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IM pings corporate decision-makers

Few applications, with the possible exception of e-mail, have caught fire as fast as instant messaging (IM). But the vast majority of the success has occurred under the radar of corporate IT. Many enterprises still ban IM because it lacks proper security or manageability requirements. Times are changing as several companies are rushing to fill the need for IM management software. Boston-based IMlogic Inc., which will ship IM Manager later this month, is one example. The company was founded by Francis deSouza, a former lead executive for Microsoft's real-time communications group who is now IMlogic's chief executive officer. DeSouza chats with about IM's grown-up role in enterprise.

What is the state of IM use in the enterprise today?
There's confusion. One CIO told me that he didn't have any IM in use in his company and then found out later that he had more than 20,000 IM users. But there [are] a number of challenges for the IT departments. They have no visibility into what is happening (with IM). There is no way to know who is using what type of IM. So they don't know how to plan network deployments for its usage. They are also worried about security. People transfer files over IM and viruses can come in or [proprietary company] information can go out. Firewalls are being bypassed. Some industries have regulations about archiving. The SEC talks about the need to keep records. It's something companies had to do for e-mail -- now it's something they have to do for IM. Reporting is a problem. They want to know what their use is, so they can prepare their networks and possibly charge back departments [for the traffic]. On IM there is no control over names. One bank had someone called Stud Broker. Now, no one knows who that is. And when they leave the company they take their ID, so they can continue to do business and the customer may not even know they left the company. What will an IM management tool do that can't be done today?
The IM Manager gives you visibility. It tells you what use and what type of use. You can map screen names to directory entries. You can say 'I want [the] sales department to have access to AOL, but not this other group.' By getting visibility and control you are also getting a level of reporting. You can see your traffic, message size, traffic broken down by time of day or department so you can charge back. There is also compliance-level archiving for regulations like [those imposed by] HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996] and the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission]. And you get security. You can prevent file transfer over IM. It works across all the major IM platforms: AOL, MSN, Yahoo, [Microsoft's upcoming] real-time communication server [code-named Greenwich], Reuters and others. Because of the casual nature of the way IM is used, do you think that if people know their IMs are being archived, it will change the way they use IM or even reduce the popularity of IM?
Companies shouldn't allow people to query archives. There should be strict policies about who has access to the archives. The IT departments only look at statistics. It's a well-known group who will have access, and this is not a group of people looking for dirty jokes in the archives. They are looking for insider trading or transfer of confidential information. People need to be clear about why they are keeping the archives. Some companies are happy to have the archives. In the world of a broker, if there is a problem you can go back to the tape. It gives them some protection. Will Microsoft's .NET platforms change the picture any?
Microsoft, as well as everyone, is making a big investment in IM. Expect to see more security addressing things like encryption. People will see IM as a good front end for multimedia communications. I may see you online, maybe then initiate text and then initiate a phone call. More of that will kick in with the shift to the [Session Initiation Protocol]. From our perspective, Microsoft has licensed our product and will embed our archiving functionality into Greenwich. So if you buy [IM Manager] for Exchange and upgrade to Greenwich, you can upgrade seamlessly. How will it interface with Exchange and other messaging servers?
The software has three parts. First, a capture agent is installed on each Exchange IM server. There is the actual log service, which parses the message and writes it to a database. This can be a separate box but doesn't have to be. This is also where the database resides. The third part is a Web-based reporting and querying application. What impact will corporate IM have on enterprise networks? Will we see bandwidth bottlenecks with increased use of IM?
When we rolled out IM at Microsoft, we had to work with central IT to understand its impact on our network. We found that network traffic actually dropped because IM started replacing e-mail. IM is 100 times less heavy than e-mail. In fact, if you are worried about bandwidth, you should aggressively deploy IM.

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