The Microsoft Lync Server technical community is full of knowledgeable IT professionals who work tirelessly to share their wealth of experience and expertise with the world. They blog, tweet, deliver presentations, and answer questions in the forums to help foster expert knowledge for administrators and IT Pros in every corner of the globe.

In mid-2011, I decided to use my own blog, Justin Morris on UC, to interview and learn from these noteworthy individuals who consistently go the extra mile to help all of us better understand Microsoft Lync Server. For the fourth installment in the series on NextHop, I interviewed community stalwart and Lync MVP, Elan Shudnow, from CDW to find out how he got into IT and why he loves Microsoft Lync.

Author: Justin Morris

Publication date: May 2, 2012

Product version: Lync Server 2010

What's your technical background? How did you end up where you are today?

My technical background started when I was a little kid. I started building computers when Microsoft Windows 95 launched. I have built my own computers ever since and am in fact building a new lab server at the time of this interview to ensure I can bring you guys some awesome deployment step-by-step articles for Exchange 15 and Lync 15.

As I grew up, I had a friend who went for his A+ certification and it really intrigued me. I started reading A+ books and passed the exam. I then moved on to Network+ and passed that exam as well. After that, I started working in help desk and eventually started supporting servers, which consisted mostly of user administration. I then decided to go to college and get a degree with a focus in Information Technology. Since then, I’ve been consulting for Microsoft Exchange, Office Communications Server, Lync Server, Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA), Forefront Threat Management Gateway, Active Directory, Lotus Notes Migrations, and more.

Can you tell us what your position at CDW entails?

I have been a consultant at CDW since June of 2006. My current position is Senior Microsoft Consultant on our Microsoft Unified Communications practice. My primary focus is Lync Server and Exchange Server consulting. I also work on Forefront Threat Management Gateway, Active Directory, Notes to Exchange migrations, and lots more. I have been very happy in my time at CDW, which is why I am still a CDW employee. The benefits are great, the corporate attitude is great, the work/life balance is great. I love my job and the people I work with.

Introducing Elan Shudnow

What made you get into UC and specialize in Lync Server?

I have always been a Microsoft fan. And I have always been interested in Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). Because of that, I had a natural progression into working with SMTP servers. And because I was a fan of Microsoft and SMTP, I fell in love with Exchange as soon as I got my hands on it. Exchange consultants often pick up Lync knowledge. I am one of those Exchange consultants.

I have been working on Live Communications Server, Office Communications Server, and Lync Server for quite a number of years and have really enjoyed watching the product evolve into an amazing communication platform that can provide IM, Presence, Web Conferencing, Audio/Video, and Telephony capabilities, as well as integration into many different video conferencing systems and third-party applications.

Lync introduced many great new capabilities, and I’ve really enjoyed working with the product. Every client I’ve worked with so far who has deployed Communications Server or Lync Server has liked it. In fact, most of the pilots I work on quickly turn into full-blown deployments due to the excellent user acceptance of the product. Everyone loves it and so do I! I’m really looking forward to the next version of Lync.

What's your favorite thing about Lync?

The fact that it increases productivity a ton and makes my work life a lot easier! The ability to see someone’s presence and/or Free/Busy status and then choose to either IM them, start an audio call with them, start a video call with them, or call one of their phone numbers is an amazing capability. I spend less time waiting on people, and therefore I can execute the tasks I need to do at a faster rate, which in return allows me to start working on other tasks faster.

What was the most challenging Live Communications Server/Office Communications Server/Lync Server problem you ever solved?

There is a file called the Address Book normalization file that began in Office Communications Server 2007. It allows you to take numbers in Active Directory and Outlook and ensure the Communicator/Lync client sees these numbers through a mechanism known as Normalization in a telephone numbering format as E.164. This allows you to call out of Communications Server 2007 in the proper E.164 numbering format, which is the numbering format that both Communications Server and Lync Server 2010 use.

For example, let’s say your North American phone number in Active Directory is specified as 222-333-4444. The E.164 format for this number would be +12223334444. In this Address Book normalization file, we would need to have a rule to convert 222-333-4444 into +12223334444.

In our Address Book Normalization File for Lync 2010, the following rule would take care of this:

(\d{10})

+1$1

As you can see above, we are looking for 10 digits and adding a +1 in front of the 10 digits specified.  In Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2, this rule would be a bit more complicated as the Address Book Normalization engine does not automatically ignore the hyphens in the phone numbers.

