Back to the Future Part II Predicted Video in the Home

That’s right folks. Well before Cisco decided video was the new voice Back to the Future Part II was already telling us home video calling was the way to go.

Just stumbled across it this week as cable has all three episodes of BTTF movies on back to back every night. How did Hollywood know back in 1989 that video would be in every lounge room?


What's your favorite classic movie prediction that’s come true?

Happy New Year.


Device Review: Jabra SPEAK 410

Since I listed it in my favorite things for 2010 it seems more than appropriate to have a review of this neat speaker phone. The Jabra SPEAK 410 has two great things going for it that I really like:

  1. Its compact and portable with a soft protective case
  2. It has some great visual indicators on it to show volume, mute, on hook and off hook.

As with all certified devices Lync picked up the device straight away and I was able to select it as my default audio device and begin using it. Super easy. The touch surface on the edge of the device is pretty responsive and works well even with my super dry hands which I sometimes have trouble with on touch devices. The 360 degree microphone works great and from everyone I know that is using this device no issues with dead spots with the microphone setup.

Time for some pictures. Below is the device after just being plugged in. The LED down the bottom shows it’s up and functional.


Next we have in a call.


My favorite, mute. Most other USB conference devices have a flashing indicator but this has a full set of red LEDs to indicate your on mute and the mute button is clearly indicated.


Lastly, changing the volume. This is really cool as well as most devices usually only have an up and down volume with no indicator of what the volume is. The SPEAK 410 lights up all the way around the device as the volume goes up. Very handy.


The only negative is the LEDs used as indicators could have been a little bit bigger but I am getting really picky since I found no other fault with this device.

As you have probably guessed by now I am a bit of a device freak and am constantly changing out the gear in my laptop bag. This one is definitely a keeper, well until something else perks my interest anyway.

Comments welcomed.


My Favorite Things for 2010

Just like Oprah, I to have a list of my favorite things. There are a few exceptions, I don’t have a screaming manic audience and I am not going to give away everything in my list. Last year about his time I came out with my favorite OC compatible devices. This year I am going to expand my list a little beyond Lync certified devices.

CX600 – Although Polycom and Aastra have comparable products I still have an inkling towards Polycom because of other areas they have to offer along with the CX range of devices. Not to say that Aastra hasn’t got a good product with 6725ip which it has, my personal preference is the CX600. One thing that has worked well in my opinion with the integration to Lync is USB tethering for both vendors. In reality I can live without a desk phone, but now that I have one (several actually) I really like the ability to use it integrated with Lync.

CX300 – Polycom hit a home run with this device which was also available from Plantronics. So not only a great USB device but some choice on where to get it. A great option for users that want a USB handset device to get more comfortable with Lync. Polycom got the nod this time just for being the first to offer it and a big involvement in the development.

Kinect – Not really a UC product (yet) but I love my Kinect all the same. Two things I am waiting on though are more game titles and the release of the Xbox 360 interoperability with Lync. The future of Kinect seems endless with what’s coming out of the open source community right now and whether Microsoft likes it or not it’s already gone way beyond the Xbox.

Polycom HDX – In my opinion the HDX has by far one of the best Lync interoperability stories for a video end device on the market right now. Mike talks about the HDX interop here with ICE/STUN and TURN which if you don’t already know about you need to talk with Polycom on why this is so important. It opens up so many opportunities for expanding collaboration not just to Lync clients but also other HDX end devices that it’s worth the time and effort to look.

Plantonics Blackwire 420 – One of the best Lync compatible wired headset available right now. It’s a solid headset that travels great and gives great sound quality. Has a soft travel case to boot.

Jabra Speak 410 – New to the market, this is a neat USB speaker phone. A compact unit which comes with a soft travel case, finally. ***Note to vendors*** -- if it’s meant to be portable no matter what the USB device have it come with a soft travel cover.

Ebeam Edge – As you probably saw in my last post this is a great collaboration whiteboard tool that can be paired with Lync. Although there is no current direct integration it doesn’t really need it to be effectively used with Lync.

UGG Slippers – What can I say, they are really comfortable and I agree with Oprah, they are great. Yes, I am recommending slippers, got a problem with that? I told you I was going beyond certified devices.

Things that didn’t make the list but expect to be there in 2011:

Windows 7 Phone – I haven’t got mine yet but will in the coming year. Plenty of my work peers have it and love it, even a few iPhone converts. Looking forward to Lync integration as well.

Calisto 825 – A new USB speaker phone from Plantronics. Even has a lapel microphone. Sweet.

What’s your favorite or not so favorite device for 2010?


