Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Nobodys working #1

Well, here we are at work. What is nobody doing today? Installing a virtual Windows 2003 Server ready to start testing IceWarp's Merak Mail Server.

(How far along is it?. . . . Still formatting C:.)

We've already bought it - but this is just to get a bit of experience before the real install once the license / server hardware arrives.

One thing that surprised me is that it doesn't have it's own database backend - instead it relies upon either an Access .MDB file (yuk!) or an external database. For me it's a toss-up between MySQL and Microsoft SQL Express. As the price is the same for both (free) and seeing as I already run SQL Server 2000 servers here then the obvious choice is SQL Express.

Dear reader, don't take this as a slight against Open Source. I really like Open Source products. I run Linux at home as my main OS and have done for around five years now, but at work - well, standardisation is king. This is also because I won't be the only person maintaining this and, well, Microsoft's SQL Server (and Express too) have very good management tools. Yes, MySQL is getting better, but it isn't there yet.

(Copying files. . . .)

So on to Merak. Not a particularly well known product, at least, I've never heard of it before now. One of it's selling points is that it fits in well with Exchange clients, supports shared calendars, has loads of plugins to extend the functionality of the server, and it is a damn site cheaper than Exchange. It is also cheaper to add additional user licenses to it. Apparently we've bought 1000 user licenses for this.

(Please wait. . . Oh, we've rebooted. Hang on a tick, I'd better get the rest of the install under way.)

Merak can run on either Linux or Windows. It looks like it supports most of the major Linux distros. As we are integrating this into our Active Domain structure we're having to use Windows Server 2003.

("Setup will complete in 39 minutes". Yeah, sure it will.)

All the files are available on the Merak website, and will run quite happily for 30 days before you have to register it. Once you give it your license key then the demo becomes the full, unrestricted version.

(Adding the machine details. One question. Which berk decided to make Tijuana the default time zone for Windows installs?)

Once the initial server install is done, then I'll install SQL Server Express. I've not had chance to play with this yet, so if it turns out to be crap then I'll switch over the MySQL. Hopefully it won't come to that. Let's have a look at what it provides, while I'm waiting for the server install to finish.

. . . .

Scratch that, we're going to have to use MySQL. The limits on the database size and number of processors would cripple the mail server. Thank you Microsoft.

("Installing start menu items. Setup will complete in approximately 19 minutes". Liar. )

Right, I'm off to lunch now. Hopefully the server will have finished the initial install by the time I've eaten my sandwiches.

. . . .

OK, so Windows 2003 is now installed and running as a terminal server. MySQL (and the tools) are installed, so it's time to get on and install Merak itself.

. . . .

Well, installing MySQL was nice and straight-forward. It was an object lesson in clicking Next, Next, Finshed. Installing the tools was just as easy. The only small gotcha with it is to remember that by default you must connect to the databases via localhost rather than by the machine name.

Installing Merak is pretty straight foward too. During install you get two choices - Easy and Advanced. The easy option installs the Access DB backend and is recommended for 100 users or less. For any more than this you should use the advanced option and then select the required backend. And it does support plenty of them too. We chose the MySQL backend, entered our login details, realised that we had to create a blank schema in MySQL for Merak to create its tables in, and then let the installer do its job. Finally we added our administrator account and set up the mail domain.

So far, so good. Now to play with the server and see what it can do.

. . . . Later . . . .

That took some getting going. In fact, even though it isn't documented it took a reboot before any of the mail accounts could be accessed.

The web admin tools seem nice enough, and the web mail client is pretty neat. In fact the default interface is nearly a clone of Outlook 2003 - and includes calendering functionality (which I can't get working yet).

I've been able to send emails OK - but not receive them yet. I'll have to double-check the MX records for the test domain.

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