UCIF Revealed: Top Networking Vendors Joining Forces To Drive Open UC Standards

Some of the world's most visible IT companies on Wednesday announced the formation of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF), a non-profit organization that, according to its founding members, will examine the use of open standards for providing interoperability among various UC platforms.

HP, Juniper, Microsoft, Logitech/LifeSize Communications and Polycom are the founding members, and Acme Packet, Aspect, Audiocodes, Broadcom, Brocade, ClearOne, Jabra, Plantronics, Radvision, Siemens and Teliris have all been named contributor companies.

Several more companies -- including Cisco, Avaya and Skype -- have been invited to join UCIF and have not yet accepted nor declined, according to representative members.

The UCIF is also requiring healthy membership fees -- which run into the five figures in annual dues for its top level -- to help get the project off the ground and make sure participating vendors have skin in the game.

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"We believe, as a collective of organizations, that UC has tremendous potential to improve productivity and streamline business processes," said Scott Lucas, director of branch product marketing for the Branch Solutions Business Unit, in an interview with CRN.

One problem, said Lucas, is that UC products currently need to support multiple protocols, everything from XMPP, SIMPLE for H.323 and SIP, and "stovepipe" organizations focused on single-protocol products leave many UC deployments disparate, or, worse, siloed to the point where one UC suite can't work effectively with another.

"A lot of these UC implementations need to be built on top of legacy infrastructure investments, and that creates a lot of mismatched refresh cycles. A lot of customers have told us that, and they've asked us to come up with a more straightforward way to provide interoperability," he said.

The UCIF will not be a standards body, Lucas emphasized, and wil remain platform-agnostic. The organization's goals over the next few years are to define test plans and testing protocols and also offer a UCIF certification mark developed for use among the member vendors, as a way of showing when products have met UCIF interoperability requirements.

Among the challenges the UCIF hopes to address in its first few years are how existing infrastructures migrate to UC environments, how different types of users, from mobile workers to vertical-specific users like retail employees, fit into the UC infrastructure, how mission-critical business applications like call centers influence UC deployments, and how federation between companies that use different UC systems from different vendors occurs.

Lucas likened the organization to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the 11-year old nonprofit devoted to interoperability among wireless LAN technologies.

"It's very similar to that charter," he said. "The Wi-Fi Alliance doesn't create new protocols, but it takes existing protocols and assembles them into tested use cases. That's what we're trying to do with UC."

Lucas and Matt Collier, senior vice president of corporate development at LifeSize Communications, told CRN that UCIF will also become a valuable resource for VARs selling UC products and architecture.

"I think this will facilitate in the partner community the knowledge that they can develop practices around UC and implementation. It'll lower the risk for them," Lucas said. "This isn't a certification program targeted to building partner skills or expertise. It's a brand mark that could go on a product so that two products with the UCIF brand could be guaranteed under the use cases we've defined."

NEXT: UCIF Membership Requirements

The group was officially founded on April 5, and is based in San Ramon, Calif. Membership is open to companies "with a meaningful interest in defining a profile for U.C.," including hardware and software vendors, service providers, network operators and network security specialists.

"We're all members of standards bodies and other consortiums, and I don't remember who had the first dialogue, but it was something we decided we really wanted to push forward," Collier said.

The UCIF will have three levels of membership. The Board of Director membership level requires a two-year commitment, includes a seat on the board and voting rights in alliance decisions. The UCIF has five board members already and will cap membership at that level at nine members. Initial investment to be on the board is $75,000, with yearly dues of $50,000 after that.

The mid-tier level, Contributor, includes participation in UCIF work groups and voting rights for committees, plus participation in all UCIF-related events. Annual membership dues are $25,000.

The third level, Adopter, includes participation in UCIF work groups and participation in events as well as pre-release access to test tools and certification criteria created by the UCIF. Annual dues are $5,000.