ServersLinux Mail Server Scales Up to Enterprise Needs

Linux Mail Server Scales Up to Enterprise Needs

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Scalix Server: Scalable Linux mail server based on the HPOpenMail engine that incorporates groupware features for Web, Outlook, and Novell Evolution clients.

Despite the availability of free Linux-based mail servers, commercial
offerings are beginning to proliferate. HP OpenMail-based Scalix is one example. It incorporates groupware features for Web, Outlook, and Novell Evolution clients.

One difficulty all commercial Linux-based e-mail and groupware products face is the availability of free open source software with similar functionality. Scalix Corp.’s Scalix Server addresses this with free versions (Community and open source Community Raw editions), but its business model seeks to woo customers to more advanced groupware in its Small Business and Enterprise editions.

The Scalix Server is marketed as a low-cost Linux-based Microsoft Exchange Server replacement, and given the strength of the Scalix Outlook client, this is a credible position. There is also the promise of easier installation and administration than most comparable (free)Linux software. Scalix largely delivers on the promise, but there is room for improvement.

Version 10 of the Scalix Server comes in four editions: Enterprise, Small Business, Community, and Community Raw (open source). To differentiate its products, and entice organizations to upgrade, Scalix defines two kinds of users: the standard user who has full e-mail functionality but limited groupware capability, and the premium user who gains access to native (MAPI) Microsoft Outlook compatibility, group scheduling (through Outlook, Scalix Web Access, or Novell Evolution), public folders, and wireless e-mail functions.

The free Community edition is limited to 25 premium users. Small Business and Enterprise editions allow unlimited premium users on a pay-per-user basis. Scalix also offers the Scalix Appliance, an appealing hardware/software package sold through its partners. This bundles a server computer, Red Hat Linux, and Scalix software in a pre-tuned configuration.

Much of Scalix is written in Java and the package ships with Java Runtime Environment (JRE 1.5) and Apache Tomcat. The hardware requirements are modest, and the list of required Linux packages is relatively long but not unusual. Scalix recommends installing the mail server on a clean computer (i.e., one with no operating system, even on separate partitions), as the software must create a Linux partition for itself to operate properly. This and other aspects of its installation and configuration (e.g., variations between Linux distributions) are not difficult but require more time and expertise compared to similar products on Linux and especially those on Windows platforms. Scalix software and basic configuration can be installed from the command-line interface or with a GUI wizard.

The Enterprise version enables considerable flexibility and sophistication on multiple servers. We were not in a position to test this functionality, but based on a feature comparison with similar products, Scalix appears to take full advantage of the underlying HP OpenMail engine, Linux management (especially with Red Hat Cluster Control), and its own Administrative Console.

On the Way to Strong Administration

The Scalix Administrative Console provides browser-based local or remote management of Scalix servers and services. In the past couple of years (through three Scalix releases), the console has continued to improve in usability and in the depth of control. Still, it will be necessary to dip into the command-line interface to do some tasks. Of course, for many Linux adherents, using the command-line is a feature. The Scalix documentation is very up-front about what the administrative console can and cannot do.

Through the filtering capability, the administrative console is easy to focus on specific groups and users. Modules included in the Enterprise edition enable the console to tap into Scalix connections to Novell e-Directory, Microsoft Active Directory, and LDAP directories, which makes user management and authentication much easier and more reliable. On the other hand, Scalix needs integrated usage reporting and administrative analysis.

Impressive Clients

A major part of the Scalix pitch is based on “clients of choice,” meaning the opportunity to choose Microsoft Outlook, Novell Evolution, Scalix Wireless Solution, or the Scalix Web client for e-mail and groupware services. Scalix is not alone in supporting a range of clients (although including Novell is unusual), but our testing leads us to believe it is among the most consistent in making this choice easy to accomplish.

Scalix is not alone in supporting a range of clients, but our testing leads us to believe it is among the most consistent in making this choice easy to accomplish.

In our experience, the promise of “Outlook functionality” by a non-Microsoft server (whether on Linux or Windows) is often hedged and accompanied by unpleasant furbelows of implementation, such as the need to configure synchronization rules. Scalix Connect for Microsoft Outlook, a client plug-in, is quickly installed by either direct CD setup or an automated setup, and it does not require elaborate configuration.

The level of support for Outlook functionality is outstanding: rich e-mail, calendar/scheduling, contacts, tasks, e-mail rules, and public folders are included. Scalix does not support journaling, forms, message recall, or MSN Messenger integration. In general, it matches the support for Outlook found in Microsoft Exchange, which is why Scalix can legitimately claim to be one of the best alternatives.

The Scalix Web client uses the latest AJAX programming techniques. It is snappy and well-ordered, although slightly less sexy than the clever “mouse-over” interface provided by the similarly AJAX-powered Zimbra Collaboration Suite client.

Unimpressive Security and Spam Control

When it comes to security, anti-spam, anti-virus, archiving, and other functionality, Scalix takes an unusual approach — “via 3rd party interface.” Most other comparable servers, whether on Linux or Windows, support (and often include) specific third-party products in their package. For anti-virus, Scalix lists Clam AV, McAfee, and Trend Micro InterScan VirusWall as compatible. For anti-spam, only Spam Assassin is listed. This approach is nothing if not open-ended; you are free to choose. However, the acquisition, installation, and configuration of these products is not an altogether simple process. If there are difficulties, to which party do you turn? Other products, for example the Merak Linux Mail Server, not only ship with integrated third-party anti-virus and anti-spam functions but also provide related security enhancements of their own.

Although we understand the do-it-yourself ethos of much Linux software, we still feel that commercial Linux software — especially if it is to compete with products on the Windows platform — must find ways to make the administrator’s job less technical and more integrated. In this respect, Scalix must integrate more command-line functions into the Administrative Console. Perhaps some third-party support products (e.g., anti-virus, anti-spam, or backup) should have explicit integration. That said, as an e-mail server with groupware services, the foundation (due largely to HP) is solid, and Scalix should appeal to organizations seeking more Linux servers for cost savings or to replace more expensive Microsoft Exchange Server systems

Pros: E-mail engine is based on from HP OpenMail; Excellent alternative to Microsoft Exchange Server from a functionality perspective (mail and groupware).
Cons: Lacks integrated functionality often included in similar products (e.g., IM support, anti-virus, anti-Spam and a list server); Administrative Console needs additional control, especially over the details of user management; More reporting capabilities needed.

Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 07/24/2006
Original Review Version: 10.0.1

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