When you deploy Microsoft Lync 2010 server to your organization, you will discover a new paradigm of “being connected.” With Lync phones, Exchange 2010 Unified Messaging, Lync 2010 clients for Mac, Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone, and more, it’s hard to hide once Lync is loose. That’s really the only downside. Among the many business productivity gains Lync provides, the main ones are (1) live indications of presence and availability of coworkers across all Microsoft Office 2010 applications, (2) an instant on-demand communications channel that is an alternative to the telephone or an email for many situations, and (3) a way for employees to get to know each other and understand each other’s job roles better.

It’s the third benefit-that it makes for a friendlier work environment-that may be unexpected, but it’s very welcome. Lync 2010 really makes use of many Active Directory attributes especially Job Title, Department, and the thumbnail photograph to add a human touch to every Lync presence indicator. Knowing at a glance what someone does and where they work enhances the context of every communication, and who can’t use some help connecting names with faces? Lync federation takes this to the next level: the ability to collaborate with ease with those outside your organization.

Getting started with Lync

Smaller networks that don’t need redundancy or high availability can deploy a single Lync Standard server and then add a single Lync Edge server. For larger networks, and for Lync owners wanting high availability, you deploy Lync Front End and Lync Edge servers in scalable pools. As an alternate to on-premise Lync 2010, Microsoft’s cloud offering Office 365 includes Lync Online.

The first step when deploying Lync 2010 on-premise for instant messaging, presence, and other collaboration features is getting a Lync Standard Server or Lync Enterprise Front End Server deployed. This allows Lync 2010 clients on the network to log in, and handles integration between Lync and Active Directory. If you have no desire for external, Internet-based connectivity, this may be the only Lync server piece you need.

The second step, which extends Lync to the Internet and other messenger services, is deploying the Lync Edge Server role. The edge server allows Lync clients to login over the Internet, and for Lync to interoperate with other messaging platforms like Yahoo and Live messenger products. The edge server is generally not a domain member computer and cannot be the same computer where the Lync standard or front end server role is installed. Both the front end and the edge roles in Lync Enterprise architecture can be scaled by deploying additional computers with those roles behind load balancers.

Sharing the goodness with Lync federation

A Lync 2010 Edge Server, properly deployed on the Internet, automatically enables cross-organization Lync federation if you wish. Lync server publishes public SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) discovery information to the Internet using the Domain Name System (DNS). The same public SIP records in DNS used by the Lync client to automatically configure itself are used to locate the Lync edge servers of federated business partners.

Lync users are empowered to add their own contacts, those who work for organizations with federated Lync deployments, to their own Lync external contacts groups. No assistance from the IT department is required. Federated contacts added to your Lync client groups are available from all Lync clients including mobile phones.

Figure A – Lync 2010 client includes federated business partners in the presence list.

Figure A is the Lync 2010 client interface running on Windows 7. I am logged into my corporate system and my profile photo is coming from Active Directory. In my contacts list I have added two business partners that work for an organization that has permitted federation of their Lync service. Maarten and Oskar don’t work for my company (they are not even on my continent), but I have their photo, job title, employer name, and live presence status in my Lync client. When I click on their contact cards, I see their company name in the department field.

A fascinating web resource is the Lync Federation Directory Project. At this website, you can see which companies are already federated, and optionally list your organization in a public directory as being Lync federated. There are almost 5,000 companies around the world listed so far. Office 365 users are also automatically federated. There are some rare rave reviews for a Microsoft product at the site, here are two of them:

“I actually get upset when a company doesn’t use Lync and I can’t federate!” @Maxsanna

“Lync federation is fantastic. Wish everyone was federated, makes communications SO much easier!” @mbullock