Microsoft IM Platform Bridges Gaps

 
 
By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2005-01-24
 
 
 

Microsoft IM Platform Bridges Gaps


With its new ability to extend collaboration to Office productivity applications and to bridge communications among organizations, Microsoft Corp.s Live Communications Server 2005 is a good enterprise instant messaging platform choice for a wider variety of companies.



Click here to read the full review of Live Communications Server 2005.

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With its new ability to extend collaboration to Office productivity applications and to bridge communications among organizations, Microsoft Corp.s Live Communications Server 2005 is a good enterprise instant messaging platform choice for a wider variety of companies.

Shipping since last month, Live Communications Server is priced at $787 for the Standard Edition and $3,154 for the Enterprise Edition, with client access licenses costing $31 each.

Live Communications Server 2005 runs only on Windows Server 2003 and requires Active Directory; the new Messenger client runs only on Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Live Communications Server supports only Messenger 5.0 and 5.1 clients.

If all of those "onlys" are OK by your organization, then this version of Live Communications Server is a worthy purchase or upgrade from the last release. Companies still running instant messaging from Exchange 5.5 will also find this a good update, provided they have or are willing to implement Active Directory.

eWEEK Labs found several excellent enhancements in Live Communications Server 2005s Messenger 5.1 client, including the ability to create federated relationships for connecting with other organizations. However, Live Communications Servers system requirements have become more complex with the 2005 version, especially in the Enterprise Edition. Tapping all the features requires considerable administrative work during setup, and overall administration isnt as easy as wed like.

Click here to read about "Istanbul," Microsofts new rich client beta for Live Communications Server that integrates IM, voice, video and Web conferencing.

IT managers have options for configuring Live Communications Server 2005 to go beyond firewalls: They can broker trusted communications between two domains or host IM for business partners through an access proxy.

Proxy servers can also be used to host IM-based applications that a company might not want to run on a server with other IM traffic, such as an application that provides chat-based customer support.

Click here to read about how the proxy architecture can enable users on separate instant messaging networks and separate domains to communicate as if on the same network.

With this release, Microsoft has added a number of administrative enhancements, including the ability to cluster multiple servers with the Enterprise Edition and improved scalability in terms of clients per server (up to 20,000 users per server). In general, we found the administrative enhancements to be welcome, including a new MMC (Microsoft Management Console) interface and tabs on the Active Directory user configuration interface that make it easier to manage users in groups.

In tests we could change user configuration settings en masse, such as granting the ability to work in a federated environment. We could also give groups of users the ability to use IM on the server. However, the console creates each users unique SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) identifier by accessing his or her SMTP address from Active Directory. Managers who want to obfuscate IM addresses of users connecting to public networks must plan accordingly.

Next page: Archiving.

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This release of Live Communications Server can archive user communications as well as overall system settings. However, companies shouldnt expect to save money here that they would have otherwise spent on third-party archiving tools from companies such as Akonix Systems Inc., IMLogic Inc. and FaceTime Communications Inc.

Unlike Live Communications Server 2005, products from these companies give users audit capability over data saved in Microsoft SQL Server (for the Enterprise Edition) or the MSDE (Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine) database included with the Standard Edition. Like these other products, however, Live Communications Server 2005 does provide the ability to audit IM communications via a Web browser as well as through generated reports. Administrators can generate reports using MS SQL Reporting or other reporting tools.

Archiving is indeed a welcome addition to Live Communications Server, but setting up the archiving engine was one of the more tedious tasks we faced during testing.

During setup, Live Communications Server runs numerous preparation processes for configuring Active Directory, but administrators still need to manually install and configure MS Message Queuing Service to create the archive database. Weve found that tools from Akonix and IMLogic do a much better job of setting up all the database requirements at installation.

Live Communications Server 2005 delivers notable improvements in the user experience, particularly in collaboration.

During tests, we found it much easier to manage presence information because the new Messenger client can tap into a users Outlook Calendar and automatically set IM status as "away" if the user has a meeting scheduled. The contextual presence information in applications has also been improved, with users able to see other users presence in Office applications (including Word and Excel when working on shared documents through SharePoint services).

In terms of core features and look and feel, the Messenger client is largely unchanged, so users wont have to familiarize themselves with more than a few new features. One new feature users would do well to use is the ability to access server-side contact lists.

With this client and server, we could let users connect the Messenger client to a Live Communications Server from outside the firewall. This will reduce reliance on VPNs for remote connectivity. (Outlook 2003 has a similar capability.) This is nice, but the downside is that users could point a Messenger client on any PC to the aforementioned server-side contact list, potentially revealing organizational structure to a third party.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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