In 1981, Eric Allman wrote the software for the mail transfer agent (MTA) that eventually developed into Sendmail. It was the first software that enabled the routing of email between networks, beginning with ArpaNet and BerkNet at the University of California at Berkeley. By 1998, with demand overwhelming and support becoming extremely time consuming, Allman teamed up with Greg Olson to found the company known as Sendmail, Inc.
The company recently released an updated suite of software products to make mail management easier for service providers and large enterprises. The new Mailcenter product incorporates a wide variety of features in a modular architecture that allows service providers to purchase the software their networks require. It also incorporates a graphical user interface (GUI) and other features aimed at making mail management easier and thereby lowering costs.
“To successfully balance the high cost of administering email systems that serve global workforces, it is essential we simplify the management,” said Rob Hunga, senior systems engineer at 3Com. “With Sendmail’s solution we are able to centrally manage diverse systems and easily integrate content control filters from a single console. This saves administration costs and gives us more control over the email content flow of our email system.”
The software architecture is built on a Sendmail foundation. Sendmail (the company) sells a product it calls Mailstream that is based on Sendmail the open source software (release 8.12). Sendmail (the company) has added content management filters, anti-spam filters, and an anti-virus filter powered by the McAfee Olympus engine.
A flow control filter helps protect service providers from spammers or email harvesters by limiting the number of connections to your SMTP server from a single source. Jeff Morris, Sendmail director of product management for the Mailcenter product line, explains, “When a spammer performs a basic dictionary attack, they’re looking for good email addresses. Harvester software tracks bad email addresses and remembers the ones that got through. Our software allows the administrator to choose the number of bad attempts after which a sender gets banned, and the amount of time to ban the violator.”
Mailcenter allows service providers to delegate authority as necessary. Says Morris, “Administrators can set policies and our engine can crack open and review attachments of 200 different content types. The administrator at a service provider can delegate policies to other users, such as administrators of specific domains or a particular individual at a corporate client.”
Choosing his words carefully, Morris adds, “Some service providers have been complaining that the mail servers of other service providers sometimes swamp them with requests. Administrators can regulate how much mail they receive from problem domains and prioritize other sites.”
The software also has a “copy filter” that allows a service provider to save a snapshot of mail based on its destination (such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mailcenter includes a standard message appender function so that corporations can add legal disclaimers and ISPs can conduct viral marketing by adding a note to every email sent.
Mailcenter’s mobile message server handles WAP and i-mode requests. It comes with several client templates (in English, Japanese, French, and German) and two email clients. “One client just does email within your browser window,” says Morris, “and the other is for business with multiple windows and a separate client.”
In either case, the mobile message server can receive WAP, i-mode, or even HTML input and translate that input into POP or IMAP for the email server.
Mailcenter also has an intelligent inbox filter (right) powered by the SIEVE open source message processing language. Says Morris, “This is the good stuff. The end user sets up their filters on the server, so that whatever client you use (even PINE), you have the same consistent view of your mailbox because the inbox presorts mail into folders. I use it. I’ve sent SMS notes to myself that I get when I turn on my cell phone, and I have it set up so that when my wife emails me at work I get paged on my cell phone with the first 200 characters of her email.”
Morris says that the intelligent inbox has generated a great deal of positive user feedback. “It’s a fundamental change for users,” Morris enthuses. “In the past ISPs preferred customers to use one email client only, either webmail or POP. With this system, the mail is stored on the ISP’s servers, and ISPs can charge for that. Here at Sendmail, people are saying that this system gives them more freedom.”
Morris says that Mailcenter’s modular structure allows ISPs to allocate resources to the modules that are the most in need. “We’ve seen terrific growth in Europe and the Middle East with ISPs supporting 250,000 to 500,000 users,” he says. “They can deploy on Linux with HP ProLiant servers, which are cheap for the power they deliver, and add more servers incrementally. Turning on a server is easy, and we manage user information through a familiar LDAP database with a GUI for management.”
Pricing and Availability
Sendmail Mailcenter is available now. All modules are available on Sun Solaris and on Linux, and most are available for Microsoft Windows (the intelligent inbox and personal SIEVE filter are still in development for Windows and will be supported in a later release).
Pricing varies widely depending on the number of modules used, but for a standard network, Morris estimates that a 100,000 user ISP could deploy Mailcenter for $3 per mailbox, with annual recurring costs for support, maintenance, updates, and upgrades running about 20 percent or 30 percent of the purchase price, depending upon the response time required and the level of customization needed.