For the same 222-333-4444 phone number to be normalized in Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2, the following rule could be used:

\(?\s*(\d\d\d)\s*\)?[\s()\-\./]*(\d\d\d)[\s()\-\./]*(\d\d\d\d)[\s]*

+1$1$2$3

When first dealing with this file many years ago, there wasn’t much documentation on how the file worked. There were a couple of massive challenges for me. I was no guru in Regular Expression, so I had to figure out how to properly manipulate many different formats of numbers into a proper E.164 number.

Another very challenging aspect to this was “how do you define International numbers in this normalization file?” Do you add the international access code, such as 011 to this file? The answer is, no. What I learned is that because this Address Book normalization file is per pool, and you may have users in different countries on this same pool, you want to ensure that the E.164 number that was normalized from the Address Book normalization file is a unique phone number. When that international number is normalized to a proper phone number (without any trunk codes, international codes, and so on), it will hit the Lync 2010 voice route. And when it hits the Trunk Translation rules or the gateway, you can manipulate the phone numbers at that time to strip the + and add the international codes such as 011.

So in closing, it was definitely a challenging endeavor on how to properly use the Address Book normalization on a multitude of environments to ensure the environment’s Lync 2010 telephony configuration was set up in the most optimal way possible.

If you could think of one feature you'd like included in the next version of Lync, what would it be?

Lync 2010 currently has excellent High Availability mechanisms. I would like to see the next version of Lync include better Site Resilience capabilities.

What do you feel is your area of expertise, where you consider yourself a bit of a rock star?

If anything, I would say my area of expertise is in architecting solutions and how things tie in together from a very objective standpoint. This is because:

  • I work very hard to ensure I understand as much as I can technically.
  • I am an objective person and a very good listener.
  • If I don’t know something, I am forthright about it, and then determine the correct answer. Providing an incorrect answer on even a single aspect could break an entire design.

Your blog has been an extremely valuable resource to me personally and has been around for a number of years now, covering Exchange and Office Communications Server in comprehensive detail. When did you start it and what direction has it taken?

I appreciate the comments you have made on my blog. I have always been the type of person that likes to help other people. When I was young, I was very much into graphic design. I liked to create web sites and provide tutorials on how to do things with graphic design. When I was on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), I used to join help rooms for graphic design and computer help, and occasionally help people. That is just how I am. And it is no different now with my career. I created my blog not to become an MVP, but because I enjoy helping others. Regardless of my MVP status, I will continue to post on my blog.

So to get into how it started, it was when Exchange Server 2007 first came out. InternalURLs, ExternalURLs, AutodiscoverServiceInternalURIs, and Unified Communications (SAN) certificates were very new to Exchange administrators. With my first Exchange Server 2007 project, we had to re-create the certificate at least 3-4 times before I completely understood how everything tied into the whole. Naturally, there were some companies who tried this on their own and needed help.  So I went into a client who was trying to use their Exchange 2003 certificate and started getting several certificate errors in Outlook 2007. The fix was to ensure their single Exchange Server 2007 server’s InternalURL, ExternalURL, and AutoDiscoverServiceInternalURI were specified properly using their single name certificate. I saw that these certificate errors were not documented anywhere on TechNet, and I knew many people would be running into this.

Because of this, I knew I had to post the fix somewhere. I started my blog and created my first post in 2007 titled, Outlook 2007 Certificate Error. To this date, it is my #1 viewed post, even on a daily basis.

Where are you from and what do you think makes your hometown/city great?

I am from Chicago, Illinois. I love the Chicago area, as I like big cities with lots of people to interact with. The food here is great and the things to do are endless!

When you're not dishing out quality technical know-how, what do you do for fun?

I like to occasionally watch movies, I play lots of tennis, which includes tournaments every Sunday morning, I work on my lab sometimes, and occasionally play computer games. What I mean by occasionally is I’m certainly no hard core gamer and most of the time I get trounced. I am also a digital photography enthusiast. I have a Canon 5D Mark II body with a carbon fiber tripod and several L glass. Those of you who know Canon will know what L glass is. You can check out my Flickr page here. I definitely need to start adding more photos to it.

Summary

Thanks a lot for taking time out of your schedule to answer our questions, Elan! We really appreciate you sharing your knowledge, expertise, the story of your career thus far, and most importantly your passion for Microsoft Lync with the community.

Next Up

Make sure you come back in May for another Interview with a Lync Pro. If you have suggestions for interviewees, please leave them in the comments below.

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Keywords: Lync MVP, interview, Elan Shudnow, IT Pro, Lync Server