ServersICS: Ipswitch's Exchange Alternative

ICS: Ipswitch’s Exchange Alternative

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Ipswitch Collaboration Suite: Groupware server with e-mail, instant messaging, and shared calendaring and folders

When Exchange won’t do but Outlook is vital, consider the Ipswitch Collaboration Suite, an Outlook-compatible groupware server with e-mail, instant messaging, and shared calendaring and folders.

Software vendors intent on competing with Microsoft Exchange in the groupware space have basically two options — beat ’em or join ’em. Few can deny, however, that the success of Microsoft Exchange server is largely due to the widespread popularity of its Outlook client. As a groupware collaboration client, Outlook has become the de facto standard, and pervades many organizations.

Vendors that sell groupware servers with their own proprietary, non-Outlook clients face an uphill battle. Which is why some, like Ipswitch, choose the “join ’em” route by producing an Outlook-compatible competitor to the Exchange server that lets end users stick with the client they know and love.

The Ipswitch Collaboration Suite (ICS) package is an integrated collection of servers. The whole suite is contained in a 60 MB download that, with all components installed, consumes about 90 MB of disk space. Of course, by its very nature, a collaboration server will accumulate data over time (e.g., e-mail messages, attachments, and log files) so disk space usage will grow, perhaps significantly in large installations.

A unified installer provides a reasonably straightforward walk-through with options for enabling a variety of services (e.g., finger, whois, POP, SMTP, and antivirus). Following installation, the administration client is launched — actually, three administration clients, if the the whole suite is being installed. The admin clients manage the IMail server; the WorkGroup collaboration server, which provides Outlook functionality; and the instant messaging (IM) server, which manages IM. Although remote administration for the servers is an option, a central interface for all administration functions would better facilitate it.

The suite has three main areas of functionality: e-mail, IM, and collaboration features — shared calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes.

IMail server, which was previously a stand-alone product in the Ipswitch stable, provides e-mail support. The server has a host of services that have come to be expected in a professional e-mail system, such as automated mailing and discussion lists and complete control over individual user accounts.

Ipswitch’s WorkGroup collaboration server is the key to supporting Outlook users. Permission-based sharing of calendars, free/busy schedules, contact and task lists, and notes, should satisfy the majority of Outlook users’ needs.

IMail’s antispam defenses include content filtering, real-time blacklist (RBL) support, Bayesian filtering, and support for the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) to verify the origin of messages, a useful technique for reducing phishing attempts. Ipswitch also includes its own “special blend” of antispam filter called “Premium Mail Filter” with the Premium Edition. Premium Mail Filter uses regularly updated data from Ipswitch to identify spam. Spam messages can be rejected, or modified in the header or subject line, for client-based filtering later on in the process. Additional antivirus support supplied from Symantec can detect and strip infected attachments for incoming and outgoing messages.

IMail has a Web-based mail interface for end users. Although functional, it lacks the professional, polished feel of other widely used Webmail products, such as SquirrelMail.

Ipswitch’s WorkGroup collaboration server is the key to supporting Outlook users. Permission-based sharing of calendars, free/busy schedules, contact and task lists, and notes, should satisfy the majority of Outlook users’ needs. Using the WorkGroup administration client, admins can quickly and easily create users and shared objects with assigned privileges. End users without access to Outlook can bring up their calendars and tasks through the same Web interface that manages Webmail. So although the servers and administration tools are separate, they appear unified to the end user.

The IM server included in ICS is meant to enable secure, auditable internal communications rather than letting individuals use public IM networks. Unlike the Web-based support for e-mail and groupware features, users can only instant message through Ipswitch’s local client. Administrators can create or import public contact lists for the IM network (e.g., an employee directory), limit activities such as attachments and message size, and store and view conversations for a specified archival period.

The ICS product comes in three versions: Standard Edition, Premium Edition, and ISP Edition. Standard Edition starts at $1,295 for 25 seats and lacks the antivirus scanner as well as the premium mail filter antispam defense. The Premium Edition package starts at $1,495 for 25 seats and includes the full antivirus and antispam support. Both packages have license options that range up to unlimited seats, for $8,995 and $10,995, respectively. The ISP Edition, which is only available with unlimited seats for $5,995, lacks the groupware and IM support — in other words, the ISP Edition is not a collaboration suite at all, but rather an e-mail server with antivirus and antispam support.

Pros: Accessible suite for deploying groupware services; Compatibility with Outlook for collaboration features; Modest server requirements.
Cons: Multiple administration interfaces for different services; Web-based user interface lacks polish.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 08/03/2005
Original Review Version: 2.0

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