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Testing an Exchange Server 2010 unified messaging setup

Microsoft doesn't officially support virtualizing the Exchange Server 2010 UM server role, but that doesn't mean you can't run it in your lab.

Running Exchange Server 2010 in a lab environment gives you the ability to test its features -- including its high availability options -- before running it in production. Because Microsoft doesn't officially support running Exchange 2010's Unified Messaging server role within a virtual machine (VM), a lab is the perfect environment to properly configure and test it.

The Unified Messaging server role uses a third-party Real Time Collaboration stack that isn't supported for virtualization by the vendor at this time. That may change down the road; however, for now, there are two things you should keep in mind.

  1. This is acceptable in a lab environment, since you're just playing around.
  2. Many companies are using unified messaging (UM) in a virtualized production environment without any issues. Many companies, like Concord Technologies, a Seattle-based IP fax provider and Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 partner, are running an Exchange 2010 UM server off a Hyper-V solution without any problems.

Two dilemmas with running a UM solution in a lab environment are configuring and testing the telephony. You can install the UM role and create dial plans, IP gateways, policies and Auto Attendants, create them and test them using the UM Test Phone. But this isn't the same as hooking up to a real IP-PBX or a VoIP gateway connected to a production legacy PBX. It's a much safer, smaller configuration that will allow you to get your feet wet in the world of telephony without drowning you anything new.

What do you do if you don't have access to an expensive PBX/VoIP gateway or IP-PBX hardware, but still want that real-world experience with UM and Office Communication Server, if you're implementing a full unified communications solution? I asked several folks within Microsoft's Exchange Server and UC teams that question, and here are a few of the helpful tips I received.

Set up a Trixbox server, an open source IP-PBX solution that can be attached onto another VM, rather than taking up a server. You can also take a Tribox server out of the lab and put it into the production environment once you're comfortable with the setup.

You should also pick up a relatively inexpensive hardware solution. Microsoft recommends using either a Dialogic-based IP gateway or an AudioCodes-based IP gateway. I chose the AudioCodes box. I picked up one of their smallest gateways, called MediaPack 114, which was perfect for testing in my lab environment because it can interface with a legacy PBX if necessary. You also can plug it right into your PSTN phone line.

The MediaPack allowed me to:

  • Plug in two test phones
  • Configure extensions
  • Plug into my PSTN and IP networks
  • Configure a virtualized UM server running Hyper-V
  • Test every aspect of Exchange Server 2010 UM.

Call an extension to see how the AutoAttendant works, call your PSTN number from a cell phone and see how the call is answered and test that you can check your calendar from your phone. It's one thing to have an idea of how something should work, it's another to test it in a functioning environment.

By setting up and testing an Exchange Server 2010 unified messaging solution in a lab, you'll know for sure that you have what it takes to set it up in a production environment. You will still need a telephony expert to help you on the PBX side , but at least you can get Exchange Server 2010 running with UM on your own.

J. Peter Bruzzese
J. Peter Bruzzese (Triple-MCSE, MCT, MCITP: Messaging) has been working with Exchange Server for more than 10 years. His latest book Exchange 2007 SP1 How-To published by Sam's Publishing was released in January 2009. He speaks about Exchange at various conferences including TechMentor. His website includes 150 free training videos on Microsoft Exchange. He is currently working with Train Signal to provide an epic Exchange 2010 Training course that is due out this June.

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