IM Federation Is Still a Mess

Opinion: A lot of work still needs to be done to make instant messaging enterprise-ready.

During the past few weeks, I have been working with a few enterprise instant messaging platforms to test their interoperability in the context of federation, or connecting separate IM networks.

What a mess.

A couple of the products seemingly work well, but so much work needs to be done, and the framework just doesnt scale the way it needs to.

In the testing, I looked to connect Antepo OPN XT, IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Live Communication Server 2005, as well as connect to public networks.

Per my Tech Analysis, the overhead for doing this can be high because of certificate management and administration of white lists for every network a company wants to connect with.

If you have a couple of key partners, thats not bad, but some organizations deal with a range of partners and customers, and for these companies, the administrative overhead involved would be too high.

/zimages/2/28571.gifHackers step up attacks on IM networks. Click here to read more.

Part of the problem right now is that the tools dont exist for creating a bulk white list. Administrators have to manually create and manage connections to each partner domain.

Bringing automation to the process and giving users some control over creating the white list, albeit with IT having final approval, would be welcome and valuable improvements.

Certificate management is another headache as well, but one that requires infrequent administration.

One of the most frustrating aspects of my testing was dealing with Microsofts LCS 2005 Enterprise Edition.

I still cannot fathom why the product is so poorly architected that it requires setting up three LCS servers to connect to an external domain. LCS needs a core IM server, a director server and the proxy server. For the IM servers from Antepo, Jabber and IBM, on the other hand, a core IM server and gateway server suffice.

Companies that want to give remote users access to IM without a VPN connection have to set up LCS in the same way. Theoretically, the ability to allow remote access without VPN would be a significant cost savings, if Microsoft hadnt made running another server and using certificates for authentication a requirement.

I made one very pleasant discovery while doing the testing: Finally, a company understands that users may want a high degree of control over their presence information. Antepos OPN Client allowed me to more finely tune who could see that I was online.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead another opinion here about the challenges of "presence."

Thats a requirement for federation to succeed. The nature of my job entails a high degree of external communications, but Im loath to make my online availability known because of the prospect of more IM than I can handle. The ability to more tightly manage presence information by individuals and groups makes it much easier to be get person-to-person work done on a project basis.

eWEEK Labs Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at

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