Device Review: eBeam

I was lucky enough to come across this device a few months ago. The eBeam is one of those devices that you go “wow, I want one”. Even more so the case when you send a lot of time in front of a whiteboard like I do. When I first got a demo of the eBeam I was very impressed. It does have its own software suite of tools which has some overlap with Lync features but it can also be a great add on to Lync.

When you see most white boarding technology or smart boards it all looks great and works great but there is one big thing that will stop you in your tracks. Sticker shock. Usually whiteboard systems are expensive but this is where eBeam has a big advantage over most of its competitors. At around $900 (USB version) its price turns it into a commodity device rather than a capital purchase that most of these technologies require.

The eBeam comes with two options. First is a stylus option that can be used with a projected image. The second option is whiteboard markers with eraser that allows it to be used with any standard white board. Pictured below is the complete kit. Not very big and extremely portable.


The eBeam sensor and stylus shown below is used with a projected image of your desktop and basically turns the projected image into an interactive workspace. This is great for working with the white boarding feature of Lync. It also works really well with annotating PowerPoint slides .Further down you will see a picture of me working with a PowerPoint presentation shared with Lync and the eBeam Stylus. The stylus can also perform mouse functions with a button on the side.



The picture below show the whiteboard markers and eraser. To use the white board markers requires the use of eBeam Capture software, which when used with Lync can be shared as an application and works well.


How the eBeam works:

eBeam works by means of a combination of Infra-red and ultrasonic technology embedded into the pens, and an eBeam receiver to translate the movements of these signals and convert them into mouse strokes on a PC or Mac.

When an eBeam pen first touches the board it emits a flash of infra-red which is picked up on a sensor in the center of the eBeam receiver. The pen when being used then emits a series of ultrasonic signals which can be heard as a slight ‘buzzing sound’; this signal is received on the poles of the receiver. The eBeam unit then calculates the difference in time between the two signals and triangulates the position of the stylus or marker sleeve on the pre-calibrated area. The principle is not too dissimilar to that of a child counting the difference in time between lightening and thunder to locate the center of a storm. (Source)

I like to use the eBeam inside of a Lync session when doing presentations. Although the whiteboard features with the markers is handy I find the stylus with a projected desktop image using the inbuilt features of Lync to be the best combination. I mentioned some overlap with Lync earlier. The eBeam software does come with its own sharing and recording functions. I haven’t tried this out; I prefer to use Lync for sharing and collaboration because the eBeam software is focused mainly on the whiteboard experience which may present some limitations in a corporate environment. As an example it lacks dial in PSTN capabilities and video.

Combining eBeam white boarding capabilities with Lync makes for a unique experience which can also include video & audio conferencing, IM, presence and web collaboration. It also means if you have an existing Lync infrastructure there is no need to stand up a second eBeam infrastructure to get the advantages of eBeam.

As far as UC is concerned the whiteboard is the forgotten legacy platform. I often hear that UC is hard to define and it means different things to different people but I see no reason to leave the whiteboard out of the collaboration experience. People use whiteboards every day and I am sure that nearly every conference room you walk into has one. So think about how much lost data has been on that whiteboard. At $900, the eBeam certainly makes better utilization of the whiteboard a far more attainable proposition.

Here are some reviews:

Short preview of some of the capabilities
Longer review, steps through setup and use

Comments welcomed.


Lync Inbound Normalization Rules

Back in OCS R2 it was possible to apply a Location Profile with a specific set of Normalization Rules to a Mediation Server for inbound normalization. Why do we need to do this? To get inbound calls into E.164 format for reverse lookups against users Tel URI’s.

The same configuration is still possible but in a slightly different way in Lync. As everyone probably knows by now the Mediation Server went through a number of changes with Lync along with the ability to talk to multiple gateways at the same time. This means that instead of applying a Location Profile to a Mediation Server, we now apply a Dial Plan to a Gateway in Lync. Of course you do not need to go this granular but if you have a multiple site deployment you may require different normalization rules on different gateways. This might occur when you are sending four digit extensions to Lync and you have an overlapping dial plan on two different PBX’s connected to two different gateways.

Figure 1. Dial plan


As you can see in figure 1 I already have two dial plans with normalization rules but I still want a dial plan for inbound normalization for my gateway.

Figure 2. Selecting Pool dial plan


I think the new ability to define the different normalization rules really has some great advantages. I no longer have to go to each individual Mediation Server to apply a Location Profile any more for inbound normalization. I can see it all in one place. Here I am going to select Pool dial plan. I can also apply a rule that will affect my entire site rather than on a pool or gateway which is fine if you do not need to be so granular.

