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Enterprise IM Vendors Start to Play Nice

February 27, 2006
By Maria Trombly, Asia/Technology Correspondent

Instant messaging is a compliance nightmare for securities firms.

When people pick their own screen names, it is hard to tell who's sending the messages. It's almost impossible to figure out who's receiving them. Archiving and monitoring messages requires third-party solutions from specialized vendors like IMLogic of Waltham, Mass., which was recently acquired by Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp., and Facetime Communications of Foster City, Calif.

As if that wasn't enough, IM products from different vendors haven't always talked to each other. But that problem, at least, seems to be fading away. IBM is the latest of the major enterprise IM vendors to integrate interoperability into its product.

Sometime this summer, users of the latest version of IBM's Lotus Sametime will be able to connect to users of public IM networks such as AOL IM and ICQ, Apple Computer's iChat, Yahoo IM and Google Talk (see announcement). Since Sametime is an enterprise IM product, users will be able to maintain their corporate identity. This means that their screen name would be something like Bob.Smith@broker.com rather than HotBob1234.

This takes care of one side of the identity problem. On the other side, companies will be able to get identity information on the folks on the other end of IM conversations through a federated system, which is a hub for passing messages back and forth, channeled through AOL's IM clearinghouse, explained Adam Gartenberg, IBM's offering manager for real-time and team collaboration at Lotus Software.

After testing the product last spring, AOL launched the clearinghouse this year. Said Gartenberg, "It allows companies to have a centralized way to route IM messages to other IM users, rather than setting up direct connections to every company we want to talk to."

Currently, a limited degree of interoperability is available. For example, Sametime users can access AOL IM, but they have to log in a second time and must maintain a separate AOL IM identity.

Late last year, Reuters, which supplies a popular enterprise IM product to Wall Street firms, announced connections to Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Messenger and AOL IM (see announcement).

However, connecting disparate IM systems isn't as simple as connecting distinct e-mail platforms. While e-mail vendors settled on standards for messages years ago, IM vendors use different protocols. For example, Microsoft and Reuters use the Microsoft Office Live Communication Server technology, but IBM and Yahoo use an alternative protocol, SIP/Simple. AOL uses a proprietary system, and Google recently adopted yet another standard, XMPP.

The standards also provide presence information, letting a user's "buddies" know whether the user is logged in at a computer or away from it. This adds extra complexity when developing common standards.

Related stories:

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How the Street Learned to Love IM

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Corporate IM Converges on Standards

IM Key Part of Changing Technology at Stifel Nicolaus

IMlogic Takes Next Step in IM Integration

Communicator Offers Public IM Connections