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Vendors squabble over UC federation, Microsoft declares SIP dead

Vendors at Enterprise Connect debated UC federation and Microsoft declared Session Initiation Protocol to be dead.

Microsoft declared Session Initiation Protocol to be dead while debating UC federation with other vendors at Enterprise Connect.

During an Enterprise Connect panel on UC federation, Albert Kooiman, senior product marketing manager for Lync at Microsoft, said most users don't realize the "world is moving on" from UC federation. "While federation is very important, it's going to be very dependent on the modernization of communication networks," he said. "I actually dare to say that SIP [Session Initiation Protocol] is dead."

UC federation has historically allowed interoperability between disparate vendor instant messaging [IM] and presence platforms. But another important piece of UC federation is enabling real-time communications -- such as audio and video functionality -- to work together. While many of the major UC players -- such as Cisco, Microsoft, Unify and Avaya -- are using open standards like SIP and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), full interoperability with a competing vendor's collaboration solution is unlikely. Over-the-top providers -- including NextPlane, Blue Jean Network and Vidyo -- deliver interoperability with the major vendors, often using SIP, but these integrations are still limited.

UC federation is no longer about interoperability between UC vendor platforms, but the integration with platforms like Facebook and Google +, Kooiman said. "Google used to support platforms like us [with XMPP], but now they know there is going to be a new era of networks in which [enterprises] choose one group of providers and stay within that walled garden."

Not every panel member agreed with Kooiman's vision of the future of enterprise communications, however. "I think that rumors of SIP's death are probably greatly exaggerated -- most of the world's communication traffic is transported through SIP today," said David Chavez, vice president of the office of the chief technology officer for Avaya. "And if the consumer [tools] take over, it's going to be less secure," he said.

But federating between enterprise and consumer-grade tools shouldn't be a problem for UC vendors from a security standpoint, Microsoft's Kooiman rebutted. "If you are connecting to a [Cisco] WebEx or Lync conference, we are applying our security to any consumer or outside person joining our network," he said. "Security is not something that is going to be compromised."

The case for UC federation

With enterprises often cobbling together a UC environment with multiple vendors, the ability to federate and integrate across vendors should be table stakes. But UC vendors still aren't motivated to open up their platforms. Emerging standards -- like WebRTC -- might play a big role in changing how UC technologies "play" together, said panel moderator Stephen Leaden, president of telecommunications and IT consulting firm Leaden Associates Inc., during the UC federation panel.

Any email system can communicate with any other email platform through standards. Voice calls can connect across multiple service providers. But businesses often find their UC platforms isolated from partners and even other divisions within the same enterprise who use other UC platforms. UC federation, theoretically, could help, but it isn't a reality for many businesses, Leaden said.

"On a daily basis, 40% of employees are unable to reach co-workers or associates on the first attempt, resulting in more than 20% of employees experiencing missed deadlines or project delays on a weekly basis," he said, citing the findings from a recent study by Boston-based research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey. "UC federation can really reduce time spent on projects and create a competitive edge [for businesses], but interoperability and security are still big challenges," he said.

Will UC federation requirements change as UC evolves?

More on UC federation:

Will Skype-Lync integration kick start UC federation?

Nextplane offers federation between enterprise UC, Google

When will federation actually unify communications?

Cisco uses SIP and XMPP for IM and presence federation, and those protocols give users the best chance of interoperability, said Pete Kavanagh, panel member and technical solutions product manager of collaboration solutions for Cisco. "We can extend the same UC toolsets that we are using with colleagues in the office to those outside of the company, like to business partners," he said.

WebRTC, an open standard that embeds communications applications in Web browsers, could enable access to proprietary platforms without the need of a go-between UC federation or even input from UC vendors, Leaden said, making protocols like SIP less important.

In a Web-based model, however, there is no federation between servers, and every interaction is unique. And because there are still inconsistencies between browsers when it comes to the emerging standard, "WebRTC is not the solution for federation," Microsoft's Kooiman said. Vendors should instead focus on the integrations with the social tools and platforms enterprises are using within their businesses, like Facebook and Google, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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