Could Linux e-mail be your best option?

Corporate e-mail In his latest report, Butler Group founder and president Martin Butler assesses the viability of SuSE...

Corporate e-mail In his latest report, Butler Group founder and president Martin Butler assesses the viability of SuSE Openexchange Server as a corporate e-mail solution

Microsoft Exchange may be the de facto standard for corporate e-mail but SuSE's open source alternative is gaining credibility among users.

SuSE Linux Openexchange Server is a web-accessed, collaboration product running on Linux that offers groupware and e-mail services, including a knowledge base and basic project management functionality.

Openexchange Server will have most appeal to those organisations that have already decided to standardise on Linux and are looking to replace Microsoft Exchange or other groupware/ messaging installations. Organisations using aging Microsoft NT and Exchange 5.5 combinations should also look carefully at Openexchange Server as an alternative upgrade. It is ideal for smaller organisations and it would be highly suitable for integration with an enterprise portal product to deliver e-mail and groupware functionality.

A receptive market for Openexchange Server would be those organisations using Microsoft Exchange deployed on Microsoft Windows NT servers that are reaching the end of their operational life and require upgrade/replacement.

SuSE has produced a white paper that details migration from Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 to Openexchange Server, including practical details such as fall-back and safety procedures and managing the change from a user perspective. The process is straightforward and SuSE said that in 24 hours, data from 168 users, each with 1,000 e-mails, 50 of which have attachments of 2Mbytes, can be migrated. This is an area worthy of greater automation by SuSE to reduce the pain points for administrators.

It is important to note that while Linux generally has lower server resource requirements than equivalent Windows deployments, performance is still dependent upon adequate computing resources. According to SuSE, some organisations that trialled Openexchange Server reported problems with performance, until it was identified that they had been deployed on servers that did not meet the minimum specifications recommended by SuSE.

How much does it cost?

First year maintenance and support is included in the licence cost. Subsequent years are charged at £300 for the Openexchange Server and 10 groupware licences, with additional groupware licences charged at £6 to £8 per user.

Once registered, an organisation is eligible for e-mail support for installation of Openexchange Server and connection to the corporate network. Maintenance also provides access to the online support database, which covers all SuSE Linux products and contains technical details and expert advice.

The primary mechanism for enhancements and bug fixes is via the SuSE Linux maintenance website, where information and other support tools are available for administrators and users. Administrators are notified by e-mail about such enhancements. A graphical update tool called You is used to download and perform installation from the maintenance website. CDs and manuals are also available on request.

Case studies

Distribution company Pack-IT Promotions replaced a network running on a Microsoft Small Business Server, based on Windows NT, and multiple e-mail systems with SuSE Linux Openexchange Server.

Factors behind the company's decision included the compatibility with Pack-IT's existing Intel hardware platform. Installation took place in one day. The new centralised, web-accessed e-mail system allows problems to be fixed remotely, and downtime has been reduced considerably by running all major applications from a single server installation.

Gustav Hensel GmbH & Co supplies electrical installation and distribution systems to about 5,000 electrical retailers. The company organises this information exchange with its own staff and market partners using SuSE Linux Openexchange Server.

A close network of technical field offices, sales points, subsidiaries, and foreign agencies requires a high degree of mobile and flexible communication and access to meet customer requirements. Openexchange Server offered a communication and groupware solution that allowed independent, global access to all relevant information. About 350 Hensel employees have e-mail accounts. The groupware of SuSE Linux Openexchange Server is used by 50 staff.

The company was looking to reduce its administrative overhead and improve reliability. It said Openexchange Server has provided the basis for a substantial improvement of workflows, resulting in more productivity and less expense.

  • This article is an extract taken from the report Workgroup and Enterprise Collaboration: Reducing the Costs and Increasing the Value of Collaborative Working, published by Butler Direct in June 2003

SuSE's Openexchange strategy   

Openexchange Server 4 was released in November 2002. Version 4.0.3 arrived in May 2003. The next point release 4.0.4 in Q3 2003 will include: 

  • Microsoft Outlook real-time connectivity 
  • Microsoft Windows Office integration 
  • Wiki web integration 
  • Ximian Evolution connectivity 
  • Webdav support for documents 
  • An API for third-party product integration. 

The next major release, 4.1 in Q2 2004, is planned to include: 

  • A SuSE Linux Enterprise Server-based LDap-compliant directory 
  • Centralised system administration for distributed services 
  • Support for a hierarchy of administrative regions 
  • Oracle database support 
  • Computer telephony integration  
  • Replication of servers 
  • SMime 
  • A software developer's kit to connect to third-party products. 

Further medium-term developments planned include instant messaging, support for public key infrastructure and workflow implementation. Major releases will be co-ordinated with those of UnitedLinux. 

Openexchange Server is suitable for organisation sizes ranging from 10 to 5,000 users. SuSE said its focus had been on organisations that wished to migrate from Microsoft Exchange 5.5 and those seeking to consolidate messaging and groupware applications, in particular, government and public sector accounts. 

SuSE said its intention was for Openexchange Server to be the market leader for messaging and groupware in Germany and the standard Linux-based product in Europe. 

The base licence supports 10 groupware and unlimited external e-mail clients for £806 +VAT. Additional licences are priced in blocks: 

  • Five additional users: £160 +VAT 
  • 20 additional users: £630 +VAT 
  • 1,000 additional users: £20,500 +VAT. 

Typical project values for a company of 1,000 users are reported as being £30,000 to £60,000. This is divided into approximately 35% for licensing and 65% for associated services such as customisation and training.

Read more on Business applications