Interview with a Lync Pro: Matt Landis

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 seventh installment in this series on NextHop, I interviewed Lync MVP Matt Landis from Landis Computer to find out how he developed his passion for computing, why he’s a huge fan of federation, and why he loves his native Pennsylvania.

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

My interest in computers started after my dad, a small business owner, bought an outdated Tandy TRS-80 Model III at an auction. You couldn’t buy software for it at Radio Shack anymore, but because the computer had Basic in the ROM and included several ring binder programming manuals (imagine that!), my brother and I got right to work and were amazed to find we could actually figure out how to write code!

A family friend noticed a young fellow with intense interest in computers and gave me his IBM XT clone when he upgraded to a new system. This first exposure to Basic and MS-DOS was the first step on a long journey with Microsoft technologies. Getting an entrepreneurial spirit from my dad, I was soon offering to provide consulting to local businesses.

Looking back now, I realize consulting was more about getting my hands on technology than making money. This was the start of what would become Landis Computer Technology Solutions, which is now a 13-person Microsoft Partner providing Infrastructure, Communication, and Dynamics services and consulting.

Can you tell us what your position at Landis Computer entails?

As with many small business owners, I do a wide variety of things: I guide the company, but I also dive into the technologies, and help with consulting and implementations.

Matt has motorcycled around Nepal!

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

Our company, Landis Computer Technology Solutions, launched into UC as a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner providing Windows Server, Exchange Server, and Microsoft Small Business Server implementation and ongoing support services. After observing phone system vendors installing solutions for our customers, we recognized that we had more of the core expertise required in this new generation of IP telephony & UC than many of the vendors.

To leverage our existing competencies as much as possible, we decided to look at PBX solutions that worked well in a Windows environment. The first software-based phone system running on Windows servers that we implemented was the 3CX IP PBX. At the time, we investigated Microsoft’s Response Point and attended sessions given by none other than Joe Schurman at the SMBNation East conference, but ultimately our opinion was that the Response Point solution was not feature-rich enough for our customers. We also looked at Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, but at that time, it was not a PBX replacement, and to us it seemed a quite complicated infrastructure for small and medium businesses. Our first tests of 3CX indicated that it’s feature set could fit our clients need, but we were aware that it needed to mature stability-wise and decided we would help (while keeping a close eye on Microsoft Office Communications Server developments). Our foray into 3CX included massive community work (2,000 forum posts). I also wrote a book on 3CX and Landis Computer Technology Solutions became the first 3CX Premium Partner. When Microsoft Lync Server 2010 was introduced, we immediately saw that it could serve our clients well and have had high demand for Lync consulting and implementation services since then.

Matt at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple near Chiang Mai, Thailand

What's your favorite thing about Lync?

As crazy as it might seem, it’s Instant Messaging/Presence and the ability to federate with other organizations (well, considering my creation of the Lync Federation Directory Project, perhaps not J). It is also great to be able to bump up that initial IM conversation to HD audio, video, or desktop sharing session. But a ton of my communication during a normal day is simple IM with smart people all around the world. For me, IM/P is absolutely the new “dial tone,” without doubt. I think the informal, less intrusive nature of IM tends to make business conversations happen that otherwise would not take place. IM/P can facilitate that informal sharing of information, commiserating, and collaborating that used to happen only in the same office. Imagine  a virtual office that contains the smartest people in the world, all willing to offer quick insight, mentoring, and encouragement on the toughest questions in the industry. That’s what Lync and my Lync contact list brings to the business.

I also have a high level of interest in Lync on mobile devices and, while it is not a “feature” of Lync, I love that users beg for Lync. That’s the kind of product I want to implement.


Matt at the Eternal Flame in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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

There are a lot of technical challenges I’ve worked through, but most of them are issues that are for special cases that don’t affect everyone. I would say that the two most continuously challenging parts of Microsoft Lync, at least in the small and medium business space, is configuring the Edge Server and integrating PSTN Gateways with telecom companies.

Here are a few tips on how our team makes implementing Enterprise Voice with a PSTN Gateway go a little easier:

  • Find a gateway you like and stick with it. We happen to like NET/Sonus UX gateways for Lync, but it doesn’t really matter which gateway you select, just stay focused on the solution you select. Getting to know the specifics of a chosen gateway is invaluable and moving from vendor to vendor will result in getting surprised by things that don’t work as expected, limitations, and oddities.
  • Something most people don’t think about when selecting a gateway is music on hold. Currently, Lync Phone Edition devices can only provide the default Microsoft music on hold when you press the Hold button. So, if your client wants to present a marketing message, you need to plan for it. You don’t want to have to replace a gateway to achieve this.

