Instant Messaging Overview
November 15, 2001
Within the next few weeks, ServerWatch will offer links to reviews of instant messaging servers. For those not yet clear on the basics of instant messaging servers, we offer this overview compiled from articles previously published on CrossNodes.
Instant messaging (IM) entered the corporate infrastructure by the back door. First released and popularized by America Online, IM enables users to locate and establish an independent chat session with another user. Once connected, users can exchange comments in real time and share files. The growth of IM led other ISPs to implement proprietary messaging functions for their customers. Although vendors designed IM primarily for home users, many organizations have migrated the application to their office systems, as has been the case with America Online's IM (AIM) product.
IM in the corporate workplace remains controversial. Users claim that the software provides a boost to productivity. They say they can get answers quickly from suppliers and co-workers without the delays of voice mail and e-mail. They also argue that it is less expensive. IT managers, however, maintain that IM software breaches security. Managers argue that unauthorized IM applications create support problems. In addition, corporate managers worry that IM conversations can serve as a distraction rather than a productivity tool.
Introduction » Less Than Secure » An Evolution Toward Collaboration » Moving Forward » From a Corporate Perspective » IM Server VendorsLess Than Secure
The security concerns are legitimate. For an IM system to work, a user's workstation must broadcast that it is on the network. Once two workstations connect, the conversation takes place across a virtual connection. Most IM systems currently do not support such security staples as authentication and encryption. This means that a hacker can intercept any exchange of information. An unauthorized person also can use an IM connection to access the corporate network and possibly introduce viruses. Further, IM exchanges typically are not logged, and this makes it impossible for corporate management to monitor and control the links.
However, much as IS managers complain, IM usage continues to grow.
Most IM systems operate as a proprietary application, but this is changing quickly. AOL is under a government mandate to communicate with other IM applications, and several vendors support the emerging Session Initiation protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) standard. This proposed format enables users to use the Internet for voice exchanges and establish conferences. The momentum toward a more open IM standard will increase further with Microsoft's IM support under its Windows XP operating system.
Introduction » Less Than Secure » An Evolution Toward Collaboration » Moving Forward » From a Corporate Perspective » IM Server VendorsAn Evolution Toward Collaboration
The next generation of IM applications will also include important extensions to support corporate practices. IM implementations will lead to collaborative systems, and IT managers must take control of this emerging application. Extensions that IT managers should anticipate include:
Administrative Control: Offers policy management, logging, and configuration utilities that allow the IT manager to establish standard parameters and monitor activities. IT managers can control IM functions from a central console or remotely.
Application Sharing: Opens applications on a workstation so that multiple users can also run that application at the same time. Application sharing represents an important function as IM systems extend into collaborative applications.
Directory Integration: Integrates IM functions, which now use separate directories and address books, with network and workstation directories. In essence, directory integration allows IM software to function as part of the network rather than operate outside of the network.
Encryption: Protects transmissions during an IM session by encrypting the transmission stream. Encryption helps safeguard information, but transmissions are not protected under most IM software currently available.
Logging: Tracks exchanges during an IM session. These logs can be stored locally or centrally. If they are centrally collected, the logs enable IS managers to audit and control the use of IM technology.
Online Presence Management: Permits IT managers and users to control when and how IM software announces the workstation's presence on the network. Online presence management provides an important safeguard against unauthorized intrusions and allows the user to better manage interruptions from IMs.
Video Support: Allows the transmission of real-time video from workstation to workstation. This is a key feature, as virtual meetings and IM communication seek broader acceptance.
Virtual Workspaces: Offers areas where workers can post documents, spreadsheets, or other information so that a group of workers can review and comment on the items simultaneously. When combined with support for voice and video, virtual workspaces provide an opportunity to create real-time electronic meetings.
Voice Support: Supports VOIP conferencing among multiple users. This application appeals to IT managers because of its ease-of-use and low cost.
Whiteboarding: Represents the capability to simultaneously share a graphic space among several users. Each user can access the graphic space and add comments or information. This can include collaborative documents accessed through word processors.
Introduction » Less Than Secure » An Evolution Toward Collaboration » Moving Forward » From a Corporate Perspective » IM Server VendorsMoving Forward
Managers must develop rules for IM use. Like the early days of e-mail, this technology creates a democratic system of information exchange that lacks a definition of proper usage. Unlike with e-mail, IM users know that the recipient's workstation is working. When a user receives an instant message, it creates a false urgency that many find impossible to ignore. Still, the message represents an interruption for the recipient, and it may be counterproductive to respond immediately. Managers should establish rules to avoid being swamped by unwanted connections.
Ultimately, IM systems will become the cornerstone of more extensive collaborative applications. These multifunctional software packages will combine instant messaging with real-time multimedia exchange and tools to support virtual meetings. Until these packages mature, however, IS managers will need to support and control IM applications, regardless of how they were introduced to the corporate computing environment.
Like it or not IM has invaded the enterprise and corporate America.
Retailers, like LL Bean, use custom forms of IM as "instant access to a customer service rep"; corporate employees use AIM for access to colleagues, suppliers and customers during business hours (with or without the knowledge of the IS organization); and other enterprises have deployed robust IM products, like Jabber, companywide for in-house collaboration.
Corporate IM is rapidly becoming a part of today's business. An estimated 180 million business users currently use some sort of IM product, and industry analysts predict that 70 percent of enterprises will be using IM by 2003.
