Say Bye-Bye to Exchange Unified Messaging in Exchange Server 2019

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Exchange Unified Messaging was first introduced in Exchange Server 2007 and has been in every version of Exchange server since - until now. In the Exchange Server 2019 Public Preview announcement it was revealed that UM is being dropped in Exchange Server 2019.

Exchange UM provides the following features and functionality:
  • Access a full set of voicemail features from Internet-capable mobile phones, Microsoft Office Outlook (2007 and later), and Outlook on the web (OWA).
  • Auto Attendants allow you to create sophisticated calling trees using both speech and keypad controls.
  • Play on Phone lets you play voice messages on a telephone.
  • The Outlook and OWA voicemail form includes the controls for actions such as playing, stopping, or pausing voice messages, playing voice messages on a telephone, and adding and editing notes.
  • Call Answering Rules allow users to decide how incoming calls are answered.
  • Voice Mail Preview provides (sometimes humorous) email transcriptions of voicemails which allow users to get a sense of the urgency of a recorded voicemail.
  • Outlook Voice Access (OVA) allows users to access and manage their voicemails using voice or keypad controls.
  • Protected Voice Mail enables users to send private voicemails protected by Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS).
  • For a full set of Exchange UM features see the article, Introduction to Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging.
Exchange Server 2019 no longer includes Exchange Unified messaging. If your organization wants to migrate to Exchange 2019 and uses Exchange UM for company voicemail, you'll need to implement a new voicemail solution. Read on for some options.

The simplest option, of course, is to migrate everyone from on-premises to Office 365. Not only will you get Cloud Voicemail (aka Azure Voicemail), but you'll get all the hotness that only comes from the Office 365 -- Exchange Online, Teams, SharePoint Online, etc.

Organizations with no intention of using Office 365 will either need to implement a new voicemail system, or upgrade to or remain on Exchange 2016, the last Exchange Server version to support UM. In case it isn't obvious, this is because Cloud Voicemail runs in Office 365. Of course, upgrading to or staying on Exchange 2016 only buys you time. Mainstream support for Exchange 2016 is expected to end on October 13, 2020.

As announced on the EHLO Blog last year, Microsoft is discontinuing support for Session Border Controllers in Exchange Online in July 2018. Recently, they extended this deadline to April 30, 2019 due to customer feedback. This decision was surely a precursor of things to come (or not come, as it turns out) to Exchange Server 2019. Without SBC support, Cloud Voicemail will require Skype for Business Server as your on-prem PBX. You will not to be able to connect any other on-prem PBX, such as Cisco Call Manager or Avaya, to Cloud Voicemail.

Microsoft has received a lot of feedback from enterprise organizations about the removal of UM from Exchange and Exchange Online, as seen in the forum feedback above. It appears they may have misjudged how much this change will cost organizations and its impact to their customers. In an effort to reduce some of the cost, they have created a path to use Cloud Voicemail almost for free.

Customers running Exchange 2019 with Skype for Business Server 2019 with Enterprise Voice will be able to use Cloud Voicemail natively, as long as they have a tenant with at least one license that includes Skype for Business Online. No other licensing, gateways, or SBCs are required, but it will require implementing Azure AD Connect to sync your AD to your Azure AD for your tenant.

Customers running Exchange 2019 with Skype for Business Server 2015 with Enterprise Voice, or customers who cannot/will not have an Office 365 tenant, will have no other option than to use a third-party voicemail system. All voicemail support must come from the third-party provider.

I put together the following table that shows the different voicemail scenarios for Skype for Business and Exchange, both on-prem and in Office 365.

Enterprise Voice Mailbox Exchange UM EXO UM Cloud Voicemail
Skype for Business 2015 Exchange 2016 Yes No No
Skype for Business 2015 Exchange 2019 No No No
Skype for Business 2015 Exchange Online No Yes No
Skype for Business 2019 Exchange 2016 Yes No No
Skype for Business 2019 Exchange 2019 No No Yes
Skype for Business 2019 Exchange Online No No Yes
Skype for Business Online Exchange 2016 No No Yes
Skype for Business Online Exchange 2019 No No Yes
Skype for Business Online Exchange Online No No Yes
Skype for Business Online (No EV) Exchange 2016 No No No
Skype for Business Online (No EV) Exchange 2019 No No No
Skype for Business Online (No EV) Exchange Online No No No

Cloud Voicemail requires that the tenant has at least one license that includes Skype for Business Online to provide Cloud Voicemail capabilities for everyone in the tenant. It should be noted that in the preview Cloud Voicemail won't work if the organization is configured with Exchange hybrid, but this is expected to be fixed before General Availability. As a reminder, this is a preview, folks. Only try this stuff out in a lab.

An important feature for most companies is Auto Attendants. Currently, Auto Attendants in Phone System are rudimentary, but investments are being made to bring them up to feature parity previously available in Exchange UM. The biggest missing feature is the inability to invoke outbound calls from an Auto Attendant.

Cloud Voicemail features include simple voicemail, voicemail transcription with an MP3 attachment sent to the user's Inbox, ability to record personal greetings, message waiting indicator (MWI), and reply with call. It does not include Outlook integration like visual voicemail, Play on Phone, call answering rules, text notifications, or any Outlook Voice Access features. For further information on how to access Cloud Voicemail features, read Check Skype for Business voicemail and options.

So what do you think? Is this a big deal for your organization? Comments or questions? Leave a comment below.

Special thanks to fellow Office Servers & Apps MVP Adam Ball for help with the licensing aspects of this article.

EXPTA Consulting helps small, medium, and enterprise customers with their Exchange on-prem and Office 365 needs. We offer design, planning and migration services, identity and security solutions, and other IT services. Past customers include higher education, SAS providers, ITAR organizations, and insurance brokers. Contact us today to see how we can help you!