Software

Firm finds affordable, scalable alternative to Microsoft Exchange

It would have been simple for one manufacturer to replace its box of ISP accounts with Microsoft Exchange, but costs and maintenance issues prompted the tech team to choose a new network appliance.


Several years ago, my company, Kintec, LLC, wanted to replace its system of multiple single-dial-up ISP accounts. Our system was essentially a box full of modems plugged into all kinds of PCs, and of course, extra copper phone lines for Internet access. We were using our phone system to help control, and share, our line usage and had limited ability to manage e-mail accounts.

After one “network appliance” project that worked out fine, but was cancelled by the system provider after one year, we had to choose a new, more comprehensive solution that could grow with us. Our options ranged from a full-blown e-mail services system like Microsoft Exchange—which we knew would require additional hardware and software for security and antivirus protection—to new products emerging in the network appliance area.

After comparing six possible solutions, including an ISP-provided router system with complete outsourcing of e-mail, an in-house additional server-based system, and some network appliances, we selected the eSoft InstaGate Web-based solution. Our decision was based on several factors—initial setup costs, total cost of ownership, upgrade requirements, staffing expertise, and security needs.

Seeking scalability, lower costs
The eSoft turnkey device provides a solid firewall, antivirus protection, and an integrated VPN solution along with the services and applications our enterprise needed. But a big selling point for us was the growth capacity.

The solution is scalable from 10 to 1,000 users and designed to provide lower cost of ownership, and more importantly, lower cost of maintenance and manpower for hardware and software upkeep. It was also important that we retain the ability to provide controlled Internet access, Web site hosting, and e-mail services (internally and remotely)—all of which we are able to do.

The InstaGate product line gave us the ability to get a high level of outsourcing to lower the internal workload, yet still retain full control over equipment and purchases. Due to the ongoing software upgrades and maintenance with eSoft, we’re assured the product will continue to provide the services we require.

The device is a perfect platform for the small business or even a satellite office—the InstaGate Ex2 product provides file and print sharing, file storage, and all the other core services with great potential for growth that can parallel business needs. For a medium-size company, the solution allows for local management of one unit or multiple units without the hardware and software requirements that are ever changing with Microsoft Exchange.

More importantly, it is fully manageable from a remote distance or via eSoft’s technical support staff. With VPN services, you can ensure that remote users get secure access to your network, as well as provide VPN-to-VPN single managed connections office-to-office.

The custom-tailored features
The VPN service is one of the product’s SoftPaks—downloadable application add-ons—that allow you to further customize the device. SoftPaks applications include:
  • Anti-Virus
  • ASP
  • Firewall policy manager
  • Internet server
  • Modem communication
  • AppFilter (formerly called PacketHound)
  • Security check
  • SiteFilter
  • SmartFilter
  • SmartReports
  • SpamFilter
  • VPN manager
  • WebMail

These SoftPaks allow each business to customize the InstaGate. You don’t need to load or maintain unneeded services or buy unnecessary products, but you can be assured they’ll be available when you grow and need them.

A great product feature is the electronic upgrade service. Customers are notified via e-mail about new patches and system updates, which then can be automatically downloaded. The upgrade/patch system also provides insight on potential install issues and effects the new fixes will have on your services.

On the IT implementation side, setup was just a five-minute process; eSoft reduces the headaches of configuring a Web browser by providing a small program to automatically set up the Internet client to use the InstaGate proxy services. The InstaGate works with any e-mail client and has a unique Web-based e-mail service to allow any user full access anywhere an Internet connection can be obtained, without any IT interaction required. Management is easily handled locally and remotely via a Web browser. While any e-mail client, as well as Web-based e-mail, is available, there is one minor drawback: If one of your factors for selecting the InstaGate is to integrate an e-mail solution that uses a company-wide address book and calendar collaboration through Microsoft Outlook, you won’t be able to use that feature with the InstaGate. That capability was not a determining factor for us, and it’s not a feature we miss.

The initial purchase price is reasonable. The InstaGate EX2, which will comfortably handle up to 250 users, is $949 (MSRP). For unlimited users, companies can select the InstaGate Pro, which lists for $2,999 MSRP.

Each of the SoftPak applications is priced comparably with currently available software. For instance, the Anti-Virus SoftPak starts at $299 per year for a 10-user license that includes full support and updates.

When it comes to maintenance costs, enterprises can opt for a higher ongoing level of technical support as part of the service agreement.

Project lessons learned
There were no surprises on the eSoft side of the project during the implementation. Most of our issues were in the installation of the ISDN line and getting that properly working to allow the InstaGate to do its job. One thing I would consider next time would be purchasing a modem connection as a backup for the main high-speed line, to provide a secondary point of access for e-mail and Internet.

I also recommend rolling out the initial InstaGate deployment to no more than five users to ensure that you have all the small details worked out. Once you add 40 to 50 users, it’s truly difficult to make any sweeping changes.

Finally, while the product can host a Web site very well—for example, it supports Front Page extensions—we actually have our ISP provider host our Web page and provide secondary e-mail hosting in case we lose power. That way, our Web site is always up and e-mail, at least, will be stored and waiting for us when the power returns.

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