Federation is The "Game Changer" for Unified Communications
Connecting to people inside your organization is powerful but connecting to customers and suppliers is what makes or breaks a business.
Federation allows you to connect with people outside your organization as easily as you can with people inside your organization.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a "game changer" is a person, an idea or an event that completely changes the way a situation develops. And this is what I have found federation does for communication and collaboration.
Many systems we know and use daily are "federated". Email is federated and that is what makes it powerful; you can email any individual simply by knowing their email address. This works for people both inside and outside your company. The public phone network (the PSTN) is federated. You can call anyone and anyone can call you by simply dialing a phone number. This works across companies, across countries and between wired and mobile phones.
I have argued in a series of No Jitter articles (see "Over A Billion Voice Customers Served") that a very large community of users is forming that can share presence, instant messaging, voice and video through federation over the Internet. This is a "game changer" for unified communications.
Note that I specifically mentioned federation of "unified communications" and not simply federation of instant messaging and presence. This is an important distinction.
Many instant messaging platforms support federation; however, in my opinion Microsoft is the current leader when it comes to unified communications federation. When federated, Lync users from one organization can reach those in another organization via IM, click to call, video, web conferencing or desktop sharing, simply and easily. This also includes the ability to federate and share all modes of communication with organizations running the hosted version of Lync included in Office 365 or the older Office Communication Server (OCS), which dates back to 2007 (a very long time in the technology business!) IM, presence, voice and video federation also work between Lync and any of the 400 million Windows Messenger users. While Microsoft has not made public its Lync and Skype integration plans, I believe it is safe to guess that Lync to Skype federation will be supported within the next 9 months.
In contrast, Cisco Unified Presence Server (CUPS), the server component that provides instant messaging and presence in the Cisco world, does not allow federation between version 7.x and 8.x versions and while the latest version of CUPS 8.5(2) supports federation with Lync (earlier versions do not) this federation is via an XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) bridge and only supports the sharing of instant messaging and presence.
Given the ways the different platforms support federation, my observation is that organizations that deploy Lync (and OCS) have a far greater propensity to support and allow federation. In this case, the UC system becomes a tool to communicate both within the organization and externally with other key business partners. On the other hand, organizations that deploy other UC solutions tend to use UC features primarily internally.
With respect to federation and Lync, I would like to answer a few common questions: