Microsoft Lync Server 2013 does a commendable job building on the features introduced in Lync Server 2010, making the transition to this new version compelling for IT managers and unified communications (UC) implementers. Like its predecessor, Lync Server 2013 provides support for enterprise IM, presence, and conferencing, with direct integration to the Microsoft Office suite of applications. (In case you’re unfamiliar with Lync, presence is a feature that displays a user’s availability, willingness to communicate, and contact information.)
There are several significant architectural changes that simplify the deployment of Lync Server 2013, with one of the biggest being server role consolidation. I’ll discuss the server role changes as well as other changes to Lync Server 2013’s topology. I’ll also discuss other noteworthy enhancements made to the:
- Persistent chat
- Lync Web app
- Role-based access control (RBAC) feature
- Enterprise voice features
- Disaster recovery and high-availability improvements
- Conferencing features
Topology changes: Rather than having separate server roles for monitoring and archiving (as Lync 2010 did), Microsoft has moved both roles into the Front End Server role as optional features. The A/V Conferencing Server is always located with the Front End role as well, and the Director role is no longer “recommended” but optional; Microsoft says you can “safely exclude the Director with confidence that the Front End Servers will provide the same services in their place.”
Persistent chat: Formerly known as group chat, this new server role has several components: PresistentChatService, PersistentChatStore, and PersistentChatComplianceStore. “Persistent” means a history of the chat session is retained, so users can jump into a chat room and get up to speed with the conversation that has already taken place. Some people suspect this could be a replacement for email distribution lists by providing a constant, updated message repository (like a wiki). The administration tools are integrated with the Lync Server control panel and include PowerShell cmdlets.
Lync Web app: A new version of Lync Web app has full conference support. Stephen McCassey, a Lync instructor at New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, says this is one of his favorite features because it makes it easier for users without the Lync client to join meetings via their browsers, with support for both audio and video. As a result, the Lync Attendee client is gone, which means there’s one fewer client for IT to manage.
RBAC additions: The role-based administrator console adds the Persistent Chat Manager role to support the new persistent chat capability. RBAC also reintroduces the Response Group Manager role for managing response group queues — a feature found in Office Communication Server 2007 R2 but dropped in Lync 2010.
Enterprise voice features: Lync Server 2013 has many new routing features designed to improve enterprise voice, such as support for multiple trunks between mediation servers and gateways, as well as intertrunk routing to let Lync Server act as a go-between among different phone systems, such as to connect an IP-PBX and a PSTN gateway. Other enterprise voice features include manager/delegate simultaneous ringing (multiple designated phones ring at the same time), voicemail escape (which lets business calls on personal lines pass through to corporate voicemail), and caller ID presentation.
Disaster recovery and high-availability improvements: Server pools with redundant roles running are still the primary method for providing high availability of Lync services, just as in Lync 2010. However, you can now pair front-end pools in different data centers; if one pool goes down, the administrator can fail over to the other pool. Likewise, you can provide back-end server availability through SQL mirroring for the Lync databases.
Conferencing features: Lync Server 2013 introduces many new and updated features that enhance conferencing. The updated Join launcher now validates each meeting before launching a client. It supports opening a meeting in the following clients:
- Windows 8
- Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 10
- Windows Phone 7
- Google Android devices
- Apple iOS devices
Lync Server 2013 supports HD video. Users can experience resolutions up to HD 1080P in two-party calls and multiparty conferences. The H.264 video codec is the default for encoding video on Lync 2013 clients. It supports a greater range of resolutions and frame rates, and improves video scalability. It also allows a more adaptive approach for the Lync infrastructure to render and mix HD resolution to clients.
Other features in and improvements to Lync Server 2013 include:
- Support for HD resolution up to 1080p. Also, the H.264 video codec is the default for video encoding, which brings with it greater flexibility for resolutions, frame rates, and scalability.
- IPv6 is fully supported, in addition to support for IPv4. You can go dual-stack (IPv4 and IPv6) if you like.
- Hybrid deployment support for on-premise and hosted (cloud-based) Lync is supported.
- There’s a unified contact store with Exchange Server 2013, as well as the ability to use high-resolution photos for your contacts.
- Archiving integration lets Lync works with the Legal Hold feature in Exchange for compliance and e-discovery needs.