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Review: Power Messaging with CommuniGate Pro
November 2003

by Emmett Dulaney

Are you unable to stomach the cost of purchasing and managing Microsoft's latest version of Exchange Server? Do you want GroupWise functionality, but don't want to use NetWare just for that? Do you want to convert to a totally Linux shop, but are uncomfortable with the thought of devoting your life to sendmail? Stalker Software's CommuniGate Pro messaging server is the answer you're looking for.

CommuniGate Pro is an enterprise-capable messaging server that is simple to use and exceptionally scalable. It has won numerous tradeshow and magazine awards for its innovation and ability. The product is capable of running on several platforms, and I evaluated it on Linux and found it to excel. It can work with SMTP, IMAP, POP, Webmail, and all the protocols you would expect to find in an email server as well as LDAP. As of this writing, 4.1.8 is the latest version, but numbers ratchet 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 article) is the sole product currently offered by Stalker Software, which was founded in 1993 to "create advanced communication solutions." There are currently more than 26 million users on more than 4,000 installed CGP systems. Licensing is available from 50 users on up.

While I hate to use the analogy, what many people will want to hear about this product is that it is a viable replacement/substitute/alternative for Microsoft Exchange. Some may quickly sum it up as a cheaper alternative, but to stop there is to do the product a disservice. Yes, CGP is cheaper. According to posted list prices, the cost for 50 users for CGP would be $499, while Exchange would cost $699 for the server plus $67 per client (or around $4000). No one should make a decision based solely on price, however, and it is important to move away from the Exchange analogy and see just what CGP does offer. Some of its more important features are:

  • Administration — You can use either the graphical interface (browser-based) or the command line. Thus, you get the best of both worlds. Remote administration allows you to configure modules and accounts, monitor the system, and tweak queues using any Internet browser through port 8010.
  • Calendaring/Scheduling — Support for features of Outlook are 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 know that 30 other platforms are supported as well. The current version includes support for AIX, BeOS, FreeBSD, HP/UX, IRIX, MacOS, Microsoft Operating Systems (Win9x/XP/NT/200x), OpenBSD, OS/2, OS/400, Red Hat, Sun Solaris, SuSE, Tru64, and UnixWare.
  • Scalability — You can start out with a license for as few as 50 users on a single server. As needs grow, you can increase the license and not affect the existing users at all. Dynamic clustering is supported for large implementations that need load balancing and redundancy for up to 5 million active accounts.
  • Security — The usual email security is here, as well as support for APOP, CRAM-MDS, SASL, and SSL/TLS. According to the documentation, it is 100% compatible with all SSL-enabled browsers and mail clients. External authentication — such as through the use of a RADIUS server — is also supported.
  • Uptime — By implementing clustering, Stalker states that customers can be guaranteed 99.999% uptime (known as the "five nines"). If my calculations are right, that means 5 minutes downtime for the entire year.

Trying it Out

You can download a trial version (with http or ftp) from the links posted on the company's Web site. From there, you can also download a number of third-party plug-ins for virus scanners spam catchers. A MAPI connector for Microsoft workstations can also be downloaded from here to allow the clients to use Outlook with CGP. As a side note, commercial virus scanners are also available for CGP and for sale through the usual Linux outlets.

After downloading, I followed the simple installation instructions and had no difficulty whatsoever bringing it up and running on Red Hat — switching to the Web-based interface after the initial file installation. The trial version is a fully working version of the product that annoyingly adds a banner to all messages it sends; the banner only goes away upon licensing the product. The ability to use a version of the product that never expires or times out is invaluable when evaluating a major installation such as this, and vendors can do much worse things to their trialware than simply adding a banner. In other words, I could live with the banner, and you probably could too, during an evaluation period.

The four major configuration setting divisions are server and module settings, account and domain administration, directory administration, and service monitoring. For the most part, all settings are intuitively named and easy to work with. Examples of the configuration screens can be found in the documentation.

One of the extrinsic features that impressed me the most was the abundance of documentation. On the Stalker Web site, it is possible to find well-written, yet concise, details on how to administer every aspect of the product. I did not encounter anything vague or confusing, and I printed almost every page I could find to put the software through some of its paces.

Working with CommuniGate Pro

Once the product is installed, administration is quite simple. The Web-based interface simplifies tasks and makes them as admin-friendly as possible. In my lab environment, I tried accessing the server with as many different clients/browsers/applications as I could conjure up and was successful on every endeavor.

I was particularly interested in how CGP would work with Outlook, since most 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 encountered no problems with either. The same can be said for the Webmail client.

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 CGP from the root user. You can change the associated UID from 0 to 1, or use the UID of the cgatepro user or the nobody user. The effects of doing this include prohibiting ports numbered less than 1024 from being opened, passwords from the OS can't be used, and remote applications are restricted. The change in privileges from root to this more secure environment can be done on a permanent basis, or in a "reversible" mode that you can undo if the changes turn out to be too restrictive for your environment. As my eight-year-old would say — sweet.

Tech Support

The first stop for technical support should be the Web site, where a great deal of documentation is available. If you cannot find the answer to your question there, there is also support available through email and a mailing list that is very active. Technical support is also available over the phone. Two years of software upgrades are included with the purchase price.

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.

Other Information

In researching this article, I was quite surprised by some of the facts that I uncovered. I wanted to make certain that the company behind the product had a history and would be around for a while — the last thing any administrator wants to do is implement an enterprise-wide product that becomes orphanware. What I found put my doubts to rest and amazed me.

Among the items uncovered:


I found CommuniGate Pro to meet, if not greatly exceed, every single expectation that I had. This is a wonderful messaging server worthy of serious consideration. I strongly encourage you to evaluate it for implementation in your environment. You won't be sorry.

Contact information
Product: CommuniGate Pro
Address: Stalker Software, Inc.
655 Redwood Highway, Suite 275
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Phone: 1.800.262.4722

Information: info@stalker.com
Sales: sales@stalker.com
Support: support@stalker.com

Web links
Company Home Page: http://www.stalker.com
Product Home Page: http://www.stalker.com/CommuniGatePro/
Features: http://www.stalker.com/CommuniGatePro/Features.html
Case Studies: http://www.stalker.com/cust/cases.html

Pricing varies based upon whether the product is being purchased for a server or cluster and the number of accounts. A single server with 50 accounts runs $499, while 1,000 accounts costs $1,999. A complete price list can be found here.

Emmett Dulaney, LPI, Linux+, etc. is the author of several books on Linux, Unix, and certification. He can be reached at edulaney@iquest.net.

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