Mirapoint ~ ISP Messaging Solution in a Box?

  • Written By: P. Hayes
  • Published On: April 24 2000



Product Background

Satish Ramachandran founded Mirapoint in 1997; he presently serves as President and CEO. Mirapoint's vision was to offer an all-in-one messaging appliance as opposed to a shrink-wrapped software package to be installed on existing servers. The company was incorporated in 1998 with venture capital funding from MKS ventures and WorldView Technology Partners. A third round of venture capital funding was obtained in September 1999 from Goldman Sachs, Amerindo Investment Advisors, Inc., Franklin Small Cap Growth fund, and Nissho Electronics.

Mirapoint's first product was the M1000, released in 1998, which was designed with the IT/ISP technical organization in mind. Typical ISP messaging gurus, when they can be found, claim salaries reaching above $200,000 (USD) making support an extremely costly issue. Mirapoint built a messaging appliance with the aim of "ease of administration", enabling start-up ISPs and smaller technical organizations to take advantage of robust messaging features without the need for highly skilled support personnel.

In 1999, Mirapoint released two lines of Messaging Appliances (MA), the ES Series (Enterprise Series) and the SP (Solution Provider Series). Licensing has been configured on a "per box" as opposed to "per seat" basis to suit the needs of growing companies who don't want to be bothered by license accounting. All boxes come in different physical configurations and are all Intel based systems. The actual messaging server is a revamped open-source sendmail system coupled with a proprietary (patent pending) database and proprietary file system.

Mirapoint is the first dedicated Messaging Appliance to make its presence felt within the highly competitive Internet message space. According to Larry Frank, Vice President of Business Development, Mirapoint views Software.com as its primary competition, however Software.com's service is not a "Messaging Appliance". Due to the infrastructure of Internet based messaging, we also view Sendmail, Inc.'s sendmail product as a competitor.

Product Strategy and Trajectory

The 200 series Mirapoint appliance comes preloaded with the operating system and messaging platform, essentially ready to go after a few configuration settings. The Mirapoint appliances are all rack mount systems and have on board 10/100 MBps network interface cards (NIC). The appliance also includes a configured drive array, using IBM UW-SCSI 10,000 RPM drives, an LS120 Floppy Drive, RAM, Processor, and an internal Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). The SP series has an external drive cage and external UPS. The software configuration also incorporates Trend Micro Anti-Virus software and an Anti-Spam/Anti-Relay configuration.

Once the messaging appliance has been mounted, attached to the network with an RJ-45 connection, and powered on; you are ready for the base configuration. In order to get "up and running" you must have at least one Domain Name Service (DNS) server and optionally, a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server. The messaging appliance has a keypad, very similar to a basic calculator, so the administrator can provide the machine with an IP Address, a Subnet Mask, a Default Gateway and a Numerical password to the device.

Once the basic network information is provided, the administrator simply launches a web browser and points it to the IP address of the messaging appliance and downloads the Mirapoint Java Client. Administration can also be performed via command line switches, but we prefer the desktop client. The first configuration component is the setup screen (Figure I). The Domain Name must be set, the Host Name or Server Name must be set and the correct time zone selected, in addition to the critical setting of the DNS IP address. The interface is intuitive and easily navigable.

Figure I - Setup Screen

The next administrative setting is User configuration. Our complaint here is that you cannot add additional user information beyond a name. There are no fields for contact information and there is no shared scheduling component. Mirapoint did make the creation of Users and Mailboxes simpler by allowing automatic creation of the associated mailbox. Another complaint is there is no way to bulk user creations or deletions through the Graphical User Interface (GUI). However the task can be accomplished via a command line switch, an approach that does not appeal to non tech-savvy administrators. (Figure II)

Figure II - User Configuration Screen

Mirapoint has also included a Forwarding and Auto reply, server based component. Administration is simple, but once again bulk administration is not available via the GUI. (Figure III)

Figure III - Forwarding and Auto Reply Screen

Distribution List creation is also available through the GUI interface which does allow for bulk user administration. Multiple users can be selected at one time and either added or removed from any distribution list on your Mirapoint system. (Figure IV)

