Companies concerned about security threats with public instant-messaging services are looking at enterprise instant-messaging products as a way to allow for real-time text communications without sacrificing security and manageability. A product on the short list for companies should be VCON's IPNexus system.Companies concerned about security threats with public instant-messaging services are looking at enterprise instant-messaging products as a way to allow for real-time text communications without sacrificing security and manageability. A product on the short list for companies should be\u00a0VCON's\u00a0IPNexus system. IPNexus is independent of existing enterprise messaging infrastructures (others include\u00a0i3Connect's\u00a0Merlin and\u00a0Tipic's\u00a0Instant Messaging Platform). This differs from\u00a0Microsoft's\u00a0Exchange 2000 IM services and\u00a0IBM's \u00a0Lotus Sametime. Considering the payback behind IPNexus servers How we did it Interactive Scorecard and NetResults Archive of Network World reviews Subscribe to the Product Review newsletterThe IPNexus system supports instant text messaging, and can escalate to real-time, full-featured collaboration sessions. From the same user interface, users can launch and manage point-to-point or multipoint\u00a0H.323 \u00a0videoconferences (as long as they have a camera and speakers). This review looked only at the real-time messaging and desktop collaboration tools.We found well-integrated and distinct features designed to support real-time desktop communication and collaboration. All the features were easy to use, produced immediate results and promised to keep electronic meetings focused on business rather than on the technology.Installation and configurationThe IPNexus 1.5 system consists of a tower or rack-mount appliance that runs VCON's Multimedia Exchange Manager (MXM) Release 3.1 software and IPNexus server software on a Windows 2000 platform. It also comes with a client application, a 2.5M-byte program that installs on users' PCs.An IPNexus-specific file ("WebShare class") must be installed in a directory where the server application consistently can access local or remote FTP and Web server virtual directories and services. FTP and Web-access configuration experience is helpful for proper installation, and administrator-level rights to FTP and Web servers must be given to receive the IPNexus files.The IPNexus client software runs on any Windows 95 or later operating system, and it installed without fanfare. It configured easily, letting the user select which IPNexus server the application should register to (the client can only register to one server at a time). The client also lets users select a screen name, or use a system login name, and lets them set personal preferences, such as the client behavior when invited by the server to join a session. Then the client quietly parks itself in the system tray until called on. Clients can be installed on any number of PCs in a corporation, but an MXM license key controls the number of simultaneous clients any single IPNexus server will register (concurrent logons). The MXM is a mature "super Gatekeeper" and application server, and has many valuable management and administration features. It is a required component of IPNexus.Client applicationsThe IPNexus client application includes instant messaging, QuickNotes and QuickPolls - we found them very easy to use.Double-clicking on the system try icon displays the clients directory and session initiation console, which lists the names of the users alphabetically by name or department. We were disappointed that we couldn't organize users as in a buddy list. Also the concept of "presence," indicating when buddies are active or inactive, is missing from the IPNexus directory paradigm.After selecting one or more names from the directory, the user clicks on a button to create an instant virtual room for a chat session. Invitees can accept or decline the invitation. Chat users can change font type, size, and color (as well as bold, italic and underline) in their messages. Sound effects can be added, which enhances communications similar to the way emoticons (happy face, sad face and the like) are supported in most public instant-messaging clients.The QuickNote application lets users create a "sticky note" that disappears from the sender's screen and appears on the recipient's screen where it "floats" on the desktop until the recipient closes the note or replies. The QuickPoll application lets the user create True\/False questions and multiple-choice polls, such as "What would you pay for this product? A)$0.00 B)$25.00 C)$250.00." This is a very easy applet to use and an effective way to quickly get feedback without interrupting colleagues' workflow.Meatier featuresThe range of integrated features for Web conferencing and collaboration propel IPNexus up the list of enterprise instant-messaging products. Any company that consistently uses commercial Web-conferencing services (such as WebEx, Placeware or Raindance) for small interactive group events (customer presentations or workgroup meetings) will quickly appreciate the collaborative