Executive Summary:

Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 makes implementing unified messaging (UM) easy. You can create the UM server role during installation, but you need to have the telephony aspects in place before you configure it. Configuration can be done through Exchange Management Console, where you establish dial plans, gateway connections, auto attendant settings, and enable users for UM.

Interact!
To view the screen casts that accompany this article, click here.

Disjointed services are common in network environments: email servers, fax services, voicemail services, and so forth. Unified messaging (UM) is compelling because it eliminates these services as separate systems and combines the methods of access to them. Exchange Server 2007 enables UM by letting your email messages, incoming faxes, and voicemail messages come through the Exchange server and be accessible through one Inbox—with Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 and OWA already available as UM clients. The benefits to users are obvious, but they're even greater for IT professionals because all the messaging components are manageable in a single infrastructure. So, let's take a look at the features Exchange 2007 UM offers and see how to implement them in your environment. I've also created screencasts showing the procedures described here, which you can access in the Interact! box on the right side of this page.

UM Features Explored
Microsoft calls voicemail systems “artifacts of the workplace of the past,” and with new tools being developed, such as Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 (both of which work even better after you install Exchange 2007 SP1), I think this assessment is accurate. We want integrated technology and a consolidated infrastructure. Translation? More features, but less hardware and software to manage.

Exchange 2007 UM goes a long way toward meeting this goal. Here's a list of the primary features available to us:

  • Voice and fax messaging—Incoming voicemail messages or faxes are accepted by the UM server and can be accessed through Outlook, OWA, Outlook Mobile, Outlook Voice Access (OVA), and other clients with an ActiveSync license. Faxes come in as .tif files and are put in users' Inboxes.
  • OVA—This feature lets users access their mailbox using a phone or through Communicator 2007 (and other solutions, such as Skype, as long as the PBX or VoIP system allows call-in access). Using either voice-enabled menus or a touch-tone device, you can listen to your email messages (the UM server reads the messages to you using text-to-speech capabilities); listen to your voicemail messages; or call your personal contacts or people listed in the company directory.
  • One UM server for multiple dial plans—The ability to use a single UM server to handle multiple dial plans reduces the need for individual mail setup in each office.
  • Calendar management through the phone—With OVA, you can manage calendar appointments by accepting or declining meetings, sending notices letting people know you'll be late, or making calendar changes such as canceling appointments altogether.
  • Support for multiple languages—This aspect of UM is really cool. You have menus and speech-to-text capability in the following languages: English (US, UK, and Australian), French (France), French (Canada), German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Mexico), Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin (PRC and ROC), and Dutch. If you receive messages from different parts of the world, in different languages, the system detects the language and reads it to you in the original language with the right inflections. You can also configure different dial plans so that calls coming in to the same UM server are answered in different languages—making even the smallest of companies appear global!
  • Play messages on your phone—When you have a voicemail message in your Inbox, you can route the message to your phone instead of being forced to listen to it over your computer speakers (in the event you don’t have a headset waiting for you to plug in). Just supply the number, and the message will go to your cell, your desk phone, or wherever.
  • The auto attendant—This is your personal voicemail operator. You can configure auto attendant to allow for directory lookups within your organization, or to route calls according to menu selections (e.g., “For technical support, please press 1.”). A caller can speak choices to the auto attendant or use touch-tone menus.
  • Administrative features—The UM server is connected to Active Directory (AD), letting you quickly enable users already in the directory. You manage UM features through Exchange Management Console or Exchange Management Shell. Support options built into the UM server let users perform common tasks, such as resetting voicemail PINs and recording voicemail greetings or out-of-office messages—which keeps users from calling you whenever they have to do these things.

Hardware Considerations for Exchange UM
When you install your Exchange 2007 server roles, there's a check box for UM; by selecting it, you'll install the features to your Exchange server. You can even make configuration settings through Exchange Management Console or Exchange Management Shell. But without the proper hardware in place, you won’t see any of the functionality. There are a few pieces you need to have. Of course, you might already have them in place, so don’t get that checkbook out just yet.

The UM server is just a standard server with a NIC—nothing special included or needed. However, for the voicemail functionality to work, you need to have the telephony aspects in place. If, like many Exchange administrators, you aren't a telephony expert, you might find it worthwhile to call in your existing telephony team or an outside consultant to help you get that system up and running. Now, you might already have a PBX in place, in which case you'll need to determine if the legacy device will work with a VoIP gateway. The gateway lets your standard circuit-based phone network work within your packet-based network—the device performs the conversion. If you're starting from scratch, you'll want to purchase an IP PBX and have it configured to work within your organization. For a list of supported VoIP gateways, PBXs, and IP PBXs, visit Microsoft's Telephony Advisor for Exchange Server 2007 Web page (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/exchange/telephony-advisor.mspx).

You can install the UM server role on a server running other roles (i.e., Mailbox, Client Access, or Hub Transport) or on a separate server simply by selecting the UM check box when performing a custom installation of Exchange 2007. Keep in mind that you can't install the UM role on a clustered Mailbox server or on an Edge Transport server.

