Oct 31, 2008

Open Source Alternative to Microsoft Exchange

The following is taken from The Slothman, who is another guest writer over at Ask The Admin. The Slothman has his own blog called The Blog-o-Sloth, so please check it out. Slothman writes about a Linux e-mail suite that can do everything Exchange can do, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. The original post can be found here.

"I will make no bones about my disdain for Microsoft. I think their business ethics are an oxymoron. I think they make mediocre products by and large, and their focus is keeping you in the revolving door of addiction to their products, not making a quality product at a fair price.

My target today, is MS Exchange.

For the uninitiated, MS Exchange if Microsoft's mail server. It is pretty vanilla. It pretty much only does mail. And it is NOT cheap and the migration paths to newer versions are at times treacherous at best.

Exchange/Outlook makes up about 60% of the mail server/clients installed globally with Lotus/Domino taking up the vast majority of the remainder but that is changing as the Open Source Community has put a bullseye on Exchange to offer a more cost effective solution than Exchange. In fact in a recent Yankee Group Survey shows that 23% of respondents are looking to migrate away from Exchange.

You might ask, why I don't like Exchange. Here's the reasons why:

  1. It is a Microsoft product
  2. It is limited in functionality
  3. It is expensive
  4. It is notably vulnerable to attacks and viruses
  5. It is a major TARGET of attacks and viruses
  6. It is not as scalable as other solutions
  7. It is a FAT application that requires a lot of hardware
  8. It is a FAT application that requires a lot of manpower/time to support/maintain
But you may ask, "I don't want to have to have my end users learn a new client application" or "I like Outlook Web Access"

Great question....you don't have to and there are alternatives!

I want to introduce you all to Zimbra

Zimbra is an open source mail server. It can be free or you can purchase a more robust version with support for about $35/end user license. Compare that to Exchange!!!

What Zimbra offers you is the exact same functionality of Exchange with none of the drawbacks.

You can run Zimbra on an older, or cheaper Linux server with 1GB of RAM and that will support about 1000 users or so. It has plug ins for Outlook too which will make it seamless for you users to start using Zimbra mail, as well as it comes with a migration utility which will move your contacts, calendar, and email(including personal folders) over to Zimbra.

But there is more!!!! Zimbra is managed, very easily via a web console. So you don't have to be at your server or have SSH/VNC/RDP access to your server. Hit up a web address and you're in!

But what about OWA you ask??? Well....if they allow you to administer it via the web...then they must have a web client. If you figure that out, you're right! They have a rich AJAX based web client which gives you all the functionality of your Outlook client, but via the web and not like the 2003 OWA which is restricted as opposed to what is offered in Outlook.

Zimbra also has a built in wiki functionality and a document sharing functionality which I've read will be improved with time.

But you will ask about integration with applications such as Sharepoint and MS Office, or other apps...guess what, all those apps tie in to Outlook and don't care what is on the backend in most instances. So if you have Outlook, you're gold! While I have disdain for MS, Outlook is a great 'middleware' application as EVERYTHING hooks into it. Also Zimbra has the ability through its iCal standards compliant calendering system to be able to syndicate your calendar as well as pull in other syndicated calendars from say Google's Calendar.

I think I've bored you all enough right now, but I will leave you with a few ending thoughts.
  1. Set up a test box to play with Zimbra or download a demo Zimbra appliance from VMWare
  2. Check out the live demo on Zimbra's site
  3. Scalix is also considered an 'exchange killer' server and is free as well(I did not like it as much as Zimbra)
  4. When in doubt, check out Lotus/Domino. Platform independent and has a LOT more functionality over Exchange including native clustering, but you will miss a lot of the integration."

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