SmarterMail and Microsoft Exchange An Administrative Comparison
Who Should Use This Document
This document provides a comparison of SmarterTools’ SmarterMail Enterprise mail
server software and Microsoft’s Exchange Enterprise mail server. It is designed
specifically for server and System Administrators and provides information on the
hardware, software and licensing requirements of both products, with an overall
cost breakdown in each category.
It is equally important to review the end user experience for both products as well.
Therefore, please review the white paper SmarterMail
and Microsoft Exchange: An End User Comparison for a more complete
feature-by-feature comparison of both products from the end user’s point of view.
For the purpose of the comparison in this document the following criteria were used:
- Based on a small to medium business (SMB) utilizing multiple domains, potentially
for multiple brands.
- Up to 250 mailboxes populating the mail server. This is simply a user limit for
the sake of comparison and in no way infers a maximum user limitation, either within
Exchange or SmarterMail.
- Accommodations for organizations wanting both webmail access as well as organizations
wanting a mixture of webmail and standard desktop email clients.
- Mobility using multiple mobile devices (e.g., Apple iPads and phones, Android
tablets and phones).
- Complete synchronization across a variety of mobile and desktop environments.
At first glance, comparing a mail solution against the historical significance of
Microsoft’s Exchange Server may seem like a rather daunting task. After all, a study
in 2008 estimated that a full 65% of workers worldwide were using Microsoft’s email
server. However, at that time there was a lack of competitive products that offered
comparable functionality. That is no longer the case, and once you start peeling
layer upon layer of complexity away from the Exchange infrastructure, vulnerabilities
begin to appear. This is especially true when you look at Exchange from an administrative
With that in mind, there are several areas where SmarterMail Enterprise far surpasses
Exchange Server -- areas that are of vital importance to small businesses
and server administrators alike:
- Licensing -- All of the software required comes with a cost& -- and that can be
high on the list of priorities when planning out a new system or even a migration/change
of an existing system.
- SmarterMail has a much smaller footprint and lower cost of entry and, as you’ll
see, a lower long-term cost as well.
- Requirements and planning -- There are hardware and software considerations when
planning to build out an email and messaging platform. Exchange is well known for
its complexity and difficult planning and installation requirements.
- SmarterMail offers a simpler set of requirements and nothing more than basic server
administration and implementation skills are necessary.
- Management and Maintenance -- Once the mail server is installed, someone needs to
be able to monitor the day-to-day activity and health of the server, users need
to be added or removed, settings need adjusted, and more. Being able to perform
these tasks quickly, easily and from anywhere is extremely important.
- SmarterMail provides a simple and understandable set of management and maintenance
tools built into an “access anywhere, at any time” web-based interface.
- Backups/Restores -- Storage and recovery capabilities of online communications is
hugely important. What options are there and what are the costs?
- SmarterMail can be backed up and restored using standard backup and recovery technology.
No further investment in specialized hardware or software is needed.
Comparison of Licensing
From a licensing perspective, a clear and concise licensing structure makes it much
easier to plan out both an initial installation as well as any migration. Taking
this into account, is it better to require an all-in-one licensing model or one
that requires virtually each individual piece to have its own licensing requirement?
First, let’s look at simple server licensing costs. This is licensing solely for
the mail server software that is installed. Remember, for the purposes of this comparison
we are going to look at a business that requires up to 250 mailboxes.
- Exchange -- Enterprise is $741.00 for the licesne alone. However, Exchange also requires Client Access Licenses (CALs) so individuals can connect to it. For 250 users, that's another $23,037.50.
- SmarterMail -- Enterprise licensing for 250 mailboxes is $599.00.
Client Access Licensing
A CAL is simply what the name implies: it’s a license required for a client -- whether
that is a user or a device -- to access a server.
- Exchange -- Requires user or device CALs, depending on how or what is connecting
to the Exchange server.
- A user CAL is generally defined as a license for the person connecting, regardless
of whether they connect via Microsoft Outlook, webmail or mobile device.
- A device CAL is defined as a license for each device that is connecting (e.g., desktop,
mobile device, etc.).
