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ALT-N's MDaemon offers easiest management

By , Network World
March 09, 2009 12:04 AM ET

Network World - Management of a midsized e-mail system can be complicated. System performance has to be monitored to ensure reasonable response time for end users. Protocol engines, such as SMTP, POP and IMAP, have a host of configuration variables and options, many of which are obscure or idiosyncratic. End user configuration entails more than just adding accounts, as users will have quotas, filtering rules and other settings to be managed. Messages flowing through the system can get stuck or lost, so log and queue visibility becomes important. And don't forget important task support backups, message archiving and e-mail retention controls. It's a tall order.

Microsoft Exchange 2007 has a mixed record here — a statement we must echo for every alternative product tested. Our testing focused more on system management than on user management as the latter varies wildly depending on how an organization wants to use the e-mail server. For example, if you wanted to keep user information in Active Directory, anything but Kerio MailServer or Scalix Enterprise Edition would be a non-starter.

On the other hand, if you don't have Active Directory, or don't want to keep user information stored there, that feature would mean nothing to you. A slew of user-based features, along with multi-domain management, made these products very different — but impossible to rank.

In system management, configuration, monitoring and operations, we found more commonality of function , but could still pinpoint important differences. Alt-N Technologies' MDaemon quickly rose to the top of the stack as one of the easiest products to manage, especially when something went wrong. The logging and visibility into system queues is certainly the best we've ever seen in over 20 years of looking at mail servers. 

In addition to overview pages which show messages flowing through the system, MDaemon has a queue manager that lets you click on stuck messages and take actions (such as delete or reject). MDaemon also had very good performance reporting tools which gave us a good view into how the system was running, especially under heavy load. Other features such as simple message retention management, per-user filtering and automated configuration backup help to round out a good management system.

We did find fault with parts of MDaemon's management scheme. For example, there is no message tracking tool, and the backup system only covers the MDaemon configuration, not the user mailboxes. But overall, any e-mail manager using MDaemon's tools will feel in control of their e-mail system and be ready to understand and solve problems as they come up. Unfortunately, MDaemon reserves its best management functions for a Windows-only management tool. While there is a Web-based management package, it is more suitable for configuration and not very good for system monitoring.

Also at the top of the management pack in terms of functionality is Kerio MailServer, even though it is one of the two products tested that requires an add-on management tool, and can't be controlled through a Web browser (the other is MailSite Fusion). That's fine if you're sitting at your desk all day, but few e-mail administrators are that immobile.

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