Practically Replacing Microsoft Exchange Server – A 3 Part Series – 3 of 3 – Kerio Mailserver

Kerio MailServer 6.5 – The Exchange Killer

Kerio MailServer, like Zimbra, has until only recently been an ‘almost but not quite’ Exchange alternative. It has offered Outlook support and integration with Active Directory since 2002, but did not initially support groupware features such as calendaring and shared contacts properly until years later. It wasn’t until 2007 that Kerio began to coalesce into an alternative to Exchange — and with the release of Kerio MailServer 6.5, its transformation into an Exchange killer is complete.

For the first two parts of this review series, please view the following links:

Practically Replacing Microsoft Exchange Server – A 3 Part Series – 1 of 3

Practically Replacing Microsoft Exchange Server – A 3 Part Series – 2 of 3 – Zimbra Collaboration Suite

Kerio MailServer 6.5 – The Exchange Killer

Kerio MailServer, like Zimbra, has until only recently been an ‘almost but not quite’ Exchange alternative. It has offered Outlook support and integration with Active Directory since 2002, but did not initially support groupware features such as calendaring and shared contacts properly until years later. It wasn’t until 2007 that Kerio began to coalesce into an alternative to Exchange — and with the release of Kerio MailServer 6.5, its transformation into an Exchange killer is complete.

I’ve saved the best for last with Kerio — I prefer it over Zimbra as an Exchange replacement for several key reasons which I’ll outline below.

Client Software Compatibility

Kerio provides connectors for Outlook 2003 and 2007 which enable those clients, previously mentioned as irreplaceable tools for office workers, to work with Kerio as if it were Exchange itself. These connectors use the HTTP/HTTPS protocol, and as such a user can fully access their public folders and the global address list while working remotely as though they were in the office. This Outlook connector is provided at no extra charge.

Mac users are able to sync to Kerio through the use of the Kerio iSync connector, also provided at no extra charge. This connector provides both addressbook and calendar sync for users of MacOS X 10.4 Tiger, and addressbook sync for Leopard users (calendar sync can be natively accomplished by Leopard’s version of iCal, so the iSync conduit is not needed for this — though it can still be used).

Kerio also supports International standards such as CalDAV, enabling clients such as Apple iCal, Mozilla Sunbird, Novell Evolution and OSAF Chandler to connect with its calendar and participate fully with Windows/Outlook users.

Like Zimbra, Kerio has a rich web UI though it’s patterned closely after that of Exchange. In addition to this, Kerio takes it a step further with full emulation of Outlook Web Access, which is of benefit to any third party tool  or application that interfaces with Exchange via this mechanism. This opens up a larger segment of the Microsoft-entwined ecosystem to Kerio switchers than any other Exchange alternative.

Mobile Devices

ActiveSync is one of the most important features of Kerio. This isn’t emulation or the implementation of similar functionality via a third party app, it’s native, true ActiveSync protocol support. That means any ActiveSync device including Palm, Windows Mobile and the iPhone can sync all their information to Kerio with “Push” (instant notification) support and GAL search.

Blackberry users are also covered – an app installed on the handheld will enable push calendar/e-mail/contact synchronization without the need for a Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES).

Support for IT Infrastructure

The most prominent reason I prefer Kerio is that, despite its complex functionality it maintains utmost simplicity for systems administrators. Backing up and restoring or redeploying a Kerio mailserver can be done effortlessly, even when changing the host operating system, simply by copying it’s store directory as well as a handful of configuration files to the new server and then starting it. Email, contact and calendar data are stored on the filesystem rather than being placed in a database or needing to be specially imported and indexed.

The Linux version of Kerio, while officially supported only under Red Hat Enterprise, can be easily deployed on any modern distribution with little effort. This is in contrast with Zimbra which requires pretty major surgery to get running on anything other than its short list of supported distributions.

Kerio integrates with both Active Directory, supporting Windows networks, and Open Directory, supporting MacOS driven networks for authentication information, relieving admins of the need to maintain a separate user database. One nice thing about Kerio is that it can join multiple Active Directories on a per-domain basis, making it possible to host multiple mailsystems and multiple Global Address Lists on a single server.

If a single server is not enough, Kerio also supports clustering, and because its Linux and OS X versions support a wide range of UNIX filesystems and filesystem abstraction mechanisms, the mail spools and stores can be placed on a wide range of possible storage systems. Scalability is no problem.

Summing up

Kerio doesn’t come in a free version as does Zimbra, but this didn’t deter me from buying it for my own personal use. The benefits vis a vis Exchange (which I was previously using for my Calendar/Contacts/Mobile sync) were too compelling to pass up.

Kerio presents itself as a drop-in Exchange replacement, requiring as little re-training on the part of users and systems administrators alike (though system administrators should always be re-training themselves, a little elegance on the software side never hurt anyone). Some research has led me to find a growing number of Hosted Microsoft Exchange providers beginning to offer Hosted Kerio as well, which is an encouraging sign that it’s being recognized for its capabilities. I hope to see Kerio, Zimbra and others continue to take the de-facto center-seat away from Exchange in as many organizations as possible.

Practically Replacing Microsoft Exchange Server – A 3 Part Series – 2 of 3 – Zimbra Collaboration Suite

For a long time, Zimbra has been an ‘almost but not quite’ Exchange alternative – it offered the web GUI and the Outlook compatibility, but not the standards based calendar protocol (CalDAV) or the mobile device support of its big brother. Zimbra’s latest version, which has only been in the wild for a few months, is different.

 

Zimbra Collaboration Suite – A Full Exchange Replacement

For a long time, Zimbra has been an ‘almost but not quite’ Exchange alternative – it offered the web GUI and the Outlook compatibility, but not the standards based calendar protocol (CalDAV) or the mobile device support of its big brother. Zimbra’s latest version, which has only been in the wild for a few months, is different.

Client Software Compatibility

Zimbra provides an Outlook connector enabling Windows users to continue using the app they were trained on. All features in outlook down to shared folders and the GAL are provided. On top of this, in its latest 5.0 version, it has introduced wide ranging mobile device support, covering all major smartphones with the exception currently of the iPhone (though a web interface is provided specifically for iPhone users, this isn’t quite the same as total integration).

A connector for Apple Sync Services is provided, enabling Mac users to connect the native Address Book and iCal applications to tue server with full functionality and interoperability with their Outlook using counterparts.

Zimbra also advertises its mail and calendar facilities in a standard way so that a growing number of standards based clients can also access this information. CalDAV clients such as Apple iCal 3.0 (in MacOS X 10.5), Novell Evolution and Mozilla Sunbird are leading this increase in awareness of a standard calendaring protocol, and Zimbra does well to support it.

Mobile Devices

Most notably, Zimbra 5.0 introduced the dealmaker: support for PalmOS and Windows Mobile smartphones via an installable application, and blackberry support via an extension to BlackBerry’s BES server. This finally puts Zimbra on the radar for corporate deployment.

Support for IT Infrastructure

On top of all this, Zimbra supports largescale clustering and a massive number of clustered storage/backup options available to it due to its reliance on Linux and MacOS X as the server operating system of choice, and integration with Active Directory – IT departments everywhere will be able to work Zimbra into their infrastructure.

With the 5.0 release, Zimbra Collaboration Suite meets these criteria and has become the first answer to Microsoft Exchange.

Yahoo Buyout Attempts – The Empire Strikes Back

In September 2007, Zimbra’s parent company was purchased by Yahoo! and Microsoft began making hostile moves toward buying out  Yahoo! shortly thereafter. One has to wonder what Microsoft would have done to Yahoo!‘s Zimbra division if this had taken place – it’s unlikely Zimbra would have survived (Microsoft is famous for using phrases like “knife the baby” in its business deals). Had Yahoo! not rejected these attempts, there may not have been any alternative at all.

Fortunately, Yahoo! has so far rejected all attempts at being bought by Microsoft. Let’s hope this continues, because I find it doubtful that the US DoJ would notice the destruction of a potential Exchange competitor.

That is until…

Stay tuned for part 3, which will cover the second of these: Kerio MailServer 6.5.

Practically Replacing Microsoft Exchange Server – A 3 Part Series – 1 of 3

Part 1 of 3: Workgroup/Corporate Collaboration – The Phantom Menace

For years, workgroups and corporate environments have needed a solution that combined a mailsystem with collaborative tools, like a calendar and shared contacts. For years, this solution was only provided by Microsoft in the form of Microsoft Exchange.

