Messaging with CommuniGate
by Emmett Dulaney
Are you unable to stomach the cost of purchasing and managing
latest version of Exchange Server? Do you want GroupWise
but don't want to use NetWare just for that? Do you want to
to a totally Linux shop, but are uncomfortable with the thought of
your life to sendmail? Stalker Software's CommuniGate Pro
server is the answer you're looking for.
CommuniGate Pro is an enterprise-capable messaging server that is
to use and exceptionally scalable. It has won numerous tradeshow
magazine awards for its innovation and ability. The product is
of running on several platforms, and I evaluated it on Linux and
it to excel. It can work with SMTP, IMAP, POP, Webmail, and all
protocols you would expect to find in an email server as well as
As of this writing, 4.1.8 is the latest version, but numbers
up rather quickly (see the company's
Web site for more information).
Just What is It?
CommuniGate Pro (shortened to CGP for the remainder of this
is the sole product currently offered by Stalker Software, which was
in 1993 to "create advanced communication solutions." There are
more than 26 million users on more than 4,000 installed CGP systems.
is available from 50 users on up.
While I hate to use the analogy, what many people will want to
about this product is that it is a viable
for Microsoft Exchange. Some may quickly sum it up as a cheaper
but to stop there is to do the product a disservice. Yes, CGP is
According to posted list prices, the cost for 50 users for CGP
be $499, while Exchange would cost $699 for the server plus $67
client (or around $4000). No one should make a decision based
on price, however, and it is important to move away from the
analogy and see just what CGP does offer. Some of its more
- Administration You can use either the graphical
(browser-based) or the command line. Thus, you get the best of
worlds. Remote administration allows you to configure modules
accounts, monitor the system, and tweak queues using any
browser through port 8010.
- Calendaring/Scheduling Support for features of Outlook
built in for clients to take advantage of.
- List Server Built in and included.
- Platform Support While Linux is the key, it is nice to
that 30 other platforms are supported as well. The current version
support for AIX, BeOS, FreeBSD, HP/UX, IRIX, MacOS, Microsoft
Systems (Win9x/XP/NT/200x), OpenBSD, OS/2, OS/400, Red Hat, Sun
SuSE, Tru64, and UnixWare.
- Scalability You can start out with a license for as few
50 users on a single server. As needs grow, you can increase the
and not affect the existing users at all. Dynamic clustering is
for large implementations that need load balancing and redundancy
up to 5 million active accounts.
- Security The usual email security is here, as well as
for APOP, CRAM-MDS, SASL, and SSL/TLS. According to the
it is 100% compatible with all SSL-enabled browsers and mail
External authentication such as through the use of a RADIUS
is also supported.
- Uptime By implementing clustering, Stalker states that
can be guaranteed 99.999% uptime (known as the "five nines"). If
calculations are right, that means 5 minutes downtime for the
Trying it Out
You can download a trial version (with http or ftp) from the
posted on the company's
Web site. From there, you can also download a number of
plug-ins for virus scanners spam catchers. A MAPI connector for
workstations can also be downloaded from here to allow the clients
use Outlook with CGP. As a side note, commercial virus scanners
also available for CGP and for sale through the usual Linux
After downloading, I followed the simple installation
and had no difficulty whatsoever bringing it up and running on Red
switching to the Web-based interface after the initial file
The trial version is a fully working version of the product that
adds a banner to all messages it sends; the banner only goes away
licensing the product. The ability to use a version of the product
never expires or times out is invaluable when evaluating a major
such as this, and vendors can do much worse things to their
than simply adding a banner. In other words, I could live with the
and you probably could too, during an evaluation period.
The four major configuration setting divisions are server and
settings, account and domain administration, directory
and service monitoring. For the most part, all settings are
named and easy to work with. Examples of the configuration screens
be found in the documentation.
One of the extrinsic features that impressed me the most was the
of documentation. On the Stalker
site, it is possible to find well-written, yet concise,
on how to administer every aspect of the product. I did not
anything vague or confusing, and I printed almost every page I
find to put the software through some of its paces.
Working with CommuniGate Pro
Once the product is installed, administration is quite simple.
Web-based interface simplifies tasks and makes them as
as possible. In my lab environment, I tried accessing the server
as many different clients/browsers/applications as I could conjure
and was successful on every endeavor.
I was particularly interested in how CGP would work with Outlook,
of the clients that I know of have standardized upon that
client. Much to my surprise,
the integration was virtually seamless. I expected some
degradataion (to be excused with
"just something you have to live with"), but was unable to
uncover any. Within Outlook,
it was possible to not only get mail, but to schedule
meetings and use all the other
features of the client as well.
I also tried a couple different versions of the Eudora client and
no problems with either. The same can be said for the Webmail
The anti-spam features allow you to block messages from hosts
based on domains, accounts, or IP addresses
that appear in the RBL (Realtime Blackhole Lists). CGP does not use file
locking, and that allows response
times to be significantly less than systems that implement such.
I was acutely impressed with the security; it allows you to change
from the root user. You can change the associated UID from 0 to 1,
use the UID of the cgatepro user or the nobody user. The effects of
this include prohibiting ports numbered less than 1024 from being
passwords from the OS can't be used, and remote applications are
The change in privileges from root to this more secure environment
be done on a permanent basis, or in a "reversible" mode that you can
if the changes turn out to be too restrictive for your environment.
my eight-year-old would say sweet.
The first stop for technical support should be the Web site, where
great deal of documentation is available. If you cannot find the
to your question there, there is also support available through
and a mailing list that is very active. Technical support is also
over the phone. Two years of software upgrades are included with the
To test the responsiveness of support, I sent a bogus message to
the email address
asking about a known multithreading issue involving Red Hat 9.
Within hours, the response
came back. Instead of just dismissing the question ("doesn't
work"), the response suggested two
alternative solutions: downgrade to Red Hat 8, or use the
statically linked version of CGP. I have
to give them very high marks for both expediency and efficacy.
In researching this article, I was quite surprised by some of the
that I uncovered. I wanted to make certain that the company behind
product had a history and would be around for a while the
thing any administrator wants to do is implement an enterprise-wide
that becomes orphanware. What I found put my doubts to rest and
Among the items uncovered:
I found CommuniGate Pro to meet, if not greatly exceed, every
expectation that I had. This is a wonderful messaging server
of serious consideration. I strongly encourage you to evaluate it
implementation in your environment. You won't be sorry.
Product: CommuniGate Pro
Address: Stalker Software, Inc.
655 Redwood Highway, Suite 275
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Company Home Page: http://www.stalker.com
Product Home Page: http://www.stalker.com/CommuniGatePro/
Case Studies: http://www.stalker.com/cust/cases.html
Pricing varies based upon whether the product is being purchased
a server or cluster and the number of accounts. A single server
50 accounts runs $499, while 1,000 accounts costs $1,999. A
price list can be found here.
Emmett Dulaney, LPI, Linux+, etc. is the author of several
on Linux, Unix, and certification. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.