Messaging vendor PostPath emerged from stealth mode last week, saying it plans to ship a Linux-based replacement for 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 thing that seems to be most unique about this server seems to be 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 skeptical the server is a full Exchange replacement, which 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 e-mail 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. In addition, native Active Directory tools, such as those used for creating users or moving mailboxes, also work with PostPath Server.
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 subfolders for calendar, in-box and other features. Each message in a subfolder is represented by a single file. The structure allows live and incremental backup using any file server backup tool. Restoration is simplified in that users drag and drop folders, subfolders or even single messages to restore data.
"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 Kerry Champion, vice president of technology for PostPath.
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 10-fold performance boost over Exchange running on the same hardware.
Pricing has not been set but will include a charge for the server and a per-seat charge. There will be no mailbox charge or client access licensing for devices connecting to Outlook or the server itself.
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