SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - If you're planning to equip your shop with e-mail, you've got a few options. For around $50 per mailbox, you can sign up for the total e-collaboration experience with Microsoft Corp. Exchange or Lotus Development Corp. Domino/Notes and give users e-mail, group scheduling, conferencing, the works. But if all you need is a commercial-grade e-mail server, groupware is overkill. That $50 per mailbox adds up fast and doesn't cover training and administrative costs.
Another option is to drop a Linux box in the corner of your machine room.
Everything you need for e-mail comes with the OS. But with Linux, setting up a commercial-grade suite of mail services requires a lot of time, experimentation, and guru-level knowledge. Beyond a few dozen users, managing a Linux mail server is a pain.
A happy medium between these extremes is MDaemon Pro 3.0, the Windows e-mail server from Deerfield.com. Don't let its cut-rate pricing and homely administrative interface fool you: MDaemon is a proper commercial mail server.
With its latest release, Deerfield.com has added several much-needed features including IMAP4 (Internet Messaging Access Protocol 4) client support, Windows domain authentication, and spam blocking.
MDaemon Pro is quick, sturdy, and easy to run, and it surprised me with what it could do on a single PC server. It allows you to provide Internet mail to thousands of users at a very low cost, and its excellent spam-blocking features prevent unsolicited mail from clogging the mail system and wasting users' time.
And on a capable server, MDaemon Pro 3.0 should be able to handle 5,000 or even 10,000 mailboxes.
MDaemon Pro 3.0 is distributed electronically as a 6MB self-unpacking file. For those weary of bloatware, MDaemon Pro is a dieter's delight. On my Windows 2000 server, MDaemon Pro occupies 11MB of disk space and consumes less than 8MB of RAM when it runs. Any IS manager who needs to make the most of limited server resources should take a close look at MDaemon.
To deploy MDaemon Pro on an existing Windows NT or Windows 2000 network, all you need to know is the address of your domain name server. From there, you instruct MDaemon Pro to import a list of accounts from your Windows domain controller. One click and you're on the air. The whole process took me less than 5 minutes.
As you add users to Windows, you'll need to import them to MDaemon Pro. If non-Windows users want to sign up, you can add them manually. Unfortunately, MDaemon Pro won't import from LDAP directories. But if you can export a list of users as a text file, MDaemon Pro will import them.
New users get immediate access to their mailboxes via POP3 and IMAP4. MDaemon Pro's new support for IMAP4 clients is a huge win for the growing number of remote, wireless, and low-bandwidth users. Although POP3 must download all message data to the client before it can be viewed, IMAP4 initially pulls in only the headers, giving users the choice of whether to download message bodies and attachments. If you haven't switched to IMAP4 yet, you should. Even via LAN connections, it's the only way to go. I had no trouble using IMAP4 from Outlook or Netscape Communicator on Windows or Sun Solaris 7.
One may be enough
One of MDaemon Pro's apparent shortcomings is its single-server design.
Round-robin domain name server or an upstream cluster controller such as TurboLinux's TurboCluster will distribute mail traffic among multiple MDaemon Pro servers. But MDaemon Pro itself lacks distributed processing features common to high-dollar commercial mail servers such as Exchange, Domino/Notes, and Hewlett-Packard's OpenMail.
If the lack of built-in distributed server support seems like a show-stopper, don't rush to judgment. What MDaemon Pro gains from focusing solely on e-mail, and doing it all in C++, is performance. It's just plain fast. To test MDaemon's speed and stability, I cooked up some custom C++ test rigs. I peppered MDaemon Pro with randomized SMTP and POP3 requests from dozens of simulated servers and clients. MDaemon Pro kept its cool and remained surprisingly responsive. No sessions timed out, and MDaemon Pro never failed to answer a connection request. Even with thousands of configured mailboxes, MDaemon kept up.
Loads that typically require multiple servers can be managed by a single server running MDaemon Pro. However, although MDaemon's speed far exceeded my expectations, you'll need to abuse it in your own environment to see how it fares. It certainly won't scale to the extent that HP OpenMail and Microsoft Exchange do.
Spam, spam, spam
Hackers and unsolicited commercial e-mail are the bane of our wired existence.
MDaemon Pro 3.0's abuse protection runs the gamut from dead bolts to razor wire. Basic protection is set up by default: MDaemon Pro will not relay e-mail to other domains. That keeps spammers from using your mail server to distribute their junk. Address verification makes it hard for senders to hide their identities. If some hacker takes a shine to your site, IP address blocking, which supports wild-carded addresses, will shut him down.
There are many other protective measures, all worthwhile and easily configured, but my favorite new MDaemon Pro feature is real-time blacklisting. Some helpful organizations have taken up arms against spam by compiling lists of hosts that distribute unsolicited e-mail. When asked to do so, MDaemon Pro will check every sender's IP address (you can exempt senders within your network) against the blacklists. If the host is on the blacklist, MDaemon Pro will either squash the message or tag it with a special header that marks it as originating from a blacklisted host. Because good hosts are sometimes unwittingly used to relay bad mail, I use the header option. I created an Outlook Express filtering rule to look for that header and move likely spam to a special folder.
Real-time address verification and blacklist checking add considerable time to message processing. MDaemon Pro speeds future queries by caching the results of previous ones. Still, Deerfield.com advises avoiding these features if you use a low-bandwidth connection. For me, the longer per-message processing time is justified by the virtual disappearance of spam from everyone's inbox.
But wait, there's more
MDaemon Pro delivers a full plate of features, so many that I couldn't hope to cover them all in a short review. Furthermore, Deerfield.com offers several MDaemon Pro add-ons including the MailScan virus checker and the RelayFax fax-to-mail gateway.
The only way to know whether MDaemon Pro and its options are a fit for your shop is to try them out (Deerfield.com provides full-function trial downloads of its products). I think you'll be surprised by how well MDaemon Pro 3.0 performs even under fairly demanding conditions. If all you need is solid e-mail for several hundred or a few thousand users, don't overspend on groupware. Give MDaemon Pro a shake.
Tom Yager is an InfoWorld senior analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
MDaemon Pro 3.0
Business Case: MDaemon Pro 3.0 is a nimble, low-cost mail server suitable to sites with up to a few thousand users. It sets up quickly, runs well on smaller (and shared) servers, and supports all kinds of mail clients, including Web browsers. Its spam-blocking features alone are worth the purchase price.
Technology Case: With support for POP3, IMAP4, and HTTP protocols, MDaemon covers all the email bases. One MDaemon Pro server manages multiple domains and IP addresses. A supplied programming interface links applications to the mail system.
+ Complete set of e-mail features
+ Extremely affordable
+ Powerful blocking of unsolicited e-mail+ Programming hooks for custom developmentCons:
- Lacks LDAP support
- Lacks load balancing
Cost: $1,499 for unlimited mailboxes; prices start at $299.95 for six mailboxesPlatform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NTDeerfield.com, Gaylord, Minnesota; (517) 732-8856; mdaemon.deerfield.com.