Choosing the Right EIM Solution

By Maxime Seguineau

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Enterprise Instant Messaging (EIM) is quickly replacing consumer-based IM tools in the workplace. A host of new solutions on the market are designed specifically with the enterprise in mind, offering internal installation and control, regulatory compliance, security features, and more.

But are all EIM solutions created equal? Before you select your EIM vendor, make sure you ask them the following key questions.

Does the EIM system require a specific operating system to run?

If the EIM system is tied to a single operating system, it may be limited in its ability to grow and change with your organization. Support for multiple operating systems is highly important should you ever outgrow your installation and need to change or scale with a different hardware and operating system platform.

Does the EIM system require a specific database product to run?

Databases are used to store transient presence and IM-related data such as buddy lists, subscription states, and privacy guards. It's especially important if you want to leverage multiple databases simultaneously for different purposes (archiving, offline messages, presence) that you have flexibility in selecting storage.

Database licenses are expensive and need to be planned carefully. Last but not least, your licensing agreement for database licenses might be managed by a different department, and therefore your EIM system should seamlessly operate with any database choices today and tomorrow.

Does the EIM system require a specific directory product to run?

Supporting multiple directories is also a critical requirement. Most enterprises today rely on a variety of LDAP flavors to support their internal authentication and overall policy management rules.

The EIM system you select should leverage your current directory infrastructure, but also allow for flexibility in future decisions. Should you ever decide to migrate your directory operations to another vendor, your EIM system should seamlessly adapt.

Does your system federate natively with other EIM systems?

An EIM system that only interoperates with itself jeopardizes your ability to aggregate and federate presence data from third-party products, and limits your ability to remain agnostic with regards to your business partners, suppliers, and affiliates. Make sure your EIM vendor offers native and comprehensive federation features not only with its own products, but with other vendors using XMPP and/or all variations of SIP/SIMPLE.

Is directory schema extension a prerequisite in order for the EIM system to operate?

Schema extension and any alteration of the corporate directory structure should be performed with great caution, especially during the trial phase of the product -- in other words, it should be optional, not mandatory. While it allows more flexibility in the provisioning and management of IM users, it should be planned as an operational deployment item and reviewed carefully.

Does your EIM system allow third-party IM clients to connect to your server?

Organizations today have a variety of Windows, Mac, and even Linux desktops. As your deployment universe and the number of devices connected to your enterprise grows, you will be asked to extend Presence and IM capabilities beyond the Windows desktop.

Your chosen EIM system should allow third-party developers to develop client applications through standards-based protocol connectivity. Proprietary client-server protocol implementations or unique SDKs prevent innovation around the system you purchase.

Does the EIM solution offer built-in compliance and policy management?

Many companies require the existence of "walls" between users to meet regulatory requirements. Make sure this can be achieved via simple configuration and not with additional programming. Being able to re-thread archived conversations without additional SQL programming is vital.

Ideally, SMTP logging should also be an option for integration with standard email archive systems, archiving all conversations, whether one-to-one or many-to-many. You will also be well-served if policy management is natively built-in, as opposed to dependent on third-party add-ons. Your EIM system should offer message and presence boundaries based on directory groups, pre-populated contact lists, and filters.

What options are available for remote access and mobile users?

Mobile and handheld users epitomize the value of instant messaging. Be sure to include these users in your EIM system by providing not only remote desktop access but also BlackBerry, Palm, Treo, and Pocket PC support. All of the capabilities of your in-house EIM system should be easily extended to your mobile workforce.

What's my true final cost?

An EIM system should be easy to deploy and grow in your organization. Adding servers shouldn't increase your software costs beyond the addition of extra users. Also, make sure your EIM system can talk to other systems using different operating systems and/or protocols.

Maxime Seguineau is CEO of Antepo, a vendor of enterprise instant messaging, collaboration and presence systems. Antepo is an active member of the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association (FIMA), and includes Merrill Lynch and Sprint among its customers. For more visit www.antepo.com.