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Verizon IM: Good For Your Business?

Verizon's new hosted IM service has a great price point and plenty of security features, but comes up short in several areas.

David Greenfield

April 5, 2006

3 Min Read

IM, and more specifically the presence technologies it uses, provides a valuable service that all too often is ignored or, even worse, viewed as a threat by IT. The possibility of circumventing corporate logging tools, tunnelling through firewalls, providing a backdoor for attacks, and just plain annoying users with those pop-ups have contributed to the technology's bad reputation.

Such a stance, though, will become more tenuous as the workforce increasingly demands the IM and presence capabilities they can so readily get out of the office. What's more, as blue-chip vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft stand behind the technology and embed it within their other products, enterprises will find it increasingly difficult not to develop some sort of IM and presence strategy.

Services such as those from Verizon can do a lot to help IT introduce IM and presence while minimizing the security risk and still stay within an affordable price point. At under $6 per user, Verizon further recognizes that it needs to compete with the free public IM services, which are probably the most prevalent IM solution in businesses today.

However, hosted IM services are probably better suited for small businesses lacking IT resources, or collections of companies looking for an industry-wide solution--less so for the individual midtier or large business of 500 or more users. Those companies, the target of Verizon's efforts, will find several issues with the Verizon offering that require further evaluation.

Compliance will be a major challenge. The Verizon service will institute a compliance policy, but can't plug into existing compliance engines, says Rick Dyer, director of IT solutions product management for Verizon. Companies will need to institute the operational policies to ensure that corporate requirements are defined and instituted across all IM communications.

Logs of IM conversations are also stored on Verizon's premises. IT will want to explore Verizon's processes and procedures in how it handles those logs, as instances of missing backup tapes have exposed other companies to potential lawsuits, lost revenue, and damaged reputations. Cases in point include Bank of America, Ameritrade, Time Warner, and Citigroup, which saw backup tapes lost with the account information or Social Security numbers of 5.9 million people.

Integration of IM and presence into the fabric of the business is increasingly important. Verizon scores on this front by tying its IM services into Exchange and corporate e-mail systems, but the company has to go further. As was illustrated at VoiceCon, companies will increasingly integrate their telephony and IM servers. Ultimately, there will need to be a master presence server spanning both technologies. This requires deep integration work that, though conceivable, seems unlikely to occur when the IM server is located offsite and managed by a different organization.

Such presence integration will need to also occur between IM servers in different departments, business units, and organizations in order for business partners to gain the full benefits of secure IM and presence. That's achieved by federating the IM services, something that's not offered today by Verizon, but will be available in the next few months, says Dyer.

Finally, licensing issues have forced Verizon to deliver separate services for enterprise IM and for secure access to external services, yet products exist today from LCS to AIM, Yahoo, and MSN. While Verizon may be unable to include those products in its offer because of licensing restrictions, those same rules don't apply to IT. For businesses where external and internal IM access are equally important, an in-house solution may be the better approach, enabling them to roll out a single client today for both public and enterprise IM services.

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