• United States
by Travis Berkley, Network World Global Test Alliance

Live Communications Server 2003

Feb 02, 20046 mins

Microsoft improves instant messaging, but only for internal clients

As instant messaging and presence products have become prevalent in corporations, Microsoft has taken the instant messaging engine out of Exchange 2000 and turned it into a stand-alone product, Live Communications Server 2003.

As instant messaging and presence products have become prevalent in corporations, Microsoft  has taken the instant messaging engine out of Exchange 2000 and turned it into a stand-alone product, Live Communications Server 2003.

All IM functionality was removed from Exchange, so if you’re looking to upgrade to Exchange 2003 and want to keep the IM, you’ll also need to buy LCS. (However, Exchange 2000 licenses covered by Microsoft’s Software Assurance program allow you to receive LCS licenses when you upgrade.) We recently tested LCS and found it to be much better than the IM in Exchange 2000, but perhaps too limited for those looking to purchase an IM package as a separate system.

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Putting it together

LCS must be installed on a Windows 2003 Server or Advanced Server that is a member server of your Active Directory. Microsoft highly recommends that LCS be on a server other than a domain controller. The installation does an Active Directory schema extension to handle the new data types. Besides the problems we had installing a Service Pack for Windows Server, the LCS installation was straightforward.

The administration tool to manage the LCS is simply a snap-in to the standard Microsoft Management Console, and will launch as a stand-alone application . Although the snap-ins originally are placed on the Windows server, you can install the snap-ins at additional workstations where Active Directory administration is performed.

The installation CD has plenty of documentation that can help you plan your installation, migration or a test deployment. A deployment guide can help you size your hardware, set usage policies and give ideas of a typical installation.

Because LCS relies on Active Directory to hold its objects, it scales just as Active Directory does. As your LCS user base grows, you can install LCS services on multiple servers  that all share the same user information.

Microsoft abandoned the Rendezvous protocol used in its previous IM engine. LCS now uses existing Internet standards, including Session Initiation Protocol, SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) and Simple Object Access Protocol . These protocols were added to Windows Messenger 5.0 to let it communicate with other messaging services. Because Windows Messenger is the supported client for LCS, these protocols were used.

We were disappointed our Windows Messenger clients had to be a member of the domain in which LCS is running. We tried but could not get Windows Messenger to authenticate to LCS unless the client was a domain member and not simply authenticated to the domain. This information was lacking from all the documentation.

Another drawback is that you cannot give an LCS account to someone who cannot authenticate to your Active Directory forest. It is possible to have a “multi-forest” implementation as long as there are ample two-way trusts among the forests. Microsoft has a separate product, MSN Messenger Connect for Enterprises, if you wish to connect to outside contacts. However, this product simply connects your LCS network to the MSN network. Without it, the scope of your IM community is limited to your company.

Once authenticated, Windows Messenger can perform all its usual functions, including showing a user’s presence; initiating chat sessions with others in a contacts list; whiteboarding; and application sharing. LCS also will support the peer-to-peer audio and videoconferencing that is built into Windows Messenger 5.0.

Secret messages

An improvement to LCS is the ability to encrypt all traffic. Server-to-server traffic and client-to-server traffic can be encrypted using Transport Layer Security. Windows Messenger can be set to encrypt the audio-video datastreams using Data Encryption Standards  algorithms. The Real-Time Transport Protocol also is supported, but we did not test this feature. For companies concerned with securing instant messages, this is a good way to do it.

With LCS installed, Windows Messenger then can lend some functionality to Outlook 2003 clients. For example, when a user receives an e-mail, he can add the sender’s name to the Windows Messenger contacts.

If the name is already in the list, a user can check the presence of or begin a chat session with that person. Without LCS (or another service, such as MSN) you only can reply to the sender’s name or look up their Outlook account properties. Windows Messenger doesn’t extend into other applications in the Office 2003 suite without the assistance of other products, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint Services.

Live Communications Server 2003


Company: Microsoft Cost: Volume licensing starts at $733 per server and $25 per Client Access License. Pros: Easy to install and manage; message encryption and archiving available. Con: Windows Messenger PCs must be a member of domain.

Features 40%

Management 30% 4
Installation 15% 4
Documentation 15%  3.5


Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

We also like the new archiving features. By installing Microsoft’s SQLserver 2000 and the Windows Message Queuing service (it holds the messages until they can be put into the database), you can install the IM Archiving Agent and IM Archiving Service to capture all IM traffic and archive it. Then you can create queries to look for specific content by date, sender, or other content. Several documents are available on the installation CD to help you get this up and running.

LCS stores all contact information and user settings in a centralized database within Active Directory, which lets users roam between clients and devices, and have their settings follow them. LCS also supports multiple points of presence, which lets users connect from up to 32 simultaneous places. This lets users log on from multiple locations (such as a laptop in a conference room while the desktop remains on), but the presence can follow where the person actually is.

Because of the new encryption and archiving enhancements, you will want to include LCS into your plans if you are thinking about upgrading to Exchange 2003. If you’re not a Windows shop, then LCS probably isn’t for you. Its integration with Exchange and other Office products is a plus, but it also relies on them. Without an Active Directory infrastructure, you won’t be able to deploy LCS.