Unified communications tools, despite the name, are not inherently interoperable. UC federation services bridge the gaps across vendors and enterprise domains.
In a perfect world, IT departments could easily merge their disparate communication platforms to achieve a unified communications (UC) and collaboration experience
UC federation options: Federating between third-party UC products and with external users
The definition of UC federation can vary across providers, and there are multiple "flavors" of federation. Federation services are available for instant messaging (IM) and presence by third-party providers, but voice and video federation options are not as widely available. There are some providers who are able to offer limited federation between voice and video platforms, but it can be more challenging due to the differences in standards, as well as the technical obstacles that come along with call routing and voice and video security for open federation.
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Two enterprises that use the same UC platforms might need UC federation to enable intercompany communication. UC federation can also connect two UC vendors deployed within the same enterprise. Due to a merger for example, a company might have one population of employees using Jabber and another using Lync. "If the same company is using two different UC vendors, they have to deal with technology differences, like how SIP might be implemented for certain features," said Rob Arnold, senior industry analyst at Mountain View, Calif.-based Frost & Sullivan Inc.
Even though intercompany federation can be more challenging -- and can potentially carry security concerns associated with opening up an enterprise environment to communicate externally -- federation between separate companies using the same UC platform is becoming a simpler process. Some enterprise UC tools -- such as Microsoft Lync -- do not require middleware to help companies using the same platform federate and communicate.
Who offers UC federation?
UC federation providers -- such as NextPlane, Esna Technologies Inc. (EsnaTech) and IntelePeer -- have emerged to offer services that remove the complexity associated with UC federation, Arnold said. "IT organizations can outsource federation to third-party providers whose core competency is to make sure all these connections are secure and reliable."
NextPlane's cloud-based UC Exchange platform offers instant messaging and presence, as well as some voice and video federation services among different enterprise-grade UC platforms -- such as Microsoft, Cisco and IBM -- and federation between UC tools and social media platforms. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider also hosts an online UC Exchange Directory, allowing its users to easily search for "federation-ready" companies, partners and clients.
EsnaTech provides integration between cloud, mobile and social communications tools within enterprise business applications -- like Salesforce. The Ontario- based company allows disparate end users of different UC products to communicate together as if they are on the same presence engine. EsnaTech's federation application is embedded across all Web applications or desktops.
IntelePeer, a San Mateo, Calif.-based cloud-based communications and SIP trunking service provider, is also providing voice and video federation between businesses and their partners using the cloud as the integration layer, via its Fluent Federation as a Service offering.
The future of UC federation
Federation between IM and presence tools has helped solve the most immediate communication need, but federation between voice and video platforms will be the next step for businesses requiring enterprise-grade video conferencing, and not tools like Skype.
In the meantime, UC federation meets the pressing need of sharing presence and availability across different network domains and UC platforms. "If a company works with an external partner every day, they are going to want to be on an IM and presence platform together -- UC federation is about cutting down the latencies between communication sessions and making sure people who work together closely can easily do that using the most appropriate form of communication," Arnold said.