- SmarterMail -- Does NOT require individual licensing for each person or device that
accesses a mailbox. In fact, you can buy a license that will accommodate the number
of mailboxes you need -- plus give you some room for growth. Whether you need
250 mailboxes, 500 mailboxes, 1,000 mailboxes or even an unlimited number, there
is a licensing model to fit your need (SmarterTools even offers a fully-functional
Enterprise license for 10 mailboxes as a free trial).
Employee expenses are somewhat subjective. With Exchange you have a very complex
infrastructure, requiring multiple server roles, high-end hardware and software,
and extensive project planning and management. On the other hand, SmarterMail offers
a much simpler installation requirement and footprint. On these merits alone, the
employee expense incurred with just the installation of Exchange -- not to mention
the day-to-day management and maintenance of it -- logically dictates that a
very experienced and well-trained individual or group is required. This, in turn,
equates to a higher cost.
With SmarterMail, an existing employee with a good grasp of server technologies
and management skills is all that is required. That’s how SmarterMail was built:
with ease of use and ease of management in mind.
Comparison of Requirements and Planning
Rather than looking at the overall feature set of both products, let’s take a close
look at the requirements of both Exchange and SmarterMail.
- Exchange-- Generally requires separate servers for each server role in the Exchange
setup. This is because Exchange requires several
server roles, managing various parts of the platform. This could mean the need for
- SmarterMail -- Has a very acceptable minimum set of hardware requirements. As there are no server roles
to configure, a single server may be all that is required. In fact, SmarterMail
can run on an existing server in a dual-use role. That is, SmarterMail can run on
a Web server or file server and doesn’t require its own hardware to run.
- Exchange -- There is, of course, mail server licensing (either Standard or Enterprise)
to consider. Additionally, Exchange requires Client Access Licenses (CALs) for each
mailbox/user and in order to get security and antivirus, Enterprise CALs are required
- at a substantially higher cost. And all needs to run within an Active Directory
tree because Exchange requires the use of Microsoft's Active Directory for user management.
- SmarterMail -- A simple purchase of the mail server is all that is required. Antivirus
and antispam are included with SmarterMail Enterprise, but there are options to
increase coverage with Message Sniffer and Cyren. In addition, SmarterMail does NOT require any additional roles or the user of Active Directory, though it CAN integrate with Active Directory if needed.
Planning the Architecture
- Exchange -- As mentioned, Exchange has multiple different server roles (edge
transport, hub transport, mailbox, client, etc.) running within an Active Directory
tree. As noted earlier, each role may require separate servers. That means extensive
planning is required, from Active Directory on up to actual Exchange server installation.
- SmarterMail -- Considering hardware and software requirements, one server can act
as the mail server and also run any necessary antispam and antivirus add-ons. Furthermore,
SmarterMail also does not require Active Directory, although it can integrate into
an Active Directory tree so single-authentication can be used throughout an existing
infrastructure. It should be noted, however, that the lack of an Active Directory
requirement may reduce the time needed to plan out an implementation and installation
Management and Maintenance
With any software implementation, system and server administrators are challenged
with keeping tabs on the mail server(s) hardware and software. Furthermore, there
are day-to-day tasks, things like user management, domain management, management
of blacklists and content filters, and much more.
Management and Maintenance
- Exchange -- As Exchange runs on a server OS, the majority of management and
maintenance of the server has to be performed on the server. That means administrators
generally have to remote or console into the server. In addition, management occurs
via an Exchange tool that plugs into the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). If
an administrator is offsite, these connections must occur through secured VPN. All
of this can decrease the connection speed and therefore increase the time it takes
to complete even routine maintenance tasks. Besides, it’s a somewhat convoluted
and complex setup.
- SmarterMail -- SmarterMail offers a powerful and extremely accessible web-based administrative
front end. With the ability to set up different roles (e.g., System Administrators
vs. Domain Administrators), plus the ability to set up multiple, different System
Administrator accounts, no one has to share logins, resulting in better tracking
and change management. SmarterMail administration is fast, is easy, and it can be
accomplished on-site or remotely using any standard browser. SSL connections are
available, and you can even limit access to the admin area by specific IP, further
enhancing security. And unlike the Exchange plug-in for the MMC, SmarterMail’s administrators
have access to numerous reports, from inbound/outbound spam to server health, disk
space usage to abuse detection.
