VoIPowering Your Office: Provisioning, Attending, and Active Directorying

sipXecs will auto-provision selected phones, offers a 'personal' auto attendent, and can integrate with corporate databases and mail apps.

By Carla Schroder | Posted May 5, 2008
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Last week we hit a few bumps getting sipXecs installed, thanks to an odd quirk on my test server. But we did get it up and running, so today we're going to look at three features that I think are key in most environments: auto-configuration of phones, a user-configurable auto attendant for every user, and integration with Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange 2007.

Auto-provisioning

Plug-and-play phones are probably the #1 most-desired feature in an iPBX. I suppose some folks like to wander around and configure phones manually, but for the rest of us it's a time sink. sipXecs does a pretty good job at auto-provisioning a number of different phones; unfortunately, it's not completely trouble-free.

Your first job is to get your DNS/DHCP house in order. See Resources for how-tos on doing this with both BIND and Dnsmasq, and sipXecs' handy zone-generation script. Once that is all squared away, plug in your phones and they will download everything they need from your sipXecs server.

There is an odd gotcha: You have to click a button to make the files available. It works like this: Let's say you have a nice Polycom phone that is on the supported devices list, such as the 650. Plug the phone into your network. It will acquire an IP address from your network's DHCP server, and you should see a message that says "could not contact boot server, using existing configuration." Now go to the home page of your sipXecs control panel and click the "discover devices" button. It should find your phone. Click the checkbox to select the phone, then click the "save" button.

Now go to the control panel for the phone and go to "Lines -> Add Lines." Select the user the phone belongs to and click OK. This should take you to the page with the "Send profile" button. Select the phone and click the button, and be sure to check "Automatically restart affected devices after profiles are ready." With luck, the remote reboot will work and it's all done. If it doesn't, try power-cycling the phone manually. When it boots up you shouldn't see any "could not contact boot server" messages. You can poke through the phone menus to confirm that it received the correct settings. After startup, the Polycom phones will display their extension numbers and the current time.

You can do this in batches with the "Send all profiles" button. You may also create custom profiles for phones that sipXecs doesn't already support. It's a bit of work, but when you have a lot of phones or make a lot of changes, it's a big timesaver.

Personal Auto-Attendant

Your users will log in to their personal control panels using their sipXecs IDs (i.e, their extension number) and their PINs. The user control panels have some interesting options. There is an ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) Agent Presence Server Status page, or in plain English, a login and status page for call-center agents. Users can change their PINs, manage voicemail-to-email options, customize and select voicemail greetings, and even do some call-routing, which is called the Personal Auto-Attendant.

The superadmin has a lot of control over what users can do on each user's Permissions page. Personal Auto-Attendant is enabled for every user by default. Creating user groups is a handy time-saver, because then you can set permissions per group. Both the superadmin and the user have access to the user's Auto-Attendant settings. Users can fetch e-mails, create their own distribution lists, and set up speed dialing.

The current buzzword for configuring your phone system to find—or not find— you, depending on what you want, is "presence." Users will find their own Personal Attendant setup on the My Information page and can configure their own custom "presence". When you're not available and a call goes to voicemail, your caller will hear your custom prompt that tells them what to do next. You will have already set up some custom extensions that are bound to a keypress, so your caller can press 1 to be transferred to your cell phone, 2 to be transferred to a different extension, 3 to ring your home phone, and so on. It's nice and simple and should be sufficient for most users. Various functions can be scheduled so you don't have to be continually tweaking your attendant for different times and situations.

Active Directory and Exchange 2007

There are detailed instructions for making this work, so I'll hit the high points. You can connect sipXecs with AD via LDAP, and import all changes into sipXecs. You get to select which fields are imported. If you have a busy organization with a lot of changes, you can schedule regular automatic synchronizations. It's not as ideal as having a common LDAP store to use directly, but it gets the job done.

Integration with Exchange 2007 is for admins who want to use Exchange's Auto Attendant or voicemail. You can have one group of users on Exchange's voicemail and another one on sipXecs. It's pretty easy to set up, so admins who want to give it a try should find that it painless. I don't know how it holds up over the long haul, but getting it working takes just a few minutes.

Overall, sipXecs and its commercially supported sibling, SIPxchange ECS, are rock-solid and have a lot of attractive enterprise-ready features. They support high-availablity, handle huge loads, and, if you install it from the ISO, the initial setup is very easy.

Resources

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