Storage Soup

Apr 9 2008   5:14PM GMT

EMC certifies Exchange competitor

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

It’s fairly routine for EMC to certify a multitude of different products as interoperable with its own, based on customer requests. But a recent press release about official compatibility between EMC and a Linux-based mail server positioned as an alternative to Microsoft Exchange made me pay more attention than I usually do to such proclamations.

One thing especially sticks out from this arrangement: several EMC customers, with plenty of Microsoft integration available from EMC’s product line, have instead chosen to go with this alternative mail server. From a startup called PostPath, no less.

Moreover, Barry Ader, EMC’s senior director of product marketing, acknowledged that there are several customers who have asked for the integration. “There are a handful I’m aware of, but there may be more,” was as specific as he would get, but he added, “They tend to be important customers to drive this kind of application work for us.”

EMC’s “important” customers tend to be large. In my book, if more than one important EMC customer is catching on to a product, it might be worth paying attention to.

In and of itself, PostPath’s application is a little bit outside our realm in storage, but it’s the way that the mail server handles storage that chiefly sets it apart from Exchange. According to CEO Duncan Greatwood, PostPath uses a file system (NFS or XFS depending on how servers are attached to storage) rather than the JET database, which allows for more efficient indexing schemes and a more organized layout of data on disk The JET database, which was never designed for the kinds of workloads enterprise Exchange servers are seeing today, has a deadly sequential-reads-with-random-writes issue slowing its storage I/O. PostPath also does a single write when a message is received, as opposed to Exchange, which writes blocks to multiple areas of storage based on different database fields with each message.

What all of this means is that attached to the right storage (ahem), PostPath allows email admins to offer virtually “bottomless” mailboxes to users.

Still, Greatwood acknowledges that he has an uphill battle on his hands. “Most of the Linux-based mail server alternatives to Exchange have not gone very far,” he said. But he maintains a key difference with PostPath is that the product speaks the same language as familiar Microsoft peripherals such as Outlook and Active Directory, so end users don’t have to stop using the tools they’re comfortable with. He also says that with all of Microsoft’s recent antritrust woes, especially in Europe, they’re not keen on crushing upstart competitors lately.

I know that storage managers (to say nothing if admins who have managed Exchange) have been looking for a better mousetrap for quite some time. And cozying up to EMC customers can’t be hurting PostPath’s cause.

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