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Enterprise IM vendors in mad scramble

ISVs are courting customers with incentives to grab market share following the departure of AOL and Yahoo from the market for enterprise-grade instant messaging technology.

The dust has hardly settled from the departure of America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. from the enterprise instant messaging market, but vendors have already started a scramble for "free agent" customers left without a corporate instant messaging provider.

Some vendors are offering free upgrades and technical support in an attempt to lock in customers before their competitors do, while others have formed partnerships to ease customer migrations from the defunct Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition and AOL Enterprise Gateway services.

According to one analyst, the market will be ripe for expansion and success over the course of the next year and a half.

Nate Root, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said that three gateway vendors -- IMLogic Inc., FaceTime Communications Inc., and Akonix Systems Inc. -- are all poised to capitalize on the enterprise IM market.

"You need these gateway vendors … someone to play Switzerland, to put in antivirus [software] on top of these networks," Root said.

He said the three companies are enjoying a lock on their market without a clear leader among them.

"In any other market I would say [these companies] are great acquisition targets, but they can't be acquired by the big guys [Microsoft, IBM Lotus] because the big guys won't agree to interoperate with one another yet," Root said.

He said the departure of Dulles, Va.-based AOL and Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo from enterprise IM was relatively insignificant because both companies were unsuccessful in the market. However, Root said, vendors already established and focused on enterprise IM are set to flourish.

In conjunction with AOL's move, Waltham, Mass.-based IMLogic formed a partnership with that company that will allow AOL Gateway users to migrate to its IM Manager offering.

FaceTime Communications, based in Foster City, Calif., has promised AIM Gateway customers a free upgrade to its IM Auditor 5.0 and free technical support, said Christopher Dean, senior vice president of marketing and business development.

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"We know a lot about these customers; there's no way we would pay to gain access to them when we know a lot about them already," Dean said, adding that his company has already picked up several customers in the days following the AOL Gateway migration announcement.

Citing privacy issues, Dean said that these new customers were unavailable for comment.

Akonix chief marketing officer Francis Costello said that while some services may be described as "free," that doesn't mean they are worth much to enterprise customers. "[Services] are not free if they don't solve the problem," he said. "They are not free if they do not provide a long-term solution to your problem."

Root offered this advice to those considering an enterprise IM gateway vendor: "Look for a strong partnership and strength in strategy … turn this into a business decision -- it's more than a technology decision. Technology is the easy part."

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