The Federation Opportunity
Imagine a world where presence, IM, multi-user chat, voice and video could work between platforms and companies as easily as phone calls and email. We never think about the type of phone system or email platform other companies use – we just communicate. Inter-organizational UC collaboration should function the same way.
While IM/Presence platforms have become a part of the daily business routine in many organizations, the technology still remains a walled garden – people can only communicate with colleagues who are using the same enterprise system. They cannot interact with their colleagues in external organizations unless they resort to public networks such as Skype, Yahoo, AOL, or Google Hangouts – which also generally adhere to a members-only approach. .
This lack of interoperability between the various UC platforms has become a chronic and often vociferous complaint and, while all of the UC vendors tout the importance of IM and presence as a time saver and productivity enhancer, their solutions offer very limited functionality for external collaboration. A few vendors offer XMPP gateways, but these gateways don’t scale for enterprise needs. The major UC vendors only offer one suggestion: get rid of the other vendors. Not surprisingly, this isn’t practical nor necessarily desirable.
If we look at the evolution of UC technology, it’s apparent that right from the very beginning, UC platforms were not designed with mixed external collaboration in mind and some of the UC vendors even seem to have given up on the idea of cross-platform collaboration entirely. For example, Google, which contributed to the XMPP standard, withdrew XMPP support in its latest version of Hangouts. Skype is the largest IM network, but doesn’t support third-party integrations either. Actually, since Skype became a part of Microsoft, it only federates with Lync (not even OCS 2007 R2). The integration requires Skype users to obtain a Live ID to chat with Lync users.
NextPlane, located in Silicon Valley, has successfully eliminated virtually all of the known external collaboration issues with its “federation as a service” offering. It offers an interesting approach that even seems to add value in like-to-like UC federations.
NextPlane’s UC Exchange functions like a UC federation clearinghouse. The NextPlane service offers native federation to numerous UC solutions, including Lync and Cisco - and then converts instant messages and presence status to the native tongue of the recipient’s system. Nextplane goes beyond XMPP by supporting many of the enterprise features we expect – such as multi-person IM conversations.
To simplify budgeting, NextPlane only charges the enterprise for its side of the federation equation via a predictable per user license fee. There are no setup fees, or additional usage charges. A designated IT administrator (the UC administrator) can approve or deny federation requests via a web-based management portal.
This service also presents an attractive channel opportunity. A channel partner can greatly extend the value of an organization’s UC system with greater interoperability. There is no onsite equipment or technical implementation needed. Customers connect to NextPlane over the Internet, and the reseller earns an annual commission.
NextPlane’s UC Exchange service makes sense, especially since the major vendors are unlikely to write (or maintain) detailed interfaces for every UC solution. Many of the leading UC vendors are already NextPlane partners including Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Google, Siemens Enterprise Networks, Isode, and eZuce. Several more major vendors are expected to announce partnerships in the near future. NextPlane also supports many open-source solutions such as OpenFire and eJabberd.
I am excited that NextPlane is filling this hole. And, no, I don’t have a financial interest in the firm; I just like the idea of improved interoperability.
This paper is sponsored by NextPlane.