Book Review: +Power of IP Video, The: Unleashing Productivity with Visual Networking

Thought I would do something a little different. This is my first book review here on the blog. Hopefully more will follow.

The Power of IP Video (ISBN: 158705342x) is certainly not for those looking for the technical details about IP video but more about how using IP video can improve business processes and how to better communicate with employees using IP video. The book was generally well laid out and easy to read and does provide some great business cases examples from Cisco and other companies that have invested in Cisco technology. A large part of the book concentrates on Cisco Telepresence which is Cisco’s flagship IP video solution and how it is being used to solve business problems and lower costs by reducing travel as an example.

While the authors have done a great job of covering a great business cross section they are a little light on the details such as how much a company actually saved other than Cisco’s own business case. I think this book could have sent a much more powerful message on cost savings if Cisco had been able to release a few more of the details from companies other than just Cisco. For me the highlight of the book were last chapter and appendixes which talk about the green case for IP Video and more details about the savings Cisco realized by using IP Video.

All in all this is a good IT reference for decision makers looking to invest in IP video. It has a lot of the right information even though some of the facts and figures are missing. 4 out of 5.

Response to comments by CK1

Thought I would just do a quick entry for an interesting comment I received.
CK1 asked some great questions that I wanted to respond to and maybe others might like to read without having to pour through the comments.

Question: What do you feel is the right combo (if any) of Cisco and Microsoft UC (voice, video, conferencing, presence, federation, etc...) products? We have Cisco CM 4.x now but my boss is a MS guy and wants to switch all Voice/UC to Microsoft.

Answer: Great question and one that a lot of companies are asking at the moment. I think to truly answer this you have to look at where you are going to get the best technology for the best price while still getting the return on your current investments. Just because your boss prefers MS does not mean this may be the best investment to rip and replace. The Cisco product line has been around for a lot longer and is the mature product with a big range of hardware, but MS have done a great job so far to make the right investments in the right places and have shown true innovation with OCS. I think if your company has heavy investments in both products, then I think using current interoperability options and using MS for mobile users and Cisco for the desk phone is a good choice.

From a technology stand point it’s hard to make a clear choice in either direction if you are to choose just one. Both have their strengths and weakness and what it comes down to then is your environment. Are you best served to favor the mobile crowed that would prefer a strong desktop integration or more of desk bound environment where your customer prefers a hard phone. This along with cost will tell you what solution will fit in your environment best.

Question: What are the pros/cons of having a pure MS solution (Costs (hw/sw), reliability, scalability, Performance, Hard Phones?

Answer: I think that MS have done a great job so far with the release of R2. In a relatively short time the product has matured very fast. R2 has been a big improvement over R1 in nearly all the areas you mention. With the consolidated topology OCS is very scalable and reliable and should easily fit in most environments without too much pain. Of course larger deployments will always have its difficulties but that really comes with any software and its not always the software that causes the issues.

Cost is a funny one because volume discounts vary greatly but in saying that I think no matter what size company Microsoft have positioned themselves to be extremely competitive.

Hard phones (stand alone device and not a usb device) is an area that MS really haven’t hit the mark yet. The Tanjay is quite expensive at recommended retail and is not really, what I call the most ergonomic device to use. Although having your IM contacts on the hard phone is cool I think this area could be a pain point for MS when customers hard press them for more options. There are some other companies like Snom that are starting to release OCS compatible products but none have yet to reach the quality or depth that Cisco are offering for CUCM. On the desktop USB side of the house, MS partners are producing some great products that are growing in number which is why I like OCS as a mobile user solution.

Question: Also, my understanding is Cisco is to release a OCS plug-in that will scale down the design efforts for presence.

Answer: Yes they are but I can’t delve into the exact details. I think sometime in the second half of the year they will release more details on this and for a Cisco centric environment, I think it will be a welcomed improvement that will greatly simplify not just presence but call control if you choose to do it all with CUCM.

Hopefully this helped answer some of CK1’s questions, although I am sure now you have a thousand more. Please feel free to comment.

Response Groups Part 1: Basic Hunt Group

The next few entries I am going to cover the new Response Group feature that is available in OCS R2. But before I begin I just want to mention an odd occurrence with certificates and this service. Subject alternate names in certificates is important when trying to get this service running. If you notice the service is not coming up check the order of the subject alternate names. I don’t have the exact details on hand so I will follow up this post with more details but being aware of this could certainly be helpful when troubleshooting.

