- Implements comprehensive voice, video and application conferencing functionality, plus instant messaging
- People can see whether contacts are currently available by looking at desktop applications such as Outlook
- Complex to configure, OCS is likely to require dedicated specialists to manage it in large organisations
- Multiple servers are needed to host an OCS environment
Office Communications Server 2007, launched on 16 October 2007, replaces Live Communications Server 2005 (LCS 2005) as Microsoft's platform for unified messaging. OCS 2007 builds on the instant messaging, application sharing and person-to-person telephony capabilities of LCS by adding multi-party video and application conferencing and Voice over IP (VoIP).
The OCS 2007 suite is available in two versions. The Standard Edition is designed to be installed on a single server, while the Enterprise Edition is for use in a clustered environment. Organisations requiring optimal scalability and availability should go for the Enterprise Edition. We used the OCS Evaluation package for this review, and installed OCS 2007 Standard Edition onto a VMware Workstation virtual machine running a new copy of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 2 and configured with 10GB of disk and 512MB of RAM.
Client Access Licenses (CALs) are needed for any PC using the suite, and two types of CAL are available. However, the type of CAL is not linked to the version of the server suite being used. Standard CALs cost around $23 (~£11) per user and are required for all users. These cover instant messaging, presence, peer-to-peer voice and video calls plus file transfers. Enterprise CALs cost $90 (~£44) and are used in addition to Standard CALs to provide users with voice and call management, application sharing and multi-party web conferencing.
We found OCS 2007 to be relatively complicated to install. Although setup utilities take care of most of the work, one of them must be launched several times. Similarly, some typing of command lines is needed to check that the utilities have completed properly. Administrators configuring OCS would probably need some experience with Active Directory, Certificate Services and DNS configuration. Having said that, we had our test environment up and running in about a day, at which point we could use instant messaging and make and receive voice and video calls on our networked PCs.
Further integration with external systems is needed to make voice calls using the public-switched telephone network (PSTN). For example, the OCS 2007 Mediation Server is used to link OCS 2007 to ISDN lines from your telephone supplier. OCS 2007 also includes an Edge Server that allows external users to connect to your internal OCS 2007 systems. Each of these specialist servers must be run on a dedicated Windows Server system.
OCS 2007 also has several rather complex dependencies that must be available on your network. For example, you will also need Internet Information Server (IIS) on servers hosting OCS 2007 and an Active Directory (AD) Domain Controller on your network. This must be configured to run in native Windows Server 2003 mode — a fact that could seriously delay the uptake of OCS 2007 in organisations that have not deployed Active Directory, and in those using Active Directory in conjunction with older NT4 domain architectures.
We downloaded and double-clicked on the OCS 2007 Evaluation package, which after a few minutes placed three new directories onto our disk. One of these contained a set of web pages with links and labels to launch the main installation menu (above). This allows you to start installers for the Standard and Enterprise editions of OCS 2007, plus a Live Meeting client and a Conferencing Add-In for Outlook.
We opted to deploy the Enterprise Edition, via an installation wizard. First, this checked for the presence of Microsoft Visual C++ 2005 Service Pack 1 Redistributable and Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0. Both are required by OCS 2007 and were missing from our server, so the utility offered to install them. The tool did not check for the presence of IIS or AD, and so we needed to add these to our Windows 2003 Server installation before the wizard would complete properly.
Having supplied some information about our AD configuration, the utility went on to prepare an AD schema and configure the rest of the environment. At this point we were able to delegate ongoing maintenance tasks to various users.
We needed to relaunch the wizard to install the server administration tools, and again to install the server components. The OCS Trial package includes SQL Server 2005, but OCS 2007 does not include SQL Server, which must be bought and installed separately. At this point there were a further six steps to complete our setup. Most of these were straightforward, but we needed to create and install digital certificates on the OCS server before it could be started. To do this we loaded Windows Certificate Services onto our Windows Server, and then used the OCS 2007 installation wizard to request a new certificate. We also needed to add records to our DNS server so that our Office Communicator 2007 clients could connect to the server.
Next we started OCS 2007 and launched the administration tools for OCS and Active Directory Users and Groups. We found that as we removed users from AD, the OCS user database was automatically updated to reflect the changes. Using the Active Directory management application, it was also easy to configure users for various OCS 2007 options such as PC-to-PC speech and Live Meeting.
However, our Office Communicator 2007 clients could not connect to the server until we configured them with the certificate chain from our certificate authority. Although this behaviour could be turned off, it's a useful tool to help prevent unauthorised access. By this stage we were ready to run the automated validation checks which are supplied as part of the main installation wizard. The tests reported that our system was fine, so we went on to use OCS 2007 by connecting clients and sending messages.
For more on this part of the process, see our review of Office Communicator 2007.
Office Live Meeting 2007
Office Live Meeting 2007 is Microsoft's latest real-time web-based meeting/collaboration service. We tested the new Live Meeting 2007 client with the subset of Live Meeting 2007 features that are available in OCS 2007. We installed the Live Meeting client onto an XP desktop configured with Office 2007. We also installed the Microsoft Conferencing Add-in for Outlook. This update adds a new button bar to the Outlook interface, which has one button for scheduling a Live Meeting and another for scheduling a conference.
Using the Add-In for Outlook you can press a button to draft an email inviting people to join a Live Meeting session (see above). The email contains links leading directly to a Live Meeting session, so participants can join the meeting simply by clicking on the link. Using these buttons also adds an appropriate entry to your Outlook calendar, and Outlook automatically reminds you about scheduled meetings and calls.
Of course, all participants will need the Live Meeting 2007 client before they can participate, and the email contains a link to help people install it.
The meeting host — normally the person that started the meeting — has a 'Content' menu on his or her Live Meeting desktop (see above). This menu has various options for providing content to other people in the meeting, such as for sharing applications from host's Windows desktop. As host, you can also record data, voice and video from the meeting onto your hard disk.