From time to time, we get requests to build out something other than Microsoft Exchange for a locally hosted email platform or collaboration tool. Local hosted email platforms vary greatly but we try to get the basics out there for you to make a better decision on your next hardware and software purchase. Essentially, items you want in hosting your email and collaboration software boil down to two things: Features and Support.
Inbound virus scanning
Inbound anti-SPAM scanning
Type of access to server – POP, IMAP, MAPI, Webmail, ActiveSync
Support for Calendaring
Support for Global address books
Undelete function for messages
Support for the underlying Operating System
Support for the e-mail program(s) involved
Each of these contributes to cost.
Alternate Email and Services
In the most basic scenario, you host e-mail services, you give your clients access to POP e-mail and you perform no additional services such as virus scanning or SPAM filtering. It is quite possible to download a Linux distribution and using other Open Source software, get this up and running for essentially the cost of the hardware and a half day of labor.
There are several downside to this starting with features (clients have POP access only and there is no scanning of incoming messages) and going to support – if something breaks you’re the one that has to fix it.
Virtualmin is basically a Control Panel. They’ve put together a software package that you can use to configure a server and various server applications. All of the underlying server programs are Open Source. I’m not sure what all they cover in their support offerings but the price is certainly attractive. It requires one of the recommended servers quoted above to get going.
Synology Mail Plus Server
This is new and improved mail server from Synology. MailPlus Server was just released. It does POP and IMAP and works with higher end NAS devices like the Synology DS1815+. SATA drives are supported in the drive bay not SaaS.
Zimbra Email Server
Zimbra is an e-mail product available in both a paid and an open source version. The software is essentially a collection of third party utilities that have been configured to work together to provide an enterprise class collaboration server for e-mail, calendars, contacts etc. The server software runs on Linux, which means that it can be used without the added expense of a Microsoft Windows Server license. The Zimbra Open Source edition can be used with a web interface or Zimbra desktop client software which both give full access to the collaboration features. It can also be used with Outlook (the current e-mail client), however without the collaboration features. The paid version gives access to support and also enables the Outlook connector which enables Outlook as the full featured collaboration client. The paid version is licensed on an annual basis.
At that time the annual per user license fee for Zimbra was $56. Zimbra does have the Community Edition which does not include support (beyond the community/forum support) which does have POP and IMAP access.
Ice Warp Email Server
It essentially contains the same suite of offerings as Zimbra but with an entirely different pricing model. Prices change, please contact the vendor for the latest price update.
Linux Support Tools
Synology Mail Plus, Zimbra Mail Server, and Ice Warp Email Server all run on Linux. Below are are all the Linux support tools you must configure to run your email services.
- Postfix, to send and receive e-mail
- Dovecot, for IMAP
- SpamAssassin, to keep spam out of your inbox
- ClamAV, to filter out viruses
- Sieve, to set up mail filters and rules
- Roundcube, for webmail
- PostgreSQL (or MySQL/MariaDB), for Roundcube’s database
- Nginx and PHP-FPM, to serve out Roundcube over the Web
There are plenty of options out there that vary on size and scope of the project but the operational cost for getting good exchange email support or whatever flavor email server you choose can be high. The stereotypical servers that you get from Dell or some other manufacturer are the default choice but not always the best choice. Let’s first use a real life hardware quotes and pick them apart. The first snippet of a quote is a Dell PowerEdge R230 followed by a Dell Power Edge T430.
Here are the main difference in Hardware Specs:
- The price. The Dell PowerEdge R230 is $2300. The Dell PowerEdge T430 is $3600 you get a very good deal but normally $4500. 10k vs 15k SAS drives make the biggest difference in price or consider the very cheap SATA drive for certain basic tasks.
- The first email server quote is a rack mount server. Pay attention to the T and R after the Dell PowerEdge Server name. T for Tower and R for Rackmount. The rackmount server is always cheaper but requires a rack. Fortunately, the very basic rack was added to the first quote.
- The R230 is a very basic server. The second quote is an Enterprise level T430 with 8 hot swap drives capacity. The R230 has 7200 RPM SATA Drives. You need 15K SAS drives for a lot server based products.
- The R230 Processor is E3-1220V5 which is workstation single socket Processor. The T430 is a Dual Socket Intel Xeon E5-2600 V3 server CPU. Basically, the Dell PowerEdge R230 is a glorified workstation with built-in hard drive redundancy.
- I’m not sure which Power supply in R230 but the T430 has redundant 750 Watt PS.
- Windows Server 2012 CALs are missing in R230. You can’t utilize the Server 2012 without CALs. The basic 5 CAL package is additional $150
- The Dell PowerEdge R230 server has 3 years’ depot warranty while the T430 is 3 years NBD onsite warranty in T430.
- Note: Make sure if you set the RAM 8x4G option because it is more reliable that 2x16G.
To sum up the T430 has a lot more scalability and flexibility if you wanted to host VMware on it for the option to virtualize a variety of machines on it but in our case, it’s an Exchange email server first and foremost. Microsoft Exchange email server is very resource intensive server application as you add more and more users to. It may or may not be ideal to virtualize it.
As you may be learning, there are many variables to consider when you are hosting and providing your own Exchange support. However, the corporate world has evolved in the last ten years to the point it does not depend on Microsoft and its suite of products any more.
Local hosted Email platforms Compared Summary
Today’s network environment is no longer limited to Microsoft. While the option to continue with Exchange Server Support both locally or in the cloud is still available, it is important remind organizations the vast selection in email services that are present now more than ever before. Do your homework and happy emailing.
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