Chat Blazer, Cutting a Trail to Enterprise Chat
Chat Blazer Enterprise: High-performance Java-based chat server with a scalable architecture and easily integrated modules Chat Blazer Enterprise is a high-performance Java-based chat server that has a scalable architecture into which numerous features can be integrated via add-on modules. But how does the server stack up to other enterprise-focused fare?
Pendulab, Inc.'s Chat Blazer benefits from specialization -- a focus on chat and closely related message services. Its chat-oriented approach makes a strong statement for chat usage (and IM) belonging under the control of an organization instead of in the hands of a public facility (e.g., AOL and MSN). This is a professional product, carrying an equally professional price tag, that delivers high performance, the latest bath of sought-after features, security, and support.
Enterprises that purchase Chat Blazer first buy the basic chat services (server and clients) for a one-time fee based on the number of users per site. Increasing the number of users at a later time -- a license upgrade -- costs only the difference between the original purchase price and the upgrade price. Add-on modules ranging in price from $100 to $600 greatly expand Chat Blazer's functionality. They are Internet Messaging, Moderator, Encryption, HTML Chat, SQL Database Connectivity, SQL XML Database Mapping, LDAP, LDAP-DB, Server Development, HOTClient API, Web Board, Corporate Messenger, Flash Chat, MyInterpreter, a Load Balancing and Clustering Suite, and Voice Chat (Vox).
While other chat servers may include some of these features in the basic price, few have a range as wide as this available.
Installing Chat Blazer server takes only a few steps. At its most basic, the installation involves copying client files to a folder accessed by a Web server (e.g., c:\inetpub\wwwroot), setting a JAVA_HOME environment path variable, running a setup script, and configuring the administrator and clients -- routine steps for experienced administrators. But Pendulab puts a lot of weight on a "happy start-up experience" and provides an unusual level of support for those just starting out with Chat Blazer. The company also offers a number of service level agreement (SLA) options, a guarantee of service that is unusual for this type of server.
Much more time should (and will) be spent customizing both the client and server configuration (using either files or database entries). One of Chat Blazer's greatest strengths is that it allows administrators to personalize many aspects of the user interface and add features, like banners, that identify the chat operation with a particular company or site. This is one of the main reasons enterprises opt for a private chat service.
The client portion of Chat Blazer is a Java applet (as a rule, it is first loaded when a user elects to do so) that can be configured for look and feel, allowing for a certain amount of customization for an organization. The actual installation of the applet is quick and presents no barrier to its acceptance by a user -- except, perhaps, those users who already operate an IRC or IM product.
For user management purposes, Chat Blazer modules that support LDAP and LDAP databases are available. This functionality is obviously most valuable when large numbers of users are involved, and it illustrates Pendulab's philosophy of offering add-on modules instead of including high-end features in the basic price. Another proof-point of scalability is Chat Blazer's support for database management, which is primarily used for storing configuration data, user profiles, and system logs. Databases supported are MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server 2000, and Oracle 8 and 9i, as well as ODBC drivers.
Robust Server and Administration
Pendulab claims Chat Blazer can support more than 1,000 concurrent users. It is so sure of this claim that it offers a money-back guarantee. We doubt the product will be called on the claim. Our own testing, using scripted constant messaging, indicated that CPU and disk use per user is negligible. However, we suspect that as a server acquires a number of intensive add-on modules (e.g., instant messaging, voice, and pictures) attention will have to be paid to hardware and multiple server requirements. But for the enterprise that reaches that point, Chat Blazer offers clustering and load balancing tools as a module, again proving itself to be a truly scalable server system.
Not surprisingly, we found Chat Blazer covered all the bases in server operation and management: Logs, usage monitor, and even the ability to schedule the chat service (turn it on and off according to date and time). Scheduling also extends to administrator message broadcasting. System administrators can work on the server remotely (browser-based) and have a wide range of capabilities to manage channels (rooms), users, and server options. Rooms can be customized in a number of ways.
The principal Chat Blazer client compares well to the best IRC clients. In version 6, the Java client was heavily revised, giving it a wide range of customization options, including emoticon images (which can replace text emoticons automatically), an expression bar for bolding and other text enhancement, personal profiles, foreign language support, avatars (personal images), and visual appearance modification. Chat Blazer also supports a Flash (Macromedia) chat module for even more visual flexibility. Putting the client software through its paces, we found it to be uncommonly easy to configure and personalize.
Users have considerable leeway in their usage rights, for example the ability to create their own rooms, establish buddy lists, indicate online status, be appointed as chat monitors, send private messages (or whisper), and, perhaps most importantly, enter multiple rooms while retaining room-specific details, such as status and ignore lists. Most of these capabilities are assigned or allowed at the discretion of the system administrator.
Keeping Chat Secure
From the perspective of security, Chat Blazer relies heavily on its ability to manage users, especially with log-in identification (the LDAP module may be important here) and the limitations, such as room restrictions, that can be placed on users. For those applications that require greater content security, message encryption is available as an add-on module. However, security features are not Chat Blazer's strongest point, and in this area it does not compare favorably with competitors, such as Webmaster Inc.'s Conference Room.
Profanity management is extensive and has some interesting wrinkles, such as the ability to replace banned words with a substitute string, like ####. Profanity limits of can be set for users, and users can be either temporarily or permanently kicked out of a room for exceeding the limits. The Moderator module (which we did not test) should be useful for applications where chat pre-screening is necessary (e.g., interviews).
Over the years, Chat Blazer has steadily improved its features and general design, and its latest version, Chat Blazer Enterprise 6, is one of the best enterprise-level chat systems available. It's a solid product from a support- and service-oriented company.
Pros: Highly customizable client; Robust server features; Scalable in both performance and in support for various add-on features; Notable for its dedicated support and the availability of SLAs.
Cons: Could use some additional security features such as connection throttling; Aimed at private (corporate) use, where control and customization are primary -- not an "open to the public" IRC kind of chat server.
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 4/14/2004
Original Review Version: 6.3