Home >> December 2008 Edition >> YIR: ISODE
by Will Shewards, V.P., Marketing

2008: Core to Isode's business are directory and messaging server sales to a number of key verticals, including aviation, government and military. The past year has seen us consolidate our position as the primary supplier of X.400 messaging server products to the aviation ground-to-ground messaging market with a vast majority of countries that have adopted the new ICAO standard for messaging (AMHS) choosing to deploy systems from Isode partners.

By leveraging and expanding on our expertise in the field of X.400 messaging we've been able to secure a number of key, though currently confidential, contracts in the military messaging sector.

Our directory server product M-Vault (an LDAP/X.500 directory) is often deployed in support of messaging systems as well as independently. Features added during the course of 2008, including support for security policies, have meant that M-Vault continues to be in high demand in industries where security and reliability are essential.

2009: In military messaging there are a number of key market drivers which we expect to continue to make their influence felt over the next 12 months:
  1. NATO expansion, leading to new NATO members implementing messaging and military directory systems based on NATO messaging and directory standards.
  2. Coalition operations spreading the demand for NATO-compliant systems to countries in geographical areas well outside of NATO’s traditional areas of operation
  3. An increase in the demand for messaging system integration and constant availability, regardless of the environment, as part of better situational awareness being demanded by deployed force commanders
  4. Rapid technological developments driven by the demands of, and lessons learned, during existing deployments
  5. The clash between the demand for Network Centric Warfare/Network Enhanced Capability (NCW/NEC) and the limited bandwidth available outside of the test lab to achieve those goals

These drivers are leading to some very specific product developments in the areas of Instant Messaging and Presence, Directory stored Security Policies, and messaging optimization for low-bandwidth links.

When most people think of Instant Messaging, they think of it in its commercial form. Used by millions of people for exchange of instantaneous messages (sometimes in contravention of their company's security policies), Instant Messaging using systems such as GoogleTalk have become a part of many people's everyday lives.

What is sometimes overlooked is the potential for instant messaging in 'secure' environments including military and government deployments. Instant messaging has the potential to provide an additional communications channel carrying far more information than the one-line chats we think of in its commercial guise. This potential is clearly realized by many government and militaries, as indicated by the increasing number of tender requests and instant messaging deployments we are seeing.

The main open standard, used by GoogleTalk and others, is the eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) and the use of the word 'presence' is a key indication of why Instant Messaging in general and XMPP in particular are coming into focus as a possible solution to many communications issues.

In commercial deployments 'presence' means indicating with your IM client that you are Online, Offline, Away, Free to Chat, and so on. Often knowledge of the 'state' of the client with which you wish to communicate is often as valuable as the messaging channel itself.

When combined with extensions to the core XMPP protocol, such as geo-location, an IM client can advertise both its 'state' and, in this case, its 'location'. When you realize that a 'client' could be a device, a system or a person, it’s easy to see why militaries are taking such an interest in the non-commercial uses of this technology.

We continue to develop our XMPP Instant Messaging and Presence server to ensure that it continues to be the logical choice for organizations looking to implement these technologies in secure environments. The whitepaper Instant Messaging and Presence for Secure Environments provides more information.

Another aspect of XMPP, which we are taking a lead in bringing to market, is the integration of XMPP services with Security Policies held in a Directory. A security policy defines the relationship between the security clearance of the client and the security label applied to the conversation, message or resource (such as a multi-user chat room or MUC).

We implemented support for security policies into our Directory Server, M-Vault, in 2008 enabling access control checks to be made on server-to-server and client-to-server communications ensuring that users have access only to the information/messages/MUCs that they are cleared to access. The whitepaper Using Security Labels to Control Message Flow in XMPP Services discusses this in more detail. We expect most XMPP deployments to take advantage of this integration between messaging technology and security policies.

