CS14 – New Features

 

People feel overwhelmed with the communications experience and challenges of dealing with distributed teams, partners, and customers, as well as the lack of integration and high cost of communications. People want tools that allow them to easily manage all their communication streams. Microsoft Communication Server “14” will focus on connecting people in new ways, anytime, anywhere. It includes a host of new features in several key areas. These features provide significant improvements in deployment, management, voice, Microsoft SharePoint integration, and conferencing. These new features make Communications Server “14” a powerful Unified Communications platform.

The latest release will drive adoption through ease of use and integration with Microsoft Office. It will reduce costs through converged communications as it works with existing solutions and can replace solutions where appropriate. Microsoft recognizes that most companies won’t rip out what they have, but for a large percentage of information workers, this is a great solution on its own. It is a true PBX replacement and has the potential to change the way organizations conduct business communications.

 

Lets have a look at some specific changes in the following categories:

  • Planning and Deployment
  • Manageability
  • Monitoring
  • Enterprise Voice
  • Conferencing and Real-time Collaboration
  • Microsoft SharePoint Integration

Planning and Deployment

The planning and deployment processes have been simplified in Communications Server. Less complex topologies make deployments more manageable and reduce the risk of incorrect configuration. Additionally, the new planning and deployment features provide a streamlined process to allow administrators to plan and deploy Communications Server more rapidly than they did with Communications Server 2007 R2 and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007.

Simplified Topologies and Roles

Like Communications Server 2007 R2, Communications Server can be deployed in either a Standard Edition or an Enterprise Edition topology. However, Communications Server now installs and configures only the components that are needed to perform a specific role. For example, there is now a dedicated Director role that installs only the components that are required to configure a server as a Director. The roles available in Communications Server are as follows:

  • Front-End server
  • Back-End server
  • Edge Server
  • Director
  • Monitoring Server
  • Archiving Server
  • Survivable Branch Appliance (SBA)
  • Group Chat

All roles are configured by using the new Topology Builder tool and are automatically set up when the Communications Server software is installed on a physical server. Communications Server workloads, including AV, are supported on virtualized servers.

NOTE: You can install the A/V Conferencing Server and Mediation Server roles onto dedicated physical servers for greater scalability.

If you’ve planned and documented a Communications Server 2007 R2 deployment, you’re probably familiar with the Planning Tool for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 that can be used to properly size and design Communications Server 2007 R2 to support particular business requirements and the number of users. Communications Server further enhances the planning tool by enabling you to design your deployment, and then export the design to a configuration file. It can then be used by the new Topology Builder to automate the deployment of Communications Server in your environment. This helps ensure that the design you created by using the planning tool is actually what is set up during the deployment process. The Topology Builder saves the configuration to a central management database called the Central Management Store.

 

Manageability

Communications Server includes several architecture changes and a set of new tools to improve the overall management experience.

The new Central Management Store is a centralized configuration database that is used to save configuration data for the entire Communications Server deployment. The Central Management Store removes the need to have two locations (Database and Active Directory Domain Services) where configuration data is stored as in the case of Communications Server 2007 R2 and Office Communications Server 2007. The new Central Management Store provides a master configuration database that replicates configuration information to all servers in the deployment. The Central Management Store reduces the dependency on Active Directory Domain Services for storing global settings and replication issues. This ensures that configuration changes and policy updates are applied consistently throughout the Communications Server deployment.

Communications Server includes a new management interface, called Communications Server Control Panel. It replaces the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in that is used to administer previous versions of the product. Communications Server Control Panel is a Microsoft Silverlight version 4 Web application, built on Windows PowerShell, that provides a task-based approach to administration. Communications Server Control Panel simplifies managing a Communications Server deployment by allowing administrators to easily find configuration options based upon a specific task they are trying to perform. Using a Web browser that supports Silverlight version 4, the administrator can log on to Communications Server Control Panel from any computer.

Communications Server now includes PowerShell cmdlets that can be used for administrative tasks. PowerShell provides administrators with a powerful command-line interface to script and automate common Communications Server administrative tasks. Communications Server PowerShell interface is used when configuring certain options that are not available in Communications Server Control Panel. PowerShell now replaces Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) configuration settings.

 

Monitoring

Communications Server includes improvements to existing monitoring features and provides new features to help administrators properly monitor the usage and reliability of their Communications Server infrastructure. These features include the following.

The new management pack to be released with Communications Server will provide more accurate alerting and reduced false-positives. The Communications Server 2007 R2 management pack and other processes in Office Communications Server 2007 R2 trigger a lot of false-positive alerts when they are monitoring Office Communications Server 2007 R2 servers.

Actionable alerts that have information to help the administrator resolve issues more rapidly. These alerts are generated by the Operations Manager 2007 management pack and Monitoring Server. Actionable alerts are displayed within the Operations Manager 2007 console and include the ability to start an automated process to automatically repair problems. For example, an alert appears, indicating that a critical Communications Server service has stopped. The alert includes a link, that when clicked, calls a script that will automatically attempt to restart the service. This allows operators to resolve common problems without necessarily having administrative access to the servers. Alerts in the Communications Server management pack will also include Communications Server best-practice knowledge about how to correct common alerts.

Synthetic transactions are scripts or commands that are used to simulate real users accessing a system. In Communications Server, synthetic transactions can be run against your deployment by using PowerShell cmdlets. For example, by running the Test-CsPstnOutboundCall cmdlet, you can simulate a real outbound phone call to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) gateway. The Operations Manager 2007 management pack can automatically run synthetic transaction cmdlets on a scheduled basis and alert administrators if a transaction fails.

