Skype4B interoperability: Cisco Expressway

Cisco Expressway “offer users outside your firewall simple, highly secure access to all collaboration workloads, including video, voice, content, IM, and presence. Collaborate with people who are on third-party systems and endpoints or in other companies. Help teleworkers and Cisco Jabber mobile users work more effectively on their device of choice. Cisco Expressway allows you to do all this and more.” (source)

Using Skype for Business terminology, this is the “Edge Server” of Cisco. But it besides the described functions, it has one that allows you the integrate Cisco Video endpoints (desktop client, video conference rooms up to telepresence system) with Lync/Skype for Business clients that allows SIP dialling from both sides with audio and HD video: search for the contact and press the call button.

 

The infrastructure configuration is based on a ‘dedicated expressway’ configured as a Skype for Business ‘trusted application’. The rest is all about SIP domain ‘static routing’.

CiscoExpressway-Interoperability
Expressway topology for on-premises Skype for Business and Cisco video endpoints 

Great features of this integration:

  • IM & presence is possible between systems;
  • Desktop sharing is supported;
  • Both Cisco and Microsoft can share a single SIP domain;
  • Skype for Business remote clients can use the Expressway on the DMZ (TURN server) for audio traffic with Cisco endpoints;
  • Skype for Business clients can make and receive audio/video calls with external parties whom the Cisco has federation with.

There are also some limitations:

  • Presence is based on SIP simple. Only can have the status ‘Available’ and ‘Busy’;
  • Skype for Business clients can join a multipoint conference in Cisco, but Cisco endpoints cannot join Skype meetings.

 

In conclusion, although it’s not a better solution than Polycom, the Expressway leverages the existing investment  already done on Cisco infrastructure and can be extended to a complete 3rd interoperable federation solution:

CiscoExpressway-Federation

UC clients: Cisco Jabber (initial) review

(Finally some spare time to post!).
About 1 year ago I watched a Cisco webcast about their UC strategy: the unification of a single client for all platforms. After the initial releases with OSX, IOS, Android and now the Windows version release. The ‘brand’ name was bought on 2008: Jabber, a presence+IM client based on the XMPP protocol.

Firstly, I think the ‘name unification’, logo and similar interface a smart ideia.
Cisco decided to advertise Jabber as a client ‘free for all customers’… you might add ‘paying customers’ (check the comments). But there’s really a free version available for everyone.

This is an initial review using the two clients available for Windows and OSX (have no resource$ to test the iP* editions). I will update and even correct based on all feedback received by the readers. Cisco guys are also invited to correct or clarify any doubts 🙂

The main interface is a facelift of the previous version (CUPC). It has a group tab on the left, contact search on top, with tagged contacts list on the main window. The contact pictures can be retrieved from an url or and LDAP/AD.
….…..

For the user, the interface it’s a simple ‘point and comunicate’:
>> Instant Messaging and file transfer
 ………
>> Voice, video (where you can get a 720p H.264 quality) and desktop sharing (including remote control)

>> and others, like Outlook presence integration, click-to-call tags (on browsers).

Another interesting feature is that this client can be used for and on-premises deployment or a cloud service (WebEx).

Other nice features are the ability to switch between networks (cellular to Wifi) and clients, without interrupting a call.

Remote users have Jabber Secure Connect (throw a Cisco ASA) to reach the infrastructure.

My opinion: Good

I just tried the Windows and OSX versions, but from the users perspective the experience was positive and I believe that with this one interface platform approach Cisco is on the right path to continue on the UC leaders group.
I still maintain my previous opinion: If you are already a Cisco customer, you should consider this solution portfolio if you want to extend your VoIP infrastructure.

But … now it’s time for some considerations.

The clients are not consistent between platforms:
– The current Windows version is 9.0 and on OSX is 8.6. This means that for 8.x you provide all the configurations using CUPS, and on the new 9.0 you also need to define an XML configuration file for the client (Jabber standards);
– There are reports that the IOS client loses connectivity with the server and other bad reviews;
– Some features and requirements are undefined: is there a Cisco Jabber IM and a Jabber for iOS? is a WebEx meeting client required for conferencing data sharing?

