Voicemail Only, Voicemail Relay, and Integrated Messaging Options with Unity Connection

William Bell
Vice President, Solutions and Products

Having options is a great thing as long as you can clearly draw lines between said options.  Unity and Unity Connection both provide options outside of UM and Integrated Messaging which are intended to provide administrators with the flexibility they need to address the varying messaging requirements of their user install base.  In this blog, I want to focus on the messaging options available with Unity Connection.
Voicemail Only
This is a traditional voicemail configuration.  The Unity Connection system will accept and store voicemail messages for a designated subscriber.  The messages are stored locally on the Unity Connection server and are retrieved either using the telephone user interface (TUI) or by using the Cisco Unity Inbox.  The Cisco Unity Invbox is a web portal hosted on the Unity Connection system that allows users to access, play, and manager their voicemail.
Voicemail With Relay
This option allows administrators to specify whether they should relay or forward a voicemail to a specified destination.  In Unity Connection 7.1 and later, there are actually two options available to users:
Option 1: Relay:
With message Relay (also available in Unity Connection 7.0) the Unity Connection system will record a voicemail message and then relay it to a SMTP address specified by the administrator.  The message is not stored on the local Unity Connection message store at all.  In this mode a call is redirected to Unity Connection in the same manner as usual.  The Unity Connection recognizes that the call is for a configured subscriber and plays the appropriate greeting.  The caller will then be able to record their message for the user, mark message properties, and save the message.  Up to this point, the process is identical with traditional voice messaging.  After the caller’s message is recorded, Unity will then relay the message to an off box e-mail server using SMTP.  
Assuming that SMTP is configured correctly and the E-mail server is healthy, the user will receive the voicemail as a .WAV attachment in their standard e-mail Inbox.  It is simply an e-mail message at this point with no hooks into the Unity Connection message store.  This means users cannot access the message from the phone interface, from Cisco Unity Assistant, or from clients such as Phone View or CUPC.  There is also no MWI.  
Option 2: Accept and Relay:
This feature is introduced in Unity Connection 7.1 and it blends the standard voicemail behavior (store the message locally) with the Relay method (forward a copy to an off box e-mail store).  Just like the Relay option, Unity Connection will play a subscriber’s greeting and allow the caller to record a message.  After the message is recorded, Unity Connection will store a copy of the message in its local message store and then relay the message to an off box e-mail store using SMTP.  This means that now the user will receive MWI on their IP phone, message alerts on any configured notification devices, and receive a copy of the message (with a .WAV attachment)  in the standard e-mail Inbox.  
There is only one consideration with this messaging mode.  The voicemail stored in Unity Connection and the e-mail message are copies of the same message.  They are not linked in any way, so when the user reads the message in their e-mail it does not flag the message as read in voicemail, and visa versa.  For subscribers with this type of configuration, it is recommended that message aging rules are applied to keep the message store size to a minimum.
Configuring Message Relay
You can configure message relay on individual subscribers or you can apply configurations to subscriber templates.  Before message relay will work you will need to configure some system level settings.  First, in the system navigation panel go to System Settings>SMTP Configuration>Smart Host.  Enter the IP address or host name of your SMTP relay server and click Save.  
Once the smart host is configured, you can configure the message relay and voicemail only options by going to the Message Action  section on a subscriber or subscriber template.  First, select a subscriber you wish to manage.  Then go to the Edit>Message Actions menu.

Once in the Message Actions menu, you can select the drop down box next to Voicemail, and choose either:

  • Reject the Message
  • Accept the Message: (standard voicemail operation and the default action)
  • Relay the Message
  • Accept and Relay the Message

If you choose either relay option, you will also be provided a field where you can specify the relay address (i.e. user@mycompany.com).  Messages are relayed to this address via the Smart Host configured at the system level.
Integrated Messaging
As described in Hailey’s blog , you can also configure a subscriber mailbox to be enabled for Integrated Messaging.  In this mode, Unity Connection stores the voice message locally and e-mail clients (e.g. Microsoft Outlook) are configured with an IMAP connection to the Unity Connection server.  When a new voice message is received, Unity Connection stores it locally and triggers the MWI action and sends alerts to any configured notification devices.  The IMAP client on the user’s workstation or mobile device will periodically check for new messages from the Unity Connection server.  When a new voicemail message is available, the e-mail client will see a new message in the IMAP Inbox folder (which, as Hailey discussed is a separate folder from the E-mail folder).  From the e-mail client, the message has an attached .WAV file that can be played with a standard audio application or using Cisco’s Unity VMO plugin.  VMO enhances the overall experience by providing message playback controls, the ability to forward a message with audio introduction, and other nifty features.
With Integrated Messaging any action taken on the message from the e-mail client, the TUI, or a client application like Phone View or CUPC will be visiable to all other client interfaces.  This is true because it is a single message store that is made visible to multiple client technologies.
Additional Considerations
One of the goals of Unified Messaging is to provide a ubiquitous experience across all clients.  So far we have talked about how different client applications manage voice messages, but you also have to consider that some folks want to “read” their calendar events and e-mail messages through the phone interface.  This type of solution leverages text to speech (TTS) technologies and is a standard feature with most UM deployments.  If you happen to choose an Integrated Messaging solution or voicemail only solution like Unity Connection, you still have this capability.  Unity Connection can be configured to allow Connection subscribers to read e-mail from their Corporate E-mail server to them over the phone.  Connection can also integrate with Calendaring to expose this feature to users.  To accomplish these tassk, Unity Connection leverages IMAP and WebDav.  We’ll save a deep dive into these features for a later time.

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Nick Kelly

Cybersecurity Engineer, Cisco

Nick has over 20 years of experience in Security Operations and Security Sales. He is an avid student of cybersecurity and regularly engages with the Infosec community at events like BSides, RVASec, Derbycon and more. The son of an FBI forensics director, Nick holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is one of Cisco’s Fire Jumper Elite members. When he’s not working, he writes cyberpunk and punches aliens on his Playstation.


Virgilio “BONG” dela Cruz Jr.

CCDP, CCNA V, CCNP, Cisco IPS Express Security for AM/EE
Field Solutions Architect, Tech Data

Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.


John Cavanaugh

CCIE #1066, CCDE #20070002, CCAr
Chief Technology Officer, Practice Lead Security Services, NetCraftsmen

John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services.  Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.

He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.