AOL Takes AIM at Corporate Instant Messaging Users

Security, control enhancements for businesses added

America Online Inc. last week unveiled security and control features designed to give its widely used AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) product the teeth it needs for corporate use.

Dulles, Va.-based AOL said its Enterprise AIM Services (EAS) will give IT administrators more control over instant messaging (IM) use, along with long-desired security and auditing features critical for business use.

The EAS package will include AIM Enterprise Gateway, which is to be installed behind a company's firewall to help provide tighter control over incoming and outgoing messages. Also being offered is an optional Private Domain Service, which features federated authentication to allow companies to centrally manage users through their existing corporate server directories.

AOL is also providing developer packages and programs so applications can be written to integrate with its IM client.

Still missing from the AIM client package for business, however, are encryption capabilities, which are being worked on in beta versions and are due for release by early next year.

The AOL announcement comes a month after Yahoo Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., became the first major consumer IM company to announce an enterprise edition of its IM software, called Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition 1.0 .

Rather than redesign a corporate IM client from scratch, AOL is using its existing consumer IM client and wrapping it with the enterprise services package, said Derick Mains, an AOL spokesman. To add security and archiving features, AOL enlisted the help of Foster City, Calif.-based FaceTime Communications Inc., which embedded its technology into the AIM client to provide needed features, Mains said.

VeriSign Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., is also working with AOL to integrate encryption capabilities by next year.

Making Inroads

AOL hasn't publicized pricing for EAS, since it will depend on variables such as the size of the deployment. However, it's expected to cost about $34 to $40 per seat. The new services and features, with the exception of the encryption capabilities, are available now.

Michael Osterman, an analyst at Osterman Research Inc. in Black Diamond, Wash., called the business version of AIM "a pretty significant development," because AOL is the leader in the consumer IM marketplace.

"It doesn't have all the features yet," he said. But that probably won't be a problem, because many businesses won't have the money in their end-of-year budgets to deploy it now anyway. By the time IT departments are ready to look into EAS next year, he said, encryption features will be incorporated, making it a compelling product to investigate.

Robert Mahowald, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that one challenge AOL will face is getting IT decision-makers to believe a system that still uses the consumer version of AIM will do the job for them. "AOL has done its due diligence preparing the product," he said. "But they still have to see how the market reacts.

"AOL's first job is to convert the companies that have been informal users to get them to be paying customers," Mahowald said. "I think if they can do that, they win."

AIM is the world's most popular IM client, delivering more than 1.5 billion instant messages each day, according to the company. There are about 180 million registered users of the AIM service, including consumers and business users.


Better AIM

AOL’s Enterprise AIM Services will:


IT administrators control over IM usage.


business security and auditing features.


encryption features early next year.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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