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Startup Offers Clustered Exchange Server With Managed Maintenance

A small Redmond, Wash.-based startup is shipping a new twist on outsourcing and turnkey solutions – a cluster of Exchange 2003 servers in a single box, replete with subscription-based third-party management, monitoring and maintenance. And, no, that’s not a cutesy turn of phrase referring to Microsoft.

Azaleos Corp. calls its new OneServer an “e-mail appliance.” The idea is to provide customers with a highly-available turnkey server “appliance” that sits behind the customer’s firewall. Azaleos then sells the customer a “subscription” – a multi-year contract – to provide patch testing and management, real-time monitoring and administration.

“The Azaleos messaging solution appliance is a true enterprise-class appliance integrating hardware, software and managed subscription services into an integrated, scalable solution,” according to a company statement.

Adds CEO and company co-founder Roger Gerdes: “This is a single box that plugs into the customer’s network and sits safely behind their firewall on the customer’s site.”

The OneServer is comprised of a chassis that contains three dual-processor servers wired in a failover cluster arrangement. Two of the servers run Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition while the third runs Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition.

The first two servers run Exchange Server 2003 in a failover configuration with one “active” node and one “passive” node. The third server is an Active Directory domain controller node, according to Keith McCall, Azaleos’ CTO and co-founder. “And if the domain controller fails, [OneServer] can bring up the passive server as a [backup] domain controller,” McCall adds. Both Gerdes and McCall are former Microsoft employees as are two other members of the firm’s board, former Microsoft senior executives Pete Higgins and Mike Slade. Sharing Microsoft's hometown in the rainy Pacific Northwest also inspired the name. The company's co-founders chose Azaleos, the Greek root word for "dry," as a direct contrast to the local weather.

In addition, the package includes anti-virus and anti-spam software from Sybari (a firm which Microsoft recently purchased), mobility technologies from Good Technology, and archiving and compliance software (for example, to aid in Sarbanes-Oxley Act auditing) from KVS. Azaleos wrote its own monitoring, management and provisioning software as well as a simplified Web-based administration console.

Customers can specify whether they want servers manufactured by Dell or HP. Additionally, if a customer already has purchased licenses for Exchange Server 2003, those licenses can be applied to the appliance – saving customers money. The OneServer can also take advantage of customers’ existing storage area network (SAN) systems. Otherwise, “Azaleos can provide a 1-terabyte SAN Solution,” says Gerdes.

A single OneServer can support up to 2,500 users.

Azaleos, which is a Microsoft Certified Partner, combines the OneServer with its new OneStop Subscription Services, through which the company provides 7x24 monitoring, hardware updates and patch management for all software in the appliance. In order to do that, Azaleos built its own network operations center and hired its own staff of Exchange experts. The company launched commercial availability of its products this week following a beta program last fall.

One of the advantages of the active/passive cluster configuration is that software updates and patches can be remotely installed and tested on the “passive” machine while the “active” server continues its normal e-mail functions. “We have the capability to flash an image [of software or firmware updates] into the appliance,” says McCall.

Azaleos says a typical installation with 1,000 users would cost just under $10 per user per month or about $117,000 per year for a three-year subscription, including hardware and software costs. The OneServer with a terabyte of storage costs approximately $35,000 or $30,000 without. Subscription fees run between $7 and $9 per user per month. That compares to more like $154,000 per year for a company that sets up and maintains its own Exchange servers, the company claims.

The company plans to offer multi-site disaster recovery service in the second half of 2005.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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