If you haven't gotten on the IM bandwagon just yet, it's important to note that the terms corporate messaging, Internet messaging, and corporate instant messaging are often used interchangeably. And it's not just business users, even vendor representatives sometimes use these terms synonymously.
Although IM clearly belongs under the "enterprise messaging" moniker, for now you'll probably find more corporate IM solutions that are stand-alone or part of collaboration suites than those that are enterprise messaging suite features.
To be seen shortly is the impact Microsoft and Yahoo! will have on AOL's AIM market lead. Both vendors have corporate IM entries based on their consumer messaging services, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, respectively. Corporate Yahoo's "business messenger" is still in development, and Microsoft is incorporating IM into Windows XP.
With AOL being legally bound to do something about AIM's interoperability, the IM arena is one to watch in 2002. Network managers should make their IM purchasing and deployment plans accordingly.
A little farther out is wireless IM. According to Evans Data Corp.'s wireless survey of 500 developers, wireless e-mail is thought to be the most prevalent application targeted by 50 percent of developers; IM is next in line. The most targeted hardware for these applications is PDAs and mobile phones, but laptops don't lag far behind.
Be low is a list of key and rising IM vendors in the corporate space.
Vendor: 2WAY Corporation Product: 2Way Interactive Messaging OS(s): Win 98, 2000, NT Browser(s): Microsoft IE Security Support: SSL www.2way.com/index-InteractiveMessaging.html Description: Provides a multitier, secure, and administered IM environment; allows self-documented conversations, graphic feedback polls via private corpo rate networks in real time. Vendor: divine, Inc. Product: divine MindAlign OS(s): Win 98, 2000, NT; Solaris Browser(s): Microsoft IE; Netscape Security Support: LDAP www.divine.com/so/interact_new/interact-3-1.asp Description: Secure, centrally managed collaboration t ool; combines chat and IM capabilities. Vendor: Ecrio Product: Rich Instant Messaging Platform OS(s): Microsoft Windows Browser(s): Microsoft IE; Netscape Security Support: SSL; WTSL www.ecrio.com/rimp.shtml Description: Client/server solution; addresses quality of service, integration, sec urity, mobility/location, and personalization; range of client applications for phones, PDAs, and PCs to communicate with the soluti on''s carrier- grade messaging server. Vendor: Ezenia, Inc. Product: InfoWorkSpace OS(s): Win 2000, NT; Solaris Browser(s): Microsoft IE; Netscape Security Support: SSL; PKI www.ezenia.com/products/iws.cfm Description: Secure virtual workspace for team collaboration; users meet in vi rtual buildings and rooms via the Internet; real-time communication; IM, whiteboarding, screen sharing, and text chat collaboration tools. Vendor: FaceTime Communications Product: Instant Message Director OS(s): Configura tion dependent www.facetime.com/products/imddirector.htm< /a> Description: Standards-based IM business communication server; manages enterprise IM traffic; offers IM client-to-client interop erability with AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and public IM networks; Industry Solution Packs can be integrated with different IM Applicati on Modules to create customized solution. Vendor: iPlanet Product: iPlanet Portal Server Instant Col laboration Pack OS(s): Win NT; Solaris Browser(s): Microsoft IE; Netscape Navigator Security Support: SSL; LDAP www.iplanet.com/products/iplanet_portal_icp /home_portal_icp.html Description: Enables portal users across the extended enterprise to collaborate instantly and securely; pr ovides IM, chat, alerting, and file-sharing capabilities. Vendor: Jabber, Inc. Product: Jabber Commu nications Platform (JCP) OS(s): Win 95, 98, 2000, NT Browser(s): Microsoft IE; Netscape Navigator Security Support: SSL < a href="http://www.jabber.com/about/contact.shtml" target="_blank">www.jabber.com/about/contact.shtml Description: Software plat form for IM and presence- enabled applications and services. Built around the XML- based Jabber open protocol, JCP delivers an engin e on which service providers, enterprises, and software developers can create custom IM, VoIP and other collaborative solutions; its core is a streaming XML switch, allowing the dynamic routing of XML traffic between desktop clients, mobile devices, or voice serve rs. Vendor: Lotus Development Product: Sametime Family; Sametime Everyplace OS(s): Win 95 , 98, 2000, NT Browser(s): Microsoft IE; Netscape Navigator www.lotus.com/home.nsf/welcome/sametime Description: Supports communication through secure text messaging, audio and video, or full collaborative meetings; the product family includes the Sametime server, the Sametime Connect client, and a range of applicatio n developer tools; Sametime Everyplace allows wireless phone, PDA and other wireless device users to IM "buddies" logged into Lotus IM networks. Vendor: Stradacon Product: Pulsar Instant Messaging OS(s): Win 95, 98, NT Br owser(s): Microsoft IE www.stradacon.com/pulsar/ Description: The Pul sar Instant Messaging System provides instant online communication; messages scroll across a marquee on the desktop so users can see their messages while using other applications. Vendor: WiredRed Software, Inc. Product: e/pop Alert OS(s): Win 95, 98, NT; NetWare Browser(s): Microsoft IE Security Support: RC4 encryption www.wiredred.com/epop_alert_instant_messaging.html Description: A one-way I M and presence client for the Windows platform; offers complete network support and an extensive range of security and customization options.