The basic hunt group is certainly basic as the name suggests. The user can call a DID or select the contact within MOC with no options or welcome message but there are different alternate paths should no users be online which depend on what the situation is, which makes the feature very powerful. I hope that I have captured the essence of the basic hunt that certainly makes understanding what is going on a little easier once we get to the more complex scenarios.

Tandberg Integration Continued…

This week I have been working with the video guys to get our Tandberg VCS system integrated to OCS. We have had mixed success so far with call control working but media failing when calling from OCS to Tandberg. We are waiting on Tandberg to take a look at some of our log information to see if they can shed any light on it for us. Personally, I think we need to move our version on the VCS to 4.1, which I believe, may solve some issues and make the integration work a little better. This may take some time to accomplish but for now, we are stuck with our limitations. Although TLS seems to work no problems, SRTP is an issue for the Tandberg side of the house no matter what version of VCS but I have heard a rumor that there is a fix on the way for this.

I had hoped that this integration was going to be a little tighter and easier to get working but it is what it is right now. This is an interesting thread from a VTC forum that I can echo some of the setup problems with this integration. I will update this post when I get any further.

Advanced OCS Dial Plan Part 3: Route Configuration. Regular Expression Madness

The last piece of the puzzle configuring routes. This is pretty easy if you are used to the power of .net regular expressions but if your not it can be quite a step learning curve. Lucky MSFT have provided a good tool with the route helper tool. This will help you fault find problems with your expressions and will provide assistance writing them.

In the example, things are pretty simple with some more specific routing for the some local Washington area codes. Now you may have noticed some repeated number patterns in there that accompany alternate routing provide through the order of phone usages. Of course, these repeated number patterns route to different mediation servers. Some may have noticed that the 911 pattern seems a little strange as well. This is because where I work we are sending the EPID attached to the number pattern to our 911 provider gateway to work with our location management system to provide E911.

Anyway, I will let the picture paint the rest of the story. I hope showing the different segments in this diagram fashion has helped improve your understanding of OCS dial plans. Next week I am going to be doing a similar thing with response groups and showing how the different response groups look when in diagram format.

Advanced OCS Dial Plan Part 2: Policy and Phone Usage. How to Alternate Route.

When you look at the OCS dial plan it’s pretty common to try to map what is occurring to the same things that happen in Cisco Unified Communication Manager (CUCM). For those of us that have dealt with both products it’s inevitable that you will try and do this.

OCS is little less granular than CUCM, which I do not mind at all. In my opinion, the dial plan in CUCM can be confusing and difficult to manage in the hands of the inexperienced in large deployments with multiple sites. So to let a bunch of Windows guys loose on a complex dial plan is asking for trouble:-) There are a couple of things that the MSFT engineers have done in OCS which mean they don’t have to be as granular as Cisco as well. The best one is no concept of internal tie trunks. In Cisco terms this is the inter-cluster trunks. This means there is no real need for trunk to trunk transfers or on-net trunking. Thank you MSFT. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a need to alternate route but it just makes it a whole lot simpler.

So let’s take a look at the example. First off a policy is applied directly to the user and dictates what phone usages that a user has access to. It also controls the users access to Simultaneous ringing. In my topology, we have created two copies of each policy, one with simultaneous ring enabled and one without. It really depends on what your current trunk usage is. Every call answered on a off net device generated by this feature consumes two trunk lines or DS0’s, unless of course the original call was internal, then it’s just one. With Sim ring, most users will only publish one number so the chances that your PSTN trunking requirements will increase are highly likely if proliferation of company cell phones in your company is high. Your company policy on call blockage will also play a part as well. So having both types of policies may be required depending on your traffic patterns to control its use.

Phone usage is where the alternate routing begins. A phone usage can contain multiple routes. It is in a specific order which is extremely important. The more specific the route for example 911 the higher in the order you want your phone usage to be. This is the only place in the dial plan where you have good control of the order of route selection so getting the order correct is extremely important. This is also where you can specify alternate routes for call route failures. For instance, if you look at the first two phone usages in my example, I have used to create a backup route for 911. This can also be a handy way to create a more universal route as a backup for local and LD route failures as well. As the example shows, I have a LD alternate for both my LD and local calling routes. Having a final route for calls is certainly a good idea even if receives low usage. Multiple sites can use the same final route so it’s a handy thing to have for route failures and traffic overflow of your primary route.

This example is not going to suit every company. You may want more granular control over separating local and LD, therefore you would need a third policy with only local routes and an alternate route as a backup.

Next week I finish off this series with route configuration. Till then happy alternate routing.