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The battle for e-mail server supremacy.

Wayne Epperson correspondent | HostingTech | wepperson@hostingtech.com

The world's two largest software companies, which for years have been slugging it out in the news media and marketing channels, have climbed back into the ring for their latest spat. In one corner is the No. 1 ranked heavyweight, Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) of Redmond, Washington, and in the opposite corner, second-place challenger Oracle (www.oracle.com) of Redwood Shores, California. The opponents have been briefed; and Marquess of Queensberry rules apply. At stake in this bout are the hearts and minds of the corporate e-mail crowd. The challenger has launched an aggressive campaign to try to win over Microsoft customers.

Tale of the tape
Microsoft flashes its trademark muscle: Exchange Server. In the Microsoft corner, Mark Adcock, Exchange product manager of Microsoft.NET Enterprise Servers, is confident. Exchange leads the market for an installed base, with 43 percent market share, according to the recently released Radicati Group's Messaging Market Report 2001-2005 (www.radicati.com). Exchange has taken the lead from Lotus and now has more than 100 million licenses sold.

The challenger, Oracle, shows off its power: the Oracle9i Application Server Unified Messaging system that runs its message store on the Unix-based Oracle9i Database. Scott Clawson, director of product marketing, Oracle9i Application Server, insists his entry is more reliable and more secure than the opponent.

Round 1: Who's in your corner?
The opponents let loose a barrage to show their strengths. Enterprise companies buy Exchange because they need an easy-to-manage messaging and collaboration platform that delivers e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, conferencing, and services for custom collaborative solutions, Adcock says.

Server consolidation and lower total cost of ownership are cited as reasons why Exchange 2000 is purchased. Adcock says Compaq deployed Exchange 2000 and eliminated 73 servers, reducing annual operating costs by $1.3 million.

Oracle's Clawson says, "particularly during tough economic times, the choice of any e-mail system is, first and foremost, a business decision more than a technology decision ... The bottom line is cost and reliability."

Clawson presents the case for Oracle9iAS Unified Messaging: "We are now working with one customer, Landis ICT Group, based in the Netherlands, on a migration from 44 Exchange servers to a single Oracle9i-based e-mail instance [one Oracle9iAS and one Oracle9i Database]. They estimate savings of $900,000 initially - slashing hardware costs for the most part - and $1.1 million annually in reduced administration cost."

Round 2: Put up or shut up
An Exchange deployment would require commodity hardware, Microsoft software, and an administrator with limited knowledge, says Oracle's Clawson. "As the system grows larger and more mission-critical, the cost for the Exchange system escalates."

Clawson jabs Exchange with the claim that it supports 250-500 concurrent users in the real world. Oracle's own internal e-mail systems support more than 50,000 users worldwide, 10,000 concurrent users, on a single, clustered system (two servers working and managed together), says Clawson, who did not give the basic cost of an Oracle solution.

Adcock counters that a 500-user Exchange deployment would carry a software cost of $699 for the Exchange Server, plus $67 per Client Access License per user. At that price, the corporate client would get Outlook Web Access, Instant Messaging, Unified Messaging platform, Outlook 2002, and earlier versions.

Exchange 2000 also has support for storage groups and multiple databases, a scalability feature that has allowed Microsoft to more than triple the number of mailboxes on its own servers to nearly 4,000 per server, while doubling the mailbox size, Adcock says. Not only that, clustering can be accomplished with the Windows 2000 Advanced Server (2 nodes) or Windows 2000 Datacenter Server (4 nodes), he says.

At the end of round 2, Microsoft hands out free coffee mugs at ringside. They bear the Microsoft logo and this inscription:

Instructions for usage:
1) Place mug prominently on desk.
2) When Oracle salesman pitches $5 million of overpriced software, glance down at mug.
3) Oracle salesman spots mug, offers 20 percent discount.
4) Skip steps 2-3, and call Microsoft instead. Save millions and get the industry's highest performance enterprise solution - with no bitter aftertaste!

Round 3: Versatile attack
Oracle's Clawson is coming out swinging: The e-mail and unified messaging capabilities are both part of the standard edition of Oracle9i Application Server. Once a customer purchases e-mail, the unified messaging software is "free" (bundled as part of the basic e-mail).

