For a long time Microsoft has offered the capability of on-premises Live Communications Server, Office Communications Server and Lync Server deployments to federate with AOL for instant messaging. In order to use AOL federation there were certain basic requirements that had to be met:
- You must have a functional edge server (including DNS records & necessary certificates)
- You must have the appropriate Public IM Connectivity licenses for the users who will require PIC
- You must request PIC provisioning through the Microsoft PIC website
In order to use PIC federation you had to have the appropriate licenses, just as you must have the appropriate Client Access Licenses in order to use Lync, Exchange, SharePoint or any other Microsoft software. Most customers would see this cost included as part and parcel of their Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft, so while some people may dislike the cost of Enterprise Agreements, Microsoft is including a vast amount of functionality (PIC included) to you at a reasonable cost.
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Microsoft has largely handled the PIC provisioning process through their PIC website, whereby you simply request the public IM providers you want to federate with and Microsoft handles all the coordination and enablement on the back end. Having Microsoft handle the coordination was a “single throat to choke” but it often resulted in longer setup times as it could take up to 30 days for the services to be available once the request was submitted.
This is all good and well – why bring it up now?
Microsoft announced earlier this year that the PIC agreements with Yahoo! and AOL were not being renewed, meaning customers would either A) lose their ability to federate with those providers or B) have to look at third-party solutions to keep the federation alive. The EOL date for the Microsoft PIC agreements is June 30, 2014, so the clock has been ticking ever since the announcement was made. AOL recently stepped up to the plate and announced that they will begin offering direct federation for Lync customers through their PIC website, a welcome change of heart that allows customers to “keep the lights on” between their on-premises Lync deployments and the AOL cloud. Additionally, the provisioning process allowed customers to contact AOL directly and negate the need to request provisioning through Microsoft. Reading all this you would think this is a “Win-Win” situation, but as the old saying goes, the “Devil is in the details”…
I recently went through this provisioning process with a customer and discovered that the new AOL PIC federation service is not free and actually costs you additional monthly fees on top of what you’ve already paid for your Lync CALs. For this customer it would have cost them $10 per user, per month to use the AOL federation service. Add this up over a year and you could have substantial increases in your operating expenses to support AOL federation. On the plus side, however, AOL includes written SLAs as part of the service and offers customers various tiers of support for service incidents. Note: Should you decide to use AOL federation your fees could be different as AOL had different levels of fees based on the number of Lync users whom you wanted to have AOL federation enabled for.
The fact that Microsoft included these costs within Enterprise Agreements was both a blessing and a curse – it meant that some customers would grumble about the costs, but it also meant that customers could simply take advantage of all the included features without a second thought. Now that Microsoft will no longer have an agreement in place after June 30, 2014, the true cost of the federation has now come to the surface and I have to admit that the AOL federation rose has some thorns. I can certainly understand that AOL has infrastructure and operational costs associated with this service so a fee is understandable, but some folks (myself included) might question if connectivity with AOL services is worth the cost they charge you, especially considering that only instant messaging is available. Skype, on the other hand, offers IM & audio federation with Lync (with video coming in the near future), so the value proposition of AOL seems to be eroding when compared to Skype.
Is AOL federation worth it? That’s up to you to decide…but suddenly Skype seems a lot more attractive to me!