What is it?
At the end of August Cisco Systems announced it was acquiring PostPath, which provides a Linux-based replacement to Microsoft Exchange. "Replacement" rather than "alternative", since PostPath claims its server is so compatible with Exchange that it can simply be dropped in place of an existing or planned Exchange Server, without any disruption to user service.
PostPath can work natively with Active Directory, and supports the Outlook client. From the user's point of view, it involves no changes to the desktop. PostPath claims its servers can co-exist seamlessly with Exchange servers in the same e-mail infrastructure. Active Directory's migration tool can even be used to move users from Exchange to PostPath when they access Outlook.
PostPath is based on open Linux and other industry standards. It replaces the proprietary Jet database with Linux-based file systems, which provide backup and replication, and can exploit high availability solutions offered by Linux suppliers, such as Red Hat's Cluster Server.
PostPath is the latest in a number of acquisitions which make up Cisco's Collaboration Software Group. According to Gartner Group, "PostPath's small size made larger companies hesitant to buy the e-mail system, a problem solved by Cisco's ownership. The Cisco/PostPath partnership will threaten the Exchange franchise."
This is not necessarily good news for existing Exchange professionals, since one of PostPath's goals is to eliminate the need for full-time Exchange server administrators. It does potentially open up Exchange's huge share of the messaging and collaboration market to people without the resources or patience to go through Microsoft's expensive training and certification process. But Cisco training and certification is just as expensive.
Where did it originate?
PostPath was founded in 2003. Based in Mountain View, California, it also has development facilities in Bulgaria.
What's it for?
PostPath explains that its product supports Exchange's low level network protocols, without using plug-ins. Microsoft's own applications such as Sharepoint and Project, and third-party applications like Blackberry Exchange Gateway, continue to interoperate with PostPath without changes.
As an alternative to Outlook, PostPath has its own Ajax web client proividing e-mail, shared calendaring and access to public folders.
What makes it special?
The combination of Linux with Microsoft protocols means open systems and Microsft's proprietary applications can be used together according to requirements.
How difficult is it to master?
PostPath offers its own "simple-to-use" web-based desktop management and administration tools, though existing Microsoft tools can also be used. Exchange management, and especially migration, is notoriously complex. PostPath claims to make it simpler as well as cheaper.
Where is it used?
PostPath claims most interest from small and medium businesses with up to 2,500 employees, though it also claims to have attracted the attention of larger corporations. Its showcase user is the City of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which is migrating approximately 250 employees to PostPath from Exchange.
What systems does it run on?
Linux. The Webmail Client supports browsers including Microsoft's Internet Explorer, FireFox, and Apple's Safari.
What's coming up?
Cisco is building a Web 2.0-based software-as-a-service collaboration portfolio, covering unified messaging, conferencing and document management. PostPath joins other acquisitions such as WebEx Connect collaboration platform, due to become available to subscription users this September.
Rates of Pay
PostPath has yet to feature in UK job ads, but a few employers are looking for "architects" and others to help develop Cisco-based unified messaging systems.
For downloads and documentation visit PostPath's website.
This was first published in September 2008