A Little Logging and Archiving
We had no difficulty in setting up the logging feature, though it quickly became apparent that both logging and archiving are minimally implemented. The new archiving feature requires MS SQL Server and MSMQ (Microsoft Message Queuing). The capabilities are a far cry from the reporting and auditing features available in IM archiving products from Akonix System, IMLogic and FaceTime Communications (see Related Reviews box). Some of these companies are Microsoft partners, which may account for Microsoft’s minimal archiving and logging efforts.
Managing Security and Control
Management tools for LCS 2005 are solid, thanks to Windows Management Interface (WMI), Microsoft Management Console (MMC) and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM). Microsoft also offers the capability to manager LCS servers remotely. Managing users and their authentication directly involves Active Directory. If properly maintained, this is a good start to security. However, protection from IM adware, spim (IM spam) and other IM-related malware exists in the borderland between Microsoft and its partners (again, good examples come from Akonix, IMLogic, and FaceTime). To be secure, any enterprise considering a serious installation of LCS 2005 should also consider third-party products.
Another aspect of security arrives in the form of new support for remote users and “federation” (the capability to exchange IM and presence information across network boundaries, such as with partner companies). LCS 2005 no longer requires a VPN setup to deal with remote users, but the schemes for federation call for use of proxy servers, authentication servers and other network integration. Making federation secure, most likely with the use of third-party products, is not a small task.
The World Outside and the New Client in Town
The client side of LCS 2005 is the familiar Windows Messenger (or MSN Messenger) — familiar in the sense that it is often used for public network IM. As a new offering, Microsoft can now incorporate access to public IM networks (i.e., MSN, AOL and Yahoo!) into the LCS 2005 operation with the IM Connectivity package (optional, and additional cost).
Another form of client, Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 (formerly code-named Istanbul) was added to LCS arsenal earlier this year. It opens the way to including VoIP (and other phone) management as part of the communications mix. This closely watched step into telephony has been a long time coming from Microsoft and should be considered as an initial, but very significant, development for LCS.
Born to Customize
The architecture of LCS was built to support Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE). These are recognized standards for which Microsoft has provided both an API for application developers to access SIP and SIMPLE functions directly, and a higher-level scripting language called Microsoft SIP Processing Language (MSPL).
Microsoft is hardly alone in offering API and scripting for IM. However, Microsoft has an advantage with its vast infrastructure for developers. From specific server and client software developer kits (SDKs) for Live Communication Server, to Visual Studio .NET, to developer documentation and community forums, the support for development in LCS is mainstream Microsoft. This is an important consideration for companies looking to build IM or presence-enabled applications.
Not Just Another IM Server
Is LCS 2005 the nucleus of computer-communications convergence for Microsoft? It may be an overstatement, but it’s not a misrepresentation. At present, it’s a first-class product: a good IM server with well-integrated and useful presence features, packaged with Live Meeting features such as application-sharing and conferencing.
The near future will bring more sophisticated telephone routing. However, it is important to understand that committing to LCS 2005 is tantamount to committing to its future. While its full promise is probably a revision or two down the road, as are the answers to questions of security and complexity, Microsoft Office Live Communication Server could well turn into one of the most innovative and important products in Microsoft’s menagerie.
Pros: If you believe in integrating IM and presence awareness into routine office life, LCS 2005 — in conjunction with a lot of other Microsoft products — is tops. This is particularly true for those wishing to do custom applications.
Cons: Security and user control may need third-party products. Support for public network IM is additional cost. Typical installations require a lot of Microsoft product upgrades, which will add expense. Logging and archiving features are minimal.
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 04/26/2005