Figure 3. Gateway selection


Here I have selected my gateway. I could have also selected a Pool or SBA to have the same effect but this is not as granular as the gateway.

Figure 4. Create dial plan and normalization rules


I have kept my normalization rule pretty simple. Basically this rule adds a + to any inbound 11 digit number. If I had a PBX that only sent the last 4 digits of a number I could have appended the rest of the number in a different rule or altered the inherited rule.

Figure 5. Saved uncommitted dial plan


I have saved my dial plan just not committed it.

Figure 6. Dial plan committed


Final step I have now committed my dial plan and I am done. Pretty simple really.

Comments welcomed.


Kinect Hacks

Now, this isn’t exactly Microsoft endorsed but the KinectHacks website is interesting. It’s the beginning of an open source movement to take advantage of the Kinect any way they can. From sign language interpretation to other less upstanding activities for game interfaces (pretty sure I don’t need to spell it out) it has some great examples of what the open source community is doing to take advantage of the Kinect. One of the most interesting videos currently on the site is the story around the initial work done for Kinect divers. It took just 6 days for drivers to become available on Linux for the Kinect. Amazing stuff.

As far as UC related possibilities, the most interesting so far is the two Kinects working together rending 3D images. If you can imagine a conference room with a Kinect on each wall you could render a full 3D conference room and as some of the other videos show, you could potentially project yourself into the room. Very cool.

If you’re into technology then you are really going enjoy Kinect Hacks.

Comments welcomed.


Microsoft UC Holiday Spirit Integration

I thought I had seen some pretty cool stuff when it comes to integrating UC in to applications but this takes the cake.

LED Christmas Lights as IM presence indicators from Andrej Kyselica on Vimeo.

This example may not improve your business processes but it is a very cool way to show what you can do with a bit of imagination and Lync API's.

Now where are those Christmas lights, I got some presence to show:)


Cisco and Microsoft Lync Interoperability

So far there has not been an official release on Cisco and Microsoft Lync interoperability from either company. As things get spun up in the labs and official testing begins there has been some talk at TechEd and other events on what this could look like. I have also been working with customers and partners that have set up integration in their labs. In this post I am going to describe some scenarios and currently unsupported configurations that people could stand up in their labs to start testing. Even though the scenarios I am going to outline do in fact work, no support statement or interoperability documentation is available yet but I expect to see it in the coming months.

Similar to OCS R2 interoperability with Cisco Unified Communications Manager for direct SIP, Lync will still require MTP’s (media termination points). Sometime ago I wrote about using OCS R2 with Cisco deployments utilizing MTP resources. This really wont change all that much. You will more than likely need MTP’s for direct SIP. If you have a mixed environment it’s going to make sense to still have local MTP resources at the branch but there will be some things that you can do that will lower their use and improve media flows. The reason that this is possible is because the Mediation Server role now allows media bypass teamed with a 1:many ratio for Mediation Servers and PSTN gateways (Cisco ISR).

The Survivable Branch Appliance/ Server is a really handy device. Beyond just survivability for Lync clients in the branch its now opens up a great deal of options for trunking between your Cisco and Microsoft environments. The SBA/SBS is a enhanced SIP registrar along with a Mediation server. So along with survivability it now has new trunking abilities which make it a very flexible device both in the appliance and server format.

Many large enterprises have investments in Cisco for their enterprise voice gateway platform. So making a change to one of the supported SBA partners for Lync is not somewhere that all enterprises are willing to go. Fair enough, but what options can be achieved. What I have seen to date is (even though it is not certified) Lync can use a Cisco gateway as a voice gateway but with some caveats around SRTP, Media Bypass and MGCP.

-SRTP between Lync and Cisco’s ISR platform is not compatible. Even if it were, loading certificates and setting up an ISR to do SRTP is not what I call simple the first time around and a lot of enterprises may not care about using SRTP anyway. In fact most organizations do not use encryption in there CUCM deployments so this probably isn't a big deal.

-Media bypass requires changes to set the Lync client from required encryption to support when using the Cisco ISR platform. This can be done with PowerShell CMD that I have previously documented here and it’s a one line command. Pretty simple.

-MGCP. Since the signaling traffic is backhauled to the CUCM subscriber the router loses its ability to segment a T1 and provide the ability to breakout traffic at the router. So once you enable a T1 for MGCP you will need an alternate way to get your traffic to your Lync users via a SIP trunk from the subscriber. Using SIP you could potential send inbound calls directly to the SBS and eliminate some complex routing and lower MTP use. MGCP has its pluses and minus. In a mixed environment where you may want direct trunking to your Cisco voice gateways from the SBS it limits your choices. Lucky when a WAN failure takes place the router fails back to SRST and h323 by default freeing MGCP’s grip on the routers resources, so that may bring some solace.

