Product review: Sendmail Pro adds messaging power

E-mail is definitely a miracle of modern communication. But as with any technology, unleashing its power often has a set of drawbacks. For many environments where e-mail usage (particularly over the Internet) is extremely heavy, you may find yourself looking for a bit of help, and Sendmail Pro 8.9.2 from Sendmail could provide just that.

Sendmail Pro is a nice complement to your overall messaging environment. The product, which shipped in January, is ideal for large IT or Internet service provider environments that want to centralise their mail routing tasks on special purpose servers. However, Sendmail Pro does not provide a base message store of its own, therefore it will typically be used in conjunction with other products, such as a POP3/SMTP mail server, Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange Server, or with legacy or host-based mail systems. Sendmail also offers a separate Windows NT-based POP3/SMTP server product.

Sendmail Pro is an e-mail relay and message transfer agent (MTA) that essentially handles all of the routing functions between a variety of different messaging systems, such as SMTP, DECnet from Digital Equipment, or Usenet systems. Running Sendmail Pro on a stand-alone server, you can off-load inbound and outbound mail routing tasks from your main message store servers, as well as increase native connectivity to a number of different messaging systems.

Many sites already use a public domain version of Sendmail Pro, which ships in practically any Unix-based OS. However, this new commercial release of the MTA provides a few added benefits, such as graphical Web-based administration, message queue monitoring, and robust anti-spam features.

I tested the Solaris version of Sendmail. The product offers a new browser-based administration tool that let me manage most aspects of the product, including adjusting the configuration, enabling the features, and monitoring the product's status. However, some of the browser-configurable options allowed me only to designate the name of the file containing the options, therefore I still had to go out and manually edit a few text files.

Sendmail Pro enables many more customised functions than can be achieved with a typical SMTP MTA in most standard mail-server products. For example, I was able to specify literally hundreds of different configuration and delivery options, such as SMTP handshake behaviour, domain masquerading, and message queue options directly from my browser. I also created multiple configuration files to load on demand or post out to other Sendmail servers.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of Sendmail Pro is its anti-spamming capabilities. Most SMTP MTAs implement two primary forms of spam blocking -- restrictive relay and DNS domain blocking. Restrictive relay lets administrators block unauthorised hosts from using the server as an SMTP relay host, and DNS domain blocking lets administrators reject inbound mail initiated from specific DNS domains.

Sendmail Pro allows these options as well, but the level of configuration detail is greater than with most anti-spam features I have seen. This is also the first product I have seen that uses the Mail Abuse Prevention System's (MAPS') Realtime Blackhole List to perform ongoing checks against MAPS' centralised spam blacklist -- a must for containing the threat of spam.

Most small and midsize companies on a modern e-mail platform may not see the need to implement Sendmail Pro. But for larger mail environments that need special purpose routing between messaging systems or that want to off-load some mail processing, including SPAM filtering, Sendmail is really your only good option. This commercial release is much easier to configure and manage than public domain versions, and has some technical support options.

Senior Analyst Jeff Symoens ( reviews enterprise platforms and services at the InfoWorld Test CentreThe bottom line: very goodSendmail Pro 8.9.2This commercial release of Sendmail's Message Transfer Agent provides a strong solution for mail relay between disparate messaging systems.

Pros: Web-based administration makes traditional configurations easier; advanced configuration options; robust spam-blocking capabilities.

Cons: More management functions could be brought into the browser-based administration module.

Sendmail Inc, Emeryville, California; (877) 363-6245 (toll-free), +1 (510) 594-5400;

Price: starts at $US1298 per CPU.

Platforms: Sun Solaris 2.6, FreeBSD 2.2.7, Red Hat Linux 5.x.