Office Communications Server 2007: Hands-On (Part 3)

If you missed the previous parts in this article series please read:

Office Communications Server 2007: Microsoft goes VoIP (Part 1)

  • Office Communications Server 2007: Microsoft goes VoIP (Part 2)
  • If you would like to be notified when Ted Wallingford releases the next part of this article series please sign up to the Real Time Article update newsletter.

    In the previous installment in this series, I described the architectural overview of Office Communications Server and explained the steps necessary to operate the OCS software:

    • Prerequisite software
    • Active Directory domain preparation
    • OCS 2007 software deployment
    • Initial configuration

    In this installment, I’ll describe how to get your first group of Office Communicator clients logged in and chatting. I’ll also show you how to perform day-to-day administration of the solution. By now you should have OCS installed and the Office Communicator client installed on a Windows XP or Vista workstation. It would be helpful, though not required, to have Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007 running on this workstation, too.

    User Administration for OCS

    Once you’ve got OCS installed and all the services are running on your Windows server, you’ll need to create (or modify the existing) users who are going to use Office Communications Server. Typically, this involves editing the users’ objects in Active Directory. There are other means of storing user information for OCS, but AD is the easiest to demonstrate and the most likely scenario for directing user community traffic in the enterprise.

    So fire up Active Directory Users and Computers and pick some user objects that you would like to grant access to the OCS. Select as many user objects as you wish. Then right click one of the group and select Enable Users for Communications Server, as seen in Figure 1. This will display a wizard to guide you through the essential setup of this group of OCS users.

    Figure 1:
    Enable users for Communications Server

    The first step in the Enable Office Communications Server Users Wizard is ‘Select Server or Pool’. If using the Standard edition of OCS, you’ll be selecting a server, as in Figure 2. If using the Enterprise edition, you’ll have the option of selecting a pool, which is a tandem of front-end and back-end OCS servers. Again, in this instance, we’re using the Standard edition, and we’ve chosen the example server ‘windows-server.wallingford’ from the drop-down list of available OCS in the AD schema.

    Figure 2:
    Select an OCS Server or Pool

    Once you have selected a server or pool, the following step allows you to specify the naming convention for SIP user names that will be used with the selected users on this particular OCS server (or pool). Your choices are the user’s e-mail address, corresponding to the one stored in Active Directory, if applicable, the user’s principal name, and two formats which include the name of a domain that defaults to the name of your Windows AD domain, as in Figure 3.

    Figure 3:
    Determine the SIP naming convention for users on this OCS server

    The fourth step of the wizard allows you to enable enhanced presence, a feature which will permit Office Communicator users to use more description presence notifiers than those normally associated with instant messaging (available, away, etc.). Using enhanced presence expands your options for dealing with the telephony capabilities of Office Communicator, such as call-forwarding and simultaneous ringing. (An external SIP proxy with access to phone lines—like an Asterisk server or a Cisco Media Gateway–is necessary in order to make these features work).

    Figure 4:
    User settings for OCS

    Once you’ve established all of the user settings using this wizard, you can begin using these user accounts with Office Communicator.

    Client Configuration: The Dos ad Don’ts

    Many people have a difficult time getting Office Communicator to work correctly the first time. If something isn’t set up right, then wiggling through initial login, certificate validation, and all the other junk that happens behind the scenes when you launch Communicator is daunting. So keep a few things in mind:

    • When setting up Communicator to talk to your OCS server (via DHCP or via the Settings option in Communicator), be sure to use the fully-qualified domain name (FQDN) of your server, as opposed to merely its hostname or IP address. The certificate generated for use by OCS is tied to the FQDN and Communicator will freak if the name isn’t exactly the same as the one in the certificate.
    • Make sure Active Directory-integrated DNS is working, as in part two of this series. This isn’t the sort of experiment you can conduct without Active Directory-integrated DNS running. That is, the DNS server on your home broadband router isn’t going to cut it for OCS.

    Running Communicator the First Time

    When you launch Office Communicator on your workstation, the first thing you’ll be prompted for is a Sign-in ID. Typically, this is your <user>@<domain> SIP URI designation. When you click sign-in, you’ll be asked for your login credentials, which, in this instance, consist of your credentials on the Active Directory, or your AD user name and password. Once logged in, you’ll see something similar to Figure 5. If the list appears blank at first, don’t panic. If you’ve never synchronized your address book to Office Communicator and you’ve never placed any calls or instant messages to other users, your contact lists will be empty.

    Figure 5:
    The Office Communicator Contact List

    Double-clicking any contact in the list will present you with a message window, from which you can proceed in two-way communications using text, voice, or video, depending on which icons you click. The icon shown on the far right of the toolbar in Figure 6 is used for sending files. Also included at the bottom of the message window are basic text formatting functions and a smiley menu.

    Figure 6:
    An Office Communicator Conversation

    When you click the video icon, your message window will show the video enabled by the remote participant(s) and by the local participant (you). Once a conversation is in progress, it’s very easy to include additional participants by clicking the Invite button.

    Setting up Voice and Video

    In order to make sure your video and voice features are working, you’ll need to go into the options menu of Communicator and step through the Audio and Video wizard. Select the video and audio sources you’d like to use and perform the sound test if you wish. Ideally, you’ll have a highly noise-canceling microphone or a headset in order to prevent acoustic echo.

    Tips for Testing OCS with a Limited Number of PCs

    This entire exercise was completed with a single PC tower (running the server portion) and a single Macbook Pro laptop (running two instances of Windows XP in Parallels Desktop). If you want to learn about OCS but only have one or two computers to work with, virtualization is the way to go. Don’t forget, you can also run Communicator on the server desktop if you need an extra client running.

    As an aside, I even tried to make a hack to allow Gizmo Project on the Mac to register with the OCS, but to no avail. A better illustration of SIP interop on OCS can be achieved with Counterpath’s free X-Lite softphone. Try calling one of your OCS users through X-Lite using that user’s SIP URI (user@domain). Just make sure your X-Lite client is using the same DNS server OCS is, or X-Lite won’t be able to resolve your Active Directory-integrated URIs.

    Desktop Collaboration and Web Conferencing

    In order to use Office Communications Server’s web conferencing facilities for desktop sharing and document markup, you’ll need to schedule conference time slots using Microsoft Outlook (2003 or 2007), not Office Communicator. While it would have been simpler to have an “Invite user to share my desktop” option in Communicator, Microsoft opted to make this a part of their Conferencing Add-in for Outlook instead.

    Once you’ve obtained and installed the add-in, Outlook will use the OCS settings from Communicator to afford you participation in web conferences using your Office Communications Server.


    Interoperability with other systems is indeed something Microsoft supports with OCS, even if they don’t overtly condone it. As such, you can set up SIP peers to communicate audio and video sessions between users of OCS and, say, a Cisco CallManager or Asterisk PBX. We’ll cover this in a future installment of this series.

     If you missed the previous parts in this article series please read:

    If you would like to be notified when Ted Wallingford releases the next part of this article series please sign up to the Real Time Article update newsletter.

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