Adcock bobs and weaves: Exchange is a collaboration platform out-of-the-box. In addition, more than 50 companies have developed unified enterprise messaging systems specifically for Exchange 2000 that give knowledgeable people the ability to access e-mail, voice mail, fax, and page messages through a wide variety of devices, including cell phones, handheld devices, and an entirely new generation of portable machines.

Round 3 ends, and Oracle distributes leaflets at ringside of a Q&A taken from its website:

Q. What is the relationship between Oracle9iAS e-mail and Unified Messaging?

A. Oracle has built a set of unified messaging capabilities that allows companies to integrate their voice, fax, and e-mail messages into one message store and provide multiple ways to access these messages, including via a browser. These capabilities are built on top of the Oracle9iAS e-mail product. You can think of Oracle9iAS e-mail as the underlying messaging engine and the unified messaging capabilities as an application layer on top of the engine.

The leaflet also states that Oracle has designed its e-mail product for three markets: service providers, including both telephone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs); e-mail response management applications; and large enterprises. Individuals can use any standard messaging client of their choice, including Microsoft Outlook, to access their data.

Round 4: Exposing any weakness
From Oracle's corner, which had launched a marketing campaign in November claiming its software is unbreakable, comes the chant: "Can't break in; can't break in."

"The reliability of Oracle9iAS Unified Messaging is far superior to Microsoft Exchange," Clawson says. "If a new, un-fingerprinted virus makes its way into the message store, Oracle's technology is more equipped to handle it. Basically, since e-mail viruses are almost universally damaging to clients, the key is eradicating that virus as quickly and thoroughly as possible before the virus-laden e-mail is delivered to the Windows clients."

In an Exchange solution, Clawson says, administrators around the world must coordinate eradication from hundreds of servers. With Oracle9iAS Unified Messaging, the administrator simply runs one search to delete a dangerous e-mail.

Microsoft says security is a universal issue affecting all vendors.

"All software contains flaws, and some of these flaws result in security vulnerabilities," Adcock says. "Microsoft is committed to minimizing the number of flaws that ship with our products as well as finding and fixing them after the release. The recent Oracle campaign appears to be based on claims of reliability rather than empirical evidence that their code is, in fact, flawless."

Leading anti-virus manufacturers deliver solutions for Exchange capable of scanning and filtering all inbound mail, outbound mail, and mail bound for Exchange Servers before it is committed to the Exchange store.

"Contrary to Oracle's claim, the number of databases on a server does not impact the effectiveness of our third-party solutions," Adcock says.

On the client side, newer Outlook versions have attachment blocking capabilities and controls over unauthorized mailings from personal address books, among other security features, Adcock adds. "The combination of scanning at the gateway, Exchange Server, and in Outlook provides a strong anti-virus solution," Adcock says.

Round 5: Parting shots
"You love your Microsoft e-mail, but you're worried about security and reliability. Simply replace your Exchange servers - up to 100 of them - with one Oracle9i Database, and make your Microsoft e-mail faster and always available. One Oracle database supports tens of thousands of users, saving you money," says Oracle's printed message.

Microsoft trades punches: "The Exchange team has a 5-plus-year history of developing a rich messaging and collaboration server. This deep experience working with and delivering products for enterprise customers cannot be matched by a re-launched product from a company who admits they know nothing about messaging user interfaces and are really just trying to sell more databases."

Adcock says Oracle's solution has limitations in offline support for normal Outlook features and no collaborative applications capabilities, plus it does not integrate with Active Directory or Windows security. Two directories would have to be managed and synchronized, and two sets of passwords would be required.

Split decision
From his vantage point inside the ring, "referee" Matt Cain, an analyst with META Group Research (www.metagroup.com) of Stamford, Connecticut, gives his decision.

The Oracle mail system hosts only clients that prevent integrated calendar or discussion databases and lacks support for common Outlook features, Cain determines. "The Oracle mail store also lacks third-party tools for mail management and message hygiene.

"Bottom Line: Oracle's initiative reflects the trend toward relational e-mail stores, but the product's lack of features and installed base make it unappealing," Cain says.

You, the judges, will cast your votes in the marketplace.

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