GuidesNavigating the Mail Server Seas With SurgeMail

Navigating the Mail Server Seas With SurgeMail

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SurgeMail: Aggressively priced, complete mail server

The latest version of the customizable mail server features SPF and SURBL support along with a host of improved mailing list features for both end users and admins.

Conventional wisdom has it that marketing a brand involves carving out a specific, well-defined identity. New Zealand-based NetWin takes a broader view — if its cross-platform SurgeMail mail server doesn’t already function the way you need it to, the company promises to modify the product accordingly. Presumably, some of this product evolution has been rolled into the latest 3.0 version of SurgeMail, which features several significant enhancements over the 1.8 version we reviewed just a year ago.

The 9-MB download has grown by 3 MB since the previous version, and it expands to nearly 40 MB on disk. And that’s before it starts filling up with messages. The installation routine is relatively straightforward but presents the administrator with an initial bump in the road: The product will install only in a folder without any spaces in the name, which in 2005, feels like a somewhat archaic restriction. The installer goes on to request a few basic pieces of setup information, such as the name of the server and an administration account name. It then launches the default Web browser, opening it to the server configuration interface.

SurgeMail is administered entirely through this Web interface. The Web-based administration has been improved in version 3.0, with a more polished look and feel, and somewhat cleaner organization of its proliferate options. SurgeMail’s real attention to detail lies not in its interface but in its fundamental design, which can be summed up in word word: comprehensive. NetWin has especially focused on the product’s support for e-mail management, including mailing lists, anti-spam control, and user self-configuration.

SurgeMail’s real attention to detail lies not in its interface but in its fundamental design, which can be summed up in word word: comprehensive.

SurgeMail’s defends against spam with a variety of weaponry. There are static defenses, like global and user-specific whitelists, and banning based on IP, recipient, and other header criteria. Messages can be throttled against frequency or recipient quantity limits.

Dynamic anti-spam checks verify valid reverse DNS records. New in version 3 is Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and SURBL support (in addition to the existing RBL — real-time blackhole list — support). The SPF (which NetWin refers to by its old name, “Sender Permitted From”) helps authenticate the origin of messages, cutting off a common spamming technique of forging headers. RBLs are continuously updated third-party databases with blacklist information on known spammer sites.

The SURBL extension in version 3 recognizes known spammer URLs embedded in e-mail message bodies. NetWin’s ASpam also looks at message bodies, analyzing and scoring them for “spamminess,” and learning over time to improve its accuracy. With so many anti-spam options available, the trick for an administrator is employing an optimal combination that reduces false positives while remaining effective.

SurgeMail 3.0 claims a host of improved mailing list features, particularly in extending mailing list creation to individual users, should the administrator so desire. Users, through a new self-management interface, can define new mailing lists (up to a specific quota, if applied) and manage them on their own. Users can also configure their own aliases, forwarding, and notification addresses, as well as auto-responders. They can change their password and configure their own spam filters and whitelists, all of which takes a lot of burden off the mail server administrator.

For administrators, SurgeMail continues to support high-end features, like high-load handling, mirroring, and cluster arrangements. With 3.0, enhanced logging and monitoring features let administrators include trend graphs of resource usage and custom reports on mail server activity.

NetWin is expanding SurgeMail toward groupware support, and 3.0 claims calendaring and file sharing in conjunction with the separate SurgePlus product ($167 for a 10-user license). Without changing its price, NetWin has improved SurgeMail noticeably, while retaining its slightly folksy feel and close customer relationships.

Pros: Many useful features under the hood; Cross-platform availability; Competitive pricing.
Cons: Informal feel; Awkward supporting documentation; Thickets of configuration options.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 6/8/2005
Original Review Version: 3.0

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