Path to post-Exchange environment proposed

A small software company says it has an open source Exchange alternative, but some are sceptical

Messaging vendor PostPath says it is planning a Linux-based replacement for Microsoft Exchange that supports Linux network protocols and is designed to look just like Exchange on the network.

PostPath Server, expected to ship next month, is designed not only as a replacement for an entire Exchange environment but also as a piecemeal replacement for individual Exchange servers, such as those in branch offices, the company says.

PostPath Server is a replica of Exchange at the network level, so it looks like Exchange to other Exchange servers and to other software plugged into the server, such as Outlook, Active Directory and third-party applications including Research In Motion’s BlackBerry mobile gateway. The company says its support of open standards will give users more options in third-party products, such as storage or antimalware software, for messaging environments. PostPath Server also gives users alternatives for storage, backup and restore, archiving, and filtering. It ships with a web client based on Asynchronous JavaScript + XML technology.

“The thing that seems to be most unique about this server [is] its interoperability with Exchange,” says Erica Driver, a Forrester Research analyst. “There are plenty of other Exchange alternatives out there, but I have not heard anyone else describe theirs as 100% interoperable.”

PostPath Server will compete with servers from CommuniGate, Gordano, IPSwitch, Mirapoint, Rockliffe, Scalix and Sendmail.

However, Driver says the proof will be in customer deployments once PostPath Server is generally available. “If they can work as well with SharePoint 2007 as Microsoft does, that will be very interesting. But it remains to be seen.”

Others are sceptical about whether the server is a full Exchange replacement, something that has been attempted by IBM, Novell, Oracle, Sun and others. “There are a dozen vendors out there that claim to do a great job of supporting native functionality from Outlook, and basically none of them do,” says Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst. “I have yet to see a broad enterprise deployment of Outlook running in rich protocol email mode against any back end other than Exchange.”

PostPath created its server by decoding the packet-level protocols used by Exchange and coupling that knowledge with the protocols’ publicly available documentation. The results were implemented on a Linux server that does not require plug-ins to interoperate on the Exchange network. Native Active Directory tools also work with PostPath.

PostPath is offering alternatives to other functions within Exchange, such as a data store based on a file system rather than Exchange’s Jet database.

In the file system, user objects have a folder containing sub-folders for calendar, in-box and other features. Each message in a sub-folder is represented by a single file. The structure allows live and incremental backup using any file server backup tool.

“Our data store leverages modern file-system and modern disk technology so you can spend a lot less money on backup and restore software,” says PostPath vice president of technology, Kerry Champion.

PostPath Server supports commodity, direct-access, network-attached or storage-area network storage, and uses a standard Unix-type Message Transfer Agent (MTA) to provide a broader choice of archiving and filtering software than is supported by the native Exchange MTA.

PostPath Server runs the Microsoft LoadSim tool, which simulates Outlook clients hitting the server. Users run the tool to test PostPath’s performance against that of Exchange. The company claims a ten-fold performance boost over Exchange running on the same hardware.

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