Microsoft Exchange versus Sendmail

Views of Other MIS Professionals

This section is the result of my interest in a UseNet news thread where the topic was "Sendmail versus Microsoft Exchange Server." Parallel to the main topic of the article, Exchange is frequently the choice of mail server software in predominately NT environments. Sendmail is standard issue with most UNIX operating systems. It has a reputation for being difficult to configure, but for the generic installations this is debatable. Exchange, however, has other issues associated with it. Although Exchange has some features not found in generic MTA's like sendmail, its lack of robustness and comparatively poor performance with high volumes of e-mail tarnish its otherwise flashy image.

The management of one large company -- comprised of "well over 20,000 IT users" -- decided to migrate to Microsoft Exchange Server. This decision has resulted in anything but a success story. The "migration to Exchange is over half finished" but $3 million have been spent to get to this point. To find out more about this "major problem with 12,000 users and hundreds of servers," see the AberdeenGroup's Case Study: Horns of a Dilemma.

Microsoft Exchange versus Sendmail: Views of Other MIS Professionals

An anonymous system administrator writes:

Exchange also has the "advantage" of requiring you to pay Microsoft for every connection to the server (per-seat charge). You can put together a system using, say a Sun Ultra 1 ($7K ballpark) and the Solaris Internet Mail Server (comes bundled with Solaris 2.6) and serve POP and IMAP to a couple of thousand people. I have yet to have anyone who wasn't a complete marketing droid tell me you can do that for twice the price with NT servers and Exchange.

Brad Van Orden, System/Network Consultant, writes:

. . . As I stated before, even putting aside the up-front costs, Exchange will cost you much more to operate. You have to have someone actively manage the application. If you are using UNIX mail, as long as your is set up correctly, the only thing you normally have to do to administer mail is add and remove aliases. This is a huge difference in on-going costs.

Tom Moore of Dayton, Ohio writes:

The trend seems to be to have the "dummies" be the administrators. I just read an article about web servers which stated that even though Apache was the predominant server in the Internet today, it was "probably not suitable" for corporate use partly because it did not have a GUI for administration and therefore needed an experienced administrator to configure it. The inference seems to be that having a GUI means that anyone can simply point and click and set it up right.

The same "logic" would probably be applied to sendmail vs MS Exchange. Since sendmail has a text configuration file, it needs an experienced administrator. Exchange has a GUI so it does not. Having worked with both, I do not believe this. Both set up quite easily in their default configuration. Both require administrative experience to do more sophisticated things. When you get to really complicated things like SPAM filtering, you cannot get there with Exchange.

One reader felt that my comparison of MS Exchange to MTAs is unfair:

"Comparing Exchange, and other arbitrary MTA's is at best misrepresentation. Exchange is not, and has never been marketed as an MTA; rather, it is a corporate messaging server."
MS Exchange does have some functionality not found in generic MTAs, however, the point of this article is, what messaging systems come bundled with each operating system. The answer is: for UNIX, Sendmail; for Windows NT Server 4.0, nothing; however, if you want a Microsoft solution, you're pretty much stuck with Exchange Server.

Microsoft Exchange Server is not the only messaging server to offer such functionality. Let's look at the choices of IMAP4 servers available to corporate customers and compare:

Lotus Domino 4.6a Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0
Enterprise Edition
Netscape Suitespot Server 3.5
Platforms Supported: AIX, HP-UX, Netware, OS/2, OS/400, Solaris, S/390, Windows NT, Windows 95 Windows NT Server AIX, Digital UNIX, HP-UX, IRIX, Solaris, Windows NT
Cost of server and 50 client licenses $4,240 $4,859 $4,100

Try this link for a more detailed price comparison.

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