Make no mistake: Instant messaging is taking root, with or without the blessing of IT.
To meet that demand, companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp., America Online Inc., and Yahoo Inc. revved up real-time communications capabilities at the IM Planet Spring 2003 conference this week in Boston. Microsoft Corp., meanwhile, confirmed that it will soon issue a beta of its Greenwich server.
Despite the flurry of product introductions and buzz, the show brought to light several concerns regarding the current state of IM security, accountability, and lack of IT control.
One problem is the proliferation in corporations of consumer-grade IM products, which lack critical enterprise requirements such as name-space control, directory integration, security and virus protection, and auditing and logging capabilities.
"There is a lot of concern out there right now [with IM]. You have this tidal wave of IM coming your way if you are an IT manager, and you really do need to do something about it," said analyst Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash. "Some companies try to block IM traffic, but that doesn't work."
According to Osterman, taking control of IM -- an effort Yahoo and Microsoft executives urged at the conference -- requires formulating a cohesive strategy, either by overlaying security and auditing tools on public IM systems or by investing in a corporate-strength IM product.
Interoperability, another key obstacle, is still a work in progress. IBM recently announced a deal with AOL to develop tighter integration of their corporate IM products, while AOL also teamed with Hewlett-Packard to integrate its Enterprise AOL Instant Messenger Services with HP's collaboration offerings. But in the long term, interoperability will likely come via support for the emerging SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)/Simple standard. IBM's Lotus Sametime currently supports SIP/Simple, and Microsoft plans to support it in Greenwich .
"IM is a virtual network on top of the Internet, and we haven't figured out how to leverage that yet," said David Gurle, a product unit manager at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.
Speaking at IM Planet, Gurle told attendees that IM's presence-awareness feature is the key to the technology, and that element needs to be exploited.
Companies will likely get plenty of opportunity to explore IM's presence awareness and other benefits as a bevy of vendors prepare to crowd the market.
Sun Microsystems revealed plans at the conference to roll out a stand-alone IM server sometime in the next few months. Previously Sun offered IM capabilities with its Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Portal Server framework. Oracle also announced plans to unveil Release 2 of its Collaboration Suite, which will add real-time collaboration and Web conferencing to its messaging suite.
(Scarlett Pruitt contributed to this report.)