Tuesday Apr 24, 2007

More on Using Communications Suite for Emergency Notifications

With regards to my previous post, where I discussed using Messaging Server and its SMS capabilities as an emergency notification system, there have been some interesting and insightful comments on other approaches. Here is a summary of those comments.

  1. Create a directory attribute in your schema which you use to designate an email to your SMS address. Many mobile providers have such entities (for example, AAAEEENNNN@mobile.att.net). For employees with company phones, you pre-populate the emergency notification list. In addition, you could provide the capability for those you wish to notify to add themselves to the notification list through a web interface.

    In terms of best practices on the user side in LDAP (constructing or "building" email addresses using attribute values that aren't themselves directly email addresses), see the item in the JES MS 6.3 Release Notes discussing the new-in-JES-MS-6.3 LDAP_URL_RESULT_MAPPING option.dat option.

    Two downsides to this approach are:

    • You will get mixed results as each carrier will have different mechanisms for churning email to SMS: length restrictions, and so on.
    • Worse yet, if 3,000 messages from, say, campus-safety@stateu.edu arrive at a particular provider all at once, the provider could decide that the messages are spam and delete them all.
  2. Conduct advance planning to be able to put up banners on key web interfaces and web sites, indicating the emergency.
  3. Use a well-known URL to disseminate information.
  4. Use a shared IMAP folder.
  5. At the lowest level, Messaging Server could certainly broadcast email messages to the entire population. This functionality exists as a simple email mailing list.
  6. Use Instant Messaging accounts. In a university setting, you could enable students to use these IM accounts either throughout the school year or they could exist for the term of the class. Using IM enables you to maintain a single community that still allows co-existence with 3rd Party IM accounts from MSN/Yahoo/GTalk. The IM Account would also provide real-time information broadcasts on events, even providing Chat Rooms for discussions.
  7. Use integration with phone switch information. Each employee would receive "universal" telephone numbers. (Sun uses AccessLine technology.) These universal numbers would all use call routing to an employee's phone numbers: work phone, home phone, cell phone, and so on. During emergency situations, the organization could set up "automated dialers" to call out each employee to notify them of emergency situations and appropriate course of action.

Thursday Apr 19, 2007

Communications Suite and Emergency Notifications - Using SMS

Short Message Service (SMS) Support in Messaging Server
The topic of Short Message Service (SMS) has come up within the Comms community as a means to quickly notify users with a more real-time, "push" style of communications, for example, to let users know of emergency conditions that require their prompt action.

I'm no expert on the topic by any means, but I did some digging around and came up with the following bits of information that may help you decide if SMS is something your site should look into.

Quick SMS Overview
From Wikipedia:

Short Message Service (SMS) is a telecommunications protocol that allows the sending of "short" (160 characters or less) text messages. It is available on most digital mobile phones and some personal digital assistants with onboard wireless telecommunications. The individual messages which are sent are called text messages, and more colloquially SMSes,texts, or even txts (in "text speak").

SMS gateways exist to connect mobile SMS services with instant message (IM) services, the world wide web, desktop computers, and even landline telephones (through speech synthesis). Devices which can connect to mobile phones and PDAs through protocols such as Bluetooth can also sometimes use that link to send SMS messages over the wireless network. SMS arose as part of the widely deployed GSM protocol, but is now also available with non-GSM systems.

The most common application of the service is person-to-person messaging, but text messages are also often used to interact with automated systems, such as ordering products and services for mobile phones, or participating in contests. There are some services available on the Internet that allow users to send text messages free of direct charge to the sender, although users of North American networks will often have to pay to receive any SMS text message.

SMS Support in Messaging Server
The short of it is that yes, Messaging Server does support SMS as a channel.

Messaging Server implements email-to-mobile and mobile-to-email messaging using SMS. You can configure SMS as either one-way (email-to-mobile only) or two-way (both email-to-mobile and mobile-to-email). To enable one-way service only, you must add and configure the SMS channel. To enable two-way service, you must add and configure the SMS channel, and in addition, configure the SMS Gateway Server.

For both one- and two-way SMS, the generated SMS messages are submitted to a Short Message Service Center (SMSC) using the Short Message Peer to Peer (SMPP) protocol. Specifically, the SMSC must provide a V3.4 or later SMPP server that supports TCP/IP.

The following figure shows these configurations:

Graphic shows logical data flow of one- and two-way SMS.

