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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Samsung Data Systems, the IT products and services arm of the South Korean industrial chaebol, has launched an assault on the emerging global market for unified Communications (UC) systems based on the OpenMail email platform it acquired from Hewlett-Packard Co last year.

Samsung is offering a 90% discount per mailbox to email users who move to the latest Samsung Contact 7.1 version of OpenMail, as a precursor to relaunching the enterprise email system as a full-blown UC offering later this year.

At its peak, HP boasted of supporting 15 million OpenMail boxes worldwide, and numbered a high proportion of Fortune 1000 companies in the customer base for its highly scalable Unix-based email platform. But in the last several years, OpenMail has lost out to competition from Microsoft Corp's Exchange server, and 12 months ago HP issued an "end-of-life" statement to OpenMail customers, warning them that there would be no new releases of the product, and placing a five-year deadline on continued support.

Last November however, Samsung, one of the world's biggest OpenMail customers with 250,000 users across the company and an OEM of the system in East Asia, stepped in to acquire the product, acquiring an unlimited OEM license for the software, and assuming control of its Reading, UK-based development team for an undisclosed sum. According to Richi Jennings, chief architect of Contact 7.1, Samsung plans to turn the product into its first globally distributed enterprise Application, and an early leader in the emerging UC market place.

Phase one of Samsung's relaunch strategy starts this week with the release of Contact 7.1 with a limited period offer (to June 30) of a 90% discount per mailbox for upgraders and new users. According to Jennings, Contact can be fairly seamlessly employed as scalable back-end email engine for a variety of clients including Outlook (which already constitutes 50% of Contact clients) and IMAP clients. The product is targeted at Lotus Domino, Exchange and Sun iPlanet users, but the chief initial goal is to migrate as many as possible of OpenMail's remaining five million mail boxes to the new version.

As a straight alternative to their existing email platforms, Jennings claims Contact will offer superior scalability to Exchange, being suited to sitting a on very larger Unix servers rather than distributed networks of Windows-based departmental boxes, and it will also take on rivals on price and total cost of ownership.

"Compared to Exchange or Domino it [Contact] is far more scalable and reliable and will need a lot less people to administer it," said Jennings. In a typical Exchange shop, a 1,000 mailbox system might typically require at least one full-time administrator costing around $100,000 per year. "Contact's scalability and reliability allows a single administrator to cope with a 10,000 to 50,000 mailbox system, bringing the TCO down to around $2 a year," Jennings claimed.

The low TCO profile makes Contact suitable for use in very large enterprise installations, and as a platform for application service provider offerings. Samsung SDS is itself a major email ASP provider, and has in-depth experience of squeezing the maximum efficiency from Contact systems by consolidating multiple customers on one or several large servers.

In the second phase of Contact's relaunch, probably around September or October when Samsung expects to deliver Contact 8.0, the company will begin repositioning the product as something far more than an email platform, and to begin its conversion into a multimedia UC system supporting email, voice mail, and a raft of multimedia and instant messaging options.

The technology to do this is under development in Reading, where the original OpenMail development team has been retained to continue work on Contact's architecture planning and enhancement, while the international productization of the software will be handled by Samsung's established OpenMail OEM engineering team in Korea. In addition to this, Samsung has also inked an OEM deal with Yomi Oyj, a developer of carrier class, voice, email and messaging systems, which will see the Helsinki, Finland-based company's T-Element software integrated with Contact.

Jennings concedes that unified messaging, the precursor to UC technology, has left a legacy of unmet expectations which may discourage customers from stepping up to the new integrated messaging technology planned for Contact 8.0. However, he argues that UM systems, based on multiple messaging engines loosely coupled at the application layer, were always destined to struggle to meet the demands of large scale implementations. In Contact 8.0, he said, Samsung plans to deliver a comprehensive messaging system, based on a single engine, and utilising a single large storage source for all categories of messaging content.

Samsung believes the migration to a truly unified architecture for messaging is finally becoming both practical and necessary as enterprises come to explore the benefits of true convergence via technologies such as voice over IP. These developments open the opportunity to begin the consolidation of multiple legacy systems, such as PBX, first-generation voice mailbox systems and email platforms, and Contact is intended to be an early state-of-the-art example of what is possible when this is done.

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