JabberNow presents out-of-the-box instant messaging

Speedy setup and usability enable secure communications

IT staffs and datacenters are a luxury at remote offices, growing enterprises, and local government agencies. Yet workers in these situations rely on instant messaging just as much as their counterparts in large organizations -- and face the same requirements for secure communications.

To satisfy this need, JabberNow delivers core IM capabilities via a diminutive server and accompanying lightweight Linux software in a ready-to-use package. This solution should also cost less over the long run to manage compared with other in-house solutions.

All messaging traffic is encrypted (SSL and TLS), a significant advantage over free Internet services. Moreover, with appropriate network configuration and possibly additional appliances, JabberNow opens confidential IM to partners, clients, and those in your supply chain. This solution is based on Jabber's enterprise-geared XCP (Extensible Communications Platform) messaging solution (infoworld.com/1095), so it complies with industry standards; for example, it works with XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) clients.

When I think appliance, ho-hum 1U or 2U rack hardware comes to mind. By contrast, JabberNow’s engineering is especially impressive. About the size of a mini ITX PC, the device is suitable for any office setting and provides portability. Importantly, there’s no noticeable sound, and excellent thermal design keeps the system cool.

Physical installation merely requires attaching the power supply and plugging in a LAN cable. After initially booting, the server discovers a temporary IP address, which appears on a small LCD status display. Using this address, I accessed JabberNow from a PC on the same LAN and finished the setup by completing a few Web forms. From start to finish, expect to spend about 15 minutes. One note in a corporate environment: You need to reserve a static IP address and also have JabberNow registered with your DNS server. This requirement ensures all communication features work properly.

I was a bit disappointed with the miniscule documentation, which meant guessing at the right URLs for the administration and other pages. (Jabber representatives say they have since revised the software to include an index page and other design improvements, which eases overall setup and operation.)

Still, the core software I used remains unchanged, and it delivered the goods. A neatly organized Web administration console let me quickly adjust server settings, add users, access online help, and reach Jabber’s support forums. Administrators can also permit users to self-register, which further streamlines setup.

Day-to-day instant messaging worked smoothly. Behind my firewall, I traded SSL-encrypted IMs among colleagues, with near-instant response. Jabber recommends you run the Jabber Messenger for Windows client -- but I had no problem mixing a variety of other IM applications, including Cerulean Studios’ Trillian Pro, Apple’s iChat, and the cross-platform Psi client for the Jabber Network. For those wanting to bypass software installs, the supplied JabberNow Flash client plug-in performed well on PC, Mac, and Linux systems -- providing a range of functions, such as presence awareness, personal contact lists, one-to-one IM, and offline messages.

Multi-user text conferencing is an especially useful Jabber feature, which I successfully employed to IM with several coworkers simultaneously.

It isn’t difficult for those outside an office to access JabberNow. Using port forwarding and firewall rules, I made the JabberNow server visible on the Internet for use by several vendors. I didn’t have a second JabberNow server for company-to-company IM testing. Still, according to Jabber, it should also be possible (with some additional firewall changes) to use the system’s server-to-server feature to connect one appliance to another -- or to other XMPP-based systems on the Internet.

In the current release, JabberNow’s Message Archiving Lite provides some basic archiving capabilities. The system also automatically performs snapshot backups, which are held for five weeks. Consequently, there should be little need for formal IT support.

There is a theoretical limit of 1,000 users per JabberNow appliance. However, Jabber representatives said a real-world implementation (which may not have the optimum mix of clients) would likely be less -- perhaps just the maximum 200 users currently licensed. But I think that -- for the intended JabberNow market, this is not a significant issue.

To make this a more useful enterprise solution, though, Jabber will need to ship several promised optional add-ons, such as AIM Gateway, LDAP integration (to streamline adding multiple users), and advanced message archiving.

JabberNow is easy to deploy and it brings secure instant messaging to smaller locations and companies that previously may not have considered an in-house IM system. It has also already been proven useful in government deployments -- and I suspect it would be equally valuable in times of crisis, where instant communication is essential. The solution does, however, exhibit a few jitters of an initial release. It could, for example benefit from expanded printed and online help, plus even more refinement of the appliance software’s user interface. Still, in speaking with Jabber product managers, they seem keen to make improvements quickly -- and the system is ready to download updates automatically once they’re released.

Workgroups will also benefit from JabberNow. However, for wholesale enterprise use you might consider Jabber’s XCP, which has the scalability for broad IM deployments.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Security (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Implementation (10.0%)
Features (10.0%)
Interoperability (20.0%)
Administration (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
JabberNow 9.0 8.0 7.0 8.0 7.0 9.0 9.0 8.4