Looking for a Low Cost, High Value Enterprise-Level Mail Server Solution?

Merak Mail Server: A high-performance Windows email server offering a great many features for a modest price

Slick marketing doesn’t necessarily mean a great product; conversely an excellent product may not look like much. This is not to say that IceWarp undersells Merak Mail Server, but the product’s first impression — its packaging, user interface, documentation, and Web site — can hardly be described as slick.

When we delved deeper, however, we found a mail server that packs more features into a high-performance Windows server at a competitive price ($960 for an unlimited number of domains and users) that few products can match.

Merak Mail Server is sold in three versions: Lite (small business), Standard (general use), and Professional (ISP or enterprise). An optional Power Pack is available to beef up each version. Both the Standard and Professional versions are licensed for unlimited domains and users, and all versions are available for trial download.

We tested the Professional version, which obviously is the most complex, and found it to have a typical installation for a mail server. It comes in a ZIP file (reinforcing our point about packaging — not a slick approach, but one that works) and takes perhaps five minutes to install under any version of Windows. Configuration is performed in the Server Administrator, one of those ubiquitous tabbed dialogs, which is jammed with all the features. It’s well-organized, but unless you’re already familiar with the jargon and procedures of a mail server it may take a while to understand all the options.

Strong at Heart

The basic mail services are well covered in Merak Mail Server: POP3, SMTP, and IMAP4; although the IMAP features are not highlighted. Likewise, support for dial-up, LAN, Internet, and ISP services are covered. The basic mail engine is quite strong, supporting not only multiple CPUs but also memory cache. The mail server’s performance under load is very good, although other products, such as Stalker Software’s Communigate Pro are more fully designed for managing multiple server configurations. Still, the Merak server is no slouch even if deployed for ISP-style use, including the management of multiple domains.

User management is largely a manual affair, except for loading users from an NT domain. With all of Merak’s features such as quotas, mailbox sizing, domain filters, and mail copy/delete, it may take a sys admin some time to enter a lot of users. (User groups and templates would be helpful in future enterprise versions.)

On the user end, the Professional version ships with Merak Web Mail, a Hotmail-like mail client. Setup also allows for close support of LDAP for Microsoft Outlook Express and various other mail programs.

Managing the server can be approached in several ways. A server monitor checks performance, and the server is administered locally or remotely. There are plenty of logs for various activities, although they are not particularly sophisticated. One plus, an ODBC database can be attached to the logging process. A scheduling capability is available for dial-up and other administrative tasks. With Merak Mail Server, the administrator has a great many tools, but he or she also has quite a bit of work to integrate the information and maintain the services.

Keep It Safe and Clean

These days (or any days, really) mail servers must pay careful attention to the security of connections, protect against intrusions, and defend against spam (or other incoming unwanteds). Merak Mail Server does a good job in this area. POP3 and SMTP transfers can be protected by TLS/SSL. It uses the AVAST32 Anti-virus engine from Alwil Software, which is fully integrated and ships with the server. The annual cost is pegged at $180 (for 50 accounts) up to $980 (for an unlimited number of accounts), which is about average. This particular anti-virus package is noted for its engine being tightly bound to the server and using a fast-multithreaded technique for quickly scanning mail. Merak Mail Server can also (and simultaneously) work with other anti-virus programs such as McAfee.

Both the spam filter and the content filter are “local loads,” meaning that they rely on the server administrator to update and improve the filter listings. This is not atypical, but some mail servers, such as Kerio Technology’s Kerio Mail Server, use a variety of external (Net-based) services to update the filters. This is generally less work, although not necessarily better. On the other hand, the Merak server does allow for domain-based filters (in addition to the global ones), which can be a powerful tool for workplace content management.

No Lack of Extras

Many mail servers try to differentiate themselves with “extra” services such as WAP and VPN, or by including other server functionality, like a list server, proxy server, or Web server. Despite its relatively low price, Merak Mail Server offers three of these, WAP support, a list server, and a proxy server. All three are fairly minimal in terms of features, but they do the job. Although quite a few mail server products support more than one language, Merak Mail Server supports 20 languages as skins and qualifies in our book as a truly international mail server. Finally, for enterprises that want to tailor features, Merak Mail Server supports executables and API DLLs.

IceWarp is justified in emphasizing the low cost and value of Merak Mail Server. It really does offer a lot for the money. There are some areas of use, notably for true high-load, multiplatform enterprise mail services with a huge number of accounts, where the management of Merak Mail Server wouldn’t be adequate. For many uses short of that, however — including those of an ISP — it more than likely will fit the bill.

Which makes Merak Mail Server an outstanding candidate for an enterprise of almost any size looking for an effective way to manage corporate mail.

Pros: League-leading value
Cons: It’s minimalist nature means a lot of work for the server administrator, user management is largely manual

Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 2/3/2003
Original Review Version: 5.5.6

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