Troubleshooting PIC Federation

Yesterday, there was a significant problem with AOL’s instant messenger when it came to federation with Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Lync Server 2010 environments.

Yes, I know, people should not be using AIM for anything that is critical. I won’t argue with anyone on this subject. I really don’t like AIM. I really don’t like AOL. It seems that when given a choice between AIM, Yahoo IM, and MSN/Live Messenger, lots of people pick AIM when it comes to business needs (which still isn’t a good choice in my mind) for the simple reason that AOL has a nice bot to check connectivity. The AIM bot, sipcheck@aol.com, is pretty nice. I wish Yahoo and Microsoft had a similar bot.

Anyway, I got a call asking what was wrong with the Communicator client as a few users were having issues connecting to AOL. My first thought was, “There isn’t anything wrong with Communicator or the OCS environment.” I was right. However, I did some quick checking. I checked the sipcheck@aol.com bot first. It responded the first time. The second time it was incredibly slow. I tried a few more times and it was very hit or miss. There were a few where the bot never responded. It was clear to me, at that point, that there was a problem from AOL’s side.

  1. First, I verified that all of the Federation links to other companies were working. There were no issues with Federation to other OCS or Lync environments.
  2. Next, I checked the Federation to known Office 365 organizations. There were no issues there, either.
  3. I then checked connectivity via MSN/Live Messenger. Nope, nothing wrong there, either.
  4. Last, I checked Yahoo. Nope, no problems there.

Well, that really narrowed it down quickly to an issue with AOL. The problem is trying to get in contact with AOL and having them check their side. I must have called or emailed at least ten different contacts without any response. I still don’t have a response and it has been over 24 hours.

I did consider that I didn’t have the right address for my PIC federation configuration. Of course, that was not the case or I wouldn’t have been able to connect at all to the sipcheck@aol.com address. I also verified that there hadn’t been any changes in the recent days to the servers. I even verified that the network team had not made any firewall changes or changes to the hardware load balancers.

Anyway, I ended up opening a ticked with Microsoft and found that they had a few other tickets open with the same symptoms. Microsoft was working with AOL when I talked to them. A couple of hours later, everything seemed to start functioning properly.

BTW, in the past, whenever I have seen problems with PIC federation, it has always been more than PIC. It has also included federation with other OCS or Lync environments. It seems to be that they either all work or they all fail. If they all fail, well, then it would have been my environment, and it would be easy to narrow it down to an Edge server issue.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike AOL?

My recommendation: Stop using AIM or any other public provider for mission critical communications with customers. Of course, it may not be an option, but I would strongly suggest organizations or individuals that don’t have a strong IT environment that uses OCS or Lync to look into Office 365.

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