VQ Conference Manager 3.0 – enable users to make more calls

  • Increased scaling and resilience
  • Multi-node clusters
  • More end user control through Outlook & iOS
  • Skype for Business redirector
  • Analytics 2 (Elasticsearch)

VQ Conference Manager 3.0 (“CM3”) was publicly shown for the first time 10 days ago at the Cisco Live event in Florida.

CM3 has been under development for the last 18 months and builds on the success of Acano Manager 2. Many things have changed, not least the name; we’ve reverted from Acano Manager back to VQ Conference Manager.

The objective with CM3 was to update the AM 2.x architecture to enable scaling, resilience and to provide user tooling and applications that would enable users to have more control of their conferencing experience and as a result of that, make more calls. In short, we want to enable the next generation of big systems and to drive up usage to further increase the return on investment customers are achieving on their Cisco Meeting Servers.

The internal architecture of CM3 has had a major rework and can be run as a multi-node cluster. Initially, this will be limited to a two VM node cluster which will then be increased over the next couple of releases. The cluster approach solves two problems: scalability and resilience. If components in the cluster fail, the system will detect the failure and restart the failing component. In the first versions of CM3, the database is not replicated and therefore represents a potential point of failure; as with the cluster size limitation, this will change in a future release. Another change for a future release will to support “replica master nodes” so that if the current master node fails, a replica master node takes over the role and the system continues running. In terms of scaling, it’ll also be possible to “scale-up” or “scale-down” the system to add, for example, more instances of the web-server to handle larger numbers of users using either the web user interface or the API based applications.

In terms of enabling end users to have more control over their conferencing, we’ve added a range of new applications: An Outlook Add-in that works on Office 2016 and Office 365 which allows users to see activity on their Spaces from within Outlook. Not only that, they can drill down into active calls, see who’s in the call and perform actions like change layout, mutes, set importance or remove people from the call. And create new Spaces or update/delete existing ones – for example, changing passcodes. Select a Space and Inject HTML details into Outlook Emails and Calendar invites to make it easy for other’s to “click to join” into calls. All from within Outlook and no requirement to go to an external website. The Add-in works on Windows, Mac and Office for Web applications.

We’ve also got an iOS Phone app that delivers essentially the same functionality as the Add-In.

There’s also an updated version of the current Outlook plugin for users on older versions of Outlook who can’t move to the Add-in.

And the final new app we will be releasing is a “Skype for Business redirector” plugin. This plugin runs silently within Outlook and replaces the default text injected when a user clicks on the Outlook “Skype for Business” button with details for the user’s CMS based Space.

The Scripting engine architecture and ‘scripting language’ have been replaced and are significantly improved. We’ve rationalized the available set of alerts and provide a wider set of “out of the box” HTML templates that include logos and icons.

The Analytics functionality we added in AM 2.x was OK but was a bit clunky and had limitations. We, therefore, decided to offer “Analytics 2” based on an amazing Open Source project called “Elasticsearch” and its visualization engine called “Kibana”  (also known as “ELK”). Analytics 1 will remain in the product for the foreseeable future but we envisage it eventually being removed. All Analytics data is copied into a separate Analytics 2 database (Elasticsearch) and, in addition, all the dashboard data for CMS licensing and bandwidth consumption is also now available historically (from the point in time you start using CM3).

Outside the new Applications and Analytics 2, functionality is essentially the same as AM 2.3 MR7. The UI, however, is much faster and the LDAP Importer pages have been improved and allow you to select historic log files to check what happened. You no longer lose the data if you leave the Importer page.

In terms of the system requirements and upgrade process:

  • CM3 requires a new VM (or two) with a minimum spec of 4 cores, 16GB of memory and 200GB of disk space per VM.
  • An update upgrade will be available for AM 2.3; install this and export the data. This copies out all the database and certificate data. Import this onto the new 3.0 VM. The process includes all audit and analytic data; this is then copied into the new Elasticsearch database. Historic CMS and bandwidth consumption data is not available in AM 2.3 and therefore cannot be carried forward so will start from the time the CM3 system was installed.

In terms of costs, there is no charge to upgrade from AM 2.x to CM 3.0 on a “like for like” basis. New functionality such as the Outlook Add-in is licensed separately. Analytics 2 in its base form is included as part of the package with an upgrade option available for customers who need to export data, set and mail alarms on threshold values. The objective is to enable you with masses of data and powerful visualization tools. VQ is now an OEM partner of Elasticsearch and can supply X-Pack license upgrades. There are no additional charges for multi-node configurations of CM3 (note: large clusters with multi-node Elasticsearch who have purchased X-Pack do require additional X-pack licenses for clustered Elasticsearch).

Windows customers will, I’m afraid, have to wait for the Windows world to catch-up with what is happening in the Open Source and Cloud worlds. CM3 is based on a Cloud technology from Google called “Kubernetes”; Windows Server 2019 will be available later this year and supports Kubernetes and Containers. Certifying CM3 against Windows Server 2019 is something we will do once it becomes available. We expect to offer Windows (and other) forms of Single Sign-On (“SSO”) relatively quickly; our recommended path for the majority of customers who use Windows because they need SSO will be to switch to the VM based version of CM3 that supports SSO (including Windows Authentication).

CM3 is the next step on the VQ journey; we’re very excited about the solutions it’ll enable and the problems we can help solve. We hope you like it too.

Availability is targeted for somewhere around July 16th 2018.