Many of today’s knowledge workers find themselves collaborating with their external business partners on a regular basis. In fact, some of these folks work with their partners more frequently than they do their own coworkers.
For these kinds of workers to be successful, it is essential that they’re equipped with modern communication tools that enable them to collaborate with their external business partners in real time via chat, presence, group chat, and voice and video calling.
But how exactly can such functionality be enabled across corporate domains, particularly when many businesses use different UC platforms—ones that may even be based on entirely different protocols?
Through a process called UC federation, organizations are able to bridge the gaps that exist between their business partners’ UC platforms and their own. Federation allows companies to link their UC platforms with those of their business partners—even if those platforms are different (e.g., GENBAND EXPERiUS and Cisco Jabber).
Once federated, end users at Company A, for example, are able to communicate in real time with end users at Company B as if they were on the same UC platform—even if one of those platforms is SIP-based (e.g., Microsoft Lync and IBM Sametime) and the other is XMPP-based (e.g., Cisco CUPS and OpenFire).
There are five different types of UC federation:
Open federation. Open federation allows UC platforms to federate with all the other “like” UC platforms that are configured for open federation. Open federation, which is part of XMPP protocol, uses DNS Service records to find like UC platforms. Microsoft Office 365 is an example of a UC-as-a-Service that is configured for open federation. On-premises Microsoft UC platforms, such as Skype for Business, can be set up as open federation environments by publishing SIP DNS Service records. Open federation eliminates the need to setup and manage federation on company-by-company basis. The promise of open federation is to empower end users to be able to instantly communication with their external colleagues. But it remains an unfulfilled promise for two reasons: 1) it requires like-to-like UC platforms, and 2) there is no central directory of companies and domains that are configured for open federation.
Direct federation. As the name suggests, direct federation is the process through which two organizations directly federate with one another, establishing unique one-to-one connections. Examples of direct federation include like-to-like federation (e.g., Microsoft Lync-to-Microsoft Lync or IBM Sametime-to-IBM Sametime) and federation through Microsoft’s XMPP Gateway that connects Microsoft UC platforms with one another. While direct federation is more secure than open federation, it’s still difficult to establish for a variety of reasons. For starters, you need to track down the UC administrator at the partner organization with which you wish to federate. Once you track them down, they need to be willing to federate. That could take a lot of time and a lot of convincing, thanks to a lack of resources or other priorities. Altogether, the process can be quite cumbersome, and generally speaking, few federations are established this way. It’s worth noting that UC administrators have to actively manage these direct federations.
PIC federation. Public IM Connectivity (PIC) allowed end-users on UC platforms, such as Lync users to chat with users on public instant messaging platforms, like Yahoo Messenger, and AOL Instant Messenger. In June 2014, Yahoo and AOL stopped supporting PIC federation for Microsoft and IBM Sametime. Today, NextPlane is the exclusive provider of AOL AIM and Yahoo Messenger federation for Microsoft and IBM Sametime platforms. Microsoft Skype for Business is the provider of PIC federation for Skype.
Clearinghouse federation. To remove the complexities, security risks and limitations inherent in the other forms of federation, businesses can opt to utilize a UC clearinghouse service, like NextPlane’s UC Exchange. Through use of such federation services, businesses are able to route their UC traffic through a third-party’s secure servers. Instead of having to actively establish and manage federations or expose their organizations to unscrupulous attackers, UC clearinghouse services are scalable and secure. They’re cloud-based, so they require little to no maintenance from in-house IT teams. Additionally, businesses are able to manage their own policies, choosing which UC traffic to permit and forbid. They also benefit from centralized reporting functionality, which provides actionable insight into how their employees are using federation services. Organizations that make use of clearinghouse services benefit from being a part of a community of federation-ready companies. For example, the UC Exchange Federation Directory provides access to a network in which more than 500,000 users from 450 companies send upwards of 1 billion messages across 1,000 federated domains each month.
nCore federation. nCore federation delivers on the promise of open federation by bringing federation and inter-company connectivity to the line of business end-users’ level, while overcoming the XMPP and Microsoft implementation of open federation. nCore is a secure business messaging service with build-in federation to thousands of companies and organizations. nCore federation can extend the reach of UC platforms by enabling their users to instantly collaborate with any external colleague on nCore—all without any UC administrator having to do any work to establish federations. For nCore users, this translates into an open collaboration service that allows them to chat and make voice or video calls with both internal colleagues and external peers—regardless of their underlying UC platforms. Altogether, this eliminates the “silo” effect that limits most team collaboration services.