On the Server Side: HP OpenMail Call For Linux

HP has ported OpenMail, its enterprise electronic mail product, to Linux. The port is part of HP’s ongoing commitment to supporting the open source operating system. A full function version of OpenMail supporting a limited number of users is bundled with Professional of Red Hat Linux version 6.1.

HP has often touted OpenMail as an alternative to Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes. By providing a UNIX-based e-mail solution (HP-UX, AIX and Solaris) they’ve tried to position it as a scalable and reliable alternative to Windows NT-based products which are taking the messaging market by storm. Exchange in particular has made major inroads with implementations of tens of thousands of seats being announced monthly by Microsoft and partners, such as Compaq.

HP OpenMail is a UNIX based e-mail and collaboration product. Until the Linux release, it was available for HP-UX, AIX and Solaris. OpenMail works with many clients, including Microsoft Outlook and Lotus cc:Mail. It supports many standard messaging protocols, such as SMTP, IMAP3, POP3 and LDAP.


Nevertheless, using OpenMail as a solution has some compelling advantages. Installing it on an HP-UX platform allows it to scale to huge sizes. In it’s marketing literature, HP has claimed "we have demonstrated OpenMail servers supporting a million users." While I doubt these are production servers, such a demonstration would go a long way towards convincing anyone of OpenMail’s scalability.

Coupled with the high-availability features of HP’s ServiceGuard products, OpenMail can easily be used for the most critical messaging applications in large enterprises. But what about Linux?

Well, NT is making inroads in smaller organizations and for departmental applications in large enterprises. Traditional UNIX systems, such as HP-UX, have a hard time competing with the lower licensing costs and "generic" hardware requirements of NT. On the other hand, Linux, with its Open Source licensing and ability to run on a variety of hardware, is positioned to go head-to-head with NT in smaller installations.


Given these facts, HP ported OpenMail to capture the smaller organization and provide an upgrade path to HP-UX – if the installations grow. Given HP’s relationship with Red Hat, which includes shipping HP NetServers with Red Hat Linux preinstalled, making OpenMail part of the packaging is a solid strategy.

The latest version of Red Hat Linux is 6.1. There are three bundles of the software. The "Standard" package includes the base operating system and 90 day Web-based support (list price $29.95). The "Deluxe" package includes the base OS, a set of add-on software packages called Power Tools and 30 day telephone installation support (list price: $79.95).

The "Professional" package includes the deluxe plus the 128-bit encryption version of the Apache server and 30 day Apache configuration support. Also included is the server bonus pack, three CDs filled with all sorts of goodies, including HP OpenMail for Linux, version 6.0.

Installation of Red Hat 6.1 is pretty straightforward. If you’ve used an older version of Red Hat, you’ll be surprised by the new graphical installation program. Taking a page from the Caldera OpenLinux distribution, the new installation supports the use of a mouse to select such basics as language and keyboard type. Oddly enough, you still have to select a mouse type, even though it seems to be detected just fine.


Once past the basics, you can select a new install or upgrade and other various packages to install. You can select various pre-configured sets of packages. For instance, selecting the server set adds things, such as a domain name server. You can also select the type of X-windows interface such as the venerable (and reliable) KDE or the newest GNU project, Gnome.

Gnome, selected by default, seems to be designed to offer a Microsoft Windows type experience out of the box. Basic icons appear on the desktop such as a shortcut to your home directory and browser links to various Linux sites. After package selection, you can partition your drive with the graphical Disk Druid, an advancement over the older Linux partitioning programs, such as fdisk. The new install also allows you to add non-privileged users during the install. This will hopefully help deter many Linux devotees from using root as their only login name and causing security minded folks to cringe.

Another nice feature of the install is to, by default, enable MD5 and shadow passwords. MD5 passwords allows extra long passwords up to 255 characters. The shadow password system stores the passwords in the /etc/shadow file instead of the /etc/password file. The shadow file is accessible only by root and helps with the most basic hacker attack, a brute force attack on the password file.


After configuring the video card and monitor type, the installation proceeds with copying files. My installation, with basic workstation services and a Web server installed, required 369MB. A swap file of 50MB still kept the disk requirements very low. In a world where NT video drivers require 15MB and word processors require 100MB, it’s nice to know you can still build a server on a 500MB disk (even if you can’t buy one).

Linux still has a way to go on ease of use relative to NT. Basics such as monitor detection still need to be done manually. The graphical installation program didn’t allow the use of a keyboard to select the next and back buttons. These are quibbles for the digiterati, but for part-time system administrators, Linux is daunting.

Attempts at plug-and-play are evident. Kudzu was on my system, which recognized my Microsoft mouse and offered to replace the default generic mouse with the appropriate software. But, until Linux plug-and-play is in full swing, Windows-based competitors have nothing to fear on the ease of use front.

Next month, installing and configuring HP OpenMail!