RealTime IT News

AOL Expands IM Network to More Partners

America Online announced today that it has formalized interoperability agreements with four enterprise Instant Messaging firms that would allow them federated access to the company's messaging network.

The deal marks a kind of rebirth of the federated approach to enterprise IM platforms that major providers such as AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have struck in past years. And it comes less than a year after AOL and Yahoo pulled back from their prior enterprise IM efforts.

The latest arrangement coincides with the launch of AOL's Enterprise Federation Partner (EFP) program intended to help communities of at-work instant messaging users connect and communicate in real time.

The EFP program, which added partners Antepo, Jabber, Omnipod, and Parlano, will allow each company's customers to communicate in real time with co-workers, vendors, partners and customers who use the AOL messaging network.

"This is really an extension of our network," said Brian Curry, vice president of Premium and Subscription Services at America Online. "It is part of our overall growth strategy."

The move is designed to derive revenue from AOL Instant Messenger management gateways offered by third parties. Robert Mahowald, an analyst with IDC, called the deal a wise way to leverage AOL's network coverage. "It makes partners out of people who were competitive before and does more to help the IM community."

Paul Geurin, chief executive officer with Jabber, said the arrangement is a reflection of what customers want.

"They are absolutely filling a requirement in the market place," he said of AOL. "Costumers have reasons to want to talk to other businesses that may be using AOL. Whether it is manufacturing or financial services, there is real business being conducted over public networks."

The four firms join Reuters and Microsoft in working with America Online to offer secure access to the messaging network. However, this program is geared toward creating the same level of connectivity for smaller enterprises, Curry said.

"Federation with the AOL Messaging network will help our partners speed the flow of business communications, enabling their customers to realize new efficiencies and increase productivity," he said.

In return, AOL receives licensing agreements that charge a per-seat royalty fee from its partners. Curry declined to provide more financial details about the deals, but Jabber CEO Geurin said his company will pay $20 per seat, regardless of the number of users.

The AOL enterprise IM solution provides certified connectivity to the AOL Federation Gateway, which will handle the routing and translation of traffic between SIP/SIMPLE , XMPP and AOL's proprietary messaging system, officials said.

Last year, as reported by internetnews.com, AOL ended sales of its AIM Enterprise Gateway as part of a decision to scale back its IM management business and focus on the less-risky opportunities offered by adding services and taking advantage of its own network.

But Curry said the company wasn't "pulling out" of the market, but rather evaluating its position. "The numbers for this market will continue to grow," he said. "We are at a point where IM rivals e-mail."

The latest agreement harkens back to July 2004, when AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo announced a collaborative effort to enable an industry-first connectivity deal between Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 and the largest public IM networks in the world: AOL, MSN and Yahoo.

They have since delivered the new IM client and will be able to connect their users to AOL, Yahoo and MSN's IM systems.