Establish a Dial Plan
After the UM role is installed, you configure your UM server through Exchange Management Console. As Figure 1 shows, you'll find a Unified Messaging option under both Organization Configuration and Server Configuration in the console tree, each with different options for configuring server settings. Generally, you make changes to the Organization settings when you're dealing with issues that affect more than one server, even if you have only one server performing that particular role. You utilize the Server settings when you need to make configuration changes to an individual server. Under the Organization Configuration portion, for example, there are four tabs available: UM Dial Plans, UM IP Gateways, UM Mailbox Policies, and UM Auto Attendants.

To begin with, you need to establish a dial plan, which is stored as an AD container object that represents one or more PBXs that share common user extension numbers. Having the dial plan lets you establish extensions for callers and for individuals within the company, and also prevents people from having the same extension under the same plan. You need at least one dial plan to get your UM system up and running.

In the Actions pane, click New UM Dial Plan to launch a wizard that helps you establish the plan. You'll need to enter a name for the plan and the number of digits in extension numbers. So, for example, if your incoming number is 979-5555 and the extensions will be something like 9-5556, 9-5557, and so forth, you're looking at a 5-digit extension number. With Exchange 2007 SP1, you can also configure the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) type (i.e., telephone extension, SIP URI, or E.164) and the VoIP security (i.e., SIP secured, Secured, or Unsecured—the default); you might need to consult your telephony expert to learn the best choices here. Click New, then Finish, and the plan is created—not too difficult.

Set Dial Plan Properties
After you've created the dial plan, you can right-click it on the UM Dial Plans tab and select Properties. The Properties window gives you six tabs to work with.

General tab. This tab provides you with basic information such as the name of the plan and the associated UM servers and IP gateways. You can also choose options such as Send a non-delivery report if message delivery fails or Allow users to receive faxes, an option that is selected by default.

Subscriber Access tab. On this tab, you'll set greeting options. You can use a default greeting, or you can click Modify to select a customized .wav file for greetings, as Figure 2 shows. For example, with the right .wav file, the company president can greet people personally when they call. (Imagine Bill Gates saying, “Welcome to Microsoft” when you call the company.) You can also set an informational announcement; you can use the default announcement, which is disabled by default, or set your own as with the greeting. On the Subscriber Access tab, you can also alter the subscriber access numbers associated with the plan. A subscriber access number lets UM-enabled users access their mailbox through OVA. When you configure a subscriber access number on a dial plan, users can call in to the subscriber access number, log on to their mailbox, and access their email, voicemail, calendar, and personal contact information.

Dial Codes tab. Use this tab to set both outgoing and incoming dialing codes. For example, as Figure 3 shows, if you need to dial 9 for an outside line, you would indicate that here under Outside line access code.

Features tab. This tab lets you set options such as Allow callers to transfer to users and Allow callers to send voice message. You can also make changes to the Callers can contact section to limit callers to reaching numbers in the same dial plan, in the global address list, with specific extensions, within a specific list, and so forth.

Settings tab. As Figure 4 shows, the Settings tab includes a host of options for things such as dial methods, number of timeouts and retries, and language settings.

Dialing Rule Groups tab. Use this tab to set in-country/region rule groups and international rule groups. Essentially, these groups specify settings for outgoing calls. By default, UM-enabled users can't make calls to external numbers from within the organization, but only to other UM-enabled users within the same dial plan. So, you need to establish dialing rule groups with rules to configure the types of calls users can place.

Set the Gateway Connection
Next you'll want to select the UM IP Gateways tab in the Unified Messaging screen under the Organization Configuration heading. Select New UM IP Gateway from the Actions menu to launch the wizard that will help you create the connection between the server and the gateway. You should already have a gateway in place. You'll need to provide a display name, and then you can enter either the IP address or the Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) for the gateway (depending on whether you have DNS configured to recognize the gateway by IP). Then you have to associate the gateway connection with a dial plan. Click Browse to choose the plan. You might see an informational message that tells you a hunt group will be created to associate the UM IP gateway to the plan. Finally, click New, then Finish.

This procedure creates a gateway connection and a hunt group. You can now adjust the properties of the gateway; however, aside from the original settings you've already provided, the only other option is a check box that says Allow outgoing calls through this UM IP gateway.

You might be asking, "Well . . . what is a hunt group?" Essentially, these are groupings that allow a set of lines to be rung by a single extension. Callers go through their hunt group to find an available line. But what if no lines are available? In our example, there would be no other options because we've created only one gateway and one hunt group. But you can configure additional hunt groups and gateways to ensure that lines are always available (if they exist in your organization).

Set Mailbox Policies
Next you'll need to set mailbox properties, which you do on the UM Mailbox Policies tab. When you create a dial plan, a policy is also created, so you should have a policy here already. Select it, then click Properties in the Actions pane. In the Properties dialog box, you'll find four configuration tabs: General, Message Text, PIN Policies, and Dialing Restrictions.