In terms of infrastructure requirements, you still need to investment based on the feature needs:
– At least a CUCM and a CUP servers are required for a Jabber deployment;
– Multiparty IM is supported but you will need servers (or services) for voice, video and content conferencing.
– Full voice mail features requires Cisco Unity;
But you can try to now put all them on fewer physical servers (using VMware). Also “for current Unified Communications Manager customers, with this announcement Cisco Unified Presence server software is available at no additional license cost… video capabilities will require separate licensing”.

And other small limitations might be considered:
– You can only sign-in from one Jabber endpoint at a time;
– You can only search LDAP directories. Support for Outlook personal contacts will be available soon.

Don’t see this as ‘criticism’… more like as ‘space for improvement’ 😉 .
You can make your personal opinion starting on the Jabber official site.

Comments and opinions are welcomed.

Gartner Magic Quadrant for UC: 2006-2011

Today, I reread the most recent report to update my customer presentation about Lync. I’m not going to summarize it here, because I recommend all of you ‘UC evangelists’ to read. I’ll just post one interesting paragraph:
“Although most vendors are pushing enterprises to adopt their UC suites as sole providers, Gartner does not recommend the second single-vendor approach when it involves sacrificing best-of-breed functionality for the sake of UC consolidation. Most users want the best functionality in each area.”

But I became curious to see earlier reports and try to understand how is the market evolving and maturing. If we are interest on reading them, I manage to find all Gartner reports spread across the web: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

But if you just want to see the evolution, I put the Magic Quadrants for a quick side by side comparison.

Kommentarer välkomnas 🙂

UC interoperability: connecting Lync users with others

I already stated two key aspects of Unified Communications: converge the existing communications tools to the users work environment and wherever the user goes.
But not all persons and companies use the same UC tools: what if a corporate engineer wants to discuss a project with is strategic partner across the other continent? When is he available? How to share the documentation for a productive meeting?
The new key aspect is that UC must cross their technology boundaries and be able to inter-operate with others to give users a seamless and rich experience when communicating with people outside their company environment. Without interoperability we would have islands of UC-efficient companies…

I consider interoperability between UC systems when they can exchange presence and one or more communication type, in two categories:

  • Integration – a technology is used to extended the capacity or functionality of another (ex: a gateway or multi-point video);
  • Federation – different  technologies/manufacturers allow communication between their users.

 I will detail on the next posts the available options that I already implemented (or tested) but I will also refer to another known solutions.

UC experience: Cisco vs Microsoft

The other posts were about the architecture and products.This time I’ll try to make an “what can I do?’ comparison.

When you deploy UC in a corporate environment, your main target is the employee expectations and impression. So let’s evidence some of the different end-user experience when choosing Cisco or Microsoft.
I will not write about all features, just the differences and how the user performs with some daily common tasks and devices. So you can consider that other features are similar if not identical.

Simplicity and out-of-the box features

While enhanced presence (with status changing according to our activity at the device or with your agenda or answering a phone call), instant messaging and (right-)click-to-call are well known on a UC desktop ,  there are several differences that you should be aware off:
◊ The most distinct one is that Lync is the single user interface for communication (except mail and agenda). You use it to start and switch between IM, voice, video and share content with one or more users. With Cisco you have an IM window separated from the call and you need to start the meetingplace console to share content.
◊ Lync client will show the ‘out-of-office‘ mail message next to a contact, which is very useful for people to know when and why a person is unavailable. On CUPC we can manually set this message.
◊ The same happens for ‘in a meeting‘ status: if you click on a contact detail you will see when he will be available (meeting end time on user’s calendar).
◊ You can also Tag a contact presence, and get notified when he gets available or online.
Presence access level can be set on CUPC, but Lync let you assign levels of access (ex: allow some colleagues to bypass the do not disturb status) you a right click on a contact or a group.