Figure IV - Distribution Lists Screen

The anti-spam/anti-relay configuration is also simple through the GUI. Simply adding undesired domains to "Ignored Domains" can block all e-mail emanating from them. Anti-relay is enabled by default and any domain which mail must be routed to must be manually added. (Figure V)

Figure V - Junk Mail Screen

The Storage section allows an administrator to view used and available space quickly and easily and will also allow an administrator to configure disks when necessary. (Figure VI)

Figure VI - Storage Screen

The Mirapoint administration client allows you to also administer services directly. Mirapoint supports SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), NIS (Network Information Service), SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), POP (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Mail Access Protocol). All these services can be turned on or off in any combination, allowing an organization to select only what it needs. (Figure VII)

Figure VII - Services Screen

Mirapoint offers remote network management monitoring for the messaging appliance(s) via SNMP. In addition the backup system has been configured to allow a "shell" restore in the event of a disaster recovery scenario. In other words, all mailboxes (Up to 200,000 on the upper level systems) can be restored with user properties and an empty mailbox, within 20 minutes. This gets the end user up and running as quickly as possible. Once the users are live on the mail system, mail restore can run in the background to repopulate the end user's mailbox.

Mirapoint believes it will be successful due to ease of administration and total cost of ownership (TCO). The SP 1500, a Mirapoint Messaging Appliance, designed for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to accommodate 200,000 users would cost $121,620 USD including licensing. Which, without administrative costs, based on 200,000 users comes out to $0.60 per mailbox, making this system an extremely viable option to ISPs and ASPs.

SP 1500 Base Cost =
$45,500 USD
Unlimited License =
$22,500 USD
450 GB Storage =
$53,320 USD
Strong Encryption =
$300 USD

$121,620 USD

Product Strengths

Mirapoint is strong in ease of administration and cost of ownership. We expect Mirapoint to become tightly aligned with both Cisco Systems and IBM Global Services. Cisco systems already has 30 Mirapoint Messaging Appliances in production within their technical organization and IBM Global Services has already been signed up to provide support for Mirapoint messaging clients. We expect a major announcement within the next 60 days from Mirapoint, indicating a major messaging service contract with IBM Global Services.

Product Challenges

Mirapoint's primary weakness is name recognition. Mirapoint has taken a box and added a proprietary database, a proprietary operating system and a highly "tweaked" version of open source sendmail. Mirapoint admits that they have lost sales due to both lack of name recognition, and fear of an entirely proprietary system. The majority of IT decision makers are unwilling to be pioneers within the messaging industry and prefer to stick with tried and proven systems such as sendmail, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise.

The administration interface leaves something to be desired. While the Mirapoint Java client is functional and easily navigable, the lack of simplified "bulk administration" is non-existent. Administrators must shell out to a command prompt and use interfaces to achieve bulk administration results. While command line interfaces are not a concern for the highly technical, they are intimidating to the novice administrators the product is aimed at.

Vendor Recommendations

The first thing Mirapoint needs to do is allocate funds to marketing to increase name recognition and brand name awareness. Much of this may be accomplished via upcoming announcements with IBM Global Services and Cisco Systems, however more is needed in the present.

In addition to brand name awareness, educating the IT decision maker on the internal workings of the system outside of a direct sales cycle will be another key to Mirapoint's success. Due to the proprietary nature of the product, administrators can be defensive, and in some cases concerned about the negative repercussions from an implementation of an unknown product. Mirapoint must go beyond simply attending trade shows and offering free education "breakfast" sessions to raise the comfort level bar within the messaging industry.

User Recommendations

The Mirapoint product is a good all-in-one messaging system for an Internet Service Provider or internal technical organization. We would not recommend the Mirapoint messaging appliance for the typical corporate environment, due to its lack of collaboration features such as scheduling.

Because Mirapoint supports IMAP, collaborative features such as shared folders with access controllers and filters are available. The proprietary components of the appliance function well and coexist happily. The decreased cost per mailbox is a key to ISPs as the number of Internet Mailboxes continues to outpace global population growth.

While the Mirapoint messaging appliance may not be for everyone, if you have tens of thousands of users requiring basic point-to-point e-mail and a slim wallet, take a look at Mirapoint when evaluating your next messaging system.

 
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