NextPlane Inc. announced a new UC federation service that connects users of standards-based enterprise UC platforms -- from the likes of Cisco, Microsoft and IBM -- to isolated Google Hangouts users for IM and presence.
Google recently dropped support for the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), a standard designed to allow third-party instant messaging (IM) and presence communications to federate together. As a result, Google Hangouts users haven't had a way to exchange IMs with users on any enterprise UC platform -- a major roadblock for real-time, business-to-business (B2B) collaboration.
"As more companies embrace cloud UC services ... like Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 … the need for federation between services will continue to grow," said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc.
UC federation: Connecting Google to the rest of the UC world
NextPlane's cloud-based UC Exchange offers an online portal through which IT administrators can send UC federation requests to third parties -- such as business partners or customers. Once requests are accepted and enabled by IT, NextPlane's federation technology works behind the scenes to connect and translate between disparate users and platforms. Users can then add external contacts to their platforms -- such as Cisco Jabber or Microsoft Lync -- just like they would for a new internal contact, and begin collaborating, said Nick Sears, senior vice president of sales and business development for NextPlane.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based UC federation vendor had been using the XMPP protocol for translation between Google users to other vendor's UC platforms until Google stopped supporting the open standard last summer, Sears said. "As a result of Google introducing Google Hangouts, any federation with a non-Google user effectively died without XMPP to facilitate that translation," he said.
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Google's new "closed" system has become problematic for business users, Sears said. The new Google Hangout support service on the NextPlane UC Exchange platform will bridge the gap between Google and non-Google UC users, and allow for federation regardless of location. NextPlane's Google Hangouts service will enable integration between users across smartphones, tablets and the Web via the Google Chrome browser, the vendor said.
NextPlane's approach to federating Google and other UC platforms does not rely on XMPP, or any other protocol that UC vendors use for interoperability -- including the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for instant messaging and presence-leveraging extensions (SIMPLE). The NextPlane UC Exchange employs a proxy-based federation technology -- an extra step in the connection that helps create a path between Google users and NextPlane, and then from NextPlane to a vendor's UC platform.
While the proxy-based method of federating between UC vendors shouldn't cause latency or packet loss, the reliability and security of the gateway could be problematic, as proxy-based technology does not allow for end-to-end encryption, Nemertes' Lazar said.
"We are hoping that Google supplies some APIs [application programming interfaces] so that in future, we can improve that integration," NextPlane's Sears said.
Video calling complicates UC federation for B2B communications
Federating between disparate IM and presence platforms is just the beginning. Voice and video adds another layer of complexity to enterprises that want to collaborate with outside UC platforms and UC vendors that don't necessarily want to burn any resources on enabling customers to talk to the a competitor's customers. Third-party federation providers should expand beyond IM and presence to include voice and video, said Melanie Turek, vice president of research for Mountain View, Calif.-based Frost & Sullivan Inc.
While NextPlane federates between different enterprise IM platforms and across company boundaries, the vendor's UC Exchange can't federate to Google's voice or video applications yet. If Google releases APIs in the future, UC federation vendors -- such as NextPlane -- will also be able to help disparate UC users and Google users with video. "We have users asking about how they can participate in Google video Hangouts, but that's just not possible today," NextPlane's Sears said. "We are working with Google to bring more enhancements to the UC federation service for users," he said.
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