Linux-based cloud app backs up Exchange e-mail

Astaro's beta service is built on Linux, runs on Amazon EC2 and puts the kabosh on out-of-control mailboxes.

Astaro's beta e-mail archiving product has all the right buzzwords: cloud, open source, Exchange/Outlook compatible. But it has something even more important, a happy U.S. customer. Richard Parrish, chief technology officer for Wood County, Texas, says that while the beta service is still a work in progress, it's been a breeze to implement and use.

Parrish says that prior to using Astaro, Wood County didn't have an offisite backup plan in place for live e-mail. Previous attempts to set this up on a low-cost Linux server "didn't work very well," he says. But Astaro does. It grabs the e-mail in 20-minute intervals, stores them in the cloud and gives users live access to them. Should a disaster strike, e-mail recovery to another location is as easy as rain from a cloud.

"Our policy is that all e-mail is archived for all users .. everybody’s e-mail is archived for 90 days. I don’t do it just for officials or just for particular groups," he says.

Indeed, legal requirements in Texas means that government agencies have to keep live e-mail archived and available for 90 days, Parrish says. After that, the Astaro service automatically deletes it.

Employees can keep important e-mails on their local machines, but storage requirements are reduced because the process works in reverse. This runs contrary to a typical enterprise in which all e-mails -- even spam -- are kept unless the user painstakingly deletes them.

I can attest that the while the usual method of keeping all e-mail is comforting to users like me, my own PST file currently houses about 5,000 e-mails, most of them no longer needed (and that's with me deleting at least 100 e-mails a day). My inbox my not be typical. As a journalist, I'm subject to hundreds of e-mails from people I don't know wanting me to pay attention to their new company or product or whatnot.

But, if I were a Wood County government employee, I would have to actively save important e-mails and the trash would be taken out for me. This ends out of control PST files (like my own).

Astaro is a German-based company with a big enough U.S. following to have a second headquarters in Wilmington, Mass. It may be best known for its FOSS Linux-based firewall, Astaro Security Gateway Essentials. It also offers a commercial UTM security appliance that includes the firewall along with anti-spam services, gateway encryption and other security features. Astaro sells a physical Linux-based e-mail archiving appliance, too.

With the cloud version of its e-mail archiving appliance, integration is easy with Exchange. Parrish says the service grabs the e-mail via POP and it taps into a LDAP listing to get the necessary Exchange user information which lets him easily dictate which users to be included. The data is encrypted and compressed in Amazon's cloud. Astaro's Web client offers a plugin with Outlook and used on its own, looks exactly like the Outlook Web Access client -- users don't know the difference.

Astaro isn't the only Linux-based e-mail archiving system that works with Exchange. For instance, MailArchiva is a software-based option. Barracuda, best known for its open source antispam wares, offers a a whole line of e-mail archiving appliances. Mailspect is perhaps one of the more head-to-head competitors as it, too, can be deployed on EC2, the company says. (And I don't want to claim this is some kind of comprehensive list. If you have a favorite, by all means, let's hear about it.)

Cloud based e-mail archiving could be the ideal application to use as test run on cloud computing. Parrish has the same high interest/general mistrust of cloud computing that most IT professionals have. Astaro is the first and only product cloud app he is using, and so far, so good, he says.

Posted by Julie Bort

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