General tab. The General tab lets you set the Maximum greeting duration (minutes); the default is 5 minutes. You can also turn on or off Allow missed call notifications, which notifies users with a message in their Inbox if they’ve missed a call.

Message Text tab. This tab lets administrators configure text sent as a result of certain events. As Figure 5 shows, you can supply text to use when a UM mailbox is enabled, when a PIN is reset, when a voice message is received, and when a fax message is received.

PIN Policies tab. As Figure 6 shows, the PIN Policies tab lets you configure simple PIN policy information such as the minimum PIN length and the PIN lifetime. You can prevent users from reusing PINs by setting an option for Number of previous PINs to disallow. You can also establish how many failed logon attempts will result in the PIN being reset and the mailbox locked out. Obviously, these settings require some thought (unless you have a company policy in place to assist you in deciding how to configure them), but you'll need to choose options that ensure a fair policy, without too much administrative overhead (i.e., too much IT involvement if your users keep forgetting their PINs).

Dialing Restrictions tab. This tab has two check boxes that are selected by default: Allow calls to users within the same dial plan and Allow calls to extensions. In most cases, you want to leave these selected. But you can also add settings to restrict or allow outgoing calls to specific rule groups; for instance, you could prevent international calls.

Set Up the Auto Attendant
The final tab on the Unified Messaging screen for Organization Configuration is UM Auto Attendants. You'll recall that the auto attendant is the guide for incoming callers. So, you can start by selecting New Auto Attendant from the Actions pane. You'll provide a name for the attendant and associate a dial plan with it. Then provide the extension numbers associated with the auto attendant and add those in. And you'll see two check boxes: Create auto attendant as enabled and Create auto attendant as speech-enabled. Select New, then Finish.

Next, you need to right-click the auto attendant and chose Properties. You'll be greeted with five new tabs:

General tab. This tab includes most of the same settings we provided during the creation of the auto attendant. One unique option is the Use this DTMF fallback auto attendant check box. Select this option to allow individuals who can't use speech to work with the attendant through a touch-tone device.

Greetings tab. The Greetings tab is another place you can set greetings with your own .wav files. Other settings here include a business hour and non-business hour greeting and an informational announcement to play in addition to the greeting. You can also create different main menu prompts for business hours and non-business hours.

Times tab. This tab lets you establish your company's business hours. You can configure the time zone and also add holidays to the schedule so that the system knows typical working days when the business is closed. You can even include a holiday greeting so that callers receive a special message on that day.

Features tab. Figure 7 shows the Features tab, which includes options similar to some we’ve discussed for users, but here they're applied to the auto attendant. You can set options to let callers transfer to users or send voice messages, determine who callers can contact, and so forth.

Key Mapping tab. This tab lets you configure connections between what users press on the phone or say over the phone and the response they get. They might receive a message, or be transferred to another extension; it depends on what you configure. Choosing 0 is reserved for transfers to the operator, but you can configure numbers 1 through 9 to go to any extension you like or play specific messages. Figure 8 shows the Key Mapping Entry dialog box, where you configure automatic mappings. You access this dialog box by clicking Add after you select the check box to create business hour key mapping or to create non-business hour key mapping.

Enable Recipients for UM
So far we've discussed everything from the Organization Configuration level. From the Server Configuration level, you can configure a few more options, such as the number of concurrent connections that the server will accept. Select the Unified Messaging option under Server Configuration, then select the UM server and click Properties in the Actions pane. On the UM Settings tab, click Add to register the dial plan. Then enter the number of concurrent calls and fax calls you'll allow.

Next you'll need to enable UM for recipients. Select the Recipient Configuration section in the console tree, then right-click a user in the center pane and select the Enable Unified Messaging option to launch the wizard that Figure 9 shows. You'll select the policy that applies to the user, and you need to enter the user's extension or have one generated automatically. You'll also set PIN options for the user; you can either automatically generate a PIN or specify one, and you can require that the PIN be reset after the user's first logon. Finally, click Enable, then Finish.

You could also perform this procedure with a PowerShell script—which would let you enable a grouping of users all at once. To perform the task through Exchange Management Shell, you would use the following command:

Enable-UMMailbox
  -Identity <em><email address here></email></em>
  -UMMailboxPolicy <em><policy name here></policy></em>

Although the code wraps here, in PowerShell you would enter the command all on one line. After you enable UM, users will have all the benefits of UM through their Outlook client, OWA, or through any of the other methods they have for accessing email—phone, Communicator, and so forth.

Feeling Unified Yet?
Even experienced administrators have been impressed with the speed and ease of implementing UM with Exchange 2007. True, there are many settings you need to configure to fit your company's needs, but you'll find it’s well worth the effort. For additional information, you can download a great white paper from Microsoft, "Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging" (http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/evaluation/unifiedmessaging/umwhitepaper.mspx). It provides some behind-the-scenes information about how your system handles incoming calls and faxes and how various features work. And if you want to see a demo of UM in action with OWA and test the new features, you can visit Microsoft's Web site (https://signmeup.exchange2007demo.com/exchange2007demo/Register.aspx) to register for a free trial account.