Interview with a Lync Pro: Justin Morris

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, Justin Morris decided to use his 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. We liked this monthly series so much that we asked Justin to let us feature it on NextHop.

But this installment is a little different from the previous six. This month, NextHop Project Manager, Susan S. Bradley is turning the tables and interviewing Justin himself. We thought you would all like to know a lot more about this super-charged Lync MVP.

Author: Susan S. Bradley, Microsoft Senior Content Project Manager

Publication date: April 22, 2013

Product version: Lync Server 2013

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

In high school, I built PCs and held LAN parties for a lot with my friends, so my interest in computers really began here. After learning about networking and taking my Cisco Certified Network Associate in my final years of high school, I got my chance at the mere age of 18 to work as an on-site systems engineer for Invizage Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

Invizage was a small-to-medium business specialist, and it was here that I learned to troubleshoot everything from home Windows PC issues, to administering Small Business Server, to upgrading Active Directory and Exchange systems. I moved into our internal systems team a year later and began working on Cisco VoIP and Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005, which is where my interest in real-time communications began.

I moved from there to Oakton, where I spent a year as a systems administrator, consolidating Microsoft technologies across their offices throughout Australia. In 2008, I grabbed an opportunity to work with customers again, designing and deploying Exchange Server environments at Thomas Duryea Consulting in Richmond.

After driving a few Exchange Server deployments, I began to spend some of my time on Office Communications Server 2007. It was here that I became super passionate about Unified Communications. I realized that if I wanted to deploy Microsoft UC into our existing customer base, I needed to determine the business value and help our salespeople pitch it alongside other Microsoft solutions.

I worked to make Thomas Duryea a voice-specialized partner, trained our sales people to sell UC, and secured funding from Microsoft to deploy a 25-user voice pilot into a large travel publishing house in Melbourne.

After building up a solid Microsoft UC solution offering at Thomas Duryea, I left for London in September 2009 to begin working with Modality Systems, where I’ve been ever since.

Justin Morris, Lync MVP and author of the Justin Morris on UC blog

Can you tell us what your position at Modality Systems entails?

I’m a Senior Consultant on our UK consulting team, responsible for the design and architecture of new Lync Server customer environments, as well as the actual deployment and configuration. I also do a lot of work with Exchange Unified Messaging, voice interoperability, and fine-tuning Lync policies and configurations for specific use cases. Helping end-user adoption, producing my fair share of design and guidance documentation, and training system administrators are also a big part of my role.

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

It was at Thomas Duryea Consulting that I jumped feet first into Unified Communications. I got the opportunity to deploy the full breadth of Office Communications Server 2007 server roles—getting my head around Edge Server, integrating Office Communications Server with Exchange Unified Messaging, deploying Update Server with SharePoint for Office Communicator Phone Edition (who remembers that!?) and connecting it to an Asterisk PBX through an NET VX 1200 gateway. I discovered how diverse a solution UC is and that it goes far beyond instant messaging.

Learning the business value of instant messaging, presence, conferencing, and telephony all rolled into one product and integrated into the desktop really got me hooked. I realized how much of a game changer UC is and set upon learning as much as I could technically, as well as from a business perspective. I went to Voice Ignite and learned how SIP worked and wanted to learn more and more. I made it my mission to talk to as many customers as I could about Office Communications Server and show them how great a product it was.

Justin Morris and his girlfriend in a 1950 Pontiac convertible in Havana

What's your favorite thing about Lync?

I think Edge Server is a really amazing part of the product. The way it ensures a Lync call always connects, regardless of the location of the endpoints (external, internal, PSTN, or voicemail), using ICE, STUN and TURN, is really a key differentiator for Lync. No other vendor has a solution that securely allows users to experience the same functionality regardless of where they connect from.

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

This isn’t specifically a Lync problem, but it does highlight how underlying infrastructure issues can impact Lync and how it can take a lot of effort to resolve them.

On a recent Lync Server 2010 project, we encountered functionality issues that involved users being unable to consistently make PSTN calls or join conferences, being kicked out of conferences, and being unable to leave voicemails. We knew this was going to be some kind of underlying network connectivity issue. After scouring the Lync Server event logs, we found that the Lync Front End servers on which the users with problems were homed were intermittently losing or failing to establish connectivity with a number of different servers and gateways. This involved errors on the Front End servers when routing calls to voice gateways, an inability to check the health of A/V Conferencing Servers and errors routing missed/diverted calls to Exchange Unified Messaging servers.

