April 14, 2005, 9:58 AM — America Online Inc. is launching a program to make its AIM and ICQ instant messaging services interoperable with enterprise instant messaging (IM) systems from other vendors, AOL plans to announce Thursday.
Through the Enterprise Federation Partner (EFP) program, AOL wants to make it possible for users of various enterprise IM systems to add AIM and ICQ users to their IM contact lists and vice versa, and allow them to exchange messages.
"The biggest thing about this announcement is that you're starting to see true interoperability in the business environment. Interoperability is one of the sticking points for the growth of instant messaging in the enterprise. Right now you have little islands of instant messaging that can't communicate with each other very well," said industry analyst Michael Osterman from Osterman Research Inc. "This is a major step forward because it's starting to deal with a lot of the real business grade IM systems out there and tying them together."
Along with the launch of the EFP program, AOL is announcing four partners whose enterprise IM systems will interoperate with AIM and ICQ: Antepo Inc., Jabber Inc., Omnipod Inc. and Parlano Inc. Notably absent from the program so far is IBM Corp., whose Lotus Sametime is a major enterprise IM system, which several years ago interoperated with AIM but not anymore.
Until now, the most common way to link AIM with enterprise IM systems has been through third-party gateway software, workarounds which can be complicated to implement and sometimes yield unreliable performance.
This has been the case at Morris Communications Co. LLC, which uses Antepo's OPN system as its enterprise IM platform. To link Antepo's OPN with the public IM networks, the company uses gateway software, said Ray Parish, systems architect at Morris Communications. But it's not an ideal fix because when the configuration of one of the public IM networks is tweaked, the link with Antepo's OPN gets knocked out until the gateway software also gets adjusted, he said.
Parish, who has been beta testing the AIM link with Antepo's OPN, is thrilled that the two vendors are working together to create a solid link between their systems. "With the federated solution we're assured that when AOL makes a change (to AIM), we'll still be able to connect," Parish said, adding that the testing has been going very well. Morris Communications, a publishing company based in Augusta, Georgia, has about 3,000 Antepo OPN users, 500 of which connect with AIM users via the existing gateway.
At the heart of the interoperability problem is the variety of protocols employed by IM vendors, which makes it at worst impossible and at best difficult for their systems to interoperate. Until the IM market settles on one standard, the federated approach AOL is taking with this program is the next best thing in the business sector, Osterman said.