Monday, November 4, 2013

Some Cisco UC Basics, part three

In the olden days (read: 3 years ago), Cisco's desktop IM/Softphone client combo was called Cisco Unified Personal Communicator (CUPC). The experience was less than stellar.  In addition to CUPC, Cisco had an attempt at a softphone on iOS and Android called Cisco Mobile.  Nowadays, the desktop and mobile device landscape for Cisco entirely centers around a client they call Jabber.  You might remember a few years ago that Cisco bought Jabber, Inc (the folks behind the XMPP protocol).  It's only been in the last couple of years that Cisco has visibly capitalized on this investment, which has basically entailed a major re-branding and consolidation of CUPC and Cisco Mobile.  Jabber works on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS (no love for Linux, despite a ton of people asking for it, and the irony that all of the UC appliances run on top of Linux).  Do not be deceived, these Jabber clients are in no way the same code base.  A major shortcoming of Jabber to date has been a lack of feature parity between platforms.  That's getting better, but still has a ways to go until the features on Jabber for Mac are the same as Jabber for Android.  Another change in the move to Jabber is that Cisco switched from the presence protocol of choice being SIMPLE to it being XMPP.  That's a little ironic because Jonathan Rosenberg, the creator of SIMPLE actually works for Cisco.

The most exciting thing that Cisco has done in the last few years is purchase Tandberg. Which, as a side note, does give a clue to Cisco's primary innovation mechanism: acquisitions.  Tandberg had really perfected video conferencing through the firewall through the use of the H.460 protocol, which is H.323's solution for NAT traversal.  Basically Tandberg had these two appliances, called Video Communications Server (VCS), one sitting inside the firewall, one outside the firewall or in the DMZ.  The one internal is constantly connecting to the outside box over TCP asking if it has any calls for the internal endpoints.  If it does, then media and signaling ports are opened up by the internal box as requests to the external one, and magically the firewall doesn't have to have a bunch of pin holes added from the outside in (except when the outside VCS is sitting in the DMZ, where you'll need signaling and media ports opened from the outside to the DMZ).  Tandberg adapted this to work with SIP as well, so B2B video "just worked".  You would still have STUN, TURN, and ICE on the outside for endpoint purposes, but NAT traversal at the head-end works through this pairing of appliances inside and outside of the firewall.  Fast forward to now, and this coupling of appliances is going to be a major strategy for Cisco in providing VPN-less connectivity for the Jabber client, but also B2B audio and video calling.  If you're a burgeoning UC admin, I highly recommend getting familiar with the concept of SIP DNS SRV records and SIP URI's, because it's going to become more significant in future UC deployments, regardless of if Telepresence is in use or not.

The Tandberg acquisition happened around the same time that Cisco purchased another company you may or may not have heard of before: WebEx.  WebEx had created an industry all on its own around web conferencing, and with Cisco's acquisition, everyone stood around and scratched their head trying to figure out what Cisco's play was going to be.  So we waited.  And waited.  And then finally something interesting happened...Cisco created an integration option with their traditional conferencing platform, known as MeetingPlace, and WebEx for scheduling and sharing of web content.  MeetingPlace was a monolithic platform that required multiple nodes for audio, video, and web conferencing, as well as separate nodes for web-based scheduling.  MeetingPlace would integrate with CUCM via either H.323 or SIP.  So Cisco's integration between MeetingPlace and WebEx worked OK, but felt like an awkward blind date.  The integration was a little brittle, and the administrative interfaces didn't look anything alike, so it was a bit of a learning curve to juggle the two of them.  A little over a year ago, Cisco announced something that surprised a lot of people: Cisco's WebEx in an on-premise package called Cisco WebEx Meetings Server (CWMS).  This also marked a lack of announcement for another release of MeetingPlace, so the writing was on the wall that Cisco was going to sunset the MeetingPlace product in favor of WebEx.

CWMS is an exciting premise, because it allows for a customer to have a full copy of the WebEx platform hosted on their own servers.  The scalability ranges from 50 concurrent users all the way up to 2,000.  A downside to "on-prem WebEx" is that a lot of compute power is required to run even the basic 50 user configuration.  Also, the solution requires that VMware vCenter is deployed, which can add some complexity to the environment.  The full CWMS solution consists of an Internet Reverse Proxy (IRP) virtual machine, an Admin virtual machine, and for larger implementations (250+ users), a separate Media virtual machine.  For the smallest size installation, a single physical host can handle an instance of CWMS with an IRP and Admin VM.  To make it redundant, you add a second physical host.  As you scale up, more physical hosts are required because the processor and memory requirements grow quite a bit.  At the 800 user mark, the total number of cores required for a NON-REDUNDANT configuration is 80, and the amount of memory required is 116 GB.  At the 2,000 user mark, there's an additional virtual machine type for web conferencing only, and you are required to have 3 media virtual machines.  Total number of cores for a non-redundant configuration is 160, and total amount of RAM is 276 GB.  Ouch.

If you want to connect your video conferencing solution to WebEx, you might want to sit down.  WebEx was a proprietary platform when Cisco bought them.  So proprietary, in fact, that it took Cisco 5 years to announce that they were going to allow integration between their Telepresence portfolio and WebEx.  The integration was named WebEx Enabled Telepresence (WET), and requires a Tandberg Expressway/Control VCS pairing, DNS SRV, the Telepresence Management Suite (TMS) product, a Multipoint Control Unit (MCU), and some endpoints.  The downside to this solution is that you'll likely need to hold an IPO just to afford everything.  To setup a meeting, the conferencing is scheduled either through TMS or WebEx, and when it's time for the meeting all the local participants will connect to the MCU as well as the WebEx "cloud".  Everyone can see everyone else, however to those on-premise folks, the WebEx video will appear as a single feed and vice versa for WebEx participants.  The experience can be a little frustrating if you have a large number of people on WebEx video.  This solution DOES NOT work with the on-premise CWMS.  At least not yet.  

I hope this has been helpful to give you a snapshot of some current Cisco UC basics.  Let me know if there's anything you'd like to read about that has puzzled you, and I'll do my best to break it down.  Thanks for reading!

No comments: