Delivering Messaging as an Appliance

When the enterprise computing environment is broken down into specific functions -- which is commonplace in a Windows NT world -- it lends itself to the appliance approach. This method has been behind the successful proliferation of Web server appliances: thin, sleek boxes that know only one thing -- how to be a Web server. The operating system is stripped to its raw bits and the user interface is nothing more complex than a Web GUI.

Mirapoint Inc. (www.mirapoint.com) is taking the same approach in the messaging realm with its Mirapoint Internet Message Server and Internet Message Router. "We provide all the hardware and software, preloaded and preoptimized," says Andrew Lochart, director of product marketing at Mirapoint. "We want to do the same for messaging that Cisco did for routers."

Mirapoint divides the messaging infrastructure into three parts: storage, routing, and access. As messages come into the enterprise, the Internet Message Routers load balance and relay the messages to the Internet Message Servers, which store the messages and use LDAP for authentication. Next, those messages are sent on to the internal routers, which in turn send them to the correct clients.

This infrastructure plays as pure messaging, so packets can be anything from a simple e-mail or fax to a voicemail message or even a video message. As the messages get bigger, all that is needed is more servers and routers that can be plugged right in. "When you go with the appliances, you just snap these in and when you need to grow, you just snap in more appliances," Lochart says. "If the number of users are growing and you're constantly acquiring new companies, you just add in more mail servers to support those users.

Built into the Internet Message Server is Trend Micro Inc.’s (www.trendmicro.com) anti-virus software for embedded security. Anti-spam technology also is built in, which allows the administrator to create lists of domains and IP addresses from which he will not accept messages. In the next phase of the server, Mirapoint will seek an OEM of anti-spam technology for blocking messages based on content, as well.

Lochart says this solution isn't aimed at companies swapping out Exchange or Lotus, but to work with the solutions. Since the Mirapoint product is based on Internet standards, it can play alongside these boxes. In fact, if a company prefers to keep Exchange managing user mailboxes, it can use the Internet Message Routers for message handling to get better performance out of the environment.

Tim Sloan, director of Internet infrastructure research at the Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com), says the real benefit to using Mirapoint's solution can be measured in administration, or rather the lack thereof. The components for setting up a Unix or Linux box with sendmail might be free, but it still requires heavy administration by someone that has to understand both sendmail and Unix.

"Unlike a typical NT or Unix system, where first you need to have someone who knows the operating system and someone else that knows messaging to set that up, Mirapoint or any appliance manufacturer takes care of the environment, appliance, and application all in one shell in order to simplify and eliminate points of failure," Sloan observes.

Mirapoint knows where there is market and where it has the best chance of success. There is no client application for accessing e-mail from Mirapoint. Lochart says the company expects clients will continue to use Outlook or Notes.