Unified communications in your virtual environment


Unified communications in your virtual environment 

In our customer environments unified communications is like the coffee you get in the morning, it’s just there. There is no way you can design any environment these days without taking this in account. If however you look at what is possible and offered it’s rather shocking to see the limitations. At times I feel like we’re stuck in the 90’s still.

Unified communications

First let’s dive a bit deeper into the meaning of UC so that we have a clear understanding of what we’re talking about.
If we look the term up on the Internet we end up with a basic definition like this;
“communications integrated to optimize business processes and increase user productivity”
Of course it is exactly that, it’s communications to optimize business processes and increase productivity. So how is this done, what kind of communication do we see listed as UC, communications listed as UC are;
  • Instant messaging
  • Presence
  • Voice also including IP telephony
  • Video calls
  • Data sharing
  • Desktop sharing
  • Conference calls
  • Mobility features such as texting, whatsapp and so on.
It’s a vast range of features and possibilities that are more and more integrated in our daily life.

Products and vendors

There are several vendors on the market delivering UC capabilities, some offer a point solution others offer the whole suite of possibilities. I try to give a good listing of UC vendors, if I forget anyone let me know and I’ll add you to the list. This article is not meant as a comparison just to give a good overview of what is on the market in general and what to take into account when designing a solution.
  • Microsoft Skype for Business formerly known as Lync
  • Cisco Jabber
  • Avaya
  • IBM
  • Siemens
  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • Mitel
The ones we see most is Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya. Microsoft being the top player followed by Cisco with Jabber.

Support in VDI

The issue is that Microsoft does not support unified communications other than chat and presence in a virtual environment. For physical environments there is nothing stopping you to use whatever fits you but when going virtual it’s a different case.
This has been the case for as long as I can remember and it’s frustrating, Microsoft is not a slow moving tanker but a dinosaur in this field. The world is going virtual and they are still knee deep in the mud. 
So with the knowledge of the world going virtual with desktops for the past 8 years and the lacking support of Microsoft solutions emerged. Microsoft created a solution together with Citrix and VMware but more about that later on.

Solutions

Citrix

Citrix was one of the first to build a solution, they create a HDX optimization pack that allows you to use Microsoft Lync in a Citrix environment no matter what client you are running. support for almost any client you can think of is there, check out this link to see what is supported. The problem with this solution is that there is no support for zero clients, zero clients have no operating system and that’s an issue.
Citrix updated their optimization pack to 1.8 and now support Lync 2013 also whereas before they only supported 2010. I wrote something about this a long long time ago, read it here

Microsoft

Microsoft together with VMware and Citrix developed a plugin to supported locally running Lync 2013 in a virtual desktop environment. That plugin has been around for a while now and was updated lately to support the Skype for Business or Lync 2015.
The good thing about this plugin is that it is working for both Citrix and VMware solutions, the bad thing about it is that it is only working with Windows end points.
for information on the Microsoft plugin, click this link and click here to download.

Cisco

Cisco also has a solution that offers a voice and video in a virtual environment. This solution uses the Cisco VXME driver to cover that part. It works with selected Cisco Thin clients. As far as I could find there was no support for zero clients, the software has to land somewhere like with all the previous solutions.

Counterpath

So so far no solutions for zero clients to support video calling. I was looking around for support for zero clients and ran into something that was releases in December 2014.
Counterpath released a soft phone solution that offers soft phones for Zero clients. Of course it’s not a video chat solution but for some customers this might just be enough to start with. I haven’t had a change to test them out but sure am interested by what I read.

Working

Now you read a lot about solutions and issues, let me show you very shortly why it is such an issue and how everyone is solving it. I’ve copied a pictures from the Citrix knowledge base so all credits go to them for creating this simple drawing.
What you see is that two end points with user 1 and user 2 working have a direct communication to send audio and video over. Within their VDI desktop they see a representation of the UC client that is communicating with the endpoint. All they see in the VDI desktop is the graphics that is handled by the endpoint.
No processing power of the VDI desktop is used to manage the call, video or audio.
Both Microsoft and Citrix are doing similar things, of course there are differences but that like comparing one beer with the other.. they’re both beers.
I hope this blog has given some insight in where we are now, I will add more content if I see more content that sheds a different light on things. For now remember that if you select a zero client you are doing that with the knowledge that you don’t need videochat in your organization.

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