Maximizing the Mail Server Budget With MailMax

MailMax: Complete mail server solution with aggressive pricing

E-mail remains the “killer app” of the Internet and, as such, enterprises rely tremendously on its reliability. For this reason, many email servers boast not only enterprise-level feature sets, but also enterprise-level pricing.

This makes MailMax an interesting entry in the mail server market: Its aggressive, down-market pricing scheme delivers by a feature set that promises to play in the big leagues.

The MailMax download, for those without an existing Microsoft SQL 2000 installation, weighs in at a hefty 65 MB. The companion WebAdmin interface, for remote Web-based administrator of MailMax servers, is another 25 MB. Once installed, MailMax eats around 60 MB of disk space, which, of course, grows significantly as its database increases with mail volume.

Installation of MailMax starts off with a note of concern: It requires a server reboot — before the install even begins. Following this reboot, a standard installer walks you though a relatively efficient process. Unfortunately, the install routine does not allow for the choice of folders where data will initially be stored, and thus defaults to the system (C:) drive. If the server is partitioned in a more sophisticated manner, the default folder locations must be changed as soon as the configuration of MailMax begins. Following the install, MailMax again requires a reboot.

Two reboots in one install procedure is not optimal in a production environment, where it is conceivable that the server is simultaneously running other applications. This is our first bone to pick with MailMax, since it is not typical for server software to require even one reboot during installation.

MailMax is administered using either the Windows-based MailMax Admin or the Web-based Web Admin. The MailMax Admin GUI is a nonstandard Windows interface, featuring large, brightly colored icons that appear to be a cross between Apple’s Aqua aesthetic and a Fisher-Price toy.

The GUI layout does conform to a Windows-Explorer-like tree structure, but from there the metaphor quickly breaks down. For example, clicking the “Domains/Users” branch within the local domain does not expand to reveal an itemized list of domains and users. Instead, it displays this information in a split-pane view beside the navigation tree. In general, the GUI is a mixture of visual metaphors, mixing and matching split panes, a tree view, tabbed option windows, and push buttons. As a result, it is difficult to determine exactly where to find a particular configuration option without clicking around to investigate. Fortunately, tabbed option windows do contain context-sensitive help.

The Web Admin interface is a useful addition, and it supports both email users and administrators, adapting as necessary to a user’s privilege level. Unfortunately, the interface itself is somewhat clunky to navigate; sufficient for most users reading their email, but inefficient for administration in comparison to the MailMax Admin application.

The MailMax engine supports the typical and most necessary features for a mail server, such as POP and IMAP, rules processing, logging, aliases, forwards, auto-responders, and bandwidth management. The server supports some measures to enhance users’ security, such as APOP (which encrypts transmitted passwords) and optional integrated virus protection using either Sophos or AVAST, as well as products that can be purchased separately or, depending on the license, bundled with MailMax. The server does not support SSL encryption or secure email clients.

Several anti-spam measures are supported to help suppress the deluge of unsolicited mail hammering servers everywhere these days. Content filtering is available to block or file messages containing key catchwords, such as known spam subject lines.

As it can be tedious to keep such filters up to date, open relay protection can be enabled to block incoming messages from known origins of spam. The server can also attempt to validate IP and Mail From addresses as well as stop spammers from attempting to harvest user addresses from the enterprise’s domain. The product does not, however, feature the latest in spam filtering technology, Bayesian statistical filtering.

Because MailMax relies on a back-end database, its architecture is responsive to high availability and clustering arrangements, making it well-suited for redundant and high-load environments. At a maximum price of $849 for its unlimited edition, MailMax is significantly less costly than many alternatives. One can argue that this shows, but that doesn’t automatically mean MailMax isn’t a strong choice.

The product features a relatively, if not maximally, advanced feature set and, important for a mail server, is easy to install, configure, and administer. Despite its quirky design, MailMax is a good value for the right organization whose needs match the product’s offerings.

Pros: Easy to configure and administer; Highly scalable and reliable; Very aggressively priced
Cons: Install process requires reboots on a server (a huge no-no in our book); Somewhat quirky, nonstandard administration interface; Lacks cutting-edge anti-spam and security features

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 8/1/2003
Original Review Version: 5.5

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