Although it might seem strange to talk about low-bandwidth HF Radio communications in a publication concentrating on the world of high-bandwidth satellite communications, one of the main issues Isode is seeing, and is working hard to address, is that of optimizing communications technologies for low-bandwidth networks where satcoms are unavailable, or considered inappropriate. Such situations may arise where:
  1. Satellite communications are too expensive
  2. Countries that cannot afford dedicated satellite systems have issues with a lack of national control over leased commercial satellite bandwidth
  3. Available satellite bandwidth is saturated by bandwidth-eating applications (such as UAV operation)
  4. Worries exist about the vulnerability of satellites as a single point of failure

Whilst not all applications are suitable for HF Radio, many are. including:
  • Formal Messaging. Military formal messaging uses STANAG 4406 with mappings for HF Radio specified in STANAG 4406 Annex E, using ACP 142 and STANAG 5066
  • Internet Mail. Internet mail over HF is defined as a part of STANAG 5066, using the HMTP (HF Message Transfer Protocol
  • Instant Messaging and Presence. XMPP (eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) is the open standard for instant messaging and presence, which is being widely adopted for military applications. Presence status reporting and Instant Messaging can be useful applications for tactical deployments
  • Directory. Replication of directory data over HF is important to support messaging applications (address book and security) and configuration for other applications

To address these challenges, we have improved our ACP142 subsystem to support Internet messaging giving optimized transfer of messages over STANAG 5066, including multicast and EMCON support. We've also introduced support for ‘connection oriented ACP 142’, which optimizes performance for point to point non-EMCON transfers. More information such as this can be found in the Isode whitepaper “Messaging protocols for HF Radio.” (http://www.isode.com/whitepapers/messaging-protocols-for-hf-radio.html).

We now provide an efficient approach for directory replication over messaging and "air gap" using LDIF (LDAP Data Interchange format) files. This is intended for use over HF Radio, providing EMCON and Multicast support, replication for border directory systems where messaging is the only Directory replication by Email and over Air Gap has more information ().

The software business, especially the military messaging and directory business, is strewn with acronyms. So it is perhaps a good idea to list the key standards mentioned and their meanings:
  • STANAG 5066: A NATO specification for running data applications over HF Radio. More information on STANAG 5066 can be found in the Isode whitepaper STANAG 5066: The Standard for Data Applications over HF Radio.
  • STANAG 4406: The NATO standard for military messaging, based on the X.400 messaging protocol. Used for both strategic and tactical messaging, STANAG 4406 has a number of special protocols to support tactical messaging, in particular to support very low bandwidth links such as HF radio (STANAG 4406 Annex E) and to support receivers in EMCON (Emission Control) who can receive, but not send, data. The Isode whitepaper Military Messaging over HF Radio and Satellite using STANAG 4406 Annex E.
  • ACP 133 is a CCEB (Combined Communications Electronics Board) standard for Military Directory: "Common Directory Services and Procedures." (http://www.isode.com/whitepapers/acp-133.html)
  • ACP 142 is a CCEB standard for multicast and EMCON support, specifically designed to support NATO’s STANAG 4406 Annex E

About the author
Will Shewards is the VP Marketing for Isode Ltd, a U.K.-based software house that supplies messaging and directory server software into verticals including intelligence, military and aviation markets. He is also a Member of the Board of the XMPP Standards Foundation (XSF), an independent, nonprofit standards development organization whose primary mission is to define open protocols for presence, instant messaging, and real-time communication and collaboration on top of the IETF's Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).

About the company
The company was originally established in 1992 after which it grew successfully and, by 1999 when it became MessagingDirect, it sold products to customers in 29 countries. MDL was sold to TSAI in 2001, and Isode was re-established as an independent U.K. company in 2002 to re-focus on M-Vault, M-Switch and new product development. The Company has grown significantly and profitably since that time. Isode builds high performance messaging and directory server products, using Open Standard protocols. Isode has customers in over 30 countries with exports accounting for over 60 percent of the Company's sales. Our products are used in sectors where security, scaleability, reliability and excellent support are core requirements, including Aviation, Military, Government, Internet Service Providers and Instant Messaging for Secure Environments: XMPP based Instant Messaging and Presence server for use in commercial applications as well as environments where secure messaging is important (Military and Government). Our Head Office is in Hampton, in the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames, minutes from the Thames and Hampton Court Palace.