InformaCast 11.0.5 Engineering Overview + Podcast

InformaCast emergency notification engineering overview podcast

With each new release of InformaCast, we sit down with Singlewire CTO, Jerry Steinhauer, to learn the details of what's new. You can download and listen to the podcast or read and learn more below. 

Click to Download InformaCast version 11.0.X

Transcript

So what I'd like to talk to you guys today about is InformaCast 11.0.5. 

11.0.5 for us is a service release. And we do recommend that all customers currently on maintenance upgrade to it. If you're a customer running InformaCast cast 9.1.1 or higher, you can upgrade directly.

If you're running an older release, please see our download page on singlewire.com for more detailed information and how to upgrade.
 

Security Improvements

So I'd like to talk a little bit about what's important in this release. Let's start with security. One thing that some customers will notice is that we force changing of default passwords in this release.

As you may know, when you install and InformaCast, the default password was change me. We've always recommended that customers change their passwords. But we've never forced them to do it as part of installation or part of upgrade.

As of 11.0.5, when you install InformaCast for the very first time, or if you upgrade from a previous release, we do a check to see if you're using one of the default passwords. And if you are, we stop the boot process until it's changed. The reason we do this is because if you consult security literature, it's well understood that default passwords are one of the leading causes of system compromise. And we recognize that our customers depend on InformaCast. And we do our best to keep it stable and keep it secure. We recognize that customers trust our products. And we do our best to keep that trust. And this is one step along that path.As for other things that we're doing in the security area, in 11.0.5, we started a process where we audit our security posture in each release. This includes details, like which SSL ciphers we use , how passwords are handled in the file system, how we can secure the management interface. We audit InformaCast using security tools that help us find holes that an attacker might exploit. We train our developers and our QA staff on security issues and security methods. So these all combine together to move us forward on our security journey. We recognize that being secure is not a state. It's not an end state. You'll never get there. But it's a journey, a form of process improvement for us. And it's also a form of product improvement.

Logging Improvements

From the serviceability standpoint, in 11.0.5, we've started to see InformaCast being used in much busier environments than it has been historically. In these busy environments, many broadcasts go on simultaneously. And as a result, we may not be able to look back very far in time. And this is a problem for our support group, as they try and understand what might have happened at a particular time in the past. So as of this release, we'll begin keeping 100 log files of each log file type for performance, summary, and SIP, and not just 10.

We've also made some other changes to the SIP stack to bugs, and also to how information is logged to performance and summary. So these are not things that administrators will notice. But we hope that customers will look on these changes favorably. And certainly, these will make the system easier to work on for a support group.

Operating System Upgrades

Since 11.0.5 is a maintenance release, we also do operating system upgrades. And our operating system for 11.0.5 is Debian Wheezy. The Debian project uses Toy Story characters to name their releases. So this is our last Wheezy release. Our next release, we're upgrading to Debbie and Jessie. And in this release, we've removed the Java JDK 1.7 and we moved to 1.8. The primary reason for that was security releases, that Oracle is no longer maintaining Java releases for security patches on 1.7. 
 

Cisco DMM Plugin Retired

In InformaCast 11.0.5, you may have noticed that we have lost the digital media manager plugin. So DMM integrated with the Cisco digital media manager. And that product no longer has an API that InformaCast can access. And so as a result, we've removed DM from our list of plugins. We recommend that customers use one of our supported digital signage integrations. If you're interested in integrating your digital signs with InformaCast, I don't want to go into all the lists of which vendors we support and how. Please see your territory manager, or see singlewire.com for our list of digital signage partners, and you can get an idea of what options are available to you.

E.164 Support

In InformaCast 11.0.5, we do have some new features. The first of them is E.164 support.

By way of background, most customer dial plans historically will use 45 or maybe 7 digit extensions. So within Singlewire, our main number is 1140. And that's it's extension externally. And it's E.164 number is plus 1, 608, 661, 1140. So E.164 numbers show up in Communications Manager as a plus followed by the country code, followed by the diable number within that code, so plus 1, 608 661, 1140. In previous releases InformaCast, E.164 numbers would be visible within InformaCast. But you would have the plus as backslash plus. And that was always a bit of a hardship for administrators because nobody could really keep track of-- well, is it just plus here? Is it backslash plus? What's the right way to search on E.164 numbers? As of 11.0.5, the backslash is no longer necessary. And E.164 numbers can be expressed directly within InformaCast.

If you're upgrading from a previous release, you should know that if you have a recipient group constructed on the earlier behavior with the backslash plus, you may want to revisit that recipient group and remove the backslash as part of your 11.0.5 upgrade.

SNMPV 3 Support

The next feature that we have in InformaCast 11.0.5 is SNMP v3 support.