Device & Redirect switch

◊ ‘Click & Do’: all end-user settings are available on the Lync client. On the Cisco you might be redirected to the CUCM/CUPS user options webpage. On Lync you can set call forwarding from the main screen and easly switch between multimedia devices even during a call. On Cisco you can set simple call forwarding from the softphone/hardphone keyboard only.
◊ Lync introduced location awareness (LIS), which  has the capability to set user endpoint location according to a combination of network address, switch or wireless access point information. This can be very usefull to locate persons before try to reach them or assign a task.
◊ Lync allows you to add rich content on an IM (ex: copy > paste a small excel table) and transfer files. None of those are available with Cisco.
◊ Cisco does not have an email solution for their UC solution. You can use their SaaS solution, but you need an Outlook client to get UC integration (with CUPC, for example)

Equipments and devices

Let’s look now what an user can have without his powered UC PC-device:
There are several choices for hardphones for both (wired and wirelles). Microsoft has 3rd party vendors loaded with a Lync firmware, while Cisco provides their own hardware which is an advantage with support contract management. Another advantage is that you can connect standard SIP phones (including software clients) to CUCM, while with Microsoft you must use 3rd party proxies, but Cisco is the only with VideoPhones.
◊ One possible advantage for Microsoft is that hardphones are cheaper and  the displays have  the same Lync user interface, a can even include contact pictures.
◊ In terms of PC, tablets, and smartphones environments, Microsoft has an advantage in Windows and MacOSx operating systems and presence and IM in general, but Cisco has much more options, specially for voice. Not only they provide VoIP clients for different platforms, but existing 3rd party SIP softphones available for all type of OS and devices (Linux, Android, …) have good chance to register with Cisco telephony. Note: XMPP compliant clients can register with CUPS to get presence and IM.
◊ On the tablets 3-digit growing market, Cisco has the high performance video/voice Cius and Microsoft responds with Windows slate

Voice and Video

RTaudio vs G.711 vs G.729 vs….. quality vs performance vs pack-loss… Microsoft and Cisco will do the work.
For the video things are much different:

◊ Lync now supports H.264 high definition… in peer-to-peer calls. It’s great but Cisco/Tandberg hardware do that with multiple endpoints with continuous presence. You can connect a PC with a Lync client and a 1080p webcam to a HD screen on a conference room, but its still a huge difference from a conference hardware.
◊ Cisco can also offer telepresence solutions and interoperability with other conference systems. Microsoft try to overcome this with an acceptable price/quality solution but needs to develop more on the interoperability (but is on the right path…).

Mobility and Remote Access

UC stands for ‘converging the existing communications tools to the users work environment’, but it also stands for ‘wherever the user goes’. As an example, if I’m outside my office / on the road with an internet/NAT connection:
◊ With Cisco, I need to establish a VPN connection to my company before using any software.
◊ With Lync, it will automatically find and establish the connection to the server and provide the same experience has if I was at the office; If I’m inside a private lan (ex: at a customer) behind a firewall usually might need an SSL/VPN tunnel to reach my UC  Cisco or Microsoft infrastructure (unless there’s an Internet guest access VLAN using just NAT).

Interoperability and Federation

An important decision factor is that a company wants to extended the UC experience and communicate with others:
◊ Cisco and Microsoft allows a full UC experience when connecting with partners with the same technology, i.e.,
       [Cisco <<>> IME] <– Wan/Internet Link –>> [IME << >>Cisco]
       [Lync <<>> Lync Edge] <– Wan/Internet Link –>> [Lync Edge << >>Lync]

Between different platforms there are some important remarks:
◊ Cisco (CUPS) clients are able to exchange presence and instant messaging with OCS, Lync, AOL, Google and Sametime;
◊ Microsoft users are able to exchange presence and instant messaging with CUPS, OCS, XMPP servers, Sametime MSN/Windows Live, Yahoo and AOL, and you can make voice and video calls with Windows Live Messenger devices (even a XBOX360 with a kinect)
◊ You can overcome some interoperability limitations or just simplify using 3rd party solutions

UC infrastructure: Microsoft vs Cisco

Time to skate on thin ice 🙂

Before making some enemies, please remember that personal blogs express personal opinions and this is my current vision based on the information and experience collected. I’m completely open minded about technology, so I will welcome your opinions.

