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Mid-Day Adopts Linux For Its Enterprise Mailing Needs

Enterprise customers are looking for economic ways to take advantage of the power and stability of Linux as an enterprise OS. It is rapidly being accepted in the enterprise, as the server platform of choice for economic implementation of business systems. Mid-Day Publications, publisher of India's largest circulated afternoon daily newspaper in English and other regional Indian languages goes Linux, a bold move as no company would deploy a solution with out a support agreement. Network Magazine takes a look at why the company migrated from a Microsoft platform to Linux based open source system and the resulting benefits

Mid-Day Multimedia Ltd is the publisher of Mid-Day, India's largest circulated afternoon daily newspaper in English and other regional Indian languages. Apart from the well-known newspaper, the company runs a Mumbai-centric website called Chalomumbai.com and recently made forays into FM Radio and CD ROM businesses. A 500 strong workforce with multiple offices in major Indian cities and growing by leaps and bounds the publishing company needed an enterprise email solution that would be both cost effective and able to handle its growing requirements. Mid-Day had deployed MS Exchange server as their mail server and MS Outlook as their mail client. They needed to upgrade their mail solution and were looking for more cost effective, robust and scalable alternative to MS Exchange.

Mid-Day approached FreeOS.com's professional services division to explore possibilities of using an open source platform like Linux to implement their mail solution. Freeos.com professional services division has in the past deployed turnkey Linux-based projects that include Mail servers, Firewalls, Proxy server, Web server, and Database server. The mail solution needed to be scalable, cost effective and should retain widely used features of their existing mail client MS Outlook such as calendar and enterprise wide address lists. The mail solution also needed to be accessible from any browser such as IE or Netscape thereby eliminating the need for an email client like MS Outlook or Eudora.

The Need To Change
It's no longer a secret that Unix, long the standard for corporate computing is slowly giving way to a relatively newer OS called Linux. Linux has seemingly appeared out of nowhere and captured 24% of the server market--a growth rate of 212% over the past year. And this was before commercial vendors got onto it in a big way. IDC now estimates that over the next 4 years, Linux will grow faster than all other operating systems combined, including Windows. New technologies are risky and implementing them often draws ire from the management since it raises serious issues like 'When it fails, who do we sue? 'It's not a proved product.' The technology team at Mid Day along with the team at Freeos.com studied the feasibility of an open source solution looking into the following issues

  • Economics of free source: Using commercially licensed software carries with it the responsibility of ensuring that you stay compliant with the license at all times. Exceeding the licensed number of installations is unlawful. Linux is often touted as being "free", though in practice, no organization will install software without a support agreement in place. But this condition was waived after the cost of licensing MS Exchange worked out to a phenomenally large amount.
  • Low support costs: When Mid-Day looked at licensing costs, especially over multiple users, it found that Linux delivers significant cost advantage. Linux support is now available for as low as Rs. 1000 for a day visit.
  • Scalable: Many benchmarks have been conducted by independent organizations, pitting Linux against Windows NT and against the various flavors of Unix. Some studies even suggest that Linux quite consistently beats NT not only on single-processor machines, but also on multi-processor machines on which NT is expected to scale better on account of its multi-threaded architecture.
  • Standards compliance: By definition, open source Linux cannot have proprietary features. Under the terms of the GNU General Public License, it is illegal for any entity to make modifications to Linux without making the corresponding source code publicly available. Linux today is a POSIX-compliant OS and its constituent subsystems support all relevant ANSI, ISO, IETF and W3C standards.
  • Virus free design: Boot-sector and file viruses have historically been known only in the PC world. Higher-end systems like Unix have two clearly demarcated privilege levels.
  • Strong cryptography worldwide: Microsoft's Internet Information Server can only give 40-bit SSL, which, can be broken through a brute-force attack. SSLeay and OpenSSL give a strong 128 bit encryption standard.

The Solution

Technology components

Using a combination of Open source components and custom scripting, FreeOS.com delivered a highly cost effective, feature rich, robust and secure email system customized to Mid-Day's need. Among the Open source components used were:

Web based mail - IMP: By using this Mid-Day was able to provide email access to its newspersons and other staff through a simple browser.

Calendar - PHP Groupware: Since earlier version of the mail was based on Microsoft products like Outlook which had features like Calendar, PHP Groupware was used to bring about the same functionality with additional customized features such as reminder services.

  • Administration - Web min
  • SSL - OpenSSL: For secure transfer of emails
  • Database - MySQL: This was used in the backend to store mails, etc. MySQL is very fast and small database. Postgres SQL would have been considered for a bigger solution requirement.
  • LDAP - OpenLDAP: Enterprise wide address book is achieved using OpenLDAP. LDAP is an open standard for directory services.
  • Custom scripting in PERL, PHP and Linux shell: This is to add any functionality, which may be user specific. Custom scripts specific to the customer's requirements were written such as if the mail administrator set a mail quota of 10 MB, a script was written that will send a mail when the quota reaches 9 MB.
  • Installation and configuration of Q mail: This is fully compliant SMPT based mail server and also the most secure one. Support for per user mail quotas. Mail administrator was able to restrict the amount of disk space that is allocated to a mail account.

The final solution

The final enterprise email solution consisted of the following:

  • LDAP based global address book. Search for email addresses based on names.
  • Web based front end in PHP. IMAP support built in. Emails can be accessed from any browser anywhere in the world.
  • SSL support for secured mail transfers.
  • Customized functionality like mail blocking, anti-spam support etc.
  • Additional calendaring module integrated with customized features such as reminder services.
  • Web-based interface for administration of users.
  • IMAP/POP based mail server can be used with all the popular mail clients such as Netscape Messenger, Outlook Express, Eudora or any other POP/IMAP compliant email clients.

Business Agility In The Future
Businesses must have the agility to quickly adapt to changing market conditions. It can be very costly to invest in a solution today that will not grow with business needs. Mid-Day reaped the benefits of adopting Linux and open source technologies for a complete email solution that is customized to their needs, reliable, robust, secure and scalable. All this, at a fraction of the cost of upgrading to MS Exchange, and MS Outlook deployment. Apart from the savings in cost they were able to retain all the features of MS Exchange as well as MS Outlook. Mid-Day's solution is scalable and when the time comes it can move to Postgres database and deploy clustering services, which are now available for Linux. Adds Prakash Advani CEO of FreeOS.com, "The decision to build on Linux and other open source technologies is now being accepted by corporates as they no longer have issues of support agreements". The scenario few months back was very different and there was a lot of uncertainty around Linux. A lot of companies were holding back, just waiting and watching from the sidelines to see how Linux develops. For example, how will Linux handle future connectivity among multiple devices? How will Linux handle integration with other systems? How will Linux scale across the enterprise? Will end-to-end software solutions for the whole enterprise be developed for Linux? Although some of these questions still remain unanswered one thing is for sure that Linux is fast gaining acceptance. The proof: this implementation. NM

Bhavish Sood can be reached at bhavishsood@yahoo.com

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