Interoperability Isn't That SIMPLE
Interoperability poses another barrier. At the moment, clients for IM systems like Sametime, MSN, AOL, and Yahoo remain incompatible. The IETF's emerging SIP/SIMPLE industry standard is supposed to solve that problem eventually.
"Vendors are [slowly] beginning to implement SIP/SIMPLE," Ignatius acknowledges. "However, they're still working out interoperability between their various implementations."
SIP (Session Initial Protocol) is a protocol already widely deployed for telecommunications call signaling. SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) is a set of SIP extensions for the IM industry.
A working group within the IETF has already completed a number of draft requirements, with additional drafts due by July 3 and August 3. September 3 is the scheduled due date for submission of the Presence/IM System Architecture draft to the IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group), for publication on an "informational" basis.
Critics charge, though, that public IM vendors like AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo are dragging their heels when it comes to SIP/SIMPLE compliance. "The public IM players are still stubborn about accepting full and complete interoperability with their systems," asserted analysts at the Yankee Group in a recent report. Instead, true interoperability is likely to first appear in products like Lotus Sametime and Reuters Messaging, according to the analysts.
As an alternative to SIP/SIMPLE, a company called Jabber, Inc. has now produced an XML-based IM interoperability protocol called XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol). XMPP and SIP/SIMPLE can reportedly coexist in the enterprise, and some have even predicted the possible emergence of a Jabber working group within the IETF.
Another XML-based protocol now gaining ground is SAML (Security Assertions Markup Language), an offering from OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structure Information Systems). SAML is designed to bolster security as well as interoperability. The standard is an attempt to let businesses exchange credentials across disparate authorization methods.
Third-Party Vendors Step In
Third-party vendors are taking advantage of the interoperability dilemma with new products and services meant to provide security and manageability across IM platforms. Omnipod was the first in this space with a managed service for enterprises. A server in Omnipod's datacenter receives IM traffic from AOL, Yahoo and MSN; applies IM policies to the messages; and then dispatches them to a piece of software outside the corporate firewall. When Port 443 is opened on the firewall, the IM traffic is encrypted and sent to Omnipod desktop clients.
Meanwhile, FaceTime's new IM Director product, slated for Q3 availability, is designed to work across public systems like AOL, Yahoo, and MSN as well as private IM systems such as Sametime. Administrators will be able to set IM control preferences and permissions at the enterprise, departmental, and individual employee level. Realtime visual reporting features will include the ability to identify groups, employees, and "outsiders" that are most active in IM messaging, for example.
IM Director will also support a suite of other IM administrative software from FaceTime, including IM Auditor (for regulatory compliance), IM Call Center, IM Presence Manager, and IM Guardian (for security management).
Akonix L7 Enterprise 2.0, a product already on the market, is aimed at internal management of IMs emanating from ICQ, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo public networks. Sitting inside the firewall, the Akonix gateway logs and archives IMs; generates standard and custom reports on usage; and enforces corporate policies such as message content, file transfer properties, time-of-day, and directions of messages. Other features include a controlled namespace to ensure employees' screen names adhere to a corporate template and protection from "information leakage" by automatically keeping internal messages inside the network.
For IM to reach its full potential, though, business users need to be able to chat securely beyond corporate firewalls. While new third-party products and services go a long way toward meeting that objective, EIM, however, will become much more seamless from an administrative standpoint when SIP/SIMPLE interoperability comes to pass.