CommuniGate Pro Continues to Keep Enterprises Communicating

CommuniGate Pro: Enterprise-level mail server with outstanding support for multiple server clustering

Mail servers for the enterprise market (meaning businesses that need multiple servers and have thousands of users) often fall into two groups — those intended for a few users (say 25 or less) and scale upward, and those intended for thousands of users that can be scaled down.

Stalker Software’s CommuniGate Pro 4.0 is a good example of the latter. It nominally starts at the 50-user level but is clearly designed for multiple server and large-scale mail services. It’s available for a wide spectrum of platforms, vigorously supports large-scale mobile messaging, and offers a great deal of flexibility.

Although CommuniGate Pro installs easily on about 25 supported platforms, the configuration process is an exercise for the experienced. As an enterprise-level product, the mail server naturally offers more possibilities for configuration, but it also suffers from a slightly fusty approach to administrative tasks. Its roots are in the world of text files and command lines (in fact, command line operation is still featured), and even its browser-based administration program seems relatively un-GUI. This is not necessarily a criticism, more of a head’s up for sys admins who could use guidance and visual support. The 651-page manual (available in PDF style or online) is a clue that there’s a lot to do in setting up a CommuniGate Pro system, especially one with server clusters.

Solid Basics

CommuniGate Pro’s support for various mail services — IMAP, POP, SMTP, WebMail — is extensive; in fact, the server has a list of features that looks like a checklist of current standards. Most email programs are well supported, including a specific module for MAPI (Microsoft) products; and CommuniGate’s WebMail support is excellent for enterprises that don’t want to use a commercial email program.

User management, always a major issue with enterprise mail servers because of the large number of users, can be done via either CommuniGate’s own directory service or LDAP. The Directory Manager program is used for “housekeeping” chores, and offers tools for conversion of user information from other systems. Users can be individually configured, or placed in groups for more general configuration of rights, domains, and other attributes. Enterprises can also take advantage of the included dedicated Web server, which handles remote configuration (for users and administrators).

The program keeps extensive logs of user and other server activity in a text file and suggests using a browser “Find” command to search for entries. Considering CommuniGate Pro logs may contain many megabytes of data, this is truly minimal analytical support, especially compared to the database-driven logs and reports of products such as Vircom’s VOP modusMail. It is, however, indicative of the somewhat older style of CommuniGate Pro.

Cluster Power

While many mail server products claim to be appropriate for enterprise-level mail services, a great deal aren’t equipped with the necessary tools — server clustering, process threading, complex routing, and monitoring — that not only scale but also do so in a manageable way. This is one of CommuniGate Pro’s strengths. It combines a robust mail server engine with (among other things) the capability to create various server clusters that work together for load balancing under heavy use. CommuniGate Pro supports both static (fixed storage) and dynamic (shared storage) server configurations. It can also be used for front-end/back-end server (e.g., symmetric) configurations, which results in better performance and security.

The combination of domain management, clustering, address routing, and system monitoring make it possible to configure and tune a CommuniGate Pro system to handle millions of users; few other mail servers can make this claim with validity.

Most of the advanced server configurations do, however, require additional licenses. Depending on the number of accounts (users), costs can be considerable. For example, a dynamic cluster core for 100,000 accounts is $99,999. We should also note that while CommuniGate Pro has the muscle for very large-scale email systems, it also works well in single-server installations.

Staying Clean and Secure

CommuniGate Pro comes with enough relay controls to prevent spammers from using it for open-relay, yet it also the flexibility to permit connections by mobile users. Spam text filtering is available, principally on the subject line of incoming email. This feature, however, is less sophisticated than sieve-based filtering and other spam prevention techniques. Although CommuniGate Pro can be made aware of firewalls, unlike products such as FloosieTech’s FTGate, it provides no specific firewall (or proxy server) solution.

User authentication operates largely through internal sources: CommuniGate Pro, the OS, and SASL. External authentication (e.g., Emerald, Platypus, and Rodopi) requires programming outside of CommuniGate Pro. Encryption is supported through SSL/TSL. Virus detection can be handled by optional plug-ins for MacAfee Virus Scanner or Sophos Virus Scanner.

CommuniGate Pro also features a mail list server with decent tools for managing the lists, including a “bounce back” feature that flags addresses that bounce (i.e., are invalid). In version 4.0 Stalker Software stretches the mail services toward mobile users in a big way, including support for SMS and message “skins”, which allow for dynamic reformatting of message content (e.g., for Palm or phone displays). Stalker sees email storage and delivery as a way to handle multimedia messaging, a concept that will take some time to validate.

CommuniGate Pro stands out among enterprise-level email servers for its thorough support of standards and capability to configure multiple servers. It could learn something from some of the smaller server systems about ease of use, but as this is an enterprise-level product, more expertise and a willingness to deal with complex configurations should be expected.

After all, when an enterprise needs email horsepower, a pony won’t do.

Pros: True enterprise-level features, such as dynamic clustering and support for multiple platforms
Cons: Weak logging; minimal firewall support

Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 1/16/2003
Original Review Version: 4.0

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