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F5 Friday: Microsoft and F5 Lync Up on Unified Communications

Improving the availability, performance, and security of Microsoft Lync Server 2010 with F5 BIG-IP

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The word “consolidation” generally brings to mind these days a reduction in physical equipment, whether that physical equipment be servers or infrastructure. But consolidation can – and does – also refer to the bringing together of similar technologies in software to provide a unified system that better supports integration across similar functions.

It is the latter definition that has become common of late in the communications space, with providers and ISVs alike consolidating and unifying the communication and collaboration experience not only across functions but access devices.

Microsoft Lync Server 2010 now delivers complete presence, instant messaging, conferencing and enterprise voice capabilities through a single, easy-to-use interface that is consistent across PC, browser, and mobile device. Like other offerings, Lync Server 2010 unifies both the deployment and management of communications and the user experience.

But unifying software solutions can be challenging especially in the realm of scale and availability. Consider that you’re combining multiple disparate solutions, each individually architected to scale based on their specific functionality, and deploying instead a single, unified solution that must still support the same users across multiple communication mechanisms. And when one of those functions is voice capabilities, it becomes critical to ensure the availability of that solution. Without voice communications most businesses would grind slowly but surely to a halt. It’s very hard, after all, to call IT and impress upon them the importance of resolving a situation when you can’t, well, call them.

TACKLING the CHALLENGES of UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS

Scaling unified communications systems like Lync 2010 – like most applications today - requires a load balancing solution. Customers can use software based load-balancing such as round-robin DNS or DNS load balancing, but these approaches lack any means by which to monitor the health of the application or pre-imagedetermine whether a server node is responding to requests and they can be difficult to scale themselves. Sure, these approaches can “ping” the server, but that only tells you if the server is responding. This is an insufficient means of determining availability as the server may continue to respond long after the application is not. Even being able to determine whether the application is executing is not enough, as it may be running and responding but spitting out error after error. Kind of like getting a fail whale on Twitter. It’s a response, just not a good one.

Basic hardware load-balancers can check for some form of network response, but they have a hard time at application layers to simulate client application experience. So while special-purpose hardware and load-balancing does provide some benefit, the highest availability and best user experience for real-time UC communications is provided by a solution that is not only itself scalable but application aware. 

The F5 solution for Lync Server 2010 is BIG-IP: an advanced application delivery controller (ADC). With transport and application layer health monitoring, intelligent load-balancing (multiple algorithms, persistence, health monitoring) and TCP optimizations, F5 offers the best option for achieving the highest availability and scalability for Lync Server both at the server and site level. Site level resilience through BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager monitors, detects and responds to site-level outages by redirecting users automatically to available servers (and back again once service is restored). Integration with systems monitoring and management comes through PowerShell extensibility of F5’s iControl API for BIG-IP and through F5 Management Packs for System Center pdf-icon (Operations Manager and Virtual Machine Manager)

Microsoft is also one of the earliest adopters of 2048-bit keys for secure communications (SSL, TLS). Securing communications is an important aspect of a unified communications strategy and using longer key lengths assists in providing for the highest level of security possible. But that security comes at a cost, and the increased burden on the communication server can impact scalability and performance across all communication functions. BIG-IP can offload SSL and TLS functionality, simplifying the scalability by centralizing certificate management and improving performance by leveraging purpose-built, custom hardware acceleration to perform the mathematically intense computations required to support cryptography.

NOT JUST a PRODUCT, IT’S a SOLUTION

f5-msft-lync-benefitsF5’s solution for Microsoft Lync Server 2010 isn’t just a couple of products. It’s a complete deployment guide and associated application templates that are optimized based on extensive testing of the products together. F5 Application Ready Solutions are always thoroughly tested and developed in conjunction with the application vendor to ensure that the optimizations and core functionality provided are capable of providing the scalability, performance, and resiliency required of the specific application.

Microsoft Lync Server 2010 unifies communication, including real-time communications, which can be sensitive to variations in network and application conditions. F5’s deployment guide for Lync Server provides the necessary configuration settings for BIG-IP to ensure that quality of voice communications are not compromised while providing for the enhanced delivery of all other collaborative functions provided by Lync server 2010.


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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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