, external lines, and phones. As shown in the figure, calls from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) come into a PBX device. Typically, an incoming call is routed by the PBX to the telephone. If the phone does not answer or is busy, the call is routed to the voice mail system. Similarly, email from the Internet arrives at the Exchange messaging server. Note that in the classic system, there is no integration or connectivity between the telephony and electronic mail systems.

Figure 1. Classic telephone and electronic mail systems.

With Exchange Server 2010 and unified messaging, these two disparate systems are integrated, as shown in Figure 2. Although the UM server does not connect directly with a traditional PBX, it does integrate with PBXs via gateways. The combination of the PBX and the Internet Protocol (IP) gateway can also be replaced by an IP-PBX, which provides both sets of functionality.

Figure 2. New integrated system.

One such IP-PBX option is Microsoft Office Communications Server, OCS. Integrating these two Microsoft platforms provides a powerful enterprise voice solution that can replace most modern PBXs at a fraction of the cost.

Notice that, in effect, the Unified Messaging server has replaced the voice mail server in the classic system. The new Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Unified Messaging server is a voice mail server.

The more detailed view with all the Exchange Server 2010 server roles is shown in Figure 3. This figure also includes the various ways that a user can interact with the integrated system.

Figure 3. Detailed architecture diagram.

Single Inbox

The Unified Messaging server enables the true unification of email messages, voice mail messages, and fax messages into a single Inbox. Messages from all these disparate sources are stored in the user’s Inbox and are accessible through a wide variety of interfaces, such as Outlook, a telephone, a web browser, or even a mobile PDA.

The Inbox can be managed just like a traditional email Inbox, with folders, Inbox rules, message retention, and so on. Exchange Server administrators can back up and restore Inboxes with all these forms of data just as they do with email data. This reduces the complexity and ease of use for both users and administrators.

Call Answering

Call answering picks up incoming calls for a user who does not answer their phone. It plays their personal greeting, records voice messages, and converts the voice messages to an email message to be submitted to the user’s Exchange Server mailbox.

Fax Receiving

If the incoming call is from a fax machine, the server can recognize this and accept the fax. The fax is then converted to an email message and submitted to the user’s Exchange Server mailbox. The user can then read the fax as an attachment to the message.

Subscriber Access

The subscriber access feature allows a user to access their Exchange Server mailbox using a phone. This access mechanism is called Outlook Voice Access.

With Outlook Voice Access, a user can access their Exchange Inbox with the telephone to do the following:

  • Listen to and forward voice mail messages.

  • Listen to, forward, and reply to email messages.

  • Listen to calendar information.

  • Access or dial contacts.

  • Accept or cancel meeting requests.

  • Notify attendees that the user will be late.

  • Set a voice mail Out-of-Office message.

  • Set user security preferences and personal options.

This, in effect, gives the user working access to their Exchange Inbox while out in the field with only a telephone.

The system not only recognizes dual tone multiple frequency (DTMF) key presses from the phone, but also understands voice commands. The system guides the user through the prompts responding to voice commands, giving the user complete hands-free operation.

For example, a user might be on the freeway running late for a lunch meeting. Not remembering the exact time, the user calls into the subscriber access and says “Today’s Calendar.” The unified messaging system speaks the summary of the next meeting, which is at 12 p.m. Recognizing that the traffic will force him to be 20 minutes late, the user says “I’ll be 20 minutes late for this appointment.” The unified messaging system confirms and then sends a message to all the attendees.

The speech recognition is remarkably effective and able to recognize commands even over cell phones and with background noise.

Outlook Play on Phone

The Exchange Server 2010 Outlook Web App client and the Outlook 2007 client both support a feature called Play on Phone. This feature allows users to play voice mail on a phone rather than through the computer. The user opens the voice mail message, selects the Play on Phone option, enters the number to play the message on, and clicks the Dial button.

This allows the user to send the audio stream of the voice mail message to a phone for more privacy or to allow a third party to hear the message. The system also provides prompts over the phone following the playback with message handling options.

Outlook Voice Mail Preview

Outlook voice mail preview is a new feature to Exchange Server 2010 unified messaging. In Exchange Server 2007 UM, you would see caller information and message priority. Exchange Server 2010 kicks it up a notch with speech-to-text functionality. Before the voice mail message arrives in your inbox, Exchange Server UM transcribes the voice mail and puts the text in the body of the email. Though not perfect, it’s quite accurate. This is especially helpful for “spam” voice mail with “anonymous” caller information. Using this function a user can save time, and frustration, by deleting unwanted messages without listening to them with no fear of deleting a legitimate message.

Call Answering Rules

New to Exchange Server 2010 is the concept of call answering rules. A user can configure basic call workflows using Outlook Web App. By default, no call answering rules are configured. However, users can browse to the phone tab and then select voice mail in the OWA options menu. See an example in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Call answering rules.

For example, let’s say you want your kids to reach you at anytime, but you don’t want coworkers to reach you after 5 p.m. You could set a rule to allow calls from the numbers your children would call from to come through to Communicator and then also ring your mobile phone or another phone. You could also set a rule to force any calls from a business associate or coworker to be forwarded directly to voice mail after 5 p.m. The interface is reminiscent of Outlook Web App email rules and should be familiar to most users. Even after rules are created, they can be disabled or enabled through the Outlook Web App Voice Mail menu. Rules, by default, are created as enabled.

Intelligent call routing, a more generic term for Microsoft’s call answering rules, was a frequently noted omission in Exchange Server 2007. Its inclusion in Exchange Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2010 UM’s tight integration with Office Communications Server 2007 R2 offers a rich voice platform capable of being a full PBX replacement.

Auto Attendant

The auto attendant, as shown in Figure 5, is like a secretary, providing voice prompts to guide an external or internal caller through the voice mail system. The system can respond to either telephone keypad presses or voice commands.

Figure 5. Auto Attendant menu.

The auto attendant features include the following:

  • A customizable set of menus for external users

  • Greetings for business hours and nonbusiness hours

  • Hours of operation and holiday schedules

  • Access to the organization’s directory

  • Access for external users to the operator

The voice prompts that provide the preceding information can be customized to suit the organization.

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