Microsoft Lync 2010 is the replacement for Office Communications Server (OCS). Lync, just like OCS, manages various forms of communication from a single user-interface: voice calls, video calls, instant messages, meetings, and shared whiteboard sessions. It works with Office, SharePoint and Exchange: It makes it possible to converse with other people, such as the users of Windows Live Messenger.
On the 22nd of March 2010 at VoiceCon Microsoft officially announced Lync, at that moment called Wave “14”. Some features were presented to the public: Call Admission Control, Location Awareness, Branch Office Survivability and tighter integration with SharePoint, Office and Exchange.
In the background a Technology Adoption Program (TAP) program had already started with several customers and partners.
In June 2010 Microsoft gave a lot more information at TechEd North America, which was held in Orlando. Many presentations were given that included demos. These were then published on TechEd online.
On the 13th of September Microsoft released the release candidate (RC) of Communications Server “14” also then known as Wave “14”.
Communications Server “14” or Wave “14” were just code names for the new version. A number of rumors about the new name spread around the internet: Among the possibilities that were mentioned were ‘Office Communications Server 2010’ and ‘Communications Server 10’. Together with the release candidate (RC), Microsoft also revealed the official new name of their product: Lync.
Some people might think “Why Lync?” That was my reaction too. On this Technet Blog Kirk Gregersen, Senior Director Microsoft Communications, explains how they have chosen the name. Lync is a combination of “link” and “sync” and is chosen because Microsoft wanted a new name that reflected the major transformation of the product.
On the 17th of November Lync reached the General Availability (GA) Status.
In this table, we give the “new” names of all the members of the product family:
Microsoft Office Communications
Microsoft Lync Server 2010
Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2
Microsoft Lync 2010
Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2
Microsoft Lync Web App
Microsoft Office Communicator Web Access
Microsoft Lync Online
Microsoft Office Communications Online
Because it would create an enormous article to list all the new features, we will now have a look at just a few of the more interesting ones offered by Microsoft Lync Server 2010.
Central Management Store
In Office Communications Server 2007 R2, the configuration was stored in several places: Active Directory, SQL database and local on the server. Starting from Lync, a Central Management Store is used to store the configuration for all server roles. To be more specific, the following information will be stored in the database:
- Configuration of the Lync Server components
- Policies of the Lync Server components
- XML documents containing the deployment topology
In case of an Enterprise pool, this database is placed on a dedicated SQL server. When using a Standard pool, a local installation of SQL 2008 Express will be installed on the first Front End Server and the Central Management Store database will be stored on that server.
Each server in a Lync environment will contain a replica of the Central Management Store: The advantage of this is that servers can continue to work even when connection to the Central Management Store has lost.
But how does Lync keep all databases up-to-date? When a configuration change is made, the changes will first be applied to the Central Management Store and after that to the other databases.. Before distributing the changes to the other databases, all changes will be verified. The changes will be replicated as read-only data to all other servers including the Edge. In OCS 2007 R2 the Edge server did not share the configuration with any other server but stored the configuration locally.
The update process can be divided into the following steps:
- The administrator makes a change in the current configuration using the GUI or PowerShell
- The Master Replicator generates a snapshot containing the new configuration
- The File Transfer Agent distributes the snapshot to all other servers in the Lync environment
- The Local Replicator will be notified about the new snapshot, applies the changes and will send a status update to the CMS
- The Replication status will be send back to the master and the Master Replicator updates the status of the server
The replication traffic between the Edge server(s) and the CMS will be performed by using HTTPS. If security policies will not allow this, a manual update will need to be performed every time the configuration is changed.
Lync has two management utilities: Lync Server Windows PowerShell, and the Lync Server 2010 Control Panel. The PowerShell modules can be used for several tasks and are equivalent to the Exchange Management Shell of Exchange 2010.
The GUI uses Silverlight; which has the consequence that one of the requirements for using the tool is the latest version of Silverlight. If it isn’t detected during the startup it will display both a warning and a link to download Silverlight: So there is no MMC for Lync anymore.
Role-Based Access Control
Just like Exchange 2010, Microsoft Lync Server 2010 now also contains Role-Based Access Control, RBAC for short. Using RBAC, administrative privileges can be added to users using pre-defined administrative roles. Depending on the role assigned to a user he or she can perform tasks using either the Lync Management Shell or Lync Control Panel. Lync does contain 11 predefined RBAC-roles. Besides these predefined roles you can create custom roles yourself.
A complete overview of predefined RBAC-roles and the associated cmdlets can be found here.
A change to the virtualization support for Lync is very welcome, because a lot of customers already use, or are starting to use, virtualization technologies. Microsoft made a lot of modifications to the support policy compared to OCS 2007 R2. The following Lync Server environments are now supported using virtualization technologies:
- Standard Edition server topology for proof-of-concept, pilot projects, and small businesses.
This topology supports up to 2,000 users per virtual Standard Edition server.
- Data center topology, for larger deployments.
This topology supports up to 5,000 users per virtual Enterprise Edition Front End Server.
At this moment only Windows 2008 R2 Hyper-V and VmWare ESX 4.0 are supported. All server roles will need to have Windows 2008 R2 as Operating System (OS).
