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DIM: Hijacking IM for Data Transport

Move over teenagers, the heaviest users of instant messaging are about to become computers themselves. In the beginning, IM communication was strictly a human-to-human affair. A few years ago companies starting sending alerts (and increasingly spam) via IM making it a computer-to-human affair. Now, with the advent of Data over Instant Messaging (DIM) technology, IM is rapidly set to become a computer-to-computer affair.

Why send data over IM? One reason is that IM infrastructures have solved a lot of tough technical problems such as firewall traversal, multi-protocol transformation, and real-time presence management. Sending messages over these networks allows applications to leverage the investments made to solve these tough problems. Another reason is that many companies already have IM “friendly” infrastructures which means that all the necessary firewall ports are open, the clients are already certified and installed, and operations infrastructure like logging, back-up, and even high-availability are already in place. Thus by using IM for computer-to-computer communication, developers are able to “hijack” all the valuable investment made in IM and use it for a purpose that its creators likely never intended.

Of course, DIM-based communications have many of the same drawbacks that human-to-human IM has. Because IM is a real-time “fire and forget” system, DIM lacks many of the hard-core transaction capabilities that most Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) solutions incorporate. Thus you wouldn’t want to rely on DIM for mission critical transactions management. In fact, a full blown EAI system with a rich work flow capability, rules-based message management and semantic mapping capabilities is more capable and reliable than DIM for just about everything.

However, a full blown EAI system will also cost you millions and take at least 6 months to get up and running. With DIM, the infrastructure is already in place, so not only is the time to deploy radically accelerated, but the overall cost of the installation is also dramatically lower. In addition, because DIM is a relatively simple, lightweight technology it is comparatively easy to integrate into applications, especially desktop applications. DIM is just one of the low-end EAI technologies I have written about in the past that threaten to give the traditional “high-end” EAI vendors a run for their money.

To see a good example of DIM in action you need to look no further Castbridge’s Data Messenger product. Castbridge just released the 2.0 Beta of their product and it is chock-full of DIM goodies. The Castbridge product essentially allows other applications to instant message each other both inside and outside the firewall. Most customers use the technology to link desktop applications together (such as linking two Excel spreadsheets over the Internet) but the platform itself can be integrated into just about any application or database out there.

Castbridge’s customers are putting the technology to use in some very innovative ways. For example, the Singapore Police Department is using Castbridge’s DIM technology as a way to quickly and easily share security information during major events (trade shows, parades, etc.). In the past, each agency had its own systems for collecting and reporting information on any activity (e.g. “Man arrested for chewing gum at entrance”) during a major event. While each agency had a representative in the overall command center, the only way to share information was by yelling across the room to a colleague. With Castbridge, each agency simply enters their data into a standard Excel spreadsheet. The Castbridge technology sends instant messages to all the other spreadsheets as soon as new data is entered effectively keeping everyone instantly up-to-date on the current security status and dramatically reducing the possibility for miscommunication. This problem is not unique. In fact, some F-16s almost shot down the Gov. of Kentucky’s plane over Washington DC recently because the FAA controllers had no easy way of notifying the Homeland Security Department and NORAD about that plane, so it sounds like the US government could use Castbridge’s solution as well.

There are a myriad of other uses for DIM-like technology for everything from keeping sales forecasts up-to-date, to keeping inventory and financial information current. On Wall Street, where spreadsheets abound and real-time communication is paramount, use cases for this technology are rampant. Syndicate desks could create real-time distributed order books, while fixed income desks could give clients “live” lists of inventory and derivative traders could ensure that their pricing models instantaneously incorporate the latest data.

The strong potential for DIM on Wall Street is probably why one of the biggest vendors of traditional IM technology to Wall Street firms, IM Logic, recently announced it’s own DIM product called IM Linkage which is designed explicitly to help Wall Street firms leverage DIM.

As DIM starts to see wider adoption it will be interesting to see how the major IM networks respond. On the one hand they probably won’t take kindly to the idea of computers “hijacking” their networks to send data around the world (hard to monetize that kind of traffic) but on the other hand they may seem DIM as a new revenue source where they can possibly take a cut of license sales in return for certifying DIM-apps on their networks.

However things evolve, you can be sure of one thing: DIM-based applications are here to stay and their impact will be felt by everyone from traditional EAI vendors to application owners, to IM networks. Let the data messaging games begin!

July 13, 2004 in EAI, Middleware | Permalink

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The thoughts and opinions on this blog are mine and mine alone and not affiliated in any way with Inductive Capital LP, San Andreas Capital LLC, or any other company I am involved with. Nothing written in this blog should be considered investment, tax, legal,financial or any other kind of advice. These writings, misinformed as they may be, are just my personal opinions.