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One of the things that makes Novell Teaming + Conferencing such a powerful solution is the tight integration between its teaming and conferencing components. In the last article in this series, Novell Connection took a deep dive into Novell Teaming. This article digs deep into the conferencing features that supplement critical teaming capabilities in Novell Teaming + Conferencing.

Conferencing lets users set up and participate in online meetings where they can share presentations, documents, desktops and applications; communicate real-time via Instant Messaging (IM) and chat sessions; and also share whiteboards to sketch out ideas and review copy. With the assistance of a signal processing board from NMS Communications, users can also use the conferencing component's built-in soft phone to hold VoIP conversations during a meeting. And with the addition of the ICEing Telephony module from SiteScape (now a part of Novell, Inc.), users can also call in to meetings from their telephone handsets. When all of these features are enabled, users have three choices for creating online meetings: data only, voice only, or voice and data together.

If you’re trying to determine the cost-effectiveness of leveraging the voice conferencing capabilities of Novell Teaming + Conferencing—combined with an NMS voice processing board and the SiteScape ICEing Telephony module, NMS Communications and Novell have developed a tool that can help. A new ROI calculator will help you assess your return on investment based on variables such as the average number of audio conferences you hold per month, conference lengths, and the number of attendees on those conferences. It will compare your expenses for outsourcing audio conferences with what it would cost to host those conferences in-house with Novell Teaming + Conferencing, including the costs of licenses, hardware, maintenance, and IT staff expenses. To take advantage of this tool, contact your Novell salesperson or partner.

>A Driving Presence
One of the most powerful aspects of Novell Teaming + Conferencing is presence: the ability to see in real time whether team members are currently available and what is the best way to communicate with them. Key to the power of presence is the way it's integrated among Novell Teaming, the conferencing component of Novell Teaming + Conferencing, and the included Pidgin IM client.

Inside Novell Teaming, the presence icon is always displayed next to the name of team members and other content authors, allowing users to see if they are online or not. At any time, anyone who sees a blog, wiki, document or recorded online meeting—and has a question about it—can start an IM session, online meeting or even make a phone call using the built-in presence icons. Presence icons also help in the Pidgin client to let users know who is available for an IM or chat session. In the conferencing component, presence icons let participants know who is invited to a meeting, who is in it, and—when all of the voice options are deployed—who is talking and when.

>Meeting Kick-off
You can kick off a meeting in two main ways using Novell Teaming + Conferencing. You can schedule meetings in advance or start an instant meeting at any time. Scheduled meetings typically have invited participants and a set starting time. Instant meetings have no pre-defined participants or starting time. Whenever you want to start an instant meeting, you simply indicate in real time who you want to invite, and your meeting will begin.

For both scheduled and instant meetings, invitees can receive notifications and important details in a variety of ways—as an iCal appointment, an e-mail reminder, an IM reminder and/or a phone reminder. While you don’t actually have to establish a time for scheduled meetings, if you do, the time will be included in the e-mail notice. But you can start a scheduled meeting anytime you want—regardless of its scheduled time. You also have the ability to invite people to join a meeting using IM, or by having the phone server call participants at the start of a session or while the meeting is in progress.

When you set up a meeting, the conferencing server automatically generates a generic meeting ID, as well as a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) for each meeting invitee. Both the ID and PIN are provided in the meeting invitation. Also included in the invitation is the title and description you provide when you define the meeting.

You can configure meetings as public, private or unlisted. Public meetings can be joined by anyone, and the meeting information is displayed on your community’s meeting list. (A community is simply a group of users involved in a team project.) Private meetings are only displayed in invitees’ meeting lists and can only be joined by those with a valid meeting PIN. Anyone can attend unlisted meetings, but they must know the meeting ID to join.

Even though only private meetings require invitees to provide their PIN to join, it’s a good idea to provide your PIN for public and unlisted meetings as well. The PIN activates a powerful aspect of presence: when you supply your PIN, other attendees can see that you’ve joined or left the meeting. Also, when you use the solution’s voice conferencing capabilities, your PIN allows attendees to see when you are talking. This is especially useful for large conference calls or calls involving participants who do not know each other well.

