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Bridges between IM islands needed

Opinion
Oct 07, 20032 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* Two approaches for linking enterprise instant messaging

Instant messaging is a very useful tool – up to the point that you want to communicate with someone who does not use the same instant messaging system you do. Interoperability will be increasingly critical as the enterprise role of instant messaging expands, and so enterprise firms and instant messaging vendors will need to find ways to make competing instant messaging systems play well together.

There are two ways in which instant messaging interoperability might occur in enterprise companies (I’m not considering the Trillian-type approach in this discussion, since I don’t believe it’s a practical method for large-scale deployment in an enterprise):

* A standards-based approach, in which all vendors build to a common standard that would allow their products to communicate with each other on a direct-connect basis. This is the approach several vendors are pursuing, although there are competing standards – such as Session Initiation Protocol and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions, and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol.

* A carrier model, in which an instant messaging backbone is established and enterprises simply hook up their gateways to that backbone, much like a PBX in an enterprise hooks up to the telephone company’s network.

Which approach is the better one? Proponents of the standards approach have precedent on their side in the form of Internet mail standards that made interoperability the norm in e-mail that it is today. Further, a survey we completed last month indicates that standards are “very important” or “extremely important” for 63% of organizations in making their enterprise IM purchasing decisions.

On the other hand, the same survey also supports the view by some in the carrier camp that interoperability is more of a business decision than a technical one. The survey indicated that the ability for instant messaging products to integrate with collaboration products and backend applications already in place in the enterprise is much more important than support for a particular standard.

I’d like to get your views on this debate. Please drop me a line at mailto:michael@ostermanresearch.com