Cisco UC Application Virtualization Explained

I spend quite a bit of time discussing Cisco’s Unified Communications Applications in a virtualized environment. There is a ton of information available for deploying and also support guidelines at the Wiki site below:

http://docwiki.cisco.com/wiki/Unified_Communications_in_a_Virtualized_Environment

So much information that it is hard to work out where to start. I thought I would break down what the options look like and help give a base level knowledge to folks in need. It took me quite a while to get around the site especially with trickier questions around CPU speed and changing CPU’s etc.but as you learn the different areas and requirements it makes a great reference to support guidelines. It is the definitive guide for virtualized Cisco UC applications. Actually for anyone doing a UC project the guidelines presented for Cisco can also be helpful to apply some of the same guidelines for any real-time application.

Hardware Categories

There are three main categories when it comes to the hardware that is supported when deploying Cisco UC applications in a virtual environment.

UC on Unified Computing System (UCS) Tested Reference Configurations (TRC) – This is probably the easiest way to buy, deploy and support Cisco UC applications on supported and tested models of UCS hardware. These are specific models of hardware that cover everything from CPU speed, RAM and hard drive size. Some models such as the Business edition 6000 and 7000 only require a single part number to purchase everything including the VMware licenses. Both servers are based on UCS TRC  models. Currently there are nine different UCS models that fit into this category from rack mount to blade servers.

UC on UCS Spec-based So what if you have UCS and it meets the minimum spec of your UC applications but doesn’t match the a TRC server build. CPU speed and or architecture is an example, this falls under UCS Spec-based guidelines. One thing to focus on when investigating whether your UCS box will support Cisco UC applications is the CPU architecture guidelines. If it doesn’t match the supported architectures than you may have to look at changing out your CPU or other hardware to meet the minimum specs.

UC on 3rd Party Spec-based The guidelines for support are  similar in certain aspect to UCS spec-based but of course Cisco does not validate, support or test the third party hardware. Also be aware that the customer must be responsible providing a licensed, supported version of VMware vCenter and vSphere ESXi.

So there are three major areas to watch for this category:

  • VMware version support. UC application version support for VMWare ESXi can vary but the version of ESXi also needs to be support by VMware for your hardware : http://www.vmware.com/resources/compatibility/search.php
  • CPU Architectures are specified and some CPU architectures my never be supported so this is a very important  to ensure you have correct architecture per your UC applications.
  • CPU speeds and total cores must match the minimum spec of your UC application.

This is really for customers that are comfortable self supporting their own hardware environment. As you can tell there are a few variables that affect the supportability of a platform so it will always be best to check with Cisco before you purchase or deploy on a third party spec box.

Third Party and UC VM Co-residency

Once you have picked your platform and decided what UC applications you want to deploy now you need to understand what can and can’t be deployed on the same VMware host.

There is a great document that goes into detail on what is and is not supported here. The basics are if a third party application is installed on your host and is deemed to be interfering with your UC applications it may need to be either removed, shut down or ported to another VM host so you can continue to troubleshoot with the TAC.

For some general guidelines here are some simple rules to follow:

  • Don’t over subscribe your applications, it’s a one to one mapping between your VM and your hardware.
  • Use OVA’s for your Cisco UC applications
  • CPU guidelines must be followed (speed, core mapping and architecture)
  • Don’t overload your network and ensure your looking at QoS design considerations for virtualization

VMware Feature Support

This has a few moving pieces but VMware features are well documented as to what is and isn't supported. Probably the most common features are vMotion, cloning or copying virtual machines and Snapshots. Depending on your applications it may or may not be supported but there is a good table located here to help you decide what feature support is available.

Replacing a CPU in a VMware host

I recently had a case where a company needed to change CPU speeds. So if for some reason you need to upgrade your CPU’s in your VMware host server here are a few things to consider:

    • According to VMware support guidelines ensure that the CPU remains the same manufacturing technology. If you are going to replace an Intel Xeon 5100 series CPU with a Xeon 5300 series CPU, even though the number of cores are different, but they are still under Intel Xeon 5000 series, there are no issues with replacing them. However, swapping CPUs between Intel Xeon 7000 series with 5000 series may cause ESX to function in an unexpected manner.
    • Ensure the same CPU architecture per the UC application guidelines
    • Ensure the minimum speed and core amounts are meet for your UC application for the amount of users you wish to support.

UC Placement Tool -http://tools.cisco.com/ucs

The virtual machine placement tools is very helpful in understanding how to map your virtual machines to the hardware.

The Cisco Collaboration Virtual Machine Placement tool (VMPT) is to be used AFTER design guides and sizing tools, and BEFORE creating a bill of materials, quote or configuration in Cisco Commerce Workspace.

It helps you visualize a deployment of virtualized Cisco Collaboration to simplify specifying the required physical servers and virtualization software. It is not intended to be used as a "design tool", "sizing tool" or "quote tool" that substitutes existing processes.

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Cisco Contact Center Videos

Here are some great videos that are good intros to Cisco Contact Center and also a Finesse CCE/CCX 10.5 update. For those that don’t know Finesse is the new Web 2.0 agent/supervisor desktop.

This is a great update on Finesse CCE/CCX  10.5 from Cisco Live 2014.

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Cisco Unified Attendant Console Standard

I have had a few different companies recently that have been asking for more information around the Attendant Console Standard. Typically these types of applications require separate servers to run into an existing call control platform. A lot of the time it requires a third party even for simple attendee console requirements.

Cisco Unified Attendant Console Standard changes that considerably. It runs against CUCM without any more infrastructure and has the same look and feel as other Cisco UC apps. It does a nice job of integrating into Jabber presence and also busy lamp field in the directory. For Lync presence integration the Advanced client is required but that comes with its own infrastructure and is also aimed at heavy call environment.

Standard is aimed at more of a department reception role or branch operations but could also fill the requirement for smaller companies . There is a limit of 5000 imported contacts. Dedicated operators with higher call volumes are better served with the Advanced console.

Below is the architecture used with CUACS, its really pretty basic. CUCM and pick your presence engine either CUPS or WebEx Messenger. CUACS also supports using Jabber as the voice endpoint even though from my experience most people working in reception/operator roles prefer hard endpoints:
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Below is a screenshot of the Console running on my Windows machine using a 7841 as the voice endpoint. It’s a drag and drop application so I can take current calls in progress and drag and drop them into the parked area. Makes this operation pretty simple.

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I could not get a way to load up my machine with calls but the stock shot below shows it pretty well managing multiple lines.

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Time for a virtual demo:




Attendant console isn't going to change the world and it is a standard voice application but CUACS goes a long way to simplifying it. By limiting the amount of licensing and servers its going to make lives of many easier when faced by a busy Exec Admin or reception area.

Resources

Training Videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3jC1gmgsRWPR4PLR2VWBhA?feature=CCQQwRs

Cisco Unified Attendant Consoles Hub
http://www.cisco.com/go/cuac

Product Documentation
http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps7282/tsd_products_support_series_home.html

How to videos
https://communities.cisco.com/message/152963

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