The following are a few other options you can set for your meetings:

  • Meeting Passwords – You can enhance security by requiring individuals to enter a meeting password before they will be allowed to join the conference.
  • Display Attendees – You have the option to display the list of attendees to all participants of the meeting, to only the moderators, or not at all.
  • Roll Call – This option prompts each invitee to provide their name as they join the audio portion of the meeting, which then will cause their name to be announced when they join or leave the meeting.
  • Lecture Mode – This mutes all non-moderators so the meeting can be run more as a lecture, with moderators being the only active participants. This is useful for small webcasts.
  • Meeting Recording – This allows the meeting to be digitally recorded for team members who were unable to attend, but need access to the information. The meeting is recorded in Flash format for easy review of the desktop sharing and audio. An mp3 of the audio only is also created.
  • PIN Expiration – You can set PIN numbers for instant meetings to automatically expire a certain amount of time after the meeting ends.
  • Chat Control – You have three options for controlling chat during meetings. You can allow participants to chat with anyone, no one, or only the moderator.

>Let’s Chat
Chatting online with a colleague using IM, or getting a small group together in a chat session is the electronic equivalent of a hallway conversation, and it's a great way to get quick answers or suggestions. With Novell Teaming + Conferencing, you have the following options for chatting with your peers online.

  1. Use the Pidgin client. The Pidgin client is an open-source, multi-protocol client that's included with Novell Teaming + Conferencing. Using Pidgin, users can connect to the conferencing server, a GroupWise Instant Messenger (GWIM) server or both. In addition, they can also connect to online chat services such as AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! and others. The only drawback is that the Pidigin client shows separate entries for the same person on each of these different systems. If your buddy Hrolf is on the conferencing server, GWIM and Google Talk, you'll have three different buddy IDs for Hrolf, and you'll have to choose the ID based on which system you want to use to chat. For users tied to the conferencing server, you can escalate a chat to an online meeting.
  2. Using the conferencing client in an online meeting. During a meeting, you can post chat items to the entire group, or to one or two users. Posting to a select set of users is called a “whisper,” because its intent is the same as whispering during a face-to-face meeting.

The relationships among the various components of Novell Teaming + Conferencing, as well as the points of presence integration throughout the system, are indicated in (See Figure 1.)

The chat capabilities within the conferencing client help enhance the productivity and user experience for participants on a conference call. For example, a salesperson conducting a large conference call or online meeting might be presented with a question he or she can't answer. The salesperson can conduct a private chat with a technical expert on the conference without interrupting the flow of the meeting, get the needed information and provide the answer.

While conference chatting is a powerful feature, there are times when you might want to turn chat off completely or only allow participants to chat with the moderator. For example, if you are conducting a large sales webinar that’s open to the public, you don’t want your competitors to be able to join the session and privately chat with other participants to steal prospects and sabotage your sales efforts. Turning chat off or limiting chat to conversations with the moderator prohibits this type of activity.

>Meeting in Progress
I’ve already mentioned a few presence-related features that improve user experience during a conference, including the ability to see and hear when someone joins or leaves the conference, identify who is talking and chat with moderators or participants. Another nice feature that improves conference effectiveness is the Hands Up feature. This allows participants to indicate that they have a question or comment to add before the speaker moves on to a new discussion or topic. You simply select the Hands Up icon, and all the participants of the conference will be able to see that you have something to say. The moderator can then pass the microphone to you to make sure that you get your turn to speak. This is especially useful on conferences with a large number of participants or even on smaller ones when a few participants tend to dominate the conversation.

Sub-meetings are yet another way to enhance conferences. Sub-meetings are private voice meetings that occur with a sub-group during a broader team meeting. Sub-meetings allow for mini break-out sessions when it's necessary to temporarily take a discussion off-line. Sub-meeting participants cannot hear what is happening in the main meeting while their sub-meeting is in session, but they can easily rejoin the main meeting when they’re ready.