features of the IPNexus system. Having the server in-house can significantly reduce recurring expenses associated with the Web-conferencing services. (See sidebar ) We found IPNexus much easier to use and more responsive for ad hoc or scheduled meetings than applications offered by commercial hosted services, Microsoft NetMeeting or Windows XP-based Windows Messenger tools - even on a heavily loaded server.Dragging and dropping a file from a local directory onto the IPMessenger text chat portion of the application has two immediate outcomes: it sends the file via FTP to the preconfigured FTP server (from which other participants can download the file to their local systems) and it creates an HTTP-friendly version of the file. The HTTP version appears as a URL in the text chat window. The IPSnapShot application lets a user select an area of the screen and convert it to a JPEG image for chat session users to see.We were impressed by the intuitiveness and low latency of these features. Compared with other technologies we've evaluated, using IPNexus for desktop conferencing is virtually instantaneous and diverts little attention from the meeting. We also were impressed that these sessions were essentially peer to peer. Within a session, participants can use any of the applications at their disposal without requesting and waiting for the server to transfer control, or waiting for someone to upload a file to the host server. Except for the file transfer feature, all the contents of the meeting remain on the local participant's system.Security, Authentication, Archives and AuditingConfiguration and administration windows are password-protected on the IPNexus server (through the MXM management console). When the server is inside a firewall, the messaging traffic does not expose a company to the same security threats posed by public instant-messaging services. Remote users connect to the server over a VPN, and are exposed at the same level as e-mail traffic over the Internet (the message traffic itself is not encrypted).However, when the server registers clients, it does not require a password. A user on an intranet or the Internet could obtain the IP address of an IPNexus server and register under a false screen-name, causing other users registered to the same server to not be able to distinguish friendly users from hostile ones.As is industry norm, IPNexus 1.5 does not generate an activity log, capture activity between users to an archive or support any form of traffic auditing. Even when these features are built into instant-messaging products, their use has been for specific financial applications, and most users feel uncomfortable knowing or learning that their sessions are monitored and archived. A organization that needs to monitor instant-messaging traffic for Security and Exchange Commission regulations, for example, couldn't monitor traffic with this product.Documentation and conclusionBecause the applications conform to Microsoft Windows conventions, the IPNexus Getting Started Guide was sufficient. Although not necessary for the instant messaging and collaboration features, a detailed and useful MXM Administrator's guide is included with the system.We think the IPNexus system represents a significant addition to VCON's portfolio. We think it will appeal to companies seeking an alternative to public instant-messaging services, and offers some relief from commercial conferencing service providers' fee. We believe that the system's turnkey packaging and architecture would appeal most to workgroups, small or midsize customers. VCON IPNexus 4.1 Rating Company: VCON, (800) 418-5328, www.vcon.com\/products\/servers\/IPNexus Price: $12,000 for a 25-user tower system with 1-year software maintenance contract, administration tools (MXM 3.1) and unlimited client installations; $14,000 for equivalent configuration in rack-mountable server. Licenses for concurrent registrations available in eight levels; $68\/concurrent user for 1,000-concurrent-user license. Pros: Turnkey product; easy to use for instant text communications and ad hoc or scheduled desktop collaboration; very low latency; numerous messaging and conferencing tools support wide range of individual preferences and collaboration without disrupting business processes. Cons: Not integrated with other enterprise messaging, calendaring or productivity applications; no buddy list; limited administrative options. \u00a0 IPNexus Features 50% 5 Management\/administration 20% 3 Installation 20% 3 Documentation 10% 4 TOTAL SCORE 4.1 Individual category scores are based on a scale of 1 to 5. Percentages are the weight given each category in determining the total score. Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional showing in this category. Defines the standard of excellence; 4: Very good showing. Although there may be room for improvement, this product was much better than the average; 3: Average showing in this category. Product was neither especially good nor exceptionally bad; 2: Below average. Lacked some features or lower performance than other products or than expected; 1: Consistently subpar, or lacking features being reviewed.