Editor's Note: The following MVP Monday post is by Exchange MVP J. Peter Bruzzese

Even after years of availability, the Unified Messaging role still holds a mystery to it. Many IT admins have shied away from it in many cases. Perhaps there are simply aspects to its design and deployment that, if explained a bit better, would open minds to its further deployment in the enterprise.

As a result we’ve compiled a list of 10 design and deployment tips that is by no means exhaustive, nor is it technically overwhelming, to help get you feeling more comfortable about the Unified Messaging role and get it rolled out within your environment.

Tip 1: Make sure you are aware and company decision makers are aware of all the great features to Unified Messaging.

Unified Messaging provides a means for replacing your existing voicemail solution through one that is already integrated with Exchange, providing for a universal Inbox. UM in Exchange 2010 is the second iteration of the product (introduced in 2007) with constant advancements to its feature-set. Features like Outlook Voice Access (OVA), Voice Mail Preview, Call Answering Rules, Play-on-Phone, Message Waiting Indicators and more, all make this less a decision of “Why?” and more a decision of “Why haven’t we done it sooner?!” It’s imperative that both you, as the IT admin, and your decision makers understand the built-in value to deploying Unified Messaging.

Link: For a full list of benefits: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb125141#benefits

Tip 2: It’s time to learn a little telephony. And time to retain a telephony expert.

One of the reasons some administrators have shied away from UM is that it immediately takes them out of their IP comfort zone and into the world of PSTN (public switched telephone networks), trunk lines, hunt groups, and PBX lingo. Packet switched to circuit switched thinking is a whole new world. Don’t feel you have to master every last piece of it. Rather, make sure you have a telephony expert or team of experts to assist you with careful analysis of your telephony infrastructure. Rely on the expertise you already have at your disposal with your existing telephony advisor or reach out for a new one, preferably one with UM experience.

Link: UM terminology: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee633462.aspx

Tip 3: There are only two ways to get UM integrated with your PSTN.

Narrowing down how much you need to know, it’s helpful if you can find pieces to the puzzle that are easy to remember, like the fact that there are only two ways to connect UM to your PSTN (shown in Figure 1). If you have a legacy PBX you might be able to keep it in the mix for a UM deployment depending on the type of PBX and if it is supported, however, you will need to integrate a VoIP Gateway to make it work with UM. However, if the legacy PBX isn’t going to work out or if you are starting from scratch and need to decide on new infrastructure than you will want to go with an IP-PBX. The goal here is to connect your PSTN to your internal packet-switched network that UM is on.

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Figure 1: Two options for integration.

Tip 4: Utilize the Telephony Advisor for Exchange 2010

If you do decide to integrate your existing telephony system with UM than you will need to know what legacy PBXs are supported. And if you find out that your system isn’t supported and now need to pick up an IP Gateway or an IP-PBX you will want to pick one that is supported by Microsoft as well. Not to worry, there is an online telephony advisor that provides information to help narrow your choices.

Link: The Telephony Advisor http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee364753

Tip 5: You need to know how to plan out your topology based on your existing layout.

You have options and it’s important to know what you can and cannot do if you plan on deploying UM in a multi-site environment. First of all, you have to have both the Mailbox role and Hub Transport role in the same AD site as the UM server. This may have you thinking that you need to make sure these roles are in each site with the UM servers and this is true if you plan on putting a UM server in each site. You can, but you don’t have to. You can add an IP-Gateway to each site that has a PBX (or add an IP-PBX to each site) and then place the UM servers in your primary site to keep the UM server(s) centralized. One item to watch for this to work is the latency. You need to make sure the roundtrip time between the IP Gateways and UM server is not more than 300 milliseconds. Of course, if that does happen to be a problem then you are better putting a UM server in the sites that cannot overcome the latency issue.

Link: UM server topologies: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb123925

Tip 6: It’s ok to virtualize the UM role. But there are caveats to be aware of.

