Integrating Office Communications Server 2007 in an Exchange Server 2010 Environment - Understanding Microsoft’s Unified Communications Strategy

2/27/2011 9:53:46 AM
Microsoft has placed considerable emphasis on its unified communications (UC) strategy in Exchange Server 2010. Microsoft is positioning several products as solutions to the various types of communications that knowledge workers use, such as phone, email, instant messaging, videoconferencing, and voice mail. By default, Exchange Server 2010 includes built-in support for email, voice mail, and limited voice capabilities through the Unified Messaging server role and Mailbox role. Instant messaging, enterprise voice, data, and audio and videoconferencing, however, require the addition of Office Communications Server 2007 R2.

Office Communications Server 2007 R2 works closely with Exchange Server 2010 to further extend the capabilities of the environment and to further improve the efficiencies gained when communications barriers are broken down in an organization.

Outlining the History of the Unified Communications Products

Microsoft has made several forays into the videoconferencing and instant messaging space, which have eventually led to the current state of the product today. What we now know as the Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 product was originally part of the Exchange 2000 Beta Program (Platinum) but was removed from the application before it went to market. It was then licensed as a separate product named Mobile Information Server (MIS) 2000. MIS has some serious shortcomings, however, and adoption was not high.

Microsoft rebranded the application upon the release of Exchange Server 2003 by naming it Live Communications Server (LCS) 2003. This version was deployed much more extensively than the previous versions, but still suffered from limited integration with Exchange Server.

The LCS product was updated two years later as Live Communications Server 2005, with an SP1 version coming later that added some additional functionality. This version of the product was widely deployed, and was the most solid implementation to date.

Timed to release with Exchange Server 2007, the new version of LCS was named the Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007. This version marked the ascension of the technology as a core component to many organizations’ collaboration designs.

Two years later, Microsoft released Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2. This enhanced the voice and data functionality of OCS 2007 and became the first product to seriously be considered as a PBX replacement. It also became the first true, single platform, unified communications solution on the market. The adoption rate is high and should continue to increase with the adoption of Exchange Server 2010.

Exploring the Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 Product Suite

OCS 2007 builds upon some impressive capabilities of its predecessors, while at the same time adding additional functionality. The following key features of the application exist:

  • Web conferencing— OCS has the capability to centrally conference multiple users into a single virtual web conference, allowing for capabilities such as whiteboard, chat, and application sharing. In addition, these conferences can be set up and scheduled from within the users’ Outlook clients. OCS utilizes the Microsoft Live Meeting client to connect to web conferences; however, the transition between clients is seamless.

  • Audio conferencing— OCS added audio conferencing in the R2 release of the product. Tightly integrated with Outlook 2007/2010, it enables users to schedule conference calls from Outlook or have ad-hoc meetings based on a meeting code and PIN.

  • Videoconferencing— In addition to standard web conferencing, OCS allows for videoconferencing between members of a conference. It also enables interoperability with other platforms such as Tandberg videoconference rooms and HP Halo Telepresence rooms. OCS 2007 R2 introduced support for HD-quality video on the desktop.

  • Instant messaging— The OCS server also acts as an instant messaging server, providing for centralized IM capabilities as well as the ability to archive IM traffic and to filter it for specific information. OCS allows an organization to gain more control over the instant messaging traffic that is being used.

  • Presence information— Tied into the instant messaging functionality of OCS is the ability of the software to provide presence information for users. For example, within Outlook, a user can determine whether the sender of the message is online by hovering over their name.

  • Public IM Connectivity— Microsoft, Yahoo!, and AOL recently agreed to make it easier to interoperate between their various IM tools. In response to this agreement, Microsoft made it possible to integrate a corporate IM platform on OCS with external private IM clients on the MSN, Yahoo!, or AOL platforms. The way that OCS does this is through the concept of a Public IM Connectivity (PIC) license.

  • IM federation— OCS also has the ability to tie a corporate IM environment into the OCS or LCS environment at another organization, through a process known as IM federation. A federation proxy running on the edge server role is used to mediate secure communications between federation partners.

  • Contact management— OCS integrates Exchange Server contacts with IM contacts, providing the ability to integrate them into a common list.

  • Outlook integration— OCS now offers the ability for the IM functionality to be tied into the Free/Busy and Out of the Office functionality of Outlook and Exchange Server 2010. This allows users to determine the status of a user directly from the IM client and the client to auto-update presence status based on free/busy information.

The product is available in the following two versions:

  • Standard Edition— The Standard Edition of OCS 2007 R2 allows for a single server to be deployed using a Microsoft SQL Express database. It supports up to 5,000 concurrent users.

  • Enterprise Edition— The Enterprise Edition allows for pools of servers connected to a common SQL Server database to be utilized, allowing for up to 300,000 users. Enterprise Edition can be deployed in a consolidated manner similar to Standard Edition; however, it also enables the flexibility to split the functional roles out onto separate servers for additional scalability. Multiple Enterprise Edition front-end servers can be members of the same pool.

Server roles are defined for OCS servers, just as Exchange Server 2010 defines server roles. A single server can hold multiple roles, and multiple servers can be deployed with a single role, as necessary. The following server roles exist in OCS:

  • Front-End server— The default server role for OCS handles presence, IM, audio/web/videoconferencing, and voice routing for either Standard edition or a consolidated enterprise edition deployment.

  • Communicator Web Access server— Enables users to log in to OCS using a web client instead of the full Microsoft Office Communicator (MOC) client. Although presence, IM, and desktop sharing are available, voice and video are not supported using the web client.

  • Archiving server— An OCS Archiving server archives instant messages and specific usage information and stores it in a SQL database.

  • Monitoring server— The Monitoring server collects performance and CDR information related to voice calls. It records information for both PC2PC and PSTN calls. The server role requires a SQL database and SQL reporting services.

  • Mediation server— The Mediation server proxies communication between the OCS pool and either a PBX or a media gateway out to the PSTN. It converts voice communications from RTAudio to a traditional codec like G.711 and passes it along to the next hop following configurable routing rules.

  • Edge server— An OCS Edge server creates an encrypted, trusted connection point for traffic to and from the Internet. It serves as a method of protecting internal servers from direct exposure and is often placed into a demilitarized zone (DMZ) of a firewall. It also enables users to connect to OCS from outside the trusted network, extending phone, video, and collaboration functionality to wherever a user might be. The Edge server can create encrypted connections to partner through federation enabling inter-organization communication.

The OCS product is central to Microsoft’s unified communications strategy, as it serves as a mechanism to unite the various products such as Exchange Server and SharePoint by providing information about when a user is online, and providing ideal mechanisms to communicate with them.

Viewing the Communicator 2007 Client

On the client side of the unified communications equation, Microsoft has released a new version of the corporate instant messaging client. This version is known as Microsoft Office Communicator (MOC) 2007. The Communicator client provides the end user with a mechanism to conduct instant messaging conversations with users, to share their desktop or an application with another user or with a group of users, and to transfer files and conduct videoconferences.

The Communicator client serves as a replacement for free Internet instant messaging clients, which can serve as a conduit for viruses and spyware. In addition, the Communicator client does not include any type of advertising in its console, as do the public IM clients for MSN, Yahoo!, and AOL.

Exploring the Office Live Meeting Client

The same Microsoft Live Meeting client that is used for the Microsoft-hosted service can also be used to connect to the web conferencing portion of Office Communications Server 2007 R2. The connection information is usually included in the meeting invitation so that the client requires no configuration to switch between on-premise and off-premise services.

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