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FYI: When to use commercial Sendmail

The senior vice president of Sendmail Inc. explains when the time is right to bring in commercial Sendmail.

It's what's on top that counts with commercial Sendmail.

Open source Sendmail and commercial Sendmail have a good working relationship: one takes up where the other leaves off. That makes sense because Sendmail Inc., the commercial company, was founded by Eric Allman, author of open source Sendmail.

Users of open source Sendmail want to know when, why and if they should bring in commercial Sendmail. John Stormer, senior vice president of Sendmail Inc., answers those questions in this FYI Q&A.

This is one of's FYI interviews, which are designed to introduce IT professionals to a product, technology, vendor or open source project.

A business that is running open source Sendmail will be dependant on the capabilities of their network administrator.
John Stormer,
vice presidentSendmail Inc.

What's the difference between open source Sendmail and commercial Sendmail?

John Stormer: People know [open source] Sendmail as a mail transfer agent (MTA) only. We have built up on top of that a rich set of content-filtering and e-mail security infrastructure programs that work in conjunction with the open source Sendmail MTA. Our complete platform starts at the router and continues on to message directory and content-filtering technologies and management brainworks. It's a comprehensive solution for interfacing with the Internet and managing e-mail from the gateway to the mail box.

Are you competing with open source Sendmail?

Stormer: We are certainly encouraging companies to adopt open source Sendmail. Open source Sendmail is a key part of the e-mail infrastructure, because it's so reliable, flexible and not complex.

That said, a business that is running open source Sendmail will be dependant on the capabilities of their network administrator. If that administrator leaves without leaving behind great documentation, the knowledge about what is in that Sendmail system and how to run it goes with them.

If you are not comfortable with that, then I think that you should use commercial Sendmail. If you are comfortable with that, then that is okay. Of course, you could add products from commercial on top of that open source implementation.

Are businesses running commercial Sendmail instead of or in conjunction with other e-mail servers?

Stormer: The enterprise e-mail network should be thought about in two parts. One part is the mail backbone that interfaces with the Internet, receives e-mail in from the Internet and delivers it to departmental mailboxes. So, typically, a corporation will have Exchange at this departmental mailbox level. Something like 85% of large enterprises are running either Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes there.

About 70% of enterprises have either open source Sendmail or commercial Sendmail running their mail backbone. Very few companies would expose Exchange to the Internet because of Exchange's security and scalability limitations. Exchange is just not appropriate for the kind of work that needs to get done at this level.

Do businesses typically move up from open source Sendmail to commercial Sendmail?

Stormer: Typically, [commercial] Sendmail is either replacing open source Sendmail, or [commercial] Sendmail is providing a higher layer of functionality on top of open source Sendmail.

Are companies replacing Exchange with Sendmail?

Stormer: We are rarely replacing Exchange. Instead, Sendmail is brought in to protect Exchange. You see, the Windows operating system is not known for its security excellence and capabilities. I can't think that any of our large enterprise customers put a Windows server running their e-mail system on the edge.

Most of our customers run on Solaris and Linux, but Linux usage is growing faster than Solaris. These customers just could not get comfortable with Exchange with a Windows platform in a security world. Also, companies are more comfortable with the levels of scalability, resilience and throughput in Solaris and Linux.

More on SendMail:

Security, quarantine tips for commercial Sendmail

Read more of our special report on Linux-friendly messaging systems

Could you elaborate on some the features that differentiate commercial Sendmail from open source Sendmail?

Stormer: Well, the basic Sendmail MTA is a core piece of routing infrastructure that determines where mail goes to. We add an API that we call a milter, into which content filtering technologies are plugged. Our mail stream content managers sit on top of that MTA to add a higher level of intelligence to that routing infrastructure.

Via acquisition, we have a core technology, a message processing language called XXL (extensible expression language), that we placed on top of the basic sendmail MTA. What that allows us to do is to take things like spam and virus scanning and plug those content-scanning engines into this framework. So, if you are an enterprise IT manager you can use the integrated tools in Sendmail rather than getting separate content-scanning and anti-spam programs.

Overall, the integrated package is the key differentiator. Sendmail allows the enterprise to manage the mail flow as a whole, rather than trying to piece parts of technologies together. For example, a vice president of security said that vendors were pitching point products, but they weren't telling him how to fit them all together. He needs to respond to his company's business and security requirements and needs a framework to make all the parts of an e-mail system, including security, work together. Well, that's what Sendmail on top of the sendmail MTA is intended to do.

With Sendmail, if you want to encrypt messages, and you need to encrypt some employees' and some receivers' messages, in particular, that task will be easier with a rich set of functionality and policy capabilities that are integrated into the whole system.

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