Enterprise instant messaging: Coming to a customer near you


Well, who woulda thunk it - now e-mail is apparently too damn slow.

It's not enough that cosmic systems intertwine, it seems we want to read

each other's minds, and do so without delay. Used to be that waiting 30

seconds for an e-mail message to get from sender to recipient was

tolerable. No more. Now, it's gotta be instant. Pity the poor Postal


The transformation of instant messaging from teenager's chat tool into

an honest-to-goodness (well, maybe not so honest) corporate

communications platform has already happened. It happened when no one

was looking.

We've all used products like AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and

Microsoft Messenger. Sure, they're great when your pal is online and you

want to have a quickie conversation. It's cheaper than picking up the

phone, and yes, it is actually faster than e-mail. It really is instant.

(How do I know? Because I phoned a West Coast friend from my East Coast

office so I could hear the little audio signal indicating an incoming

message. The instant I'd hit the enter key, that little chime sounded on

my friend's computer, some 3,700 miles away.)

Regardless of a company's IM policy (usually non-existent), employees

have adopted IM as an everyday, all-day-long business tool. Boot the PC

in the morning and launch IM. It's always there, always on, always


But IM makes IT cringe. Really. It's not so much a bandwidth-sucking

problem as it is an old-fashioned business - and legal - problem.

There's no audit trail. Type those instant messages, converse back and

forth, and then, when you close the IM window and end the session, well,

the conversation is gone forever (unless you did an explicit save, and

no one does). You can't get it back. You can't retrieve it. Poof! Pffft!

Yep, IM is really IA (instant amnesia). No doubt some celebrity insider

traders swear by IM, but corporate lawyers are probably swearing at it.

The Rockies may crumble and Gibraltar may tumble, but IM is here to

stay. Deal with it.

And who's dealing with it? Why your buddies at Microsoft, of course.

If you're not already familiar with Microsoft Live Communications Server

2003, get ready for industrial-strength enterprise instant messaging.

Quote Microsoft's Web site: "Live Communications Server 2003, formerly

known as Real-Time Communications Server 2003 (RTC Server), is the new

enterprise instant messaging (IM) solution and extensible real-time

communications platform . . . [that] enables an enterprise to deploy a

managed IM solution with functionality including logging, archiving,

file transfer, audio/video conferencing, and application sharing."

In other words, IM'ed words live forever and get archived to tape, just

like genuine e-mail. Says Microsoft: "RTC Server will allow enterprises

to log instant messages to help protect corporate privacy and

intellectual property and help ensure regulatory compliance in certain

industries." That's a mouthful, but it's the right mouthful. It's all

about eliminating legal exposure while protecting the corporate crown


Due this year, LCS is likely to be priced around $35 per seat and about

$900 per server. The competing Lotus Instant Messaging Server, which

used to be called SameTime, runs about $45 per seat. And you can bet

there will be others.

All of this probably isn't a bad idea. Face it, IM isn't going away;

employees use it every day. Consequently, it makes sense to load it up

with security, audit, and archive tools.

You know my rants by now - there's always an angle for solution

integrators. You don't have to evangelize the technology. Everyone knows

IM. And like moths to a flame, no one can keep away from it. All you do

is explain the liabilities that could arise from the absence of

archiving. It just might be an easy sell.

If you're so inclined to read Microsoft's press release, it's here:


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