That being said, dual environments usually come about because of a preexisting Cisco IPT environment and introducing Lync on top of it to add UC. This is very common. Below I have outlined what this could look like with Lync. This deployment example is about maximum use of resources with multiple routes for fail over between the two environments. This setup will allow Lync to be used for conferencing and softphone (or IP standalone hard phone if your plan is to eventually replace Cisco) deployments alongside you existing Cisco environment. Now you could make this deployment much simpler and sometimes simpler is better but this diagram is about showing you full options.

Figure 1: The Setup


I think it’s important to point out a few differences between the SBA and SRST. Cisco and Microsoft have different approaches here and I am not saying one is better than another; they are just inherently different in the way that the branch is designed which is important to understand. Firstly the SBA is the primary registrar for remote clients in Lync. SRST on the other hand functions in the opposite way with the Cisco SRST router being more of the secondary registrar only being used in the case of a WAN failure. This means all signaling traffic for a SCCP or SIP Cisco IP phone flows back to the central site when the WAN is available. The SBA/SBS on the other hand can handle call routing locally when the WAN is or is not available. The SBA dial plan is also centrally managed, SRST on the other hand requires some configuration on the router for failback mode whether your phones are using SCCP or SIP. Even though I have shown my diagram using SCCP for the phone signaling it could just as easily be SIP.

Cisco is not a SBA partner and does not currently support the SBA in their Cisco router platform. Therefore it does require a separate SBS server to accommodate remote Lync clients in the branch if disaster recovery is a requirement when using Cisco ISR gateways. If DR is not required you can do away with having any device or appliance in the branch and just have a Cisco gateway.

With that said, I have drawn the CUCM cluster with a SIP trunk to the SBS in the branch along with a direct SIP trunk from the SBA to the gateway. This adds some redundancy and efficiencies which I will get to in following diagrams.

Figure 2: Local inbound and outbound Lync calling- Direct to Cisco gateway


Figure 2 is one of the efficiencies I was talking about. Combining the ability to do Media-Bypass, Enhanced Registrar and the Mediation Server role of the SBS direct routing to the Cisco Gateway is greatly simplified. As well as the ability to do translations on the Mediation server in case E.164 is not part of your current Cisco design. In this case direct inbound and outbound calls from Lync Clients registered with the SBS can go directly to the Cisco router using G.711. This is a key scenario if you desire local DID access for Lync clients at remote sites.

Figure 3: Local inbound and outbound Lync calling- Remote Lync Client to Remote Cisco IP phone


Figure 3 shows how using a direct SIP trunk from the CUCM to the SBS makes a lot of sense. In this scenario I am able to dedicate MTP resources just for the purposes of SIP trunking between the two environments. Ideally you want local MTP resources to remove the need to trombone media streams over the WAN. You will also notice the media stream is direct between the Lync client and the MTP using G.711. Unlike the SBS the SRST router is not actively processing calls until a WAN outage so the Cisco IP phone will ship call signaling back to the CUCM subscriber.

Figure 4: Local inbound and outbound Lync calling- Central Lync Client to Central Cisco IP phone


Figure 4 is really pretty simple. Using the collocated Mediation Server on the SE or EE Pool we can have direct media between the MTP and Lync client using G.711 codec and Sip trunking between the two environments. Any number translations required could occur on the collocated Mediation Server before entering the Cisco environment.

Figure 5: Remote Lync Client to Central Cisco IP phone with no Media Bypass


Figure 5 now becomes a little tricky depending on call routing for Remote users. You obviously have two options for call routing. Firstly you could route locally across the SIP trunk between the SBS and the CUCM deployment but I have chosen to take a slightly different route utilizing central resources and using RTAudio over the WAN with CAC and to conserve bandwidth with RTAudio back to the central site. I could use Media Bypass for PSTN/Cisco calls but this would limit CAC and reroute over the PSTN options should my WAN overloaded.

Figure 6: Remote Lync Client to Remote Cisco IP phone with Media Bypass During WAN outage


Figure 6 is an untested theory I have about the ability to have the two environments talk to one another during a WAN outage. The Cisco router along with providing registration when in SRST mode for Cisco IP phones should also be able to make SIP-SIP or SIP-H323 functionality enabling the isolated branch to continue processing internal calls. The only caveat I would consider is that this will require media to flow through the Cisco ISR. Like I said this is an untested theory. Feel free to give it a try.

