Practical App

Microsoft Lync Server 2013 Performance Boosters

Lync Server is a powerful communications platform, but there are several things you can do to further improve its performance.

Microsoft Lync Server is a highly effective platform for voice and video conferencing. There are a number of best practices that can help you and your organization get the most out of Microsoft Lync. One thing you'll need to focus on with a new installation is to encourage your users to use Lync. This may sound a bit strange at first, but it can be difficult to get much benefit out of Lync if not enough people are using it to communicate.

We live in a highly connected world. There are many different forms of communications, and they're all competing with one another. Unless users are actively encouraged to use Lync, they may opt to use something more familiar. In some situations, it might not be any big deal if users don't make extensive use of Lync. Frequently, however, using Microsoft Lync as the preferred communications platform can translate directly into significant cost savings. This is especially true when users use Lync instead of reaching for their cell phone every time they need to call a coworker.

You can realize these cost savings even at the smallest organizations. In 2012, for example, I was part of a year-long speaking tour of various IT conferences. Because I spent so much time traveling, my cellular bills were astronomical. A few months into the tour, I signed up for Office 365 and began using Lync instead of my cell phone all the time. The end result was substantial savings every month.

In some cases, I was even able to use Lync for audio and video communications in situations where I would have previously been limited to using e-mail. My cell phone doesn't work internationally, but some of my speaking venues were in foreign countries. Lync helped me remain readily accessible when I would have otherwise been out of touch.

Invest in Good Hardware
Like most Windows-based audio and video conferencing applications, the Lync client accepts many different sound cards, microphones and webcams. Lync clients can use virtually any audio or video hardware the Windows OS recognizes. Even so, that doesn't mean you should outfit your users with bargain-basement hardware.

When it comes to audio or video conferencing, it's easy to assume network bandwidth is the one aspect that has the biggest impact on call quality. Although it's extremely important not to underestimate the importance of bandwidth, it's far from being the only factor that affects call quality. The quality of the user's microphone, sound card and webcam has a direct impact on call quality.

During the time I've been using Lync, I've made video calls to a number of different people. Some of those people have had good-quality webcams, and I felt as though I was sitting in the same room as those people. I've also had video calls with people using bargain-basement webcams. Not only did those webcams suffer from poor resolution, they also delivered a poor picture quality.

In some cases, cheap webcams produce grainy video. In other situations, the webcams had coloring issues. Edges of objects had green or purple tints that looked anything but natural. Never mind that many of the bargain webcams didn't work very well in low-light environments.

The point is, there's nothing wrong with using cheap hardware for video conferences internally between your organization's employees. However, if you use Lync to communicate with clients, then good-quality hardware is worth the investment. After all, poor-quality audio and video doesn't create a professional image.

Bandwidth Considerations
Bandwidth plays an extremely important role in audio and video conferencing. Voice and video traffic are both latency-sensitive, so you must ensure the network is able to provide Lync with the required bandwidth.

Users connect to voice and video conferences from various endpoint devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets and even smartphones. This means you'll have to focus on more than just Internet bandwidth. You'll also have to make sure that there's adequate bandwidth on your local network.

In this age of gigabit connections to desktop computers, it's easy to scoff at the idea of making sure your users have sufficient network bandwidth. It's important to remember, though, that not all users have gigabit connectivity. Some users probably connect to the network over a Wi-Fi connection. Although some Wi-Fi connections approach gigabit speeds, many are much slower. So make sure you make the most of the available bandwidth.

One of the most effective ways to do this is to make sure that Wi-Fi is operating as efficiently as possible. Higher-end wireless access points offer an automatic channel selection feature. This feature automatically selects the channels with the least interference. This is helpful because wireless interference causes diminished wireless performance.

Check to see if your access point has an automatic channel selection feature. If it does, make sure this feature is enabled. If the access point doesn't have an automatic channel selection feature, then it's up to you to determine the best possible channel to use (or to upgrade to an access point that does feature automatic channel selection).

If you do end up having to manually set the access point's channel, you might want to take a moment to download a free utility called Wireless Wizard. This utility analyzes the Wi-Fi spectrum and can help you to determine which channel you should use.

Go Double
You should also try to take advantage of the dual-band feature found on many 802.11n wireless access points. As you probably know, the 2.4 GHz frequency band is extremely crowded. Not only do Wi-Fi devices use the 2.4 GHz frequency, but so do Bluetooth devices, game controllers, RC aircraft, some cordless phones and other types of radio equipment. 2.4 GHz devices are also susceptible to interference from microwave ovens and other non-radio devices.

Dual-band wireless access points can operate on the 5 GHz frequency band. While it's true this frequency is already being used by some cordless phones and Wi-Fi equipment, the frequency isn't as crowded. Therefore, it's less likely to suffer from interference.

In spite of the benefits of using dual-band wireless access points, doing so isn't a perfect solution. There are a couple of disadvantages to using the 5 GHz frequency. The biggest disadvantage is that not all devices support the 5 GHz frequency range. I use a dual-band wireless access point in my home. My Microsoft Surface tablet and my wife's iPad are both able to connect with a 5 GHz connection. However, my Windows 8 Ultrabook -- which is less than six months old -- is unable to see the access point.

The other disadvantage to using a dual-band access point is that 5 GHz connections tend to have a shorter range than 2.4 GHz connections. This probably won't be a problem for an employee who remains stationary during a Lync session. However, if someone connects to Lync from a tablet or a smartphone while walking, it could end up being an issue.

The good news is that dual-band wireless access points are exactly that -- dual band. Dual-band access points can simultaneously function as a 2.4 GHz access point and a 5 GHz access point. By doing so, the access point provides two separate Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs), one for each frequency range. Higher-end dual-band access points often offer a frequency steering mechanism that forces 5 GHz-capable clients to connect to the 5 GHz SSID. This feature can also help improve overall performance.

Another thing you can do to improve wireless performance is avoid using range extenders. Range extenders work as wireless repeaters. The problem with using range extenders is they add to the congestion of already crowded Wi-Fi frequencies, and the repeating function introduces latency. This can be especially problematic for Lync, which needs to communicate in real time. Instead of range extenders, it's better to use multiple wireless access points or to use an access point that supports the use of an external antenna.

One last suggestion for improving the performance of Lync is to use Quality of Service (QoS) to reserve bandwidth for Lync sessions. QoS is a networking standard supported by every version of Windows since Windows 2000. It lets you reserve or prioritize bandwidth for a particular purpose.

As you can see, you should ensure your network connectivity is optimized to eliminate packet loss and jitter during Lync sessions. Although the techniques discussed in this article work well, one of the best things you can do to smooth out Lync communications is to upgrade to Lync Server 2013. Lync Server 2013 uses a different media stack than Lync 2010 and improves the performance of Lync over Wi-Fi and other high-loss networks.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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