The Microsoft Lync Server technical community is full of knowledgeable IT professionals that 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 sixth installment in the series on NextHop, I interviewed fellow Lync MVP, Mike Stacy from Polycom.

Author: Justin Morris

Publication date: November 14, 2012

Product version: Lync Server 2010

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

In the beginning, I worked mostly in the Novell space and earned Certified Novell Engineer CNE) certification in 3.x and 4.x of Novell/Novell Directory Service (NDS). My internship in college exposed me to Windows NT 4.0 and managing e-mail (Novell GroupWise). After that, I started to diversify.

I started my post-university work in 1998 at a large global enterprise that ran Microsoft Mail on Novell servers. And as I was accustomed to GroupWise, I didn’t like anything about it, as a user and as an administrator. So I set out on a mission to move the entire company to Exchange 5.5. I did this on the sly, until my management noticed that our execs and everyone else in IT was getting internet e-mail in 2-3 minutes (because I had migrated them to Exchange), whereas some other people were still getting internet e-mail in about 45 minutes (which was normal for our Microsoft Mail deployment). 

That company grew aggressively by acquisition, and in my subsequent position as Global Messaging Lead, I had the unique pleasure of integrating and migrating all types of non-Exchange messaging systems into one system. Eventually, that experience landed me a job at Microsoft in the Rapid Onsite Support Services group, now known as Premier Field Engineer (PFE).  After a few years, I moved into a Technology Specialist role covering Exchange and Live Communications Server 2005. That’s when my focus on unified communications (UC) really started to take shape. Eventually, I moved into the consulting space, and over time, I focused more heavily on Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and less on Exchange Server.

Can you tell us what your position at Polycom entails?

At Polycom, I’m primarily responsible for our North American Solution Architecture team, which is a team of experts that provides the next layer of technical depth and specialization for our systems engineers and their customers.  Polycom’s first Solution Architects were focused on Microsoft (which was my first role at Polycom), and today, we have a number of Solution Architect roles that span a fairly wide variety of technologies. I’m also responsible for an environment we call the Custom Solutions Network, where we build out complex demonstration and evaluation capabilities for our customers and partners.

Introducing Mike Stacy

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

When Live Communications Server came out, I thought it was really cool and different, and I was a little bored with Exchange Server having focused on it for seven years.  The UC industry was very young, and no one really knew where things would end up. Then Office Communications Server launched with more compelling functionality, so I started a new learning curve. Ultimately, the demand for Office Communications Server was high, and I was busy working on deployments for all types of customers. Unlike Exchange, it was completely new to everyone, so I focused more on using it as a strategic investment, instead of simply upgrading to the next version. Low level changes were great for IT but not really noticeable to the user.

What's your favorite thing about Lync?

Presence. I can’t imagine going back to a world where I have to tell people that I can’t communicate with them at the moment, because I’m on the phone or in a meeting. Integration and extensibility are also key, because my Polycom video system also tells people when I’m busy. It doesn’t matter how I’m communicating, everyone can always tell at a glance what my availability is, and I can see the same thing for everyone with whom I work.  It makes life far more efficient.

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

One of the most challenging issues I encountered was a scenario in which calls through the Edge Server resulted in dead air. This is somewhat common when troubleshooting early media issues, but in our case, it would happen in the middle of the call. Initially, the issue was reported in conference calls only, so we looked at the Audio/Video Multi-Point Control Unit (A/V MCU) but weren’t able to resolve the issue.

We did discover that it happened only to users who were connected to the call through the Edge Server. In looking at packet traces, the Real Time Protocol (RTP) packets ceased being received by the computer, even though they were still being sent from the A/V Edge Server interface. More interestingly, it didn’t impact the audio from that user. Instead, the audio stream to the silent/muted user was disrupted. If the user made noise (“Hello?”), the audio restarted, RTP packets were received, and the user received the inbound audio stream again. Because we saw the RTP packets being sent from the Edge Server but not received by the remote user, we determined that the firewall was the culprit.

As we looked through the various configuration settings available on the firewall, we discovered a User Datagram Protocol (UDP) timeout setting, which was set to 40 seconds. As we compared this to the user experience, we realized that the audio drops occurred about 38 seconds into the call (if we stayed completely quiet or were on mute). Sure enough, modifying that setting to 300 seconds cleared up the problem entirely. It also explained why we mainly saw this in conference calls—in two-party, calls it’s highly likely that someone will talk or at least make a noise every 40 seconds, but in conference calls, it was very common to be on mute for long periods of time. This caused RTP packets to not be sent during that time and the firewall’s UDP timeout would kick in.

Lync Server 2013 has just been announced. What feature are you most looking forward to?

Well, I work extensively with video at Polycom, so I’m excited about the new standards-based video functionality that Lync Server 2013 offers. Providing that rich experience at the desktop, plus standardization and ever-expanding integration really gives customers a broad choice of excellent experiences, especially in the heterogeneous UC environments that we typically encounter today.

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

Again, I’d have to say it’s video these days. I was a little ahead of the curve in entering the video industry (in terms of where the industry sits today for broad adoption of video in the enterprise), and it’s been fun to take a lot of what I knew from the Office Communications Server/Lync Server voice side and apply that to a new area of UC experiences. Recently, I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions about Scalable Video Coding (SVC), and it’s challenging and fun to take a lot of detailed knowledge and present it to an audience in a way that creates simple building blocks of knowledge.

When did you start your blog and what direction has it taken?

I started it in 2008 when I was doing a ton of Office Communications Server deployments. At the time, I published a lot of tactical tidbits that I learned during those deployments. I tend to publish short technical items and solutions as opposed to lengthy or multi-part articles on broad or complex topics. Over the last year or so, my blog publishing has decreased pretty significantly as I’ve done more speaking and my role has shifted away from day-to-day administration, troubleshooting, and deployment of UC solutions. I’ve been compiling topics that are more strategic in nature. In the future, you’ll likely see very different types of articles than what I published in the past.

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

I live in Denver, Colorado and absolutely love the weather and vibe here. It has pretty much everything that the largest cities in the United States have, but it isn’t all that big (about 600,000 people in Denver and 2.5 million in the metro area), so getting around is easy.  There are about 300 days of sun and virtually no humidity all year, which makes even the hottest summer days very tolerable.

Mike, his wife and son (in the backpack!) and two dogs hiking in Wyoming

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

Of course, the other great thing about Colorado is the mountains. In winter, I’m an avid snowboarder, which was a major draw for my wife and I to move out here. My main sport in other seasons is softball, but I also enjoy tennis, camping, and have started brewing my own beer in the last year or so (Colorado has a great beer culture). We also have a one-year-old son now, so I like going hiking with him and the dogs and just generally spending time with him and my wife.

Summary

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

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

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