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Got 20 Minutes? Order a Pizza and Install the Mail Server

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 5, 2003


IMail: Easy-to-install mail server with comprehensive administration tools Ipswitch boasts that its latest version of IMail server installs in 20 minutes. While the implication is that the server's installation process is so streamlined that it can be up and running before lunch arrives, we recommend taking the time to learn the ins and outs of the server's anti-spam and management capabilities.

(Note: In November 2004, Ipswitch rolled IMail into its Ipswitch Collaboration Suite.)

Hosting e-mail servers is a big responsibility. E-mail has become a vital communications tool and, for many on the Internet, even more mission-critical than the Web alone. While maintaining and administering a smooth-running e-mail server has always required non-trivial resources, the care and feeding of e-mail systems has become more demanding in recent years, as both the massive increase in overall e-mail use and the deluge of spam has literally flooded e-mail networks. Current industry estimates measure the volume of spam as accounting for 40 percent of all e-mail traffic.

The latest generation of mail servers, including IMail from Ipswitch, are addressing the overall administration of e-mail servers and providing a phalanx of defenses against the spam onslaught.

Ipswitch is marketing IMail 8.0 as a "20-minute e-mail solution." The implication is that IMail's streamlined installation and setup process will get your e-mail server safely up and running in less time than it takes for a pizza to arrive.

We find this a slightly risky proposition. Perhaps it's true, but for the sake of such a critical application as e-mail it would be more prudent to spend as much time as possible learning the ins and outs of the server and tuning it to your system and needs.

At about 10 MB, the server is a modest broadband download that consumes approximately 30 MB of disk space after the initial install. Of course, an e-mail server by nature spools and delivers incoming e-mail -- potentially many gigabytes worth depending on the system -- and so the ultimate disk space requirements of any e-mail server will depend on the amount of traffic the network will receive.

IMail's feature list alone would exceed the length of a typical review. At its heart, IMail is a standards-based e-mail server that supports SMTP, POP3, and IMAP4 protocols. The current 8.0 version of IMail adds support for managing SMTP processes and the DNS cache, enhanced delivery rules, and, most significantly, a comprehensive anti-spam management system. IMail also features enhancements such as Web-based interfaces for mail users, Web-based scheduling (calendaring), and a flexible server monitor that can alert and restart not only the IMail server but also other network services.

IMail is administered using either the Windows-based GUI or a Web browser connected to the Web messaging server with an administrator or host login. In either case, you can administer remote IMail servers, although the Windows-based administration tool is the more familiar interface, presenting configuration levels in a hierarchical and logical Windows-Explorer-like tree structure. Each configuration page can launch context-sensitive help to guide you through the array of options and suboptions inherent in e-mail serving.

Considering how much priority is being given to spam management these days, IMail 8.0 offers a wide array of tools for wrangling this kudzu of the Internet. IMail's connection filtering tests incoming connections for red flags, such as verifying the "from" address and testing the connecting IP against known databases of known sources of spam (blacklists). IMail can also analyze the content of messages for words or phrases known to be in spam messages, or use more sophisticated statistical analysis of message content. Messages deemed to be spam or possibly be spam can be deleted on the spot. They can also be tagged with special headers that e-mail clients can process as per a user's wishes. From most e-mail users' point of view, false negatives (allowing a spam message through) are preferable to false positives (rejecting a legitimate message). And IMail provides enough configuration options to tune a system toward the user's preferred bias.

Still, all technological means for managing spam are only partially effective because spam is ultimately generated by humans who continuously revise their strategies and outwit even the most sophisticated filters.

Ipswitch offers a three-tiered pricing scheme for IMail. Administrators who need a very small solution for less than 10 users on one domain, without listserver support, can download the Express version for free. The Small Business edition includes all IMail features with limits only on the number of domains (five) and listservs per domain (10), while the Professional edition has no limitations. Supplementary service support can be purchased in addition to any of the versions.

For those with vivid memories of struggling with enormously complex e-mail server configuration, such as the infamous Sendmail, products like IMail are a relief.

Take the 20-minute claim with a grain of salt, though, and beware of overusing the anti-spam muscle.

Pros: Quick and robust setup with conservative defaults; logical admin interface to comprehensive feature set; reasonable pricing schemes
Cons: Runs only on Windows servers; "20 minute" marketing term shortchanges product -- take more time with it

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 6/5/2003
Original Review Version: 8.0

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