Pop Goes the IM Server
July 14, 2005
WiredRed e/Pop IM Server 3.0: Enterprise-level instant messaging server with chat, pop-up messaging, application sharing, and presence information capabilities.
Somewhere between the frustration of telephone tag and the "answer when they feel like it" nature of e-mail lies the domain of instant messaging. It is this territory that WiredRed Software has staked out for its enterprise-level e/Pop IM Server, which not only dishes out IM chat, but also pop-up messages, presence management, and application sharing. E/Pop IM Server's emphasis is on messaging in different forms in real time, under secure and strict management. Its light technical demands and moderate pricing make it a top candidate for organizations looking to take a dip in the IM waters.
The IM server is available in two editions, Basic and Professional. Basic ($500) features pop-up messaging, text chat, and presence information. Professional ($800), which we tested, adds application sharing, remote administration, and remote server control. The editions are sold with a license for 20 client programs; additional clients are sold in groups of five. Technical support is free for 30 days. Thereafter, a yearly service contract is available for 20 percent of the software license fee. WiredRed also offers a hosted service.
Like some of its much larger competitors (i.e, Microsoft and IBM) WiredRed is involved with a spectrum of messaging-related services, some connected with e/Pop IM Server (phone access) and others with its Web Conferencing package.
WiredRed claims a five-minute server install, and that's about all it takes. Of course, server configuration and the initial setup of client software take longer. We found the documentation to be adequate (albeit full of grammatical errors). The hardware requirements start modestly (256 MB of RAM and a Pentium III 750 are recommended for up to 50 clients) but can scale to servers with multiple processors. E/Pop primarily uses a Windows platform, although a Linux version and Java Client are available. Compared to many other programs, especially Microsoft's Live Communication Server, e/Pop is a breeze to configure and does not require the presence of an entire suite of support software.
The e/Pop server uses a real-time routing engine rather than a store-and-forward messaging system. Our testing found it to be quite efficient. It is also very flexible and can operate in a peer-to-peer fashion for simple internal networks while providing support for multiple servers. WiredRed uses what it calls "pipes" (they resemble a VPN) for connecting servers across a WAN or LAN. A nifty network traffic dashboard then monitors the pipes. The approach is easily scalable geographically but relies a great deal on processor firepower for scalability in volume. E/Pop does not manage server clusters nor provide explicit failover support.
From a business perspective, the management features of e/Pop are its strength. The two standout areas are user management and security. Most management tasks are carried out through the e/Pop Server Management Console, an executable (.exe) and not a Web program. Its tabbed user interface is functional enough to organize the many options.
When the number of users climbs, so does IM management overhead. e/Pop does a good job of reducing that overhead. For example, we liked the relative ease with which e/Pop can tap a variety of sources for user names: machine name, login name, NT4/2000 Domain, Active Directory, NetWare Directory, GroupWise name, or a name defined in the e/Pop Console. Another simple but effective feature is the automatic creation of a user account at the server, which happens the first time a user logs in. This can save a lot of administrative time.
Like most IM servers, e/Pop supports user groups. It also uses "profiles," which are like a buddy list managed by the server administrator. It limits the number (and names) of people that can be seen by user for interdepartmental control, for example. In fact, e/Pop is very good about providing options for users but also giving the administrator the ability to enable or disable them, and in effect to "lock down" the user's available features.
User authorization also plays a role in the IM server's security. E/Pop uses a "global code," which is basically a text string a server will recognize to authorize a connection from an e/Pop client. This is a simple approach not foolproof but probably sufficient. Security during the messaging process is one of the big advantages to a private IM system, largely in the form of end-to-end encryption. E/Pop is very good at this: RC4 encryption is standard but other combinations are available: RSA+RC4, RSA+DES, RSA+Triple-DES, RSA+AES.
The Professional edition adds the capability to manage the server remotely and perform a few operations on client machines. For compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley (or similar) requirements, WiredRed offers archiving tools as an add-on product. A software development kit is also available for creating custom IM applications.
Five types of clients are available for e/Pop users: Professional, Basic, Remote, Alert, and Java. The user interface isn't as slick as some of the public IM clients, but it gets the job done. Extensive client customization is available through the Control Console. Configurations can be frozen, and e/Pop recompiles its executable after changes.
More Than Just an IM Server
When it comes to providing a variety of messaging-oriented services, WiredRed is in the marketing cage with some 800-pound gorillas and probably wants to rely on its own fast feet. E/Pop IM Server uses its own routing engine approach and eschews IM standards, such as SIP or SIMPLE. The result is a self-contained, flexible, and cost-effective way for businesses to exploit the advantages of IM (plus voice conferencing, application sharing, and Web conferencing).
Pros: Excellent encryption options; Good support for user authentication; Better than average management control.
Reviewed by: Nelson King