Microsoft's corporate IM: Necessary or knee-jerk?

Margie Semilof

Microsoft's new corporate IM service may address a need to compete against other emerging enterprise IM services, but experts say that few companies today are screaming for help managing their IM traffic flow.


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    Microsoft this week said that it will release MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises, a service that lets companies audit and log IM conversations on MSN to a SQL Server 2000 database. It will also integrate with other Windows platforms, including the Windows operating system, Exchange and Active Directory.

    The service will be available in early 2003 and will cost $24 per year, per user. It uses logging and auditing technology provided by IM Logic Inc. and FaceTime Communications Inc.

    For enterprises that want to use MSN Messenger to communicate with partners, customers and prospects, the service provides ways to establish a domain space and to manage passwords and user IDs. It is also expected to give companies a way to combine archives and logs from both enterprise and public IM usage so customers can audit across a combined archive, said Jeffrey Whitney, vice president of marketing at IM Logic, a Boston-based company that is providing similar wares for Microsoft's still-baking Greenwich real-time collaboration technology.

    Customers will need to use an IM proxy, which is software that runs as a service and behaves like an HTTP proxy, Whitney said. All IM traffic is validated through the proxy before it goes through the firewall.

    Microsoft is betting that corporations, especially those in the financial community, are itching to keep better track of their employees' IM usage. But with everything that's happening in the Windows enterprise today, including migrating platforms, rolling out Active Directory, and shoring up security, the urgency of putting tighter controls on IM or group collaboration might not be resonating with mainstream customers as much as vendors think.

    "I see no need to dive in," said Ed Aldrich, a [Microsoft] SMS and antivirus manager for the CVS pharmacy chain, based in Woonsocket, R.I.

    Aldrich said that for many enterprises, it will make more sense to wait for a platform that is leveraged on the Exchange environment, which is supportable and configurable, rather than to go through the trouble of adopting something new.

    In fact, Microsoft's Greenwich is due out sometime in mid-2003, following the release of .NET Server 2003. Greenwich will house the enterprise instant messaging technology that is found today in Exchange Server. Most customers will be happy to wait for Greenwich, said Chris Williams, a messaging analyst with Ferris Research in San Francisco.

    "Outside of a few verticals where regulation calls for them to archive this traffic, companies don't see this as a big activity," Williams said. He added that IM is not that pervasive in terms of being on everyone's desktop.

    Williams said that it's more likely that MSN Messenger for Enterprises is a knee-jerk reaction to a similar enterprise service announced last week by AOL called AOL Enterprise AIM. As proof, he pointed to the fact that the service is coming from the MSN side of Microsoft and not the .NET Server or Greenwich teams.

    "Microsoft likely thinks it can't wait the six-plus months until Greenwich comes out to have an enterprise story," Williams said.

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