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Jun 15, 2009

Why You Should Consider an Alternative Email Platform

Email has become more critical to the communications needs of small and large organizations than the telephone, real-time communications systems, fax or even in-person meetings. 
For example, a survey conducted by Osterman Research in March 2009 found that the typical user spends two hours 32 minutes on a typical workday doing something in their email client. By contrast, that user will spend slightly less time on a typical day attending in-person meetings and talking on the telephone combined.

What this means is that email systems must satisfy a variety of requirements for various entities in an organization:
  • Users must be able to access email whenever and wherever they are located, including from their home computers and from mobile devices.
  • IT administrators must be able to deploy, configure and manage the email system with as little effort as possible, a requirement exacerbated by the recent economic downturn that has seen IT budgets tightening.
  • Business managers must be able to ensure that email services, including robust security capabilities, are maintained as inexpensively as possible.
  • The growing interest in cloud-based computing means that email services that are maintained by service providers must also be robust and able to support users in organizations large and small.
What organizations of all sizes need, therefore, is an email capability that is highly reliable, highly scalable and inexpensive to operate.

1. About This White Paper

This white paper is sponsored by Gecad Technologies, the developer of AXIGEN, an alternative to Microsoft Exchange.  While Exchange is a solid and robust email platform that has roughly 150 million users in its installed base, it has a higher TCO than AXIGEN and does not support a variety of server operating system or client access modes. It is important to note that the goal of this white paper is simply to compare the features and benefits of both Exchange and AXIGEN, not to denigrate the many features and capabilities of Exchange.

2. What Should a Mail Server Do?

2.1 Email Is Critical to Users and Organizations
Virtually anyone who uses email at work understands how important this capability to getting his or her work done.  For example, an Osterman Research survey conducted during March 2009 found that the typical user spends 152 minutes each day working in email.  Based on an average workday of nine hours nine minutes discovered in that survey, the typical user spends 28% of his or her day doing something in their email client.  Interestingly, we found virtually identical results for both smaller and larger organizations with a difference of only one minute in the average time spent using email on a typical day.
In addition to spending more than one-quarter of their day in email, most users also check work-related email from home on weekdays after hours and on weekends.  Further, a large proportion of users access their work email while on vacation.

2.2 Two Key Takeaways
There are two key takeaways from these findings:
  • Email must be extraordinarily reliable to support its continual access by users during the day, at night and on weekends.
  • Email is a critical tool for users in organizations of all sizes.  While there are typically more sophisticated requirements in larger organizations, users in smaller organizations must also have reliable access to email capabilities.

2.3 Is Email a Commodity?
Not really.  Email is a critically important business tool, but given the differences that exist between the wide variety of email systems in the market, it would be difficult to justify the notion that email has yet been commoditized.  However, the critical importance of email and the need for it to operate with virtual 100% reliability does place email into the realm of “utility”.

Because they are utilities, email systems must operate very reliably; that support the features that users need; and that can be licensed, deployed and managed as inexpensively as possible.  It is critical, therefore, particularly during challenging economic times, to implement email capabilities that will support IT requirements for very high reliability and ease of management, as well as business requirements to minimize costs wherever possible.

3. Deployment Scenarios

While there is some commonality of system requirements across small organizations, large organizations and carriers that provide hosted email services, there are differences in the requirements that each type of organization has for its email capabilities.

3.1 What about Microsoft Exchange?
Microsoft Exchange is a robust and capable email platform.  Originally released in mid-1996, the past 13 years have seen development of the product to include clustering, Webmail capabilities and a host of various features and functions.  Exchange 2007, the current release of the platform, includes a variety of server roles, including unified messaging.  Exchange, with an installed base of roughly 150 million seats, is the market leader in North America and is used by a variety of small and large organizations, as well as by a large number of hosted email providers.

Given the widespread acceptance of Exchange and its large number of features and functions, it is reasonable to question why there might be a need for another email platform that can offer Exchange-like capabilities.  The bottom line is cost.  Exchange is not an inexpensive platform to deploy or maintain.  For example, Osterman Research has calculated that the cost of deploying and managing Exchange for a 100-seat organization is in the range of $35-$40 per seat per month, while for a 1,000-seat organization the cost will be on the order of $12-$15 per seat per month (with wide variability in these costs owing to various architectural and deployment factors).

What this means is that while Exchange is a very robust and solid email platform, there is room for other platforms that can provide the Exchange-like features that users and organizations require, but that can be licensed, deployed and managed at lower cost.

Watch a video presentation on how Axigen proves to be an excellent Exchange alternative:
Exchange Alternative

3.2 What about AXIGEN Mail Server?
AXIGEN is a flexible messaging and collaboration solution designed to meet the requirements of both small and large enterprises, and service provider environments. It features increased speed and productivity, as well as advanced security and ease of administration, enabling organizations to keep email communication under full control, while remaining highly-affordable and profitable in terms of TCO.

3.3. Low-end Enterprise Environments
In order to address the needs of small and medium businesses, an email server needs to have a variety of key features.  These include the basic features and functions needed to satisfy generalist email requirements, including:
  • It must be easy to install, configure and manage, particularly for organizations or satellite offices of larger organizations that may not have dedicated IT staff.
  • It must require as little additional expertise and infrastructure as possible.
  • It must have a low cost of acquisition and management.
  • It must provide robust security and filtering capabilities to protect against the growing variety of spam and malware traversing the Internet.

While Exchange can satisfy the email requirements for smaller organizations, it has a much higher total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to AXIGEN.  At the same time, installing and managing the server can be quite a time-consuming task for an inexperienced administrator. In turn, this adds either additional support costs, or it requires official training on top of the solution’s base price.  This is an important decision factor for most mid-sized organizations, particularly during the current economic downturn.

AXIGEN, on the other hand, has a much lower baseline TCO and a free license for up to five accounts with unlimited support tickets for a year is available.  Although the five-account license will not be sufficient for more than the very smallest of organizations, there are a variety of online resources and free online training sessions that can support deployment of the AXIGEN system for even inexperienced administrators.

For small-scale environments, Exchange also has a significant number of requirements and dependencies to deploy.  For example, deployment of Exchange also requires deployment and configuration of Windows Server and a domain controller.  While this is a useful requirement for Exchange and simplifies the management of the more advanced features available with Exchange, it cannot truly be justified in a very small deployment.

Helping AXIGEN to achieve a much lower TCO is the fact that it can run on a variety of inexpensive or free operating systems, such as Ubuntu, CentOS and various UNIX-based operating systems.  Further, AXIGEN will run on 32-bit hardware, allowing an organization to repurpose an unused server.