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Vendors Press Groupware Below Exchange Rate

While Microsoft’s Outlook has become a ubiquitous e-mail client within many companies, the market is still churning on the server. Even in Outlook-intensive environments, Exchange isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk. A number of e-mail server vendors now see opportunities to position their products as lower-cost and simpler alternatives to Exchange Server 2003.

For some organizations, the expenses and resources needed to move to Active Directory – as well as Windows Server 2003 and the additional hardware that goes with it – is untenable. Yet, they need e-mail server products that still can support Outlook and its groupware features.

E-mail server providers such as Stalker Software and Bynari Inc. hope to capitalize on companies looking for alternatives to Exchange upgrades. Along with potential cost savings, such products offer an inherent advantage over Exchange – they run on many non-Windows platforms.

For example, Stalker’s CommuniGate Pro product now supports about 30 platforms, relates Josh Olson, sales engineer for Stalker. “We run on everything from Windows to Mac OS 10 to Unix.” CommuniGate Pro also is accessible on the client side via a Web interface, he adds. Recently, Stalker announced that its software would support Linux on AMD64 processors. Bynari’s e-mail alternative e-mail solution, Bynari Insight Server, runs on IBM’s range of server platforms, from zOS and Linux on the zSeries mainframe to OS/400 on the iSeries and Windows and Linux on IBM’s Intel-based xSeries.

Alternative e-mail solution providers report this multi-platform message is hitting a chord with many end-user companies. About a third of CommuniGate users deploy on Windows, and another third now run on Linux, says Ali Liptrot, director of sales and marketing for Stalker Software. Stalker’s largest customers – primarily in the telecommunications sector – run e-mail servers on Unix boxes, she adds. “Over the last year, especially since the introduction of groupware functionality, we’ve seen a lot of customers migrate their e-mail solutions over from Windows,” she adds.

Stalker Software has published its own estimates that claim a per-user annual cost of $97 with CommuniGate e-mail running on Red Hat Linux, versus $187 annually per user for Exchange running on Windows Server 2003. While independent research comparing the cost of these two products is not available, Ferris Research has estimated the total cost of ownership for a typical Exchange environment at $13 per user per month, or about $156 a year.

In addition, alternative e-mail vendors say their solutions are now almost indistinguishable from Exchange in terms of features. Some providers now offer features, such as groupware and calendaring that have long been considered the domain of heavyweight platforms such as Exchange or Domino/Notes. “Our corporate customers were asking for calendaring and groupware functionality,” Liptrot says. Groupware functionality and integration with Outlook was added to CommuniGate in its latest release in June 2003, she adds. “Outlook users can work on their desktop at the office, make changes, and send out invitations. They then can go home and see any new contacts they created via a Web-based browser.” Features include calendaring, publish/subscribe group scheduling, group discussion management, respond to invitations and sharing folders.

The ability to continue to use Outlook’s groupware features with a different back-end e-mail server is appealing to many organizations. Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) in California, for example, needed to support collaboration services for scheduling meetings, sharing medical research and maintaining grant development activities. The hospital wanted to retain its base of Outlook clients, but move to a new back-end messaging system.

“Children’s Hospital relies on its messaging system for a wide variety of critical tasks – from sending electronic grant submissions to potential sponsors, to collaboration on new medical research and findings,” says Ben Hanes, systems analyst at CHORI. “We wanted to standardize our e-mail applications to MS Outlook and MS Entourage for cross-platform compatibility.”

Another e-mail vendor, Bynari Inc., also is pitching its compatibility with Outlook clients, and has seen some traction sites looking to consolidate e-mail and messaging capabilities. One large site, for example, was considering moving to Exchange from a peer-to-peer mail solution, but was faced with an IT budget freeze. “We were looking for a more industrial-strength e-mail server,” says Dave Ennen, technical support manager for Winnebago Industries Inc. “All of our clients run Microsoft Outlook. We wanted to go to Exchange Server, but were told to wait because of the business climate.”

As an alternative, Ennen and his team sought out lower-cost solution that still supported Outlook. “Rather than go into Exchange 2000 Server, or Novell GroupWise, we decided Bynari was more cost effective.” In the process, Winnebago was also able to move its messaging and collaboration environment from Windows to its IBM eServer mainframe running Linux. “We had two post offices, so scheduling and calendaring was kind of cumbersome. You had to pick and choose whom you wanted in each post office. We decided that we needed to have an e-mail server that was more dependable. Bynari supported Webmail, calendaring and scheduling for everybody in the same post office at a much lower cost.”

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.

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