For years, Microsoft Exchange was bar-none the best tool for this job. It supported all the features major enterprises requested, it supported all mobile devices and had an ecosystem of products and support around it that simply made it better than all the alternatives.

The only problem is, Exchange is also a terrible burden. As with most Microsoft products, it’s fragile and impossible to cleanly back up and restore in the event of a disaster. As a result, it costs every organization that uses it a tremendous amount of money, and carries with it the potential of costing even more money when (not if) something goes wrong. Most organizations have stooped to multi-level replication of live data to avoid all but the remotest possibility of failure, knowing that such failure would likely be permanent.

No longer.

Criteria – What Do We Need In a Collab Suite? – The Basics

Many traditionalists will say that a mailsystem should simply deliver mail, and that features like calendaring can be added with ad-hoc plugins for small-time web applications like SquirrelMail or Horde. The rationale will continue that web based applications are the future anyway, ignoring the fact that the rising prevalence of web applications is simply due to the refusal of software makers to come together on interoperable standards. But all this is irrelevant – a mailsystem was fine in the beginning, but a real collaboration system in which users can share not only messages but information about the time they’re spending is an absolute necessity in the modern workplace.

So, what does Exchange do better than the rest, specifically?

Shared Folders

Exchange users can share their mail folders with each other. They can attach to another user’s shared folder, and they can view and edit (if they have permission) the contents of public folders.

Shared Calendars

In addition to maintaining an events calendar, Exchange users can view the calendars of other users on the system. They can, if they have permission, add or edit appointments in calendars belonging to others. When scheduling an appointment including others as attendees, they can see what times are best for those others in a timetable showing their ‘free/busy’ time.

Contact Lists

Exchange users are able to maintain a list of favorite contacts of their own, and can always refer to the GAL, the global address list. This list contains the contact info for everyone in their organization.

The 3 items above are basic criteria. Without these most basic capabilities, nothing can be considered an Exchange alternative.

Criteria – Other Requirements

Client Software Compatibility

Under Windows, Microsoft Outlook is the de-facto standard groupware client, and millions of knowledge workers, secretaries and other employees around the world know how to use it. If it doesn’t work with Outlook, that’s already a showstopper. Any possible alternative to Exchange Server must support this client.

Under MacOS X, Microsoft Entourage is a fairly decent option. It’s not as feature-rich as Outlook, but it takes all other collaboration software on the Mac to school when it comes to calendar and folder sharing, free/busy, and global address lists (GAL). It’s the official Microsoft client for Mac. Not necessary to support, but nice-to-have.

Under Linux, Novell Evolution provides a semi-capable method of accessing Exchange sometimes if it’s in the mood for it. But this is the way of all things on the Linux desktop.

Once again, Mac and Linux client support is nice, but Outlook is absolutely the clincher. If it doesn’t do Outlook, the outlook for adoption isn’t so good.

Mobile Devices

Microsoft Exchange is able to sync its e-mail, calendaring and contacts as well as provide GAL search capabilities to all the major smartphones:

  • iPhone
  • Windows Mobile
  • PalmOS
  • BlackBerry

This device support is notable because it means there’s an entire ecosystem of software and hardware that works with Exchange Server. Any possible alternative to Exchange has to plug into as much of this ecosystem as possible.

Support for Existing IT Infrastructure

On the IT admin side of things, a replacement for Exchange server needs to support the existing network/systems that are in place. In the vast majority of cases this is going to be a Windows network backed by an Active Directory, sync servers for BlackBerry devices, backup systems and others.

Because IT admins have a large amount of say when it comes to the feasibility of adopting something new, the amount of weight placed on these areas is going to make a huge difference.

And More

This is a simple, condensed list of the absolute basics needed when evaluating a replacement for Exchange. Many organizations will have other specific criteria and as such will need to do their homework when researching viable options.

Alternatives Are Appearing – A New Hope

As mentioned and as is the purpose of this series, there are now replacements for Exchange Server – 2 of them, and both of these have appeared on the scene within the last 6 months. Though both have existed for longer, their latest versions now sport a featureset rich enough for them to have the “right stuff”, and I consider both to be drop-in replacements based on the above criteria in a large number of cases.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the first of these: Zimbra Collaboration Suite.