Enhanced Voice Resilience
Each user that signs in will authenticate with a registrar that provides authentication and routing services. The registrar is installed on each Front End Server and Branch Appliance. In Lync you can configure a primary and secondary registrar. By creating the secondary registrar you will create a backup registrar which is used by the user in case of failure by the primary registrar.
If you have several branch offices you might not want to deploy a complete Lync environment to offer the Enterprise voice functionality. Microsoft introduced two options for this specific case:
- Survivable Branch Appliance (SBA), the appliances are offered by several vendors: Audiocodes, Dialogic and HP. The appliance contains both a server and a PSTN gateway.
- Survivable Branch Servers (SBS), the SBS is just like a default Lync Server and needs to be connected to a gateway or SIP trunk to offer Enterprise Voice functionality.
Both the SBA and SBS can be configured as backup registrar for the users in the branch office. If a WAN link failure occurs, then users will re-register with the backup registrar and can continue to use basic voice functionalities.
Can a SBA or SBS host users? Yes, both solutions can host users: Before doing this, verify that the PSTN connectivity works correctly.
End User Experience
In the previous paragraphs we had a look at a server side of Lync. In this paragraph we will have a look at what has been improved or changed for the end user.
As you can see in this screenshot, the look of the client has completely changed. We can split up the client window into a few parts:
- You can see your current status location, and if available a picture of yourself, in the upper part of the screen. This can either be configured manually by a user or can be retrieved from the Active Directory;
- The next part is the so called ‘communication bar’, which gives you quick access to IMs, received calls and voicemails. Besides this, it contains a dial pad which can be used to place calls;
- The biggest part of the client is the contact list which now contains pictures from your contacts if available and their status text;
- In the bottom of the client there are a few options available:
- Phone icon: which gives you the opportunity to configure the primary audio device;
- Call forwarding: if enabled for Enterprise Voice a user can configure call forwarding easily;
- Information icon, displays information/errors if applicable. Note that this icon will disappear if no errors/warnings are available.
Besides searching for contacts on their name you will now have the opportunity to search for people based on their skills. This functionality does require at least SharePoint 2007 and will enable you to search in the profiles of users.
There are two ways to start the implementation of Lync:
- Using the planning tool
- Using the setup
The first option might look a little bit strange to you. How could you start an implementation with a planning tool that is, in most cases, used before the implementation? Well, you’re completely right about this; but, starting from Lync, you can use the output from the planning tool as input for the setup. The planning tool can be downloaded for free from this website.
The other option can be compared to the method which was available in OCS 2007 R2.
Before starting the installation you will need to install some prerequisites. First start with .NET 3.5 SP1 and the hotfixes mentioned in KB959209 and KB967190. Once these are installed the Web Server Role needs to be installed with some additional features. This can be done by running the following cmdlet:
ServerManagerCmd.exe -Install Web-Server Web-Http-Redirect Web-Scripting-Tools Web-Windows-Auth Web-Client-Auth Web-Asp-Net Web-Log-Libraries Web-Http-Tracing Web-Basic-Auth
Once everything is installed you can start the setup of Lync.
The same steps are required for preparing the Active Directory as with OCS 2007 R2, so I do not need to explain them. Make sure you’ve got a backup of your Active Directory environment and try the installation in a test environment if possible, before deploying it in a production environment. Depending on your deployment, you will either choose the option to deploy the first Front End Server (only used for standard edition) or install the Topology Builder:
- Standard Edition: install First Front End followed by the Topology Builder
- Enterprise Edition: install the Topology Builder
In Lync you won’t deploy a pool immediately but first will create a configuration using the Topology Builder.
Once the tools are installed, you can start the Topology Builder to create your Lync environment. The Topology Builder contains some wizards which will guide you through the process of setting up your Lync environment. As I said earlier, you can also use the output from the planning tool. This will save you some time because you won’t have to use the wizards to set up the environment.
When you’ve finished building your Lync environment, it’s time to publish the configuration to the Central Management Store. Once this is done, you can deploy the servers. Each server will look in the Central Management Store to determine which components it needs to install during the setup. This has the advantage that you don’t have to select the components manually anymore, because you’ve already specified them.
The setup can be started by selecting the option ‘Install or Update Lync Server System’. The first step is to install the local configuration store by selecting the ‘Install Local Configuration Store’. This will install a SQL 2008 Express instance with a replica of the CMS database. Once the local configuration store is installed, select the ‘Setup or Remove Server Components’. You will receive a prompt to select the method which should be used to gather the configuration file. As long as you can reach the CMS, you should leave the default option checked, which is ‘retrieve directly from the Central Management Store’. The second option, ‘import from a file’, is only needed when performing the installation of the Edge Server.
When you make a change to the topology, for example by adding the conferencing feature, you will need to run the setup again and select the ‘Install or Update Lync Server System’ option.
Once everything is installed, the certificate needs to be request and assigned. This can be done by selecting the option ‘Request, Install or Assign Certificates’. Press the request button to create a certificate request. After the certificate has been requested, you will get the option to assign it immediately. This last option is only relevant if the CA doesn’t require a CA administrator to approve the certificate. If this is the case you will need to choose the button ‘Process Pending Certificates’, followed by ‘Assign’ to assign the certificate to the services.
When the certificate is installed it’s time to start the Lync services: This can be done by selecting the Start Services option. Once this task has been performed you have the option to check if all services are running by selecting the Check Services button. This will launch services.msc which will give you the ability to check if all services have the started state.