Microsoft gets ready to ship new corporate IM server

A little over a year after introducing the first version of Office Live Communications Server, Microsoft Corp. in December plans to release the next version of its enterprise instant messaging software, it said Monday.

As previously announced, the new Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 includes support for federation, allowing a user to extend their IM and presence service to other companies, outside access, the ability to let workers to connect to IM from outside the corporate network without requiring a VPN (virtual private network) connection, and in the first half of next year will offer interoperability with popular public instant messaging (IM) services run by Microsoft, Yahoo Inc. and America Online Inc.

Additionally, Microsoft will start selling two different versions of LCS with the 2005 version release: a Standard Edition and an Enterprise Edition, as with many of its server products, Dennis Karlinsky, a lead product manager at Microsoft said. LCS 2005 was released to manufacturing on Friday and will be generally available in December, he said.

Both LCS 2005 editions support federation, outside access and interoperability, Karlinsky said. But to take advantage of these key new features, LCS users will have set up an additional LCS server and run that as an edge proxy server to connect to other users of the Microsoft product, allow external connections, or connect with public networks, Karlinsky said.

Enterprise Edition is designed for use by large organizations. Priced at US$3,000 per server, the product provides support for up to 20,000 active users and requires Microsoft’s SQL Server as a data store for user information. Users can place several LCS 2005 Enterprise Edition servers behind a load balancer. If one server fails, another can serve those users, Microsoft said.

LCS 2005 Standard Edition includes the Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE) and uses that for storing user information, as does the current LCS 2003. Users still need SQL Server for such features as archiving instant messaging and logging user actions. Standard Edition will be priced at $750 per server and can support up to 15,000 active users, according to Microsoft.

LCS 2005 will work with the current Windows Messenger client and with a recently announced new client code-named Istanbul that is designed to add telephony support to IM. Istanbul is due in the first half of 2005.

Pricing for Client Access Licenses (CALs) for each user was not disclosed. A Microsoft spokesman said the vendor is looking at several options, but that CAL pricing likely will not change much from the $25 per CAL charged for LCS 2003.

Microsoft’s upgraded IM server is a substantial step forward, said Peter Pawlak, a lead analyst with Directions on Microsoft Inc. in Kirkland, Wash. “Companies that were hesitant with LCS 2003 are going to find a lot to like in LCS 2005 that will provide a good incentive to go ahead and start deploying.”

There’s one caveat and that’s CAL pricing, Pawlak said. “Pricing is my main concern,” he said. If Microsoft were to increase the price of CALs, it could make LCS too expensive. “It really boils down to what is the CAL price, since Microsoft has not released that yet, that is a pretty important number still to be obtained from them.”

Next up on Microsoft’s enterprise IM road map is a server that integrates the company’s Live Meeting Web conferencing product with IM, Karlinsky said. It is too early to say when that product may come out, but Microsoft’s Real-time Communications group “will stick to an aggressive cycle, more aggressive than the typical two to three year model” that Microsoft follows, he said.

From November, 120-day evaluation versions of Live Communications Server 2005 Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition are expected to be available. The final products should be out in December.

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