IM management may take years to conquer

As end users continue to tap services that bring instant messaging into corporate networks, IT executives are realising they will need sophisticated management tools to create an instant-messaging infrastructure.

As end users continue to tap services that bring instant messaging into corporate networks, IT executives are realising they will need sophisticated management tools to create an instant-messaging infrastructure.

Corporate IT executives, at a teleconference last week sponsored by research firm The Radicati Group, said for instant messaging to be a network service, IT must ensure uptime, quality of service (QoS) and scalability.

"Health and availability is an issue as the number of users grows. An IT-managed service has to be a robust 24-7 service, an IM dial tone in a way," said Brett van Gelder, manager of messaging and collaboration at Ernst & Young, during the teleconference.

Today, nearly 80 % of instant messaging in companies is done over public instant-messaging services such as AOL, MSN and Yahoo, exposing companies to security risks, according to Radicati. In response, companies are deploying gateway technology so IT can control user names, and log and archive traffic to meet government regulatory demands.

But the hybrid approach of corralling consumer services with corporate gateways isn't a long-term solution because companies likely will build internal instant-messaging infrastructure just as with email, according to experts. Radicati predicts there will be 349 million corporate instant-messaging accounts by 2007.

Software for that infrastructure is at the forefront, with IBM Corp./Lotus Instant Messaging server, Microsoft 's Live Communications Server and products from small vendors such as WiredRed Software

If instant messaging becomes a network application run by IT, companies will need to consider health and availability, usage tracking, local routing and integration of instant messaging with applications and business workflow, experts say.

Management also becomes imperative when presence, which uses the instant-messaging infrastructure to show who is online, is embedded in other applications. Also, when standards arrive such as the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, Session Initiation Protocol, and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions, interoperability and voice support will make QoS a core concern for real-time communication.

"In the past 12 months, we've seen a move to embed presence in applications, so now there is a lot more riding on the IM infrastructure than just two people chatting," van Gelder said, noting his company was lucky to have committed to an enterprise platform early, which discouraged the use of public instant messaging.

The firm supports about 50,000 users per day on 12 IBM/ Lotus Instant Messaging servers and uses DYS Analytics' Collaboration Control to monitor the health, availability and performance of the global infrastructure.

But instant-messaging management needs won't materialize overnight, and it will take companies years before consumer services are washed off desktops.

"People are just starting to realise the value of real-time communication, but still there are a lot of executives who don't like it," says Genelle Hung, an analyst with Radicati. "It could be five years until widespread adoption."

That means companies have time to think ahead.

Vendors such as Akonix Systems, FaceTime Communications and IMLogic supply the gateway tools that let companies overlay their domain names on consumer instant messaging and manage traffic.

"We're asking questions about how do we control our name space and create a corporate ID," said Jim Pullen, senior systems engineer of Cinergy, who also participated in the Radicati teleconference. Pullen deployed IMLogic to control the outbreak of consumer instant messaging at Cinergy. "We need to know who we are, and we need to bring interoperability and scalability into the IM environment," he says.

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