- Exchange -- When looking at everything that goes into planning an Exchange installation,
there’s no doubt the people planning and carrying out the installation are professionals.
This, in turn, means they significantly factor into the costs associated with that
installation. In addition, there are possibly increased employee costs for the level
of individual necessary to manage and maintain an Exchange infrastructure. Most
system and server administrators for Exchange have years of experience and untold
hours of training and product-specific education under their belts. Therefore, they
won’t come cheap.
- SmarterMail -- SmarterMail runs in a very simple, very easy to manage and maintain
environment that is not unlike any base server installation. Therefore, a company
can get by with existing staff and existing system and server administrators. The
learning curve is much easier to manage with SmarterMail as standard server administration
knowledge is about all that is required.
Backups and Restores
Your data is only as good as its most recent available backup. And even then, a
backup isn’t of any use unless it is recoverable and restorable. However, backups
and restores of data do not have to be complex and expensive initiatives.
- Exchange -- Exchange can be backed up with most existing backup technologies.
However, its one big exemption is that Exchange requires a separate and specialized
backup agent in order to be able to back up mail files. Anyone who has priced these
agents out knows this can be a substantial expense.
- SmarterMail -- SmarterMail can be backed up with any existing backup technology and
does NOT require the use of a separate, specialized agent. This reduces the costs
of backup and restoration and also is one less thing for administrators to manage
and maintain on the mail server. In addition, SmarterMail was built with ease of administration and management for the hosting industry. That means it was built to reduce the burden on backup systems.
When you look at all of the differences between Exchange and SmarterMail a
few things really stand out:
- The planning necessary for an implementation of Exchange is far more detailed
and involved than what is necessary for an installation of SmarterMail. With Exchange,
you don’t simply set up a Web server and a database. Things like Active Directory
trees need to be considered, plus the necessity of various server roles and how to configure
each role. Then there is figuring out what can you combine into a single server, planning how
to configure the server connections and interactions, etc. Complexity is Exchange’s
strong point; simplicity and ease-of-use are SmarterMail’s.
- Licensing is generally a sore spot with most software implementations. However,
SmarterTmail gives System Admininstrators a high-level of flexibility and power, but with substantially less cost than Excahnge. Looking at the comparison tables alone demonstrates
a 5X to 11X savings with SmarterMail over Exchange.
- Requirements, both from a hardware and software standpoint, again point to SmarterMail
being a much wiser investment than Exchange. Minimal server OS concerns, no Active
Directory (unless you need it), and much more flexible hardware options all place
SmarterMail above Exchange.
- When looking at maintenance and management, plus the learning curve required, SmarterMail
again gets the nod. Without the need for lengthy training or education, and simple
server administration experience all that is required, SmarterMail is easily administrated
by existing employees, again saving time and money.
Trust and Availability
There’s no doubt Microsoft has the name. They’ve been around a long time and have
a long history of building quality software and being on the leading edge of technology,
especially when it comes to providing a robust and feature-rich email solution.
However, becoming one of the largest, if not THE largest, software and services
company doesn’t come without some sacrifice. These sacrifices tend towards offering
reliable, accessible access to support and customer service, at least affordable
access to these critical needs.
That’s where SmarterTools comes in.
Over the last eight years SmarterTools has grown to over 15 million users but still
sees each user as important. They have grown through investment in products and
development versus in advertising and marketing, building SmarterMail into one of
the most popular and respected mail servers on the market. They realize how safe,
secure and reliable communication is vital to each and every user of their product.
That’s why SmarterTools offers services that cater directly to their customer base:
- Access to LIVE tech support, 24/7/365
- Upgrade and installation services
- A popular, free public community to interact with support and fellow users
- Responsiveness to customers that often leads to product enhancements
While it may be true SmarterTools doesn’t have the name recognition as Microsoft,
what is certainly not up for debate is SmarterTools’ commitment to their customers,
to their products, and to their desire to create the most reliable and secure mail
server solution on the market.
Taking all of this into consideration, it may not be a question of “why move to
SmarterMail from Exchange,” or “why choose SmarterMail over Exchange,” but more
a question of a “why not?”
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