MindAlign: A J2EE Web application that mixes IM and chat in a highly secure and persistent corporate communication setting.
Parlano’s MindAlign starts off where other IM server systems claim they can go. In addition to offering the standard IM and chat capabilities, the enterprise-level Java application maintains persistent forums, chat threads, and more.
Parlano’s MindAlign starts off where other instant messaging (IM) server systems claim they can go: It is an enterprise-level Java (J2EE) application built on messaging services. As such, MindAlign has the standard IM and chat capabilities and also brings to the mix the ability to maintain persistent forums, chat threads, and other forms of group communication not found in ordinary IM systems.
Parlano sells both a server-based and hosted version of MindAlign. The server approach, which we tested, features Parlano’s branding options and well-developed API. It is highly customization and adaptable to other enterprise software.
With the exception of its most recent edition, which partners it with Microsoft Live Communication Server, MindAlign is a protected enterprise messaging system and thus does not maintain intimate links to the public IM clients, like AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo!, or Microsoft Messenger. MindAlign is much less vulnerable on that account, and it also enforces a high level of security through encryption and user authentication.
A House of Tiers
A simple description of the MindAlign architecture — clients (Windows and Web), middleware (message server, authentication server, and application server), and back-end database server — makes it sound like a conventional three-tiered Web application. It is more sophisticated than that, however. Of special interest is the interplay between what Parlano calls the ‘Servlet Tier’ and the ‘Server Tier.’
Interestingly, this Java system leans heavily in the direction of the Windows platform, and its most sophisticated client is a Java-Windows hybrid.
Servlets run in a Tomcat (application server) container (using the Tomcat Web server, as well) and provide much of the user interface and control functionality for users and administrators. The Server Tier has three main elements: Group Servers, Authentication Servers, and Messaging Servers (plus an optional Archive Server). These components provide the core processes for messaging and user management. This division of labor is unusual among IM and chat products, and it reflects Parlano’s application orientation.
MindAlign supports the use of multiple message server ‘nodes’ (i.e., other instances or machines), which provides some scalability. This should not be confused with server clustering and typical cluster management. Scaling and performance for MindAlign isn’t a matter of simply adding servers: Various parts of the architecture must be considered individually (not to mention external servers like Active Directory or a database application). MindAlign database server support is limited to the current versions of Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle.
Installing and configuring MindAlign is largely automatic, although we found setting up the server and clients to be more complex (from the administrator’s point of view) than in other IM systems. Interestingly, this Java (J2EE) system leans heavily in the direction of the Windows platform (e.g., Microsoft Active Directory, Microsoft SQL Server, and Microsoft Live Communication Server), and its most sophisticated client is a Java-Windows hybrid. MindAlign server can also be installed on a Solaris machine and can use the new Java applet Web client. Administrative chores are handled via an application Web site (a form of portal). MindAlign also comes with ChatStat, a crude usage reporting tool that features message monitoring in a statistical format.
Persistent Chat and Messaging
Control over messaging is largely a matter of setting policies; however, control over message content, such as word filtering, is not one of MindAlign’s strengths.
The ‘value package’ in MindAlign is the collaboration of IM and chat in an approach that provides for persistent groups, topics, and forums. In an enterprise setting, MindAlign can be configured to reflect specific company areas of interest (by topic, group, source, or even word). Messages can be broadcast to groups, and forums can be designated as private or open to the company. Most of this is the work of the Group Server, which maintains the user records (e.g., status, profile, and permissions). MindAlign is very good at keeping track of users, even those connecting from multiple locations. It can also maintain message history and has a ‘BackChat’ feature to retrieve messages.
Control over messaging (either in forums or in direct messaging) is largely a matter of setting policies (who can do what, when, and where); however, control over message content, such as word filtering (e.g., bad language), is not one of MindAlign’s strengths.