Comments welcomed.


Survivable Branch Appliance Failover Mode: Client Experience

Lync’s new Survivable Branch Appliance is a hot topic and while I am not going to cover the entire solution in one post I just wanted to touch on one area. What happens to the client experience when the WAN goes down? By far the most common question I get around SBA functionality.


Firstly, the most obvious is the big red banner across the client. Although these screen shots are from the beta, the behavior and look for this feature is still the same with RTM. The end user has a clear indicator that there is something going on. Secondly contacts and presence have disappeared. The example screen shot shows that once in failover mode even though contacts are gone you can still search the address book. In this case if Marcos is registered with the same SBA device, Mark can still do peer to peer IM/Presence, audio, video etc. though the Lync client. If Marcos is registered elsewhere Mark can still make outbound calls from Lync through the default PSTN gateway that is configured on the SBA. So voice is still available for PSTN calls.


Above is a great breakdown of what is and is not available during a WAN outage. The most critical feature that is maintained is voice. The user can also still reach and host conference calls through the PSTN although the interface to control the conference will be through the DTMF interface.

Comments welcomed.


Device Review: Kinect for Xbox 360

I don’t usually review gaming console attachments but I think Kinect has big potential in the UC space and in conjunction with Lync has a long future beyond gaming. I have had a Kinect about three weeks now and it is an exciting product for a number of reasons. Besides from playing the initial launch games I have had a chance to tryout the current video offering with Live Messenger which has some interesting features.

First and foremost for now the Kinect is a gaming console attachment. The marketing line “You are the controller” is precisely what it is. Although the ability to control the console outside the bound of the Kinect Hub is limited, both the voice and movement controls work fairly well. What I like is that I don’t have to go looking for a controller once I am in there. I can just put it down and forget about it.

The games so far are more aimed at the casual gamer. The best title around at the moment is Dance Central. It really is a lot of fun and surprisingly very accurate for scoring your moves. Obviously as you go from easy to hard settings you need to be more precise with your moves but it is never so picky that it takes away from the fun of the game. If you’re a spectator watching someone else play its easy just to watch the screen and miss what the person playing is doing, which is way more entertaining than the screen. Having held our first Kinect neighborhood block party last weekend Dance Central got the big thumbs up among the 10 adults that played it. 2 people at the party went out the next day to get a Kinect just for Dance Central.

I have managed to try a fair swag of the available titles and to be honest some won’t hold you attention very long if your older than 12. One of the most underrated games though is Fighters Uncaged. I really like this game but it does have some feature limitations around multiplayer capability. There is none. It can get a little repetitive having to fight the same fighters but it’s a great workout and still a lot of fun. Not great for a party as it gets boring for everyone watching pretty quick but great for the one person duke outs.

Kinect Video is really pretty cool. I like the ability for the platform to automatically zoom out as more people come into the picture. It’s a great extension that has a lot of potential applications for organizations trying to better interact with consumers. To me, its inexpensive innovations like this that will really take video to the next level by embedding it into your life style. Combine that with the ability to reach into the enterprise and its taking video on a new level.

There is already a lot of speculation around on the internet about the use of Kinect with Windows and some developers have already started down that path without Microsoft. Microsoft purposefully left the USB interface to Kinect open so that developers could see what they could do and there are a couple of simple demos out there of people that have already started doing some simple stuff and developing drivers for Windows 7.


Lync interoperability was demoed at the Lync World Wide Launch but as yet there is no date for the Xbox upgrade that will allow it. I expect it to be pretty soon. Although the idea of having Kinect video through Xbox to Lync is very cool, I think native integration to Windows and having Kinect as a video endpoint (similar to a webcam) for Lync is much more interesting. Things like automatic video adjustment of how many people in the room, voice control of Lync, automatic face recognition etc. Once the drivers are more commonly available for Windows I am sure this will follow and it’s a great opportunity for partners to do some really cool integration and development.


This is an important piece of technology that takes a complex, once expensive piece of hardware and brings it to the masses. Although the hardcore gaming fans are probably not that impressed yet with the game titles available I think that will change. As the more hardcore titles appear I think the real potential of the gaming platform will be unlocked and Kinect will be the motion based controller to beat, if its not already. On the UC front we have only seen a glimpse what Kinect can do with Live and Lync video interoperability. The bigger and grander UC vision for Kinect will only be limited by the developers working on the platform once the drivers for Windows are available.

Other content on Kinect

Kinect for Xbox 360 versus Cisco Umi