UNC311: OCS "14" Architecture

This session was really stellar, and covered a lot of good technical details. The session was so information packed that I’ll just highlight a few of the major new features or enhancements in OCS 14.

– The Central Management Store is a completely new feature that schematizes the definition of the deployment topology. What the heck does that mean? It means the entire OCS deployment topology and key configuration details are stored in a XML file. This XML file is replicated to all topology nodes, including Edge servers. This helps by preventing misconfiguration, enables topology validation, and will provide a more reliable discovery method for your OCS services.

– The survival branch appliance (SBA) is a hardware appliance provided by third-party vendors such as HP, Dialogic, and others to provide dial-tone functionality to remote offices should the WAN connection to the datacenter fail. The SBA is designed to be drop-dead easy to configure and easily installed at a remote location.

– Previously Microsoft focused on huge OCS deployments and typically required several servers to support all of the roles since some could not co-exist with each other. In OCS 14 the topology has been simplified and more roles can co-exist with each other. This is good news for smaller deployments as it will require less hardware. On the flip side, OCS can now scale up to almost unlimited size, multi-datacenter deployments, and provide global voice/video/IM support.

– Microsoft will release rich planning and topology build tool to help you size servers, see what roles you need, and help you better plan for your OCS 14 deployment. Previous releases of OCS have had fairly poor planning tools available.

– Like Exchange 2010, the OCS 14 admin tools are built on PowerShell. So anything you can do in the GUI you can now script with PowerShell. This got a round of applause from the audience. As a side note, the OCS control panel (admin tools) is now Silverlight based and no longer uses the MMC. This results in a great boost to usability as the MMC interface was clunky and hard to find all of the settings.

– Full RBAC (role based access control) is now baked into the product. Out of the box there are 14 roles. You can now granularly delegate tasks to the helpdesk, server admins, and other entities within your organization while protecting security.

– Monitoring of OCS has been greatly enhanced. Even with SCOM, previous versions of OCS had very limited monitoring capability. OCS 14 fully supports synthetic transactions, and a much richer SCOM management pack. For example, you could have SCOM run synthetic tests such as IMing between sites, placing voice calls and monitoring call quality, all in an automated fashion and get alerts about any problems. If you scheduled these tests nightly at say 4AM, when you come into work you could be alerted to any potential problems before users complain. You can now proactively monitor OCS.

– All roles, including media processing, are now supported on Hyper-V R2 and VMware ESX. Microsoft made many changes to OCS to support a virtual environment and better process real time data without packet loss. At this time no live migration with Hyper-V R2 is supported, as connections will be dropped. He didn’t mention if VMware vMotion suffers from the same issues or not.

OCS 14 supports very robust DNS load balancing. While this does not eliminate the need for a hardware load balancer (HLB), it greatly reduces the dependency. Apparently HBLs caused many support calls, so all OCS components use DNS load balancing in a smart way, even the client.

– PIN based authentication can be used for devices where a keyboard is not available. This is also good for a new hire onboarding process as they can immediately start using their hard phone by simply providing them a PIN. They don’t even need to know their SIP address.

In summary, OCS “14” has undergone major architectural changes and enhancements. Many pain points of OCS 2007 R2 have been addressed. Microsoft is now positioning OCS 14 as a full fledged voice communications server, including E-911 support. If you so desire, you can kick vendors such as Cisco and Avaya to the curb and rely totally on OCS for an integrated solution.

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