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Scalix-ing Up to Enterprise Messaging Needs

On the Way to Strong Administration

  • August 3, 2006
  • By Nelson King

One difficulty all commercial Linux-based e-mail and groupware products face is the availability of free open source software with similar functionality. Scalix Corp.'s Scalix Server addresses this with free versions (Community and open source Community Raw editions), but its business model seeks to woo customers to more advanced groupware in its Small Business and Enterprise editions.

The Scalix Server is marketed as a low-cost Linux-based Microsoft Exchange Server replacement, and given the strength of the Scalix Outlook client, this is a credible position. There is also the promise of easier installation and administration than most comparable (free) Linux software. Scalix largely delivers on the promise, but there is room for improvement.

Version 10 of the Scalix Server comes in four editions: Enterprise, Small Business, Community, and Community Raw (open source). To differentiate its products, and entice organizations to upgrade, Scalix defines two kinds of users: the standard user who has full e-mail functionality but limited groupware capability, and the premium user who gains access to native (MAPI) Microsoft Outlook compatibility, group scheduling (through Outlook, Scalix Web Access, or Novell Evolution), public folders, and wireless e-mail functions.

The free Community edition is limited to 25 premium users. Small Business and Enterprise editions allow unlimited premium users on a pay-per-user basis. Scalix also offers the Scalix Appliance, an appealing hardware/software package sold through its partners. This bundles a server computer, Red Hat Linux, and Scalix software in a pre-tuned configuration.

Much of Scalix is written in Java and the package ships with Java Runtime Environment (JRE 1.5) and Apache Tomcat. The hardware requirements are modest, and the list of required Linux packages is relatively long but not unusual. Scalix recommends installing the mail server on a clean computer (i.e., one with no operating system, even on separate partitions), as the software must create a Linux partition for itself to operate properly. This and other aspects of its installation and configuration (e.g., variations between Linux distributions) are not difficult but require more time and expertise compared to similar products on Linux and especially those on Windows platforms. Scalix software and basic configuration can be installed from the command-line interface or with a GUI wizard.

The Enterprise version enables considerable flexibility and sophistication on multiple servers. We were not in a position to test this functionality, but based on a feature comparison with similar products, Scalix appears to take full advantage of the underlying HP OpenMail engine, Linux management (especially with Red Hat Cluster Control), and its own Administrative Console.

The Scalix Administrative Console provides browser-based local or remote management of Scalix servers and services. In the past couple of years (through three Scalix releases), the console has continued to improve in usability and in the depth of control. Still, it will be necessary to dip into the command-line interface to do some tasks. Of course, for many Linux adherents, using the command-line is a feature. The Scalix documentation is very up-front about what the administrative console can and cannot do.

Through the filtering capability, the administrative console is easy to focus on specific groups and users. Modules included in the Enterprise edition enable the console to tap into Scalix connections to Novell e-Directory, Microsoft Active Directory, and LDAP directories, which makes user management and authentication much easier and more reliable. On the other hand, Scalix needs integrated usage reporting and administrative analysis.

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