New e-mail server option

* Will I change my advice about e-mail self-hosting?

I've said before that small companies without an experienced IT person should think carefully about hosting their own e-mail and Web servers. Hosting companies do a great job for a good price (lots of competition) and better yet, handle all the security patches and updates for you.

Part of my recommendation stems from the fact that e-mail servers, especially Microsoft's Exchange 2003, take far too much administration time. Why Microsoft put Exchange into their Small Business Suite I don't know, because I consider it a bad fit for small companies.

As you can imagine, vendors try to change my mind. While in San Francisco for the Network World Remote Office Networking Technology Tour, I visited Kerio Technologies and heard their pitch.

Their goal? Deliver the e-mail server that should have been included with Microsoft Small Business Suite and also have the ability to handle much larger loads. To see how their products do in the real world, I talked to Jim Hurd, founder and president of HurdIT, a network consulting company in the Washington, D.C. area.

"We found Kerio by accident," Hurd says. "One of my pickiest big customers used it and loved it, so we checked it out." Hurd feels strongly that Exchange 2003 outgrew its technical foundation and he was actively searching for an e-mail server he could recommend with confidence.

One feature that sold Hurd? The time it takes to rebuild a corrupted server or replace one in case of a disaster: "Kerio does a complete bare metal restore in 15 minutes. You can't even read the first CD for an Exchange 2003 recovery in that time."

Hurd always avoided hosting services for customers, but Kerio helped change his mind, or perhaps I should say Kerio's easy management and stability convinced him. "Kerio's efficiency allows a customer with a cable modem or T-1 to easily support 25 users or so running IMAP or Web e-mail where all the mail stays on the server," Hurd says. Internet Message Access Protocol, unlike POP3, doesn't download messages to the client. This feature eases e-mail management, backup and archiving, and protects users from losing their e-mail when they delete it with their client application, because they don't delete the server copy.

Those same management features make it easier to place a server at a small customer's site. Kerio's remote management tools allow Hurd's support team to remotely administer every e-mail server function without requiring a virtual private network for access.

"Sometimes we build them a server, install Kerio, and configure the server for them before shipping it to the customer," says Hurd. "We'll even put in all the users, so when the customer gets the server, all they need to do is turn it on."

Even customers who don't like Microsoft's Exchange 2003 keep it because it integrates shared calendars and address books via the Outlook e-mail client. With the Kerio Exchange Connector, Hurd configures the Kerio e-mail server to duplicate all important Exchange functions for much less money.

"The Kerio server is our preferred platform for all small and medium business customers now," Hurd says. "I'm not platform loyal at all, but the Kerio product, and their support, keeps them at the top of my list."

Speaking of being on top, that's where Hurd sometimes puts a Kerio e-mail server: on top of Microsoft's own Small Business Server in place of the included Exchange 2003 e-mail server. "We used to tell small businesses not to run their own e-mail server, but that was before Kerio."

Hurd found Kerio about eight months ago. Since then, he's installed it for more than 50 customers.

Maybe I should amend my advice for small companies and tell them not to run the wrong e-mail server. But I have always recommended finding a good reseller to help with these decisions, and Hurd has been convinced that the right e-mail server can be hosted by even the smallest company.

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