>Conferencing Installation Tips
When you install Novell Teaming + Conferencing, the conferencing component is a separate server service. It can be installed on the same server as Novell Teaming, or on separate hardware. To simplify the installation process, you should install the conferencing component before installing Novell Teaming. It’s fine if you happen to install Novell Teaming first; you’ll just have to update the installer.xml file to make Novell Teaming aware of the presence capabilities provided with Novell Teaming + Conferencing.

You need to install the conferencing component on a SUSE Linux Enterprise Server SP1 server that has the libneon and libpq libraries installed. The SUSE Linux Enterprise Server installation does not install these libraries by default. The PostgreSQL database and server also need to be installed on the server.

The conferencing system needs three separate IP addresses, each with its own domain name, devoted to the following services:

  • XML Router – Routes XML data and API calls between components, including the ability to instant message and provide presence information among connections. This address should have a user-friendly domain name because this is the service that attendees will use to initially connect to a conference.
  • Portal Server – Provides Web services and client downloads, as well as the ability to run the admin console to set up communities of conferencing users.
  • App Server – Enables desktop sharing and whiteboarding by forwarding application-shared data from the meeting presenter to meeting participants, while managing remote-control access to the presenter’s desktop.

Assigning each service its own IP address allows the services to fail over to other ports, such as port 80, to automatically talk through firewalls.

The conferencing installation wizard walks you through the options you need to configure, including your e-mail SMTP server and the IP addresses referenced above. As you install, be sure to adhere to the documentation’s instructions for setting up eDirectory integration to ensure that Novell Teaming + Conferencing and eDirectory connect.

After installing the conferencing server, your users need to install the conferencing client and the Pidgin Instant Chat Client. Users can download the conferencing client by browsing to your portal server and entering the path /imidio/downloads/conferencing.rpm (for Linux users) or /imidio/downloads/conferencing.exe (for Windows users). The install for both clients is fairly straightforward and easy to follow.

For information on adding live voice to your Novell Teaming + Conferencing meetings with either the CG 6060 or CG 6565 Open Access media processing board, visit Teaming and Conferencing and Partners and Communities.

>Adding Voice
To take advantage of the telephony capabilities in Novell Teaming + Conferencing, you need to install a voice processing board from NMS Communications. Either the CG 6060 or CG 6565 Open Access media processing board from NMS will give you the ability to add live voice to your online meetings without having to arrange for a separate audio bridge. (See (See Figure 2.) and Getting a Voice Processing Board.)

Using a CG Open Access card with Novell Teaming + Conferencing allows you to use the soft phone included in the conferencing client to support users during audio conferences. You can also add SiteScape’s ICEing Telephony module to integrate callers from telephony networks into your online meetings. This is how you enable users with desktop handsets or mobile phones to join your online meetings.

While you can use other voice conferencing solutions or providers in conjunction with the solution’s data sharing, it’s only when you use the voice conferencing capabilities inherent to Novell Teaming + Conferencing that you can fully enjoy the power of presence during your conferences. NMS Communications can help you determine whether it’s more cost-effective to leverage the voice conferencing capabilities in Novell Teaming + Conferencing or that of a third-party provider. (See Cost-Effective Audio Conferencing.)

>Synergy to Succeed
The ability of Novell Teaming + Conferencing to make the online availability of team members more visible through presence—along with chat, live voice or Web conferences, application sharing and whiteboarding—erases the effects of distance and allows your teams to collaborate, communicate and work more effectively. Add these capabilities to the team workspace and enterprise social networking capabilities in Novell Teaming, and you have everything you need to empower your teams to do more in less time, with greater results and greater success.

Echoing this view, Robert Mahowald, Program Director for IDC Collaborative Computing, states, “Team workspaces, wikis and blogs, global content and expertise search, and application and desktop sharing are among the latest 'must haves' for companies seeking a competitive edge. A particularly compelling feature of Novell Teaming + Conferencing is the extensive integration and presence indicators between the teaming and conferencing modules. By combining social software, Web 2.0 technologies and other real-time collaboration tools, Novell's new product can help businesses meet their next-generation collaboration needs.”

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