Microsoft Office System 2003 is here, and I'm excited about the new Instant Messaging (IM) component: Microsoft Live Communications Server 2003 (formerly Real-Time Communications--RTC--Server 2003). This product has extensive possibilities as a development and service platform. For example, you can easily modify a line of business (LOB) application so that it will use Live Communications Server to send IM alerts when certain events happen (e.g., when one of your Exchange Server queues grows faster than expected).
Live Communications Server offers better security and more flexibility than Microsoft's earlier IM products. For example, you can configure Live Communications Server to archive traffic in a Microsoft SQL Server database (a requirement for many financial services and healthcare organizations), and the new product supports the use of client/server Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to keep eavesdroppers from reading passing traffic. Live Communications Server is based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Not coincidentally, several major Voice over IP (VoIP) vendors are using SIP as a presence and setup protocol, so look for convergence between Live Communications Server and phones (or phonelike software). Microsoft has also lined up an impressive array of partners to support Live Communications Server with various features and services.
So how do you migrate from Exchange 2000 Server IM to Live Communications Server? Microsoft's "Live Communications Server 2003 Document: Migration Guide" (see the URL below) recommends that you deploy Live Communications Server in parallel with your existing IM deployment. The guide identifies four types of migration: immediate with import, immediate without import, gradual with import, and gradual without import. "Import" refers to the process of migrating users' individual Exchange IM contact lists, which Exchange IM stores on the client computers but which Live Communications Server keeps on the Exchange server. The guide also includes a set of scripts that extract user contacts and perform various server-side migration tasks. In fact, most of the guide consists of appendices that describe these scripts and how to use them.
Gradual migrations have several advantages. You can think of these migrations as the equivalent of upgrading your Exchange servers by moving mailboxes to newly installed servers--a low-risk, low-impact way to access new capabilities. One immediate benefit to migrating to Live Communications Server is that the Windows Messenger 5.0 client (which Live Communications Server requires) is more capable than earlier versions. Among its other tricks, Messenger 5.0 can communicate simultaneously with Live Communications Server, the MSN Messenger service, and Exchange IM servers, giving newly migrated Live Communications Server users an easy way to maintain IM communication with users who haven't migrated yet.
It's too early to tell exactly how Microsoft will market Live Communications Server or how well third parties and customers will capitalize on its abilities, but if you're currently using Exchange IM, investigate the new product. You might want to begin planning your migration now.
"Live Communications Server 2003 Document: Migration Guide" http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=39efbdc4-b409-4f63-b8e4-5c32dd9ca8a8&displaylang=en