So this is for customers who want to encrypt communications between InformaCast Communications Manager. So you may remember that InformaCast communicates with Communications Manager over SNMP, over CTI, and over AXL. Today, the AXL communication is encrypted and has been since CUCM supported SSL all the way back in the mists of time. But SNMP support, in order to encrypt that, that required SNMPV support, which Communications Manager supported. But until 11.0.5, InformaCast did not.

So starting 11.0.5, we can encrypt our traffic to get phone information between InformaCast and CUCM. So that includes both integrity checks and encryption checks with multiple hashes. So you can see more information about that feature on our online documentation. 
 

Auto Registration for IP Speakers

Some other features in this release, we support auto registration for IP speakers.

In previous releases, we would support SDNS or InformaCast Desktop Notifier IDN endpoints. And we supported the ability to auto register those, meaning that when they first attempted to contact Communications Manager, we would add them to the registered speaker list. And if the recipient group was correct, it was constructed correctly, they would drop into the right group on their own. We realized that this was a really nice feature. And for customers who wanted to deploy large numbers of IP speakers, not having auto registration was a real problem.

So as of 11.0.5, when you connect your InformaCast compliant IP speaker to the network, and it finds InformaCast and attempts to register, you can turn on auto registration support such that it will register without you having to import it manually. The default for auto registration is off. And customers who are upgrading, the auto registration is off for you as well. So please do turn it on when you need it.

API Changes/Improvements

Other API changes in 11.0.5 include an XML API change.

So for customers or partners writing applications that call the InformaCast API, we have two types of APIs in InformaCast. We have a REST based API, which we'll use HTTP and JSON as its data transport. We also have an older XML API. And that XML API is used for things like initiating messages. There's a send message target. There's a recipient group target. And those XML targets in the older API can be called either through a REST style interface, where no XML is supplied, or through a full XML call, in which case the application supplies some XML that says send message ID x to recipient group y.

As of InformaCast 11.0.5, there was a change made to one of the libraries that InformaCast uses to implement the XML API. So calling XML interface targets may result, with XML data, may result in some unexpected errors. 

We do recommend that you take a look if you have applications running in your environment that require the XML API, that use the XML API, and are calling it with XML, we recommend that you see the release notes and the InformaCast documentation for some more information about this change. We do not expect that many customers are going to be impacted by this. But we want to be forthright and upfront about API changes. And quite frankly, we try never to make them.

Some better news about our API and InformaCast 11.0.5 is that now we have 100% code coverage across our plugins. So as of 11.0.5, anything you can do in the web user interface can be done programmatically through our API. We think that this is a huge step forward for customers and partners that want to integrate InformaCast into existing solutions. Because now there is no need to go into the web user interface for tasks that need to be done by machines.

CallAware Audio Playback Improvements

A new feature in 11.0.5 is our new role for CallAware audio playback. In previous releases of InformaCast, if CallAware was used for audio recording, and users wanted to play back that audio, the only user that was able to do that was a user with administrator, which is fine as long as administrators are the ones who want to play this back. If non administrators want to play CallAware audio back, in previous releases we had really no solution for them. As of 11.0.5, there's a new role called CallAware audio playback that can be assigned to users within the InformaCast interface. These users can be local users or LDAP users within the customer's environment. And those users, when they log in, if they're only assigned the CallAware audio playback right, all they can see is the part of CallAware that allows them to see call history and to playback calls within the web user interface.

Outbound Email Plugin Improvements

In InformaCast 11.0.5, the outbound email plug in gets support for blind carbon copy, meaning that outbound messages from InformaCast that are getting generated in email can utilize the BCC field. This was a request by customers. And the inbound email plugin also gets better support for HTML mail. There were some circumstances where InformaCast would receive an Outlook formatted email message. And that message would include HTML that was not set up in a way that InformaCast could handle. So as of 11.0.5, the inbound email plugin gets better support for HTML mail.

New Feature: Night Bell

Our largest new feature in 11.0.5 is called Night Bell. Night Bell is a new feature within InformaCast. And it's a plug-in. The way it works is this. For a Communications Manager customer, imagine that there's a shared line between a reception phone and a GTI port that's connected to InformaCast. So when a call arrives on that shared line, and begins ringing, in InformaCast will see that ringing event and will begin broadcasting a predefined message to a predefined recipient group. When the call stops ringing, either because it's answered or because the caller was hung up, InformaCast will stop broadcasting.

This is a feature that we've received requests for many times throughout the years. And we think that Night Bell will allow customers to use IP speakers and other endpoints more effectively, and in a way that they happen to be used to migrating from older analog telephony systems.

So I hope you've enjoyed this overview of InformaCast 11.0.5. 

If you have other questions, please consult singlewire.com or your territory manager for some more information.

Thanks for listening.

Next Steps

Consult the additional resources below to get started:

 

 

InformaCast Online Demo