We began the process of narrowing down what was unique about these Front End servers and where they were located. We realized that only servers hosted on one of the two blade enclosures were affected. We then started analyzing every layer, from the server to the network, trying to find what might be causing the problem. We tried moving the virtual machines to different blade servers within the enclosure, with no change in behavior. It was only when we moved the affected Front End servers to a different blade enclosure that the problem was resolved. It was then that we knew the problem was localized to the one particular blade enclosure hosting the Front End servers we were with which we were experiencing problems.

After we got the network team involved and looking at traffic coming in and out of the enclosure, they quickly found MAC address flapping on the switch port (MAC address flapping is caused when a switch receives packets from two different physical or logical interfaces with the same source MAC address). This led our squad of IT Pros to begin looking at the Virtual Connect modules within the blade enclosure that provided network connectivity. They found that the two modules and the switches they were connected to weren’t set up with a consistent configuration. The Virtual Connect modules were set up to act as a virtual pair (one logical interface of two physical interfaces), but the switches they were connected to weren’t set up to expect the same MAC address from both modules at once. After the Virtual Connect modules were reconfigured to act in an active/passive configuration (so only one module was sending network traffic at a time), the MAC flapping stopped. After the MAC flapping stopped, our Lync problems stopped as well. J

Justin Morris on the sand dunes in UAE

Lync 2013 has recently been released. What new feature are you liking the most?

I really enjoy the new meeting experience in Lync 2013. The difference between an online meeting in the Windows client and using Lync Web App in the browser is almost unperceivable. I think this is fantastic for making Lync meetings available to everyone, be it corporate or anonymous users. The new Gallery View for video conferencing within meetings is also a fantastic new feature. Being able to see the faces of everyone in the meeting really makes it feel more immersive and inclusive. There are many other features I’m really excited about (such as the new HA/DR features and Persistent Chat), but the new meeting experience is definitely a top contender.

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

I try to be a Lync all-rounder and keep my knowledge as current as possible on everything, so I can best advise our customers. However, I have focused on Group Chat/Persistent Chat in the past and know a fair bit about it, in addition to strong skills in voice interoperability and disaster recovery.

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

I started my blog Justin Morris on UC in April 2011, as a way to share issues I’d discovered and overcome in customer projects, and my opinions on industry topics with the community. It then grew from bits and pieces here and there to numerous posts on Lync for Mac 2011, a full technical series of posts on SQL mirroring, product update news, and other in-depth content. I also started the Interview with a UC Pro series on my blog, where I sought to shine a light on the stars of the worldwide Lync community. It eventually became part of Microsoft’s NextHop blog—the community you manage!

I’ve built momentum over time with about 10,000 visitors a month now, and I still have a backlog of post ideas in draft form to publish, so stay tuned.

Justin Morris on an airboat in the everglades

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

I’m from Melbourne, Australia, which is consistently awarded the title of the World’s Most Livable City. The quality of life in Melbourne is great, because it’s a very culturally diverse city. It has vibrant entertainment and dining scenes and is close to beaches and beautiful national parks. Melbourne is all about the laneways and neighborhoods, where you’ll find loads of artisan coffee shops, quirky bars, and really good restaurants. It’s also the home of sport in Australia, where the Australian Open tennis tournament and Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix are hosted. We also have our own code of football—Aussie Rules Football. We have mild seasons generally but tend to have blazing hot summers, with the mercury regularly topping out over 35 degrees Celsius for days on end.

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

I became a big fan of travel after leaving Australia three years ago. I’ve seen most of Europe, parts of the Middle East, and South East Asia. I am really keen to explore more of the USA. I’m also into music in a big way. I listen to everything from rock, to hip hop, to a number of different genres of dance music (I was a club DJ in Melbourne for 3 years).

And, as a lot of people will attest to, I’m a big coffee drinker. Melbourne has a huge coffee scene that began with Italian immigrants after World War 2, so I’ve developed a taste for a good espresso over the years. It’s something that mixes well with travel, because it means taking the time to hunt out good coffee shops in the cities I visit.

Justin Morris in Copenhagen

Thanks a lot, Justin, for taking time out of your schedule to answer our questions! 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.

And Now Back to You, Folks

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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Keywords: Lync MVP, interview, Justin Morris, IT Pro, Lync Server

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