Alternative to Exchange Boosts Security and Groupware Features
by Dan Burger
When you operate a small to medium size business, e-mail security comes down to two things: either you have it or you don't. Most organizations don't and it has become a nagging problem that occasionally flares up into a major aggravation. That's why companies like Kerio Technologies are carving into the Microsoft Exchange market with Internet messaging and firewall products with superior capabilities when it comes to dealing with viruses, spam, and the secure delivery of network data.
When MailServer 6.1 was introduced just two days ago, Kerio Technologies had surpassed 9,000 customers using its earlier versions of the product, which came on the scene in 2002 as MailServer 5.0 and was last updated as MailServer 6.0 about one year ago. According to Dusan Vitek, Kerio's vice president of marketing, about 70 percent of the customer base runs MailServer on Windows, but its multi-platform capabilities allow the remaining 30 percent of customers to chose between Linux (Novell's SuSE or Red Hat) and Apple Macintosh. He says those two camps are split equally, but predicts a surge in Mac growth based on developing trends. Larger customers tend to prefer Linux, but Kerio's sweet spot is with businesses that have 100 to 125 employees. About half of those customers are in Europe and one-third are in the United States. Corporate headquarters are located in Santa Clara, California, with offices in Great Britain and the Czech Republic.
The success of Kerio MailServer, Vitek says, has a lot to do with a lower total cost of ownership compared to Microsoft Exchange, and the simplicity of the product compared to Microsoft's SMB software stack, which usually requires separate servers to run Active Directory, Web mail, and IIS. Kerio also builds in regularly scheduled automated backup and the capability to perform emergency recovery procedures, which are additional factors in reducing complexity. A Kerio-written white paper titled "Migrating from Microsoft Exchange to Kerio MailServer" is available for download in PDF format.
But let's get back to the topic of security. MailServer 6.1 promises a boost in anti-spam and anti-virus protection. It adds Sender Policy Framework (SPF), a new "Spam Repellent" feature, and dual anti-virus scanning to its existing virus and spam-fighting tools.
SPF is a widely adopted method of e-mail domain authentication and Kerio has implemented it to augment "Caller ID for E-Mail," a similar technology developed by Microsoft. The new Spam Repellent feature was designed to delay the SMTP handshake, which causes a virus or spam-sending zombie to give up the connection attempt. "Our tests showed that Spam Repellent effectively cuts 60 to 70 percent of spam and viruses before they reach the mail server," Vitek says.
Kerio has also added dual anti-virus scanning so that mail administrators can use both the built-in McAfee anti-virus and a third party anti-virus through a provided plug-in. Plug-ins are available for Symantec, Sophos, Grisoft AVG, Eset NOD 32, Computer Associates, and for the newly added VisNetic Antivirus.
It's also worth noting that MailServer uses a flat file structure for its message store rather than a database store, which is used with Microsoft Exchange. The flat file structure means each message has its own file and it can be checked individually. When an email gets corrupted in Exchange, it has the potential to corrupt the entire database and make it unavailable to all users. With a flat file structure, a corrupted e-mail file can be deleted.
Vitek estimated that about one-third of Kerio's mail server customers are former Exchange users. The remainder migrated from in-sourced or out-sourced messaging. He noted that an appreciable amount migrate from open source Linux-based mail server technology because open source messaging usually doesn't include groupware or the groupware features are limited.
Even though security is a high priority, Vitek says companies are emphasizing a need for contact and group calendar management capabilities to improve collaboration.
In that regard, MailServer 6.1 comes with Outlook Connector, a feature that provides online access to e-mail, calendars, and Synchronization Plug-in for Outlook, which was designed for notebook users requiring access to contacts and calendars while offline.
MailServer provides choice of groupware clients, and, other than Exchange, is the only mail server that supports the Entourage groupware client, which is the Microsoft version of Outlook for the Mac. This feature provides synchronization with the address book and iCal, which is used in Mac OS 10.
Web e-mail capabilities have been enhanced by adding an HTML editor that is compatible with not only Microsoft Exchange, but also Firefox, Mozilla, and Safari. Support for PDAs has also been added.
Kerio has established the starting price for MailServer 6.1 at $499 for 20 users. It is available now from over 200 partners worldwide.