Living it Up at the Hotel California – The Real Story behind Office 365 UC Collaboration
Microsoft Office 365 (O365) provides cloud delivery of the company’s popular software applications. The offering consists of four core applications: Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Professional. O365 is now supported in 127 markets worldwide and 36 languages, up from 88 markets and 32 languages in 2012.
O365 Lync Online offers rich presence, IM and Web conferencing, but with limited videoconferencing, audio conferencing and telephony capabilities (relative to on-premises Lync). While Microsoft intends to maintain the cloud and premises versions at the same release level, the functionality will differ. Notably, not all functions available in an on premises deployments are supported in the cloud configuration.
O365 users can acquire services directly through Microsoft or through Microsoft partners offering value-added services. While many enterprises obtain O365 directly, the partner approach is currently necessary for enterprises requiring telephone calling functions. Lync Online offers only Lync-to-Lync and Lync-to-Skype calling.
Business users are attracted to O365 for multiple reasons, including low costs, ease of administration (for example, with Active Directory), and employee familiarity with Microsoft applications.
However, when it comes to B2B UC collaboration and federation, O365 Lync Online is not just another hosted Lync environment. In fact, the reality is that it’s a UC platform a bit like the now-infamous “Hotel California,” in the hit 70s song by the Eagles–“You can always checkout but you cannot leave.”
As a hosted UC service from Microsoft, O365 Lync Online only allows direct federation with other Microsoft platforms, such as Lync 2010. Other UC platforms such as Cisco Presence Server (CUPS) and IBM Sametime claim support for federation with Lync 2013 via their own gateways, and in theory they may be able to federate with O365, however in practice we know from experience that these Do-it-Yourself (DIY) federation solutions can be an uphill and frustrating struggle – not only to get them to work initially but also to maintain and scale them.
This is especially true for federation with O365, as Microsoft enforces direct federation with O365 Lync Online by requiring that the domain name in the FQDN (Fully Qualified Domain Name) of the edge/gateway server published in the SIP DNS SRV record, matches the domain name on the security certificate – issued by a certificate authority such as VeriSign. Otherwise O365 Lync Online refuses to establish an encrypted TLS connection. As a result the federation fails!
To make matters worse, Microsoft does not provide an XMPP Gateway as an option to O365 customers. This precludes O365 customers from collaborating with partners who are using an XMPP-based platform such as Cisco WebEx Messenger, or OpenFire.
As a result, many organizations are left without the ability to communicate with their partners. This applies to O365 users as well.
If all this sounds to you like some absurd ‘Catch 22’ rule, you’re right. This is why we compare Office 365 to the legendary “Hotel California” – you can always on-board, but you cannot collaborate with all your partners, only the ones Microsoft lets in.