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A Primer on Federated Communications

October 8, 2013 | Telepresence Options

federated commuincation

Story and images by Vishal Brown / No Jitter

Tight integration and federated user identities across IT and communications are key to building powerful solutions that help users be more productive and efficient.

For a number of years, federation has been a hot topic in the enterprise communications market. At a high level, federated communications occurs when multiple computing and/or networking providers agree on standards of operation that allow otherwise disparate applications to communicate. Most enterprises have traditionally used a variety of applications and devices to communicate with their suppliers, partners, and customers. Federation solutions promise to meet those growing demands, while simultaneously requiring fewer devices and applications.

One of the challenges that proponents of federation face is the myriad philosophies regarding how federation should be achieved. The single common theme among the various viewpoints, however, is the goal of federation, which is to provide secure, reliable, and seamless communications capabilities across multiple platforms and networks.

Federation leverages trust relationships that allow information sharing across domains. It provides inter-company or business-to-business (B2B) interactions that enable enterprise users to securely communicate and share information with colleagues, partners, and customers that are outside the corporate firewall

True Enterprise Federation goes beyond interoperability among applications and devices--it allows distinct applications (such as voice, instant messaging (IM)/presence, and conferencing) to work together to deliver a seamless user experience. Examples of secure, inter-company federated communications capabilities include allowing users from different organizations to:

* Share dial plans and directories�
* Access shared databases and content libraries
* Utilize shared applications or team spaces, and
* Share real-time user information such as rich presence status and availability.�

The Importance of UC&C Federation
Constructing multi-platform, multi-modal solutions presents a number of challenges--namely, the integration, interoperability, control, and security of communications sessions between end points across platforms and networks. To enable a seamless user experience, unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) solutions have to go beyond the traditional model of siloed user authorization and authentication processes for each application, and leverage common directory information. To this end, tightly integrated UC&C solutions, whether premises-based, cloud-based, or hybrid, must support common directories and recognize the same user identities.

Federated Identity
One of the essential prerequisites for achieving federated communications is a federated user identity. In essence, a federated user identity facilitates a single sign-on to multiple applications and services. The distinct applications of a solution must utilize common data verification points (name, password, SIP address, e-mail address, phone number, and location) for individual users. A single sign-on improves user experience by making all relevant integrated applications readily available. Microsoft's Active Directory, which already plays a critical role in many UC&C solutions by acting as the central database for user data, is an example of an identity management solution.

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