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New Server Roles and Client Features in OCS R2

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen with OCS was the large number of servers required when deploying all the components, even in consolidated scenarios. And although with new features come yet even more server roles, one change was made that actually helps reduce server footprint in smaller deployments.

Monitoring Server

With OCS 2007 to recording and reporting on Call Detail Records required that an Archiving Server also be used as those two components were wrapped up in the same role. And then adding the Quality of Experience server roles meant adding yet another server. I think the more common scenario for many smaller clients not concerned with archiving or required to adhere to any compliance or legal stipulations would want to deploy CDR and QoE roles. This deployment would require 3 server: 2 OCS and 1 additional SQL backend server.

With R2 the CDR and QoE components are collocated on the same server and use the same SQL instance. This allows for all real-time monitoring services to be used without having to deploy unwanted archiving services.

Application Sharing Server

The new Application Sharing role is located on the Front-End server and handles data streams for application and desktop sharing between conferencing attendees. This component is an additional front-end service that appears to better handle application sharing than the way to was dealt with in OCS 2007. It allows allows for OC clients to initiate desktop sharing sessions. Although the standard OCS 2007 version certainly allows for desktop sharing through Live Meeting, it appears that this functionality works through the OC client and/or the CWA web-based interface, which doesn’t require a web conferencing session to be initiated between both end-points first. I’m eager to check this feature out as this could be a wonderful way for desktop support personnel to assist remote end-users, assuming that the functionality doesn’t hinge on inherent firewall and NAT issues like the rarely-used file transfer features of the current version.

Additionally any remote users, even those on Macintosh or Linux clients can view shared desktops and take control of the sessions while using Communicator Web Access.

Group Chat Server

Another common question in the forums was related to setting up persistent ‘chat rooms’ or having bot-like capabilities which other public services (like Skype, for example) currently contain. Up until R2 there has been no native support for this feature, but now there are a host of new server roles designed to add this functionality.

A single dedicated server can host all three Group Chat Server roles: Lookup Server, Channel Server, and the Web Service. All three services are required for minimum functionality and are only supported on a 64-bit host (as all R2 roles are). If archiving of group chat content is required then a second Compliance Server must be installed with a dedicated SQL database as well, the Standard Archiving server does not handle Group Chat content. There is also a stand-alone Group Chat administration tool which can be installed on the server itself and/or a remote console.

In addition there is a Group Chat application that must be installed on clients; I have not yet seen if it is a seamless plug-in to the current OC client or a separate application in and of itself.

Other New Features

Although not defined as separate server roles, their are some new applications and functionality built into the existing OCS roles which add some eagerly awaited native features.

Dial-In Conferencing

Major complaint #2 was one of the most asked-for pieces of functionality that OC lacked natively: inbound PBX-calls into existing Conferences. This one feature crippled OCS’s ability to act as a conferencing bridge, although I wonder how many of the companies that asked for this feature would have been able to support that many inbound PBX calls to their phone system. A third-party conferencing service does more than just connect calls together, it handles multiple voice streams that some small businesses may not have the bandwidth to host internally

But if you are sitting on a slew of voice T1s then (just like Live Meeting in OCS allows a company to save money on hosting their own web conferences) OCS R2 can give those adopters the same luxury of saving money on hosted phone conferencing solutions.

A Communicator Web Access server is required so that users can manage their PIN via a webpage. Both internal (authenticated users) and external (anonymous and federated contacts).

Improvements in Media Handling

Media quality and resiliency has been enhanced to offer an even better voice experience in R2. Improvements have been made in echo detection, volume level regulation, down-level codec selection, comfort-noise, and even suppression of typing noises. I will definitely appreciate that last feature as it seems like there is always one person on a conference call unmuted and hammering away at the keyboard.

New Certificate Wizard

Second in the deployment complaints department to only Edge configuration issues are all things related to certificates. Fortunately with the recent release of the Edge deployment wizard and now R2’s improved Certificate Wizard steps have been taken to demystify the process and make their requirements and deployment easier to deal with.

Communicator Mobile for Java

This new version allows certain non-Windows Mobile phones which support the Java platform to operate as UC endpoints just like the regular standard CoMo edition. The officially support phones are limited to the Nokia S40 and Motorola RAZR V3xx devices, but may work with many other phones.

Team Ring

OCS users can setup detailed call-forwarding scenarios where teams and members can be defined and specific rules set to forward calls to ring other contacts either simultaneously or one-at-a-time depending on states like presences and time of day.

Voice Mail Additions

Just a little couple time-saver features here: with the R2 client you can click an option to dial directly into your voicemail option in Exchange to change the greeting message. Also you can click other Contacts and leave a message directly in their voice mail without calling them first.

Dialing Easter Eggs

When in an IM conversation and an incoming call appears the client will now show the toast instead of simply flashing the window. I’ve missed a number of calls because it wasn’t clear a call was coming in during those times.

If prompted to press a key or enter a number (as in a conference bridge PIN) the keyboard can be used to immedaietly type in numbers without first clicking on the dial pad.

Hallehjuh, pasting strings of numbers into the Dial Pad now works in R2. I guess that was a pet peeve, but that is annoying.

High-Definition Video

Depending on the hardware and video capabilities of client’s workstations it will be possible to stream video in either VGA (640×480) or HD (1270×720) for peer-to-peer OC conversations. Policies can be configured to restrict these features if limited bandwidth is available on those networks.

New Gr
oup Policy Settings

OCS R2 includes a handful of new group policy settings for things like: disabling IM between clients (this one is already available for OCS 2007 with a client update), client software Automatic Updates, blocking HTML in instant messages, disabling voice memos, and some settings limiting video resolution and screen size.

New Requirements

The two biggest changes to the base requirements have already been talked about and unofficially mentioned in forums for the past six months: that all (1) all OCS R2 server components are only supported on 64-bit architecture running a 64-bit host operating system, and (2) Windows 2008 is now supported as a host operating system of all server components. I imagine this will take the honors as the most complained-about ‘feature’ in R2, but as time goes on I expect to see the same shift in attitude that was seen from when Exchange 2007 was first launched and now.

The back-end database servers can obviously still be hosted on 32-bit operating systems and hardware, while SQL Server 2008 is now a supported platform for Enterprise Edition deployments. The Administration Tools appear to still be supported on 32-bit platforms so it can be installed on management workstations.

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