I wasn’t sure how to make this type of comparison, but I decided to start by comparing on effort and investment. If someone wants to start implementing an UC solution on premises, what is required ? (and we have mail and calendar are in place so integration is desired).
You can make a slow start (and ease on end-user’s learning path) or go as far as your IT department and budget can take it:
Note: in green the change/increase of scenario components.

Requirements

Microsoft

Cisco

Scenario 1
Rich Presence and Instant Messaging
1x Lync Server Standard Edition
Lync Standard CAL
.

Total: 1 server

1x CUCM
1x CUPS
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses

Total: 2 servers

Scenario 2
(s1+) Desktop voice, video and web-conference P2P and multi-party
1x Lync Server Standard Edition
Lync Enterprise CAL
.
.
.

Total: 1 server

1x CUCM
1x CUPS
1x Cisco Unified MeetingPlace
1x CUVC
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses

Total: 4 servers

Scenario 3
(S2 +) VoIP connectivity with outside

1x Lync Server Standard Edition
Lync Enterprise and Plus CAL
1x IP-PBX gateway
.
.
.

Total: 2 servers

1x CUCM
1x CUPS
1x Cisco Unified MeetingPlace
1x CUVC
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses
1x IP-PBX gateway

Total: 5 servers

Scenario 4
(s3 +) Redundant solution

2x Lync Server Enterprise Edition
2x SQL server Enterprise Edition
Lync Enterprise and Plus CAL
2x IP-PBX gateway
.
.

Total: 6 servers

2x CUCM
2x CUPS
2x Cisco Unified MeetingPlace
2x CUVC
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses
2xIP-PBX gateway

Total: 10 servers

Scenario 5
(s3 +) Voice mail
1x Lync Server Standard Edition
Lync Enterprise and Plus CAL
1x Exchange UM Server
Exchange Enterprise Plus CAL
1x IP-PBX gateway
.
.

Total: 3 servers

1x CUCM
1x CUPS
1x Cisco Unified MeetingPlace
1x CUVC
1x Cisco Unity
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses
1x IP-PBX gateway

Total: 6 servers

Scenario 6
(s3 +) 911 support
1x Lync Server Standard Edition
Lync Enterprise+Plus CAL
1x IP-PBX gateway
.
.
.

.
.

Total: 2 servers

1x CUCM
1x CUPS
1x Cisco Unified MeetingPlace
1x CUVC
1x CER (Cisco Emergency Responder)
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses
1x IP-PBX gateway

Total: 6 servers

Scenario 7
(s3 +) remote user access and federation
1x Lync Server Standard Edition
Lync Enterprise+Plus CAL
1x Lync Edge Server
1x Forefront TMG server
1x OCS XMPP gateway (optional for  federation with XMPP partners)
1x IP-PBX gateway
..
..
.
.
.
.
..

Total: 4/5 servers

1x CUCM
1x CUPS
1x Cisco Unified MeetingPlace
1x CUVC
1x VPN concentrator
1x Cisco ASA (not sure if supports VPN access and also Firewall federation)
Cisco UCL/CUWL licenses
Cisco VPN client licensing
1x IP-PBX gateway
1x Cisco IME(optional for voice/video ‘federation with other Cisco UC)

Total: 7/8 servers

I admit that this ‘simplified’ comparison might give the idea that Microsoft is a better choice, but for the $/€ you should always get a quote for comparison. For some scenarios, the partners might have other less expensive alternatives.
And even if Microsoft has a great products, remember that Cisco has mature and proven solutions (including hardware and devices) supported by their network infrastructure. There are some advantages with the Cisco requirements:

  • Since CUCM is required for any UC deployment, you get Telephony features from the very beginning (…but it could be a huge disadvantage if you have another telephony service in place);
  • With the very expensive CUVC you get an hardware MCU, capable of continuous video presence capable of interoperability with other 3rd party systems and telepresence rooms. Microsoft is a software MCU solution, only capable of showing the active speaker video to all participants.
  • (on a non-redundant system) one Cisco server down doesn’t mean a complete service failure.

