The Word Is Out On Instant Messaging

New tools for business use; Microsoft reveals plans for real-time server



Instant Messaging is becoming more than a grass-roots application--it's fast evolving into a strategic business tool. Title Data Inc., which supplies management software to title companies, is rolling out a business IM product called Sonork-EIM that's being released this week by Global Technology Ventures. Title Data chose Sonork because of a built-in Web-application tool that can link users directly to content on a file server. The company tested more than 25 IM products, but Sonork was the only one that will let Title Data's clients connect directly to software patches and updates from within the IM software. The company purchased 100 concurrent licenses of Sonork for less than $1,000 and deployed it on an existing server.

Enabling customers to link directly to the files they'll need will significantly reduce support-related telephone expenses, which cost the company around $10,000 a month, says Kerry Bray, Title Data's operations manager. The Sonork system is being implemented internally first, with deployment to clients expected early next year.

Sonork-EIM is designed to integrate with any Web-based app running on a Web server and interacting with an Open Database Connectivity database. And the price--$8 to $12 per concurrent user--is lower than many other business IM systems, which often are $20 or more per user and aren't always available under concurrent licenses. Annual maintenance and upgrades for Sonork-EIM is 25% to 35% of the initial price of the software.

Sonork's launch comes days after Microsoft provided details on its pending instant-messaging server, now called Real-Time Communications Server 2003. The vendor confirmed that the server will hit the market this summer and that two of its key development components will be offered in other products. A set of standards-based presence APIs, which can be used by independent software developers to equip applications with the ability to detect whether other users are online, will ship with Windows Server 2003, and a software developers' kit designed to let telecom companies build real-time applications using the Session Initiation Protocol IM standard will be offered to subscribers of the Microsoft Developers Network.

Microsoft didn't reveal pricing, but Ed Simnett, lead product manager for Microsoft's real-time collaboration group, says the real-time server will be priced competitively. Analysts at Ferris Research speculate it will cost $20 to $30 based on concurrent user licenses.

Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc., a subsidiary of Siemens AG, built its automated call attendant, called OpenScape, on a prerelease version of Microsoft's real-time server. OpenScape leverages presence to let users' voice and text messages follow and find them regardless of their location or device. Information provider Reuters also has used Microsoft's real-time technology as the basis for Reuters Messaging, an IM app built primarily for financial-services organizations.

David Gurle, who worked on the Microsoft real-time collaboration team before joining Reuters last month to head the company's collaboration-services business, says the release of Microsoft's real-time server will be a watershed moment for IM because so many companies are waiting for it before committing to an IM infrastructure. But IM is only the tip of the real-time iceberg, Gurle says: "Presence is really the element that gives you visibility into a network of connected users."

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