IM Market Chat: From Text to VoIP

IM Vendor panel talks about security, Google's entrance into the space and the future of Instant messaging.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Sep 9, 2005
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With nearly a billion instant messaging accounts in use worldwide, what is the current state of instant messaging market and where does it go from here?

According to a panel of IM vendors including Microsoft, AOL, Akonix and IMLogic, enterprise adoption, IM security, the impact of Google's entrance are just a sampling of IM's horizon.

During a topic on a teleconference hosted by analyst firm the Radicati Group, vendors talked about current trends around the 867 million instant messaging accounts that Radicati Group reckons there will be by the end of 2005.

Of those, 51 million are Enterprise IM accounts and the remainder is on the public networks. The research firm forecasts that there will be at total 1.2 billion accounts in use globally by 2009.

Brian Curry, senior director of AIM Network Services for America Online, said IM use is only deepening as part of the daily online experience.

"We're seeing more and more people online longer," Curry said. "Our users are on average keeping their buddy list open for seven hours per day and are sending more and more messages per day. Enterprise market readiness is increasing."

But the enterprise market readiness side is also coming up against a harsh cost benefit analysis.

"People are still seeing a lot of their needs being met on the current paradigm which has to do with a free client and pretty solid services that they are getting from the public services," Curry said. "That's probably one of the biggest barriers. What they have is often times good enough."

Francis Costello, chief technology officer with network security provider Akonix Systems, said many organizations are finding a knowledge gap about how IM is already in their enterprise and how it may benefit them. Costello also sees a "cultural" gap as being a potential barrier to enterprise IM adoption.

"IM is inherently new to a lot of people," Costello said. "There is big gap between regular users and those who feel that it's disruptive and don't see how it will integrate."

Talking about GoogleTalk

Google's entry into the IM fray last month with its GoogleTalk IM service is already impacting the IM sector, panelists noted. Except for rival Microsoft.

From an Enterprise perspective, noted Paul Duffy, senior product manager for Microsoft's Real Time Communications group, Google's entrance will have no effect except for potentially the need to federate with the Google IM platform.

AOL's Brian Curry sees GoogleTalk as a further endorsement of how important instant messaging is to an overall internet service strategy. From a product perspective though, AIM is at a different level than GoogleTalk, according to Curry.

"We find ourselves in a much different place in our lifecycle than that product is and we continue to look at their progress as well as the question of public IM interoperability," Curry said. "We'll see a variety of protocols that we as a federation hub will need to support longer term."

Others said they see Google's entry into the market as creating additional complexity as well as diversity. For example, Akonix's Costello said, a typical enterprise is host to many different IM clients by end-users.

"Looking at Google entering the market, we see the likelihood of that diversity continuing for some time and in fact even increasing in the short term as now there is another choice that has a lot of market power," Costello said. "In the short term, it means more complexity for the IT guy who is worrying about who is using what instant messaging [client] and how does to deal regulatory issues, getting control and security."

Jon Sakoda, chief technology officer and VP of products with IMlogic, sees Google's entrance as breathing new life and industry enthusiasm around XMPP , the protocol on which GoogleTalk is based.

"In respect to interoperability, I do think that, by selecting a different protocol than is used by any of the major IM systems, [GoogleTalk] has made the market in the near term more heterogeneous," Sakoda said. "As such, it will now be more difficult for companies to standardize and select technologies that can solve all of their communication needs."

Though XMPP is an open source technology, Sakoda disputes the contention that it will breed conformity.

"I would challenge the belief that Google has chosen an open standard that everyone is going to migrate toward," Sakoda argued. "They picked yet another disparate technology that is not necessarily used by all the different IM vendors. It is a misinterpretation to think of this as a move toward open source or a move toward an opening up of the IM networks. If anything they've made the world a little bid more complicated," he added.

IM Security

Sara Radicati, president and CEO of research firm The Radicati Group, also noted that the leading barrier for further adoption of IM in the enterprise is still the concern over security.

IMlogic's Sakoda further rang the alarm bell by commenting that there has been a tenfold increase in IM threats this year. Though Sakoda agreed that the problem is still smaller then the security issues with e-mail, he argued that as IM usage growa, so do the threats.

IMlogic is the founder of the IM threat center, which was established in 2004. The IMlogic Threat Center reported an increase in attacks through instant messaging clients from 20 in 2004 to 571 in the second quarter of 2005.

IMlogic's competitor and peer on the Radicati panel, Akonix, also runs an IM security center. The Akonix Security Center reported 42 new threats aimed at corporate IM systems in July, representing a 24 percent increase over June. Akonix's Costello referred to 2005 as the year of the "professionalization" of IM attacks.

"You started to see people publish threat vectors, you started to see multiple mutation viruses and that definitely has raised the level of threat dramatically," Costello said. "We're defiantly seeing the early inflection curve."

Though he didn't dispute the increasing number of threats to IM, AOL's Curry said as of yet, it's not considered a major problem for AOL, compared to e-mail security. That said, he added, attention to IM "hygiene" is good for the market.

The Future of IM

"IM is no longer second class citizen," Microsoft's Duffy said. "We're starting to see more and more customers appreciate the business side of IM."

VoIP and application presence integration are part of the business story of IM helping to drive its evolution from simple text to richer forms of communication, panelists said.

"IM presence and VoIP and are really all being consolidated into a unified communications experience," added IMlogic's Sakoda. "The next frontier is the bundling of the services that deliver services in a unified experience that allows users to collaborate in real time whether its using IM, file transfer, VoIP or sharing desktop there is a whole set of logical extensions to what the IM client is doing today."

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