When it came to proving the value of its new unified communication (UC) federation capabilities, AT&T didn't have to look far. Its own internal IT operation provided the testing ground for the new cloud-based service that allows companies to tie together different UC platforms as if they were one system, enabling users to communicate and see presence as if on a single platform. (See AT&T Federates UC Networks for Cross-Platform Collaboration.)
The core capability for the new AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) UC Federation platform came out of AT&T Labs , which built the basic clearinghouse function and protocol translation, says Vishy Gopalakrishnan, AVP Big Data and Advanced Solutions, AT&T Business Solutions. In the process of commercializing and hardening the system, in conjunction with its UC partners, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), AT&T put it to the test internally, where at least three different IM platforms were in use -- Microsoft Lync, Cisco Jabber and a homegrown AT&T platform.
That's typical of many large corporations, Gopalakrishnan notes, as pockets of users are common, either because companies merged or acquired others or because different parts of a business chose a different vendor. Enabling those systems to communicate amongst each other has been a one-off process until this point. The AT&T UC Federation system gives corporate IT administrators a console that lets them determine which users or groups will be federated and the degree of their access.
AT&T's internal test of the system involved federating with one of its suppliers, involving thousands of users, he says. The goal is "frictionless collaboration" that is easy for IT departments to enable and administer.
"The part of our organization that was involved uses homegrown IM tools and our provider uses another IM system," he notes. "We did not want to give that provider IDs in our environment but wanted a secure way to connect, to be able to have them work on a daily basis with our technology operations group."
The feedback from that internal use was incorporated into the hardened product and did a lot to shape AT&T's thinking in terms of what needed to go into the product and the administrative tools it needed to have, he adds.
That kind of easy federation is important for the future of UC, notes Heavy Reading analyst Jim Hodges, because while unified communications remains a key offering for telecom service providers, it's not without competition. As companies such as Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) move to transition enterprises to wireless platforms and as technologies such as WebRTC loom as potential competition to UC, enterprises will have more choices. (See Sprint Plans WiFi + Lync Enterprise Bundle.)
"Unified communications could be more powerful if it is federated," Hodges notes. "For one thing, federation would make UC more ubiquitous, which was always its promise but not its reality. By making the service more ubiquitous, companies like AT&T can extend the value of UC versus other more disruptive technologies."
Today the service addresses the Cisco and Microsoft UC platforms, among the most widely used, but that will be expanded in the future, says Gopalakrishnan. Pricing for the service is per-seat, per month and can fluctuate as usage does.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading