Exchange Unified Messaging is still considered a rather obscure product that not a lot of companies are utilizing. Most Exchange Admins aren’t thinking about getting into telephony and telephony experts aren’t used to looking at Microsoft for their phone system solutions. But Microsoft’s Unified Messaging product is a powerful tool that easily integrates voicemail and email in a single system that benefits both the users and administrators.
If you’re not sure if Exchange Unified Messaging is the right solution for your company, take a look at this video from Exchange MVP J. Peter Bruzzese and Unified Messaging Expert Jesse Ortiz to get more information on how Unified Messaging can successfully fit in your organization.
J. Peter Bruzzese: Greetings! My name is J.P. Bruzzese, and I am here with Jesse Ortiz.
Jesse Ortiz: Hello.
Peter: Jesse why don’t you tell us a little bit about the company that you work for.
Jesse: Sure. I work for Holland and Knight. It is an international law firm, mainly based in the United States. We have about 1,000 attorneys; about 2,000 to 2,100 total employees that we support here.
Peter: Very good. Now we are here with Jesse, because when I contacted Microsoft and said, “I want to speak to someone in the world of Unified Messaging.” I wanted to speak to an expert. They sent me to him. That is nice, because it is only an hour and a half from my home. I was able to come and didn’t have to take a plane to visit with Jesse.
He has an implementation that he would like to describe for us at first. How many people do you have here, and what exactly is your implementation of Unified Messaging?
Jesse: We are supporting about 2,100 users right now. Our implementation is currently running on Exchange 2010. It is basically our full voice mail system and also our integration into a telephony system for calling into Exchange to be able to listen to your contacts or anything else you need to do with the message or any other feature there.
Peter: This wasn’t the first voice mail integrated solution you have worked with before Holland and Knight?
Jesse: No, we used to have a legacy voicemail system, which is basically phone-based only. So you had to call in to get your voice messages. There was a PC client that we could actually use, but it wasn’t integrated into anything else. It would just let you play your voice message on your computer, but you had to go launch the new program and everything else to go with it.
We tried another integrated unified solution from another vendor once, about four or five years ago. It was a very unstable experience for us. We had a lot of problems with it. It really seemed like a beta product than a fully implemented solution.
We ended up backing off, going back to our legacy solution for a while and as we were looking for a new solution we ended up taking a look at Exchange 2007’s features at the time since we were running Exchange.
Peter: When you first saw Unified Messaging with Exchange 2007, and this was kind of funny; he was telling me his initial reaction. Why don’t you tell the fans here what your initial reaction was of Unified Messaging.
Jesse: Our initial reaction was, that it was a Microsoft product and “what are they doing with voice?” It’s not something you expected to see. Personally, I didn’t take it too seriously, because we had never done anything with voice with Microsoft before.
Peter: And then you implemented it. What was your experience then?
Jesse: It really surprised us. It surprised us once we got everything running, it’s been an extremely stable platform for us. Once we worked out all of the kinks with it. It just runs now. We do not have baby-sit it; it’s something that’s just there.
Peter: You had a legacy PBX that you had to integrate with. Obviously there is a couple of different ways you can implement Unified Messaging. One is by having an in-between voice over IP gateway. Or you can go out and purchase a whole new IP PBX for the implementation. You chose to stick with your legacy PBX and integrate with a voice or IP gateway, correct?
Jesse: That’s correct. We have a PBX in every office so revamping the whole thing or replacing them all was not really an option for us at the time. The cost was prohibitive. So we ended up using AudioCodes gateway to do that translation.
Peter: Which is great. Personally I use AudioCodes as well; I just love their products. That is nice that we have something in common there.
So you are working with it. You have 2,100 users that are working with it. Why do you think other firms and other organizations have not decided to utilize Unified Messaging, even though they have Exchange 2010 perhaps installed?
Jesse: I’m sure some of it probably still is people not thinking that it’s really an Enterprise product or something that they should be using for their businesses. Again, just the whole Microsoft and Voice scenario. I think that’s just held it back a little bit, because there’s not a lot of people doing it, so they assume that it’s not a good route to go.
Peter: That’s true. So reputation, of course Microsoft does’t have a reputation yet in this field. Perhaps the more it is deployed, the better that reputation will be. Especially when folks see a video like this from someone who has deployed it to thousands of users and is having no trouble with it. Like you said, once you deploy it, it works just fine.
Jesse: I definitely think so. The other aspect too that a lot of times they might not even completely be aware of, because Exchange Admins know about it, but the telephony people don’t know about it. And if there is not a lot of communication there the Exchange Admins are not going to do anything with it because it Greek to them and they do not know what to do with it.
Peter: Right, that’s true. And that is something that hopefully through articles and videos and things I am trying to do, at least educate the Exchange side. So, that the Exchange Admins are not so afraid of it and hopefully the telephony folks will eventually pick up that there is a new product that they can work with and be able to integrate with.
You have also had an opportunity to work with Link and to integrate Link into the scenario here. What was your experience with working with Lync?
Jesse: We did a voice pilot when Lync first came out. We were considering using it as a PBX replacement at the time. Because of our PBXs being old, their age, we had an initiative to go ahead and start getting them updated. As far as Lync as a voice server, we had really no problems with it and it worked very well for us. We ended up deploying it with a data center and also a branch office integration.
So we were able to test the fail over capability ability and high availability. It worked really well for us, except when we ran into a problem was the handsets that you currently get that were integrated into Lync. They don’t have all the features that our users were used to, so that put a damper on it and people just really did not go for it.
Peter: And you mentioned the phones, a lot of them are USB oriented and they plug into the system so that puts people off to have a phone that is directly connected into their computers.
Jesse: Yeah, that puts them off. And we also tried some that connected directly via Ethernet and were powered, or logged in directly to the Lync server. But they still did not have a lot of the features that users were used to.
So something as simple as a speed dial became a problem. So if their computer was locked, a secretary really could not quickly do something on the phone by hitting a button to one of her attorneys. She had to actually log off the computer and do a phone transfer that way, or go through the menus. It just wasn’t a quick, seamless experience, so they actually needed us to step back even though they were getting all of the PC functionality.
Peter: Well, that is good to know. Very good. When you say then that Lync is, did you eliminate it completely? Or are you still using in some way here in your environment?
Jesse: We are still using it for instant messaging. We had a OCS before, so it’s basically the next evolution, it’s a nicer looking client. It’s gotten adopted more than OCS did.
Peter: Right, very good, so it is still useful for the instant messaging and there is some video feature as well isn’t there?
Jesse: Yes, there is some video conferencing features that we are in the midst of trying to get that integrated with our room-based systems so you have that whole experience. You can have a phone call or escalate it to somebody’s video conference and join a whole call.
Peter: That’s great. Well thank you very much, Jesse Ortiz. We certainly appreciate you taking the time to allow me to come out and interview you for the folks at home.
I’m confident that in having them know more about the fact that Unified Messaging is being deployed in the real world. And then feeling more comfortable with that overall idea, that we will see an increase in the use of Unified Messaging. Not only with Exchange 2010, but in future iterations of Exchange as well.
Thank you very much.
Jesse: Thank you.