In May 2011 the restrictions on virtualizing the UM role were lifted for Exchange 2010 SP1 and later. So you can indeed virtualize the UM role however there are a couple of things you should know. First of all you cannot install any other roles with the UM role if you want to have Microsoft support. The VM can only contain the UM role. It’s not that it won’t work with other roles installed; it simply isn’t under the support policy in place. In addition, the virtualized machine must have at least four CPU cores and at least 16 GB of RAM.

Link: The Exchange Team announcement http://blogs.technet.com/b/exchange/archive/2011/05/16/announcing-enhanced-hardware-virtualization-support-for-exchange-2010.aspx

Tip 7: Recovering the UM role isn’t a nightmare, but make sure you have custom prompts backed up!

The UM server is all about the service and the worker process. It’s not like the Mailbox server that has databases and serious data retained within. In fact, because UM dial plans, policies, attendants and such are all part of Active Directory you don’t have to stress too much if you lose your UM server. You can get a box back up and running with the setup /m:RecoverServer and you should be back in business. However, custom prompts and audio files, as well as grammar configuration files should be backed up to ensure a full restoration. Those elements are not saved in AD so you have to have them ready for a restore.

Tip 8: Availability and load balancing of the UM role requires more than just UM planning.

Like all other server roles, if you want to have the UM role more highly available and load balanced you will need to have more than one. You can add multiple servers to the same dial plan which allows you to round-robin the calls coming in from the IP Gateway, which provides load balancing. But remember the UM server is handling a service and worker process, which can be replaced by another UM server, but what you don’t want to forget is that there are many other elements needed to ensure high availability. The Mailbox server, the Hub Transport server, a domain controller, all of these can also be failing points for UM that you need to firm up and ensure are redundant. Your IP Gateway or IP-PBX can be another point of failure. So depending on how resilient you wish UM to be you need to be fully aware of the many elements that have to be considered.

Link: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb232197

Tip 9: Know thy language packs. They aren’t all the same.

Language packs provide the ability for the Exchange UM server to speak additional languages and recognize different languages, possibly even transcribing the voicemail left. When a language pack supports the full package of features it will include the following: pre-recorded prompts, grammar files, text-to-speech translation, automatic speech recognition and Voice Mail Preview. Unfortunately only a few language packs support all features. Some language packs have Voice Mail Preview while others do not. It’s important to know what you can offer persons without your company.

Links: Client language support for UM http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd638119

Download language packs for Exchange 2010 SP2 http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=28191

Tip 10: Know the value of multiple auto attendants.

For some who set up Unified Messaging and get it up and running within their organization, they may stick with just the standard Auto Attendant. But there is so much you can do with those Auto Attendants. For example, you can set up the default attendant and have that as the voice-enabled attendant but set up a DTMF (dual tone multi-frequency) attendant which is for those persons who already know that they are going to have problems with the voice-enabled one. So persons can dial it directly or, should they call the voice-enabled one and have difficulty with being understood the DTMF attendant can be used. Another option with multiple attendants is with language packs so that you can have callers choose another language and have them switched over to an Auto Attendant for their language. So don’t just stop with one Auto Attendant if you can see the value of more within your organization.

In conclusion, the value of the Unified Messaging role is based first on your understanding of the rich feature-set that it will bring your organization. These 10 tips only provide a shot-gun approach to different aspects of the design and deployment side to the UM role. Once you decide to go forward with Unified Messaging you will then need to learn more about the actual configuration involved. We’ll save that discussion for a future time.


About the Author:

J. Peter Bruzzese has an extensive record in consulting with companies like Goldman Sachs, Solomon Smith Barney, CommVault Systems, and Microsoft, to name a few. J. Peter is the co-founder of ClipTraining, provider of the ClipTraining LMS and ClipTraining Library, which is designed to assist users in learning more about Windows and Office. (www.cliptraining.com)

MVP Mondays

The MVP Monday Series is created by Melissa Travers. In this series we work to provide readers with a guest post from an MVP every Monday. Melissa is a Community Program Manager for Dynamics, Excel, Office 365, Platforms and SharePoint in the United States. She has been working with MVPs since her early days as Microsoft Exchange Support Engineer when MVPs would answer all the questions in the old newsgroups before she could get to them.