But on future posts, let’s see other type of comparisons that might be important to consider…

UC clients: Lync vs CUPC

Since I already show you some UC clients, it’s time to start comparing them. You already noticed that I have a Cisco and Microsoft lab and managed to integrate them on a Windows (2008 R2) Domain environment. The funny thing is that is possible to run both CUPC and Lync clients at the same time on a Windows desktop, which is great to make a side-by-side comparison:
As you can see there are some significant differences: CUPC has a blue window, presence status icons on the left and pictures on  the right while Lync is a light grey with with presence status and contact photos on the left side. To initiate a communication in CUPC the user right click on a contact and make is choice, while on Lync you do … the same :).

These client comparison features must be made with the entire support infrastructure required by Cisco and Microsoft and their capabilities, and is for these reasons that these are the Magic Quadrant leaders for UC. On other posts I will expose some important differences and requirements of Microsoft and Cisco, but for now let’s just show what can you do with these clients.

I created a table to describe the features and capabilities, and evidence in green the important advantages (from my point of UC view). Note that the features mentioned are the ones that you find using only the client. You can include some of them by adding additional software / hardware from the vendors.

Capabilities

CUPC 8.5

Lync 2010

User interface Main interface: Personal contact list
Separate windows for:
– Instant messaging;
– Voice and Video calls;
Conversation history;
Dial pad;
Email integration (send mail).
Main interface: Personal contact list;
Integrated window for IM, voice, video and content sharing;
Conversation history;
Dial pad;
Email integration (send mail, schedule meeting).
Communication capabilities
(native)
Instant messaging;
Voice call;
Video call;
Group chat.
Instant messaging;
Voice call;
Video call;
File transfer;
Desktop sharing;
Web conference (videoconference + content sharing).
Contacts Can search for people on an AD/LDAP;
Can search for name or phone (reverse lookup).
Can search Lync server global address list and personal Outlook contacts.
Group Expansion Can search and add distribution lists to personal contacts;
You can initiate group chat with all members.
Can search and add distribution lists to personal contacts, view and initiate IM and calls with one or more members.
Presence 3 built-in states  + custom states;
Presence change with user computer activity;Manual ‘Out of Office’;
Exchange calendar integration (‘in a meeting’);
Manual user access (allow or deny).
6 built-in states + custom states;
Presence change with user computer activity;
Exchange calendar integration (‘Out-of-office’ with user reply message text, ‘in a meeting’ including next available hour);
Granular user access levels.
Instant messaging One or more participants;
Offline messaging.
One or more participants;
Can include rich text (ex: copy>paste a spreadsheet table).
Supported Protocols Communication – SIP (TCP/UDP/TLS);
Audio – G.711a, µ-law, G.722 (wide band), G.729a, G.729ab, iLBC, iSAC;
Video – H.264/AVC.
Communications – SIP (TLS/TCP);
Audio – Rtaudio, G.711a, G722, G722.1, Siren;
Video – RTvideo, H.263, H.264/SVC.
Video capabilities Point to point video support until 720p resolution;
Multipoint video with active speaker (with Cisco Unified MeetingPlace);
Multipoint video with HD continuous presence (using a cisco Cisco MCU).
Point to point video support until 720p resolution;
Multipoint video with active speaker viewing.
Distinguished features Create/customize contacts (without requiring outlook). Tag alerting for user status;
Conversation history by contact (using Outlook);
Contact activity history
Desktop Integration Call options – Microsoft Office 20xx, Sharepoint 20xx, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox;
Presence – Microsoft Office 2010 (availability and photos), Sharepoint 20xx;
IM– Microsoft Office 2007/2010, Sharepoint 2010;Full details here.
Call options – Microsoft Office 20xx, Sharepoint, Internet Explorer;
Presence – Microsoft Office 20xx, Sharepoint 20xx;
IM– Microsoft Office 20xx, Sharepoint 20xx.
… in general the integration is reacher than CUPC.
Client Virtualization Support VMware View 4.5;
Citrix XenDesktop 4.0.
Note: In a virtualized desktop environment, full audio and video capabilities are only available on CUPC when you are using the desk phone for phone calls. On your computer, only the voicemail features are supported.
Microsoft RDS,RDS-VDI, App-V;
Citrix XenDestkop 4.0, XenApp 6.0.
Note
: Only Application Streaming is fully supported for audio video.Full details on the official documentation.