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American Steel Realizes Benefits from Linux Infrastructure

Dissatisfied with Microsoft Exchange Server, steel company benefits from migration to Linux-hosted Kerio MailServer

The advantages of running Linux are well known - lower costs, better adherence to open standards, no domineering corporate power, better security, etc. However, there's one area where Linux users are subject to all the same challenges and pitfalls as other systems: corporate e-mail. E-mail remains the single biggest source of security breaches and IT headaches simply because most Linux-based IT departments still rely on Microsoft Exchange Server for their e-mail. And, because Microsoft Exchange Server has such a large installed user base, it remains a favorite target of hackers and spammers.

Steve Francis of American Steel has found what he believes to be a better alternative; one that runs native to Linux and yet offers a full-featured, transparent solution for users accustomed to using Microsoft Outlook to process their e-mail.

American Steel is a full-line supplier of steel products and services to customers in Washington, Oregon and, through its American Metals affiliate, Northern California. The IT department, run by Steve Francis, uses Linux exclusively on its five servers, three IT department workstations, and seven network storage devices. However, most of the company's 120 employees use Windows workstations and the Microsoft Office suite, including Microsoft Outlook.

Up until 2004, American Steel used a Windows NT server running an older version of Microsoft Exchange Server (version 5.5). When Microsoft ended support for its NT Server, the company decided to upgrade its e-mail system. However, it found that the estimated $13,579 cost of doing so was too pricey, especially for a company of its size. And the estimate didn't include the potentially significant anti-virus upgrade costs that would have been required.

As an alternative, Francis decided to use Kerio MailServer, which provides a complete cost-effective messaging and collaboration solution with multiple anti-spam layers, anti-virus protection, and a feature-rich Web mail interface. Because it runs on Linux, no server upgrade was required. In fact, American Steel was able to reuse its existing hardware, buying only a $40 license for Red Hat Linux 9 to replace the Windows NT Server operating system. With all the necessary components integrated into Kerio MailServer, including backup capabilities, the only other upgrade cost for American Steel was the product license at $1,999, bringing the total cost to $2,039 - 85% less than the cost of a Microsoft Exchange Server upgrade.

But cost was not the only reason to move to the new mail server. American Steel needed a system that offered all of the features included with Microsoft Exchange Server. In particular, users accustomed to working with Microsoft Office Outlook were able to continue using that program because of the Kerio Outlook Connector, which provides a seamless interface. Kerio MailServer also incorporates all of the groupware features found in Outlook, including personal and shared directories, group scheduling complete with busy notification, and the ability to provide away messages. The ability to create shared public folders is unique to Kerio Technologies, as is its ability to create and manage mailing lists - a must for companies like American Steel needing to send promotional messages to groups of customers and prospects. "One of the big plusses was the Web mail feature included with Kerio MailServer," Francis says. "Not only was it quick and easy to set up, but the Web mail screen even looks very much like the Outlook window so your mail interface remains the same whether you are in the office or on the road."

American Steel found the new Kerio MailServer system to be easy to set up and maintain. Microsoft Exchange Server is designed to be used by large enterprises, usually requiring a dedicated IT person to manage and maintain the system. If a novice attempts to do so, he or she will become lost rather quickly and may even create significant system and security problems. With Kerio MailServer, American Steel found that even a relatively non-technical person could quickly learn how to set up and maintain the system. This feature is ideal for smaller business of American Steel's size that can't afford to keep a dedicated IT person on staff. Another advantage of Kerio MailServer administration is that backup and archiving are built into the system and, unlike other mail servers, these functions are sone without stopping the server, permitting uninterrupted 24x7 operation.

Security was another concern that was top-of-mind for Francis and, with Kerio MailServer he could rest assured that his new system was protected from a variety of threats. In fact, Kerio MailServer is inherently more secure than its predecessor in several ways. By running native on Linux, it avoids the attacks common to Windows systems by virtue of the latter's greater user base. Also, robust anti-virus and anti-spam protection are integrated into the Kerio MailServer system, ensuring smooth interoperability and minimizing the flaws that often provide opportunities for enterprising hackers. Most importantly, these features operate at the server level, ensuring that unwanted e-mails never reach the client - many other systems depend on virus and spam protection at the client level, which leaves users more vulnerable to a variety of attacks.

Of increasing concern is the growing number of directory harvest attacks aimed at e-mail servers. These attacks are used to identify valid e-mail addresses in a domain by bombarding the server with thousands of e-mails using various combinations of letters until valid addresses are determined. They can effectively become denial-of-service (DoS) attacks as the volume of incoming e-mails can overwhelm the server. The Kerio MailServer software protects against this type of attack by denying access for 30 minutes following three unsuccessful attempts. This is a sufficient deterrent to discourage all but the most patient of hackers.

"Being a Linux-based organization, we were always a bit uncomfortable running a non-Linux e-mail system because we were never sure we were doing everything right," Francis said. "Migrating to Kerio MailServer simplified our lives in many ways. Not only were we able to get rid of the non-Linux operating system and save money in the process, but the new mail server is so much easier to set up and maintain and the security features are second to none."

At the end of the day, the decision to migrate to Kerio MailServer was an easy one for Francis. "All we needed to ask ourselves was if we were willing to pay this much money for a product that requires constant vulnerability patching, and has excessive licensing fees and a complicated license structure. The answer was no."

More Stories By James Gudeli

James Gudeli is vice president of business development at Kerio Technologies, Inc., where he oversees business development strategies, including management of partner and reseller
relationships. He graduated from San Jose State with a BS in marketing. James has spoken at
Linux.SYS-CON.com Boston and San Francisco about messaging trends in Linux and open source.

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