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In a small LAN with an already underutilized server, loading the new IM software on may not have any noticeable effect on system performance. In a large organization with thousands of users, you may find it necessary to install multiple servers -- in addition to licensing additional software necessary to plan and execute IM server deployment, troubleshoot bottlenecks, and maintain uptime.
Another crucial consideration is operating system support on both the server and client side. Because of the relative newness of the industry, not every enterprise IM solution is available on every common platform, and supports every common type of database or corporate directory. This is even more of a consideration on the client side, since the variety and configurations of operating systems in use on the desktop often tend to be greater than in the server room.
Last, but by no means least, in our list of important considerations is the administration model. Managing any IM system will add to your administrative workload, but the more flexible, centralized, powerful and intuitive the administrations tools, the easier your IM system will be to implement. It pays in time and effort to consider an upfront integration of your IM administration with the same way that an enterprise administers its e-mail controls and privileges. Otherwise, IT staff will be forced to configure the same sorts of controls multiple times for the same user.
Common Enterprise IM Solutions
Now that we have looked at some of the important considerations in buying an enterprise IM solution, it's time to take a quick look at a handful of the offerings available today.
It should be pointed out that this is, by no means, a comprehensive list of EIM systems available. (Indeed, for a more thorough treatment, check out the InstantMessagingPlanet product guide.) Instead, this list is aimed at covering a cross-section of the space, to better give the IT buyer a sample of what's out there.
Formerly known as Lotus Sametime, Version 3 of IBM's Lotus Instant Messaging offering is a full-featured IM and Web conferencing system. The product comes with its own directory system for authentication, but it can also plug into other LDAP-compliant directory services systems to provide single sign-on capability. Version 3 also includes an IM gateway that allows separate organizations using Lotus IM to communicate with each other securely.
Pricing runs at $38 per registered user or $25,700 per processor for unlimited extranet use. There are no licensing minimums and so the product offers a viable solution for even the smallest business. There are no requirements to be using Notes or any other Lotus products. The current version supports Windows server platforms and clients.
The next version, 3.1 (to be announced later this summer) will also include support for Unix and Linux platforms. One of the more notable features of IBM Lotus Instant Messaging, from an IM point of view, is that it can be used to communicate with AOL IM users.
Sun ONE IM is a real-time messaging and collaboration product that boasts all of the features you would expect from an enterprise-level IM system and then some. As well as basic IM functionality you get Web conferencing, broadcast level messaging and user configurable client lists. As you would expect, there is a great deal of cross product compatibility with other Sun offerings including interfaces with Sun ONE Portal Server and Sun ONE Calendar Server.
Strong management facilities include features like the ability to prevent users from closing the client interface, user access controls and message archiving within a fully searchable database system. In addition, message conversion API's allow for integration with third party products such as content vetting and anti-virus solutions.
Client support is some of the broadest available and includes Windows 2000, Sun Solaris 9 and 8, Apple Mac OS 10.1, Microsoft Windows 98, NT, 2000, and XP and Red Hat Linux 7.2 or later. Server support includes Sun Solaris 9 and 8, Microsoft Windows 2000 and Red Hat Linux 7.2 or later. Pricing starts at $30 per user with a tiered volume discount.
A relative newcomer to the world of EIM, Sigaba Secure IM places a great deal of emphasis on its comprehensive security features, which include integrity checking, end-to-end encryption, and digital signatures for portions of a message or entire conversations. Sigaba supplies "adapters" to plug into NDS and Active Directory or you can choose to use the built-in authentication system. Anti-virus scanning for attachments is achieved via a plug-in for McAfee antivirus.
From a client perspective Sigaba IM offers both IM and chat capability with multiple person conversations. Support for attachments goes along with other standard features such as groupings within user lists, messaging within groups, user muting and user warning. Central management is performed through configuration files. Server support includes Red Hat Linux and Windows NT/2000/2003.
Aimed primarily at the financial services, healthcare and government sectors Sigaba IM comes in at $68,000 for a 1,000 user license. Other licensing models, including a two-year license agreement are available.
Targeting businesses in the 25 to 500-user range, Effusia Business Messenger from Liquid Communication Systems is a full-featured, stand-alone IM system offering SSL encryption, administrative control of contact lists, broadcast messaging, invitation-only meetings, drag-and-drop file transfer between users, offline messaging and server-side message logging (optionally to an SQL database but to rolling XML logs by default).
Pricing is based on number of concurrent users. Users are free to install as many Effusia Consoles (the client software) as they like, but may only have the licensed number of users logged in at any given time. Pricing ranges from $40 per user for a 10-user license to $12 per user at 500 users. Currently Effusia has its own user database and authentication system, though a representative for the company says that it will be including an LDAP (and Active Directory)-based plug-in in the next upgrade.
e/pop from WiredRed software comes in two versions -- a Professional client and a Basic client. The main differences between the two are that the "pro" client offers application sharing and remote control, which the company says makes it a valuable tool in IT support situations. e/pop also has a Java-based client and a one-way IM client called e/pop Alert designed for corporate broadcasting.
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