Sun Microsystems, Oracle, America Online and Yahoo! demonstrated real-time communications capabilities at the IM Planet Spring 2003 conference last week in Boston. Microsoft, meanwhile, confirmed that it would soon issue a beta of its Greenwich server.
Despite the flurry of product introductions and buzz, the show brought to light several concerns regarding IM, particularly 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. 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. "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 - required 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 supports SIP/Simple, and Microsoft will 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.
Gurle told attendees at the conference that IM's presence-awareness feature was the key to the technology, and that element needed to be exploited.
Sun revealed it was to roll out a standalone 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.