Different gateways have different MOH file size limitations, as follows:

  • Audiocodes M1000 is 2 MB
  • Audiocodes MP series is 200 KB
  • NET/Sonus UX1000 is 1 MB
  • NET/Sonus UX2000 is 4MB
  • Ferrari Officemaster Gate has no limit
  • Dialogic gateways do not support music on hold at all.

If your client wants live music on hold (e.g. radio/MP3 player), you should look at NET/Sonus, as this is the only solution I know of that enables live music on hold input (via FXS port).

  • When getting a gateway, don’t forget that you will probably need to support some analogue devices that your client conveniently forgot about until after things went live. It just makes sense to consider a couple of FXS ports—no matter how small the location for things, such as paging, portable phones, faxing, and so on.
  • If you are installing a Survivable Branch Appliance, ensure that your client is clear concerning what will survive during an outage.
  • Expect that you’ll need to call the Telco to troubleshoot caller ID issues, how numbers are presented to your gateways, or some other issue. Put this into your plan, because it will happen.
  • Schedule an off business hours PSTN gateway test before the go live date. This enables you to collect and troubleshoot the issues at your leisure, instead of on go live day. On Lync Enterprise Voice go live day, you’ll have other things to address.

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

I am looking forward to a full-featured Lync Mobile client with VoIP. Will I be able to break free of the AT&T voice plan? I want to experiment with that. Federation enhancements that make Google federation a standard feature and Skype federation possible will add huge value to Lync. The new Disaster Recovery and High Availability functionality built into Lync Server 2013 is very welcome. Okay, I think you asked for one item, so I’ll stop. J

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

Because our company services small businesses, we are interested in how Microsoft Lync can work in that business scenario. I’ve written several  small business scenario articles on the TechNet Wiki that have received considerable traffic. We talk to a lot of small businesses that have questions about implementing Lync in place of a PBX. Also, because we often use Lync in place of PBX, I  spend a lot of time testing Lync Voice features and probing the weak areas. As those implementing Lync Voice know, this is an area that requires planning and determining if the UC-centric features of Lync fit the structure and requirements of the company planning to deploy. 

Matt and his wife Rosalyn in Thailand

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

The blog launched in May 2008, and I initially blogged about my findings about various communication and PBX solutions that fit well in Microsoft Server environments, thus the name: WindowsPBX Blog. Articles included various developments about the Microsoft UC solution, as it was going through a rapid transformation from Live Communications Server 2005, to Office Communications Server 2007, to Lync Server 2010.

In the beginning, I followed Office Communications Server /Lync Server developments closely, as well as news about what was happening with Lync. Then we realized that endpoints and gateways are extremely important for a complete voice solution, especially in the SMB space. So, we started doing video and blog reviews of emerging hardware devices.

When Lync Server 2013 was released, I worked on a Step-by-Step blog series that helps a generalist IT person deploy a Lync 2013 lab. This blog series led to my second book, Microsoft Lync Server 2013 Step by Step for Anyone. The number of downloads the book received surprised even me.

The blog currently delivers a combination of Lync Server how-tos, news, user tips, and Lync product reviews. I am amazed at the traffic the blog generates. By the end of 2012, there were more than 1 million combined blog page views and YouTube video views--something I never imagined in May 2008.

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

I have lived in the small town of Ephrata in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania most of my life. Lancaster County is known for it’s scenic, peaceful, rural farmland and Amish & Mennonite heritage. Lancaster is a place where generations of Amish/Mennonites have lived and placed family, community, and God at the center of their lives in a very real way. As a Mennonite myself, I love living right in the middle of this community. My office window view below is one that many people pay a travel agent to see. It is great living in this rural setting, and yet I have Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington DC all within driving distance.

Matt’s view from his office in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

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

This is not exactly a weekend item, but having a few weeks to travel and explore a country I haven’t been to before is always a treat. Over the years I’ve been to over 40 countries. Sometimes visiting friends, sometimes helping at church missions and sometimes just to see another place; and the wonder of seeing a new place just doesn’t stop. I am also a pastor at the congregation my wife Rosalyn and I attend and love being able to be involved in God’s work and helping people in that way. There is always a stack of book waiting to be read on subjects of: history, philosophy, technology or religion. I have recently started giving myself guitar lessons to make sure the creative portion of my brain get stimulated a little as well

Thanks a lot, Matt, for taking time out of your schedule to answer our questions! You’re a man of my own heart with your travels, and it sounds like you’re really passionate about Lync Voice! 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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