Techno Beat – Are You Lost In the Translation?

Much like Star Wars beloved protocol droid C-3P0, the average person has seemingly endless methods to communicate with people and things. Enterprises are picking up on the benefit of peer-to-peer (P2P), collaborative applications, and knowing the right messaging language for the implementation can translate into big sales.

Corporate networks have progressed from the mainframe/dumb terminal scenario of the 1970s to the LAN model consisting of multiple, linked desktop PCs and devices such as printers, along with a network server providing security and storage functions, and access to the Internet. Along with the progression of distributed computing intelligence within the enterprise came distributed applications and Web services, deployed to individual desktops to provide users with productivity tools and software to be customized and used on demand.

This rise of individuality has been taken one evolutionary notch further to P2P communications. P2P encompasses instant messaging, video chat, file sharing and other forms of IP-based, direct messaging interaction in real time that does not rely on an intermediary server nor is restricted to the corporate network. Further, P2P applications, especially free instant messaging clients, are often brought in or downloaded by individuals, unbeknownst to the IT staff, and spread virally throughout the campus. To boot, most P2P applications are based on open standards, meaning that legions of would-be developers can create new applications overnight according to specific personal needs, further mucking up the corporate works.

By nature uncontrolled and unfettered in its ability to transmit information quickly, on an ad hoc basis, P2P messaging presents a security threat and an employee distraction if used for non-business purposes. On the other hand, such powerful communication tools can enhance productivity if deployed with corporate oversight.

In an age of doing more with less, the current developer-centric technology now needs to address the needs of simplicity demanded by business users of that technology, writes Atul Saini, CEO and CTO of Fiorano Software Inc., in a white paper. Business users need the elegance of visual drag-and-drop simplicity to create, monitor and alter their business processes. In an increasingly global anytime, anywhere world, the ability of an enterprise to compete effectively resides in its ability to empower its decision-makers, employees, customers and partners to create, assimilate and react to rich information in real-time.

Enter the channel partner.

For agents and resellers offering network services and applications, deploying secure corporate instant messaging solutions, or hosted collaboration suites, can represent a growing revenue stream. For instance, companies like Arel Communications and Software Ltd. offer partner programs to woo the channel into disseminating their interactive collaboration products. Other implementations, such as using rich media P2P applications to link teleworkers in a secure manner, bring requirements for VPNs and multiple broadband circuits.

For consultants, tracking and hunting down rogue applications and deploying security applications to protect against information leakage through ad hoc applications is a growing area. Also, Yankee Group Research Inc. has listed instant messaging security as a top enterprise concern.

Another area of interest consultants should note is the deployment of instant messaging on an enterprise level. In the past, enterprise IM deployments suffered from a lack of standards; with more than 25 instant messaging protocols out there and several proprietary players, broad communication was impossible. Microsoft users werent able to chat with AOL users, for instance. To bring relief, AOL made an agreement with Microsoft this year and just released the Enterprise Federation Partner program to help communities of at-work instant messaging users connect. AOL, the IM provider of choice for 14 million at-work users, named four new partners (Antepo Inc., Jabber Inc., Omnipod Inc. and Parlano Inc.) which are now able to offer enterprise customers access to the AOL Messaging Network, including the AIM and ICQ services, as well as Netscape and Apple iChat users worldwide. Consultants now can work to consolidate buddy lists and integrate them into other P2P applications such as Web conferencing or video chat.

Such application integration is a growing area of opportunity. For instance, Yahoo! and Plumtree Software Inc. announced an integrated offering for embedding presence awareness and instant messaging into enterprise Web applications such as corporate portals. The value of enterprise instant messaging (EIM) lies in the ability to presence-enable other applications, which makes employees more productive and business processes more efficient, says Yankee Group in a recent report. The integration of EIM into enterprise-wide corporate portals is an area where companies can achieve meaningful results and tangible benefits, particularly when integrated into the workflow of existing business-specific applications.

For network integrators and IT VARs, an enterprise IT model for P2P collaboration requires that applications be merged with the hardware infrastructure via messaging-oriented middleware. Integrating multivendor applications with diverse infrastructure and legacy applications is a big challenge for many enterprises, and an area of opportunity for a trusted advisor.

From whichever angle channel partners decide to tackle the P2P concerns and needs of the enterprise, knowing the language of this exploding world of messaging background, trends, language and capabilities can translate into big opportunities.

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