Microsoft Live Messenger is an application environment where you have the ability to do instant messages or ‘chat’, share files with another person or team, participate in live phone and video calls, all without using any additional external services other than high speed Internet, PC video camera and microphone.
Many organizations are using this type of application to help increase communication, not only with their own organizations, but within their external client base.
Microsoft’s latest Instant Messenger program has several new features that we are finding useful, especially the ability to Share Folders. Because IM works Peer-to-Peer the act of ‘Sharing’ folders and files means that they are duplicated on both PCs, and only on the two PCs that have set up the ‘Share’.
You set up the ‘Share’ by right clicking on the contact and selecting ‘Create a Sharing Folder’ or just drag a file onto the contact icon and the system will ask if you want to set up a Share.
This involves the person you want to share files with accepting the systems automatic invitation. Once the ‘Share’ is set up you just drag and drop files onto it and the system will automatically synchronize both PCs to keep them up to date. The system also notifies the other party when you have made a change in the ‘Share’.
Many of us have been using IM (Instant Messenger) for awhile to allow us to communicate in real time between each other or with our clients.
We find that using the IM applications has had some interesting and perhaps unexpected benefits including–the ability to transfer information easily and securely between each other real time;–the ability to quickly have a teleconference or video conference;–and the ‘real time’ nature of being able to communicate even though distributed has enables the team members to bring up issues or concerns with us as senior leaders, get opinions and feedback from us, and be able to resolve an item before it becomes a major problem.
A major concern will be from a company network security perspective. The easy peer-to-peer direct file transfers bypass the corporate network file and email servers with their Anti-Virus protection, and assorted other ‘Security’ programs. Being a free (sort of) service, we wouldn’t recommend you put yourself in the position of depending on it to run your business.
This type of easily accessible application enables small distributed organizations to share information quickly and easily. It also means that companies can share information with their customers or suppliers without having to set up VPNs, modify firewalls or opening up their corporate networks.
It will also drive the need for better synchronization of files and archiving information from local PCs to central server storage and reliable high speed Internet access.
The benefits and true risks only reveal themselves when you are working with this technology on a day to day basis, but we believe the benefits are substantial and worth considering for virtual, distributed teams.
What it means for the IT Channels
This type of ‘free’ application may encourage some SMB and enterprise customer to use this type of application rather than put in their own document management applications with VPNs and secure remote access capabilities for non-corporate users, and could be seen as a potential loss of channel revenue.
Conversely, it will drive the need for a reliable in-house network, reliable remote access and most importantly for the IT channel, the need for lots of local storage for both ends since it is peer to peer for the files shared.
We would recommend that the IT channels investigate their client’s need for this type of application and offer a local custom storage device for each user and increase the central storage capabilities with automated backups of all remote PCs. Let the storage games begin!
Roberta Fox is a senior partner for Fox Group Telecom Consulting. You may contact her at Roberta.Fox@FOXGROUP.ca or visit her online at www.foxgroup.ca.