Is Proliferation Federation?

Yesterday at Enterprise Connect, I participated in a panel on the topic of Federation that was moderated by longtime advocate, Russell Bennett. Russell is a former leader at both Avaya and Microsoft, so he can provide insightful views on the nature of federation initiatives and the types of challenges they will likely incur.

Setting up yesterday’s session, Russell explicitly delineated Federation from Interoperation. An example of Federation might be the exchange of presence information between employees on two domains (i.e. different corporate networks) or enabling multi-media to work over disparate domains. Interoperation, on the other hand, is simply the ability of two components to functionally interact with each other. An example here would be the ability of an employee using one vendor’s client software to make a voice call to a co-worker using a client from a different vendor on the same network. If focusing on presence, the state information generated on one client could be rendered as a visible state update on a different client.

One of the vendors on the panel attempted to say that Federation is easily achieved by ensuring that its clients can fully interwork across disparate domains. The implication here is that the promise of Federation would be realized if only the world would simply allow them to create a new monopoly on UC clients. There was bit of a stir in the room and in the conversations following the session.

I know that my nature resists the urge to support monopolistic approaches. I mean there is a reason why the US government broke up the Bell System. Competition ultimately results in lower prices and more rapid innovation. I believe that concept to be true here as well. Does the world really want another vendor to monopolize another market segment? Do we want to restrict our choice of cell phone to one vendor? How about the tablet, or laptop, or productivity software?

One of the audience members reminded the room that it was the Telephone Service Providers who originally promoted the foundation of Federation, the PSTN (Public Switched Telephony Network). I believe he was referring to the standards that the PSTN was founded on: ISDN, Q.Sig, SS7, and the like.

It’s a point well taken. The foundation of any Federation realm is dependent on standards. In the age of increased mobility and BYOD, Service Providers can again promote the standards that will catalyze the Federation that most of the panel members and certainly the audience are seeking. Examples of new and pending standards that could drive federation include RCS-e for handsets and HDVC for multimedia interwork communication. I’m sure that more standards around manageability and discovery/directory will prove equally important to the eventual revolution of UC federation.

After all, the ability of a UC technology to reach the mobile devices we all carry and use increasingly is a factor in the success of the technology. We should continually ask ourselves about the implication of buying a product line that concentrates on interoperating only with themselves, leaving all of us to question whether proliferation is the preferred form of federation?

Until next time …

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