Lyris ListManager: Professional, membership-oriented list server scalable from hundreds to millions of messages.
With ListManager, Lyris delivers a high quality product that takes a praiseworthy approach in a market that often has neither. We look at what this venerable e-mail list management software has to offer.
Call it membership marketing, group communication, opt-in listing, or what have you — despite the fallout from the onslaught of spam, there is still a need for legitimate e-mail service to large numbers of people. Lyris Technologies’ ListManager is aimed at that legitimate market, where communication with thousands (or even millions) of e-mail recipients is essential.
ListManager is one of the best professional list servers, which means that although it’s not free, it delivers reliable scalability and a range of features to manage and enhance e-mailing.
Trying the Server for Size
ListManager is sold based on feature set level in three versions: Standard, Professional, and Enterprise. (We tested the Standard version.) Within each version are seven levels of capacity and performance, ranging from Silver (1,000 members, 10K per hour) to Extreme (5 million members, 300K per hour). Fees vary based on the version and level selected, and the database manager used. One version (Standard edition, 200 members, 10K per hour) is free and offers a decent introduction to the product — although the real juice comes from the higher performance versions.
When volume goes up or the demand for control increases, the need for appropriate administrative and operational features is much greater. Beyond performance and scalability, this is what you pay for in a professional list server, and it is an area where ListManager gets high marks.
In response to the rather complicated pricing matrix, Lyris offers a Licensing Calculator. This is a nice tool, as it enables customers to purchase only needed features and capacity.
The general installation and setup for ListManager should present few, if any, problems. Since ListManager uses its own e-mail server, some care should be taken in setup to not interfere with other e-mail systems (Microsoft Exchange comes immediately to mind). Internet connection bandwidth may be an issue; the minimum requirement is 1.54 Mbps. Another part of ListManager’s setup is (in most cases) linking it to supported database managers: Microsoft Database Engine (MSDE), Microsoft SQL Server 7 and 2000, PostgreSQL 7.4, and Oracle 9.2. This list should be sufficient, but support for IBM DB2, ODBC, and JDBC would make it more comprehensive.
ListManager scaled easily for us. We had no difficulty with our testbed database that required output of more than 250,000 names. We should note that, as recommended by Lyris, we used a dedicated machine (a recent vintage Intel, running Windows 2003 Server). Lyris’ support for multiple platforms is a plus. This version of ListManager supports server clustering to balance processing and database chores. Although the tools for managing the clusters are not elaborate, we found them adequate for this type of server. ListManager is essentially an enterprise-level server, but it also runs well with small loads.
The fundamental task of a list server is to “e-mail merge” a database of names and e-mail addresses with a message and send it to an e-mail server. It’s a fairly straightforward task, which is why there are many “simple” list managers. However, when volume goes up or the demand for control increases, the need for appropriate administrative and operational features is much greater. Beyond performance and scalability, this is what you pay for in a professional list server, and it is an area where ListManager gets high marks.
Lyris also markets its own anti-spam product (MailShield), proof enough that this company is not on the spam wagon.
The ListManager versions provide features for all stages of the “mailing cycle” (mail creation, delivery, management, and tracking). On the message creation side, support for HTML, multipart MIME, text, and file attachments is standard. Perhaps the most important feature is the extensive use of templates (powered by a Template Wizard) to create boilerplate e-mail messages or campaigns. Another very strong set of features is the management of group discussions, the ability to generate RSS messages (new in this release), and real-time chat. While these features aren’t elaborate (e.g., real-time chat isn’t public-grade IM), as extensions to the basic e-mail system, they provide powerful channels for “spin off” communication.
On the administrative side, ListManager has a consolidated (browser based) management interface with a new and very useful “home page” that provides easy access to all the forms used by the system, a member database, mail scheduling, and message filtering, as well as performs other administrative options. One administrative feature we particularly like is the way ListManager handles address errors (a bane of list management) by automatically counting bounces and distinguishing types of errors. It can not only stop immediate problems, but also provides the administrator with the means to manage apparently bad addresses. Tracking reports include traffic statistics, subscriber reports and graphics (e.g., who subscribes and unsubscribes), and individual member reports.
The Professional and Enterprise versions are stocked with more features for marketing campaign development, e-mail surveys, traffic reporting, and results analysis. Most of these features and others aimed at customization (e.g., the programming API) give these versions more flexibility in tailoring the e-mailing operation.