One-way SMS: To enable one-way service, the Messaging Server implements an SMPP client (the MTA SMS channel) that communicates with remote SMSCs. The SMS channel converts enqueued email messages to SMS messages as described in C.2.2 The Email to SMS Conversion Process of multipart MIME messages as well as character set translation issues. Operating in this capacity, the SMS channel functions as an (SMPP) External Short Message Entity (ESME).

Two-way SMS: Two-way SMS enables the mail server not only to send email to remote devices, but allows for receiving replies from the remote devices and for remote device email origination. Enabling two-way SMS service requires both the MTA SMS channel (SMPP client), as explained in the previous topic, and the SMS Gateway Server. Sun Java System Messaging Server installs an SMS Gateway Server as part of its general installation process, which you must then configure.

For more information, see Appendix C, Short Message Service (SMS) in the Messaging Server 6.3 Administration Guide.

SMS Mailbox Access and Calendar Gateway
In addition to the SMS functionality built-in to Messaging Server, a couple of Sun Professional Services folks independently developed an SMS Gateway solution for use with Messaging Server and Calendar Server. Dubbed SMS Mailbox Access and Calendar Gateway, this solution is primarily targetted at service providers to add value for their subcriber base, though other types of organizations could certainly also use the gateway.

The SMS Gateway provides the following functionality:
  1. SMS Notification. Receiving SMS information about each email delivered to the subscriber's mailbox. Depending on user-configured settings, the following information can be sent in the SMS body: sender, email subject, date and time, size attachment information, and more. Furthermore, the subscribers can read emails using their mobile phones. It is just a matter of responding to the SMS notification and the first part of the email body will be received as another SMS on the mobile device shortly thereafter. To receive another part the subscriber has to respond with SMS to the first one, to receive third - respond to the second, and so on, until the whole body has been transferred.
  2. Mailbox management via SMS. This enables support for basic email services. Subscribers can use SMS messages to reply to, forward, or delete the mail stored in their mailbox to receive mailbox status information (for example, the number of messages, how many have been read, and so on), as well as detailed attachment data (filename, type, and size). Mailbox management features also include the ability to send emails using SMS messages and to change notification parameters.
  3. Calendar Event Information. SMS Gateway sends SMS messages containing information on events in the subscriber's calendar (Calendar Server) to the subscriber's mobile phone (depending on user-configured settings). These can include reminders for pending appointments, invitations to meetings, and so on.
The SMS Gateway requires Messaging Server, Calendar Server, Directory Server, and custom components developed by Sun.

Comparison of Messaging Server SMS Channel and SMS Mailbox Access and Calendar Gateway
It's interesting to note that the built-in SMS functionality to Messaging Server and the SMS Gateway do not compete, but are in fact complimentary. Here is a summary of features in both:

SMS Channel
  • General-purpose email/SMS and SMS/email gateway
  • SMS notification sent as email passes via the channel, mailboxes are not involved
  • Provides historical record of the messages sent, so mobile users can respond to notifications to reply to email messages
  • Supports DSNs

SMS Gateway
  • SMS Gateway sends notifications when emails are delivered to mailboxes, so they can contain backward references to messages
  • Mailboxes must be involved if you want to interact with mailbox but you can think of  the Gateway as a general purpose tool for changing some user parameters in LDAP by means of SMS messages sent
  • SMPP connectivity is through the Messaging Server SMS Channel but also SEMA-OIS, UCP, and CIMD2 connectivity independently if needed as not all SMSC devices use SMPP
Very briefly: Use SMS Channel if you want to configure your Messaging Server to be an SMTP to SMS converter, so mail messages transferred through are converted to SMS messages and sent to mobile users, regardless of whether they have mailboxes on your server. Use SMS Gateway if you want your Messaging Server users to be notified with SMS about messages that arrive in their mailboxes and to be able to manipulate them with the means of SMS messages.

Another Alternative: Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) Support in Messaging Server
MMS, like Short Messaging Service (SMS), is a way to send a message from one mobile device to another. The difference is that MMS can include not just text, but also sound, images and video. It is also possible to send MMS messages from a mobile phone to an email address.

While Messaging Server has supported SMS for some time, it does not provide built-in support for MMS. Instead, Sun has partnered with companies such as Logica CMG to provide the additional functionality required.

For More Information
For more information on this SMS Mailbox Access and Calendar Gateway, contact Andrzej Zagrodzinski or Wojciech.Chemijewski.
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Reporting about Unified Communications Suite Documentation, including news, Comms 101, documentation updates, and tips and tricks.

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