Dashboard report gives administrators an overview of the health and usage of the Communications Server infrastructure.

 

Enterprise Voice

Communications Server 2007 R2 is a great voice platform; however it lacks some key features commonly seen in Request For Proposals (RFPs). These key changes to voice features make Communications Server a robust and feature rich platform to support enterprise communications in organizations of all sizes. Communications Server includes the following new voice capabilities:

  • Branch office resiliency
  • Data centre resiliency
  • Call admission control
  • Call park
  • Common area phones
  • Media bypass

Branch Office Resiliency

Communications Server brings new options for providing branch office resiliency and data centre resiliency. The primary goal is to ensure that in the event of a failure in the branch office’s WAN link—or the loss of an entire data centre—the core voice features of Communications Server are still available to users. To accomplish this, Microsoft Communicator "14" clients can now connect to a primary registrar or a backup registrar. A registrar is a service that accepts register requests from Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) endpoints. Registrars then save the registration information into a location database. The information in this database is used to route signalling information to the endpoint.

The registrar service is common to all Standard Edition server and front-end server roles as well as Survivable Branch Appliances. When the primary registrar becomes unreachable, the Communicator "14" clients will failover to the backup registrar. In branch office scenarios, the branch office clients connect to a Survivable Branch Appliance. Several vendors have announced their plans to create a Survivable Branch Appliance for Communications Server, including HP. It plans to offer the Survivable Branch Appliance as a blade that fits in an HP switch chassis. Clients in a branch office use a Survivable Branch Appliance installed in that office as their primary registrar. When there is a WAN link failure, the Survivable Branch Appliance will begin routing calls through a local gateway to the PSTN gateway instead of over the failed WAN link.

Data centre resiliency is similar to branch office resiliency in that data centre resiliency use the concept of both a primary registrar and a backup registrar. Clients will connect to an Enterprise Pool in the primary data centre. When the pool becomes unavailable, clients will failover to a secondary pool in another data centre. This allows organizations to ensure that whether an enterprise pool goes down—or an entire data centre goes offline—voice calls within the enterprise can continue.

Call admission control ensures that there is sufficient network bandwidth prior to allowing a call to be established over a WAN link. Call admission control allows administrators to control the number of simultaneous calls based on available bandwidth.

Call admission control in Communications Server allows administrators to set very detailed policies and even re-route calls to the Internet or a PSTN gateway if there is insufficient bandwidth over the WAN link. Call admission control policies can be set to send audio and video traffic across separate routes. For example, call admission control can route voice traffic over the WAN link and video traffic over the Internet. Call admission control comes as a standard feature in Communications Server, giving administrators very powerful controls for call admission. For more information, see Call Admission Control in Communications Server "14".

Call park is a feature that was developed so that administrative staff, such as receptionists, could put a call into a hold queue where the intended callee could then retrieve the call. Call park is now a standard feature in Communications Server.

The ability to support common area phones is a requirement for most organizations. The device story around Microsoft Unified Communications continues to improve as more vendors are producing more devices to interoperate with Communications Server. These devices include everything from desk phones to Bluetooth headsets to video conferencing units. Communications Server 2007 R2, however, doesn’t provide a common area phone solution that is easy to set up and manage. These are typically phones that you would see in lobbies, conference rooms, or hot-desk situations. These phones aren’t assigned to a specific user.

Companies such as Polycom will be producing common area phones for Communications Server. Administrators will be able to easily configure these phones and ensure that only a limited set of features are available on these devices. For example, you may not want to allow long distance phone calls to be placed from a lobby phone.

Media bypass has been added to Communications Server. Media bypass allows media traffic to bypass the Mediation Server and flow directly from the client (that is, Communications Server) to the gateway or IP-PBX. When media bypass is configured, the signalling traffic continues to flow through the Mediation Server on its path to the gateway; however, media traffic bypasses the Mediation Server and is sent directly to the gateway. Media bypass requires support from specific gateways. These gateways will be listed in the Microsoft Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program.

With media bypass, the Mediation Server role can now be co-located on a front-end server, simplifying deployment and management of Communications Server. This reduction in physical servers helps lower the total cost of ownership. By removing the media workload from the Mediation Server, it can scale higher to support thousands of users.

 

Conferencing and Real-Time Collaboration

The conferencing and real-time collaboration experience for end users has changed significantly in Communications Server. The biggest difference most people will notice is that a separate Live Meeting client is no longer needed to share content in a Web conference. Conferencing is now integrated into Communicator "14". Additionally, the Microsoft Communicator Web App-based conference experience has been improved. The Web-based client allows Microsoft Windows 7, Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP, Linux, and Macintosh computer users to participate and share desktops during conferences. They now include a lobby, giving meeting organizers the ability to better manage and control their meetings. When users log on to a conference, they are admitted to the lobby. A meeting organizer chooses whether to admit the participant to the meeting or deny access. This provides a greater level of control and security for conferences. This also gives organizers more time to prepare for a conference prior to allowing attendees to join the meeting.

 

SharePoint Integration

Communications Server provides new features for integration with SharePoint. Users can perform keyword or skill-based searches directly from the Communicator "14" client. These searches are sent to SharePoint’s people search. Results are displayed directly within the Communicator "14" client.

Additional SharePoint integration allows recorded meetings to be saved directly to a SharePoint asset library. This enables organizations to treat meeting recordings like other digital assets by setting retention periods and adding meaningful metadata.

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