Online conferencing applications were once difficult to use. Exchange Conferencing Server offers the following improvements over previous online conferencing technologies:
In the past, to schedule and participate in a conference, the conference organizer and participants had to enter specific information about the conference; for example, which Internet Locator Service (ILS) server to use, the name of the participant server to call, whether someone would be using NetMeeting to invite them, or whether they would have to call someone to access the conference. Typically, this information was different for each participant.
Today, Exchange Conferencing Server is integrated into Microsoft Outlook 2000 calendaring and includes all information necessary to connect each participant to the conference. Conference organizers and participants do not need information about the servers or the underlying technologies that the conference uses.
There are two models for conferencing: peer-to-peer, such as NetMeeting, and client-server, such as Lotus SameTime. Before Exchange Conferencing Server, conferencing applications required the organizer and all participants to know and work with the selected connection type.
In peer-to-peer conferencing, conference participants interconnect to establish direct links between their desktops. One or more desktops serve as hosts of the conference. The conference host must be available for the duration of the conference. If the top-node host leaves, the conference ends.
In client-server conferencing, conference participants interconnect through a central server. If the server is unavailable at the scheduled conference time, the organizer must schedule a new conference on another server.
On the other hand, Exchange Conferencing Server selects a load-balanced, best-connected server for the conference at the beginning of a conference. This eliminates the problem of server unavailability that existed in previous conferencing applications.
In the past, you had to understand conference topologies to host successful conferences. This included understanding how networks deliver data and how to minimize the number of data copies sent over the network, or it could mean hosting the conference in more than one location and interconnecting the groups of participants.
In contrast, Exchange Conferencing Server creates the optimal data conference topology for you by building the topology according to the network location of the client at the time the client joins the conference.
Even if you use Exchange Conferencing Server on a secure intranet, you may want to ensure that only invited people can access the information discussed in the online conference. When scheduling an online conference from Outlook 2000, you can choose one of three levels of security: public, public with password, and private. With private conferences, Conference Management Service can require that users authenticate themselves prior to accessing the conference. For further information on these types of conferences, see “Security” in Chapter 2.
To meet with people online, you must share a common network. The Internet is frequently used for this. While you want to share information with others, you also want to prevent unauthorized access to your company’s resources. Firewalls prevent unauthorized access but they also prevent the flow of information in online conferences.
With Exchange Conferencing Server, you can host secure online conferences with attendees outside your organization. Also, Exchange Conferencing Server is designed to make each conference attendee’s participation seamless, regardless of the attendee’s location on the Internet.
Most companies have a limited number of meeting rooms. Typically, meetings in these rooms are scheduled ahead of time, so the organizer knows that the room is reserved. While online conferences do not require a physical location, they do place demands on the company’s network and server infrastructure.
The cost of a virtual meeting depends on the type of online conference you are hosting. An online telephone conference uses different resources from an online video conference. Exchange Conferencing Server bases its resource model on the status of the conference technology providers and their scheduled resources. Through the Exchange Conferencing Server resource model, you can define and manage the conferencing infrastructure to support the demands of online conferences within your organization. For more information on configuring resources, see Chapter 4, “Component Planning.”