UCC Still Needs Interoperability, Integration, and Federation
Ask any current or potential unified communications (UC) customer what the biggest challenges are when considering moving to a UC solution, and chances are the issues of interoperability and federation will be mentioned. While UC solutions have been available for years, interoperability between different vendors' products remains a key obstacle. Whether it's getting Microsoft Lync to work with a company's existing IP PBX, or integrating several different video conferencing products with each other and with the company's UC solution, integration and interoperability is a huge challenge for many organizations.
There are many UC interoperability issues including:
- Interoperability within an enterprise both across legacy and current systems from multiple vendors and during the migration from existing to new/future systems - including voice, video, email, IM/Presence, etc.
- Interoperability between an enterprise and its customers, suppliers and other partners - again multi-media, legacy and current solutions (commonly called federation)
- Interoperability with networks provided by network service providers (both traditional PSTN and emerging IP/SIP), both fixed and mobile.
- Interoperability between fixed and mobile devices - either devices provided by an enterprise or, becoming ever more likely, BYOD.
- Integration of business processes with the enterprise UC architectures.
Unfortunately, there is no incentive for large vendors to support interoperability, as they prefer the "walled garden" approach. This all leads to customer confusion, as each vendor points to various solutions to allow for interoperability, but only address certain pain points. In many cases, they do not scale or completely address the need for seamless interoperability and collaboration. These solutions generally require some kind of middleware and are often kludgy, patchwork, short-term solutions that may come at a high cost. True federation and integration should include a holistic approach to interoperability, not just pieces.
Let's back up a bit - why is there such a need for interoperability between different solutions? Many organizations have adopted multiple UC solutions for various reasons:
- Different departments, branches, or office locations have deployed their own solutions, rather than having a single solution deployed throughout the organization
- Mergers with companies that have different solutions
- The company decided to gradually migrate to a new UC solution over time, leaving some users with the legacy solution and others with the new UC solution
Going outside of the walls of the organization, federation among businesses - with partners, suppliers, and customers - is essential for increasing the value of UC deployments. Federation can make it easier to collaborate, to share information, decrease the turn around time for projects, shorten the time it takes to close a deal, and so on.
When dealing with video systems, interoperability issues can be even more complex. Workers can waste hours trying to set up video conferencing sessions, identifying which systems will work together, and ensuring that everyone can participate from their various locations. Getting people together when starting the meeting can also waste lots of time, especially when there are fragmented solutions.
Middleware and other solutions such as media bridges and gateways can result in feature limitations, as not all features of a video system may be available when interoperating with another system. In addition, many organizations have invested in legacy solutions and would need to upgrade their infrastructure to work with newer systems or other video systems. This leaves IT burdened with additional cost, ownership and support with additional middleware and inconsistent interoperability.
Some organizations are trying to avoid the interoperability issue by standardizing on a single vendor platform. In many cases, however, this is difficult due to cost, unsupported platforms, and undelivered promises. There are cases where organizations begin an initial deployment of a solution with promises that certain features or interoperability would be delivered by the time the company was ready to do a full roll out. However, these promises usually remain unfulfilled, delaying and impeding a full deployment and wasting the organization's time and money. There are also many instances of sticker shock, where customers deploy a full-featured trial, and then have to reduce the initial number of users or scale back on features in order to lower the cost of the solution.
Every business school student knows that the best way for a company to succeed is to fill a need, and several companies have taken on the issue of interoperability and federation. One company I met with recently is Damaka, which developed Amadeo to fill the need for simplifying UCC deployment while eliminating interoperability issues and increasing collaboration (the second C in UCC). According to Damaka, Amadeo was built from the ground up to eliminate as much infrastructure overhead as possible and to address interoperability by working with existing and legacy solutions on the market. Available as a premises-based or hosted solution, it supports and interoperates with legacy infrastructure and traditional PSTN, embraces mobile, is cross-platform with support on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, and also provides an SDK to allow businesses to integrate into their own processes (internal applications/apps).
Many UCC solutions that have been deployed to date involve multiple UC systems, including Lync and Cisco WebEx/Jabber. Damaka notes that users can have an Amadeo meeting and can invite WebEx users and it would be like they're in a WebEx meeting, using their WebEx client. Once someone starts an Amadeo meeting, they can bring in Lync, WebEx/Jabber, and Sametime users who can IM/audio/video with each other during the meeting. "It's like they're joining a native Lync or WebEx meeting, but their audio, video, messaging is sent back and forth between participants."
When asked why existing solutions available aren't sufficient, the folks from Damaka explained, "There are solutions on the market attempting to address video federation, but these solutions provide passive federation, requiring that all users use middleware to connect into their system. If a user of such a federation solution wants to have a spontaneous meeting with a user at another organization on a different UC solution, they cannot start the meeting without knowing if the other user is also a user of the same federation solution."
The various types of federation required include:
- Session federation: the ability to join meetings of other solutions and also to create and host meetings with users on other's solutions.
- Active federation: the ability to interact with the users (irrespective of the supported solution they're using) when in a federated meeting.
- Continuous federation: the ability to see the presence of users and interact with them as native users.
- Passive federation: the ability to attend a meeting without active participation.
Damaka is providing an innovative Universal UCC solution and will continue to enhance Amadeo further to solve the integration and interoperability issues in UCC. As a scalable enterprise solution for SMBs to large organizations, Amadeo aims to "break down the walled gardens," providing a solution that is much needed in the industry. Small businesses can leverage the Amadeo hosted service and federate with large enterprises that are using more expensive solutions, enabling people to communicate across various video systems, including Polycom, Tandberg, ZTE and Lifesize. For companies that have not fully deployed Lync or Cisco WebEx throughout their organizations for cost or other reasons, but want all of their workers to be able to collaborate throughout the organization, Amadeo can be the glue that helps bring everyone together.
This paper is sponsored by Damaka.