Let’s talk a little about Unified Messaging.

Those of you who use Lync Server 2010 know that Unified Messaging is an Exchange Server role, designed to interact with Lync. It’s what allows users to access voicemails left via Lync calls in Outlook. It even provides a decently-accurate transcript of what the caller had to say (called Voice Mail Preview).

Exchange 2013’s version of Unified Messaging is more or less the same thing. What’s different is how it accomplishes its task.

Unified Messaging Now a Component, not a Separate Server

Exchange Server 2013 runs in a different fashion than Exchange 2010. 2010 had multiple server roles, each handling specific functions (Hub Transport, Client Access, Mailbox, UM) on dedicated servers. A lot like Lync, right?

For 2013, Exchange has slimmed down. Thanks to stronger CPUs and better server architectures, it no longer needs to divide its functions so much. All Exchange 2013 needs is two servers – Client Access and Mailbox.

The former Unified Messaging role is now a built-in component, split between these servers.

Exchange 2013 UM Builds on Past Versions

UM still provides each service its predecessor did – voicemail collection, Voice Mail Preview, transcription, voicemail messages sent to Outlook, call answering rules.

The changes are beneath the surface.

Voicemail Collection: In 2013, the Mailbox server doesn’t answer SIP requests from incoming calls. Client Access does. Mailbox just receives SIP from Client Access when warranted, and then connects to the gateway (or PBX) to take down a voicemail. This cuts down on delays and collection time.

Voice Mail Preview: One enhancement here I really like – better audio normalization. Ever received a voicemail where it sounded like the caller shouted one second, and whispered the next? Exchange 2013 UM fixes these ups & downs in pitch (or “normalizes”) before it sends the voicemail to your inbox.

Transcription: Improvements to speech recognition make for more accurate transcriptions. Plus, you can tell Exchange to improve its speech recognition further by analyzing voicemail messages.
(How? Use the Set-UMMailbox cmdlet. Set its VoiceMailAnalysisEnabled parameter to $true.)

Voicemail Messages in Outlook: Exchange 2013 has introduced a Confidence Score, which gives a number to indicate how accurate its transcription is. If it can’t transcribe the caller’s message well, you’ll see a low confidence score (and the preview may even be omitted).

Call Answering Rules: You don’t need to associate a dial plan to a UM server object anymore. You just associate the Exchange 2013 servers to the plans, and they handle the calls.

The Value: It’s Still Voicemail, Just Better

With respect to Lync, Unified Messaging in Exchange 2013 still fulfills the same role its 2010 predecessor did. Collection/transcription of voicemails, identify callers, and maintain a contact store.

The value is in better performance on fewer servers. Consolidating roles between two servers makes for an efficient approach. Client Access helps lower traffic to Mailbox, so it can do its jobs faster.

Which is great for sysadmins; a (hopefully) shorter setup time, and easier integration with Lync Server.

What do you think? Is Exchange Server 2013 a right-away upgrade for your office…or will you wait and see how it stacks up?

Unified Messaging in Exchange 2013: What's Changed?
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