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E-mail appliances taking on new duties

Hardware products in this category are moving beyond simply acting as spam and virus filters.

E-mail appliances can help make life easier for messaging administrators by monitoring content and keeping

Each appliance has its own features. They do things better in their own way.

Oscar West-Crews, IT manager, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

unwanted spam and virus-laden messages from entering an enterprise network at the perimeter.

While still not as common as software for message filtering, e-mail appliances are fast gaining in popularity, according to a recent report by The Radicati Group Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., market research firm.

E-mail appliances are combined hardware and software packages that are sold as a single component. They attach to a network at its edge and can control what goes into and comes out of an e-mail system through a series of content filters.

"I think they offer a huge benefit over software, which is why they're growing," said Teney K. Takahashi, a market analyst with Radicati Group. "Appliances have a lot of potential to expand in different areas of filtering. There is expansion beyond virus and spam filtering into content management, Web filtering, IM filtering and other types of content being deployed in an organization."

Pros and cons of appliances

There are drawbacks to e-mail appliances, however. Some can

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be expensive, while software can be deployed on existing boxes, lowering overall cost, Takahashi said. Also, appliances on the perimeter do not have the ability to filter internal e-mail traffic like some software programs. But they offer administrators the benefit of reducing their workload and can serve as a centralized point for e-mail management.

IronPort Systems Inc., in San Bruno, Calif., is the industry leader, Takahashi said, but other companies are stepping into the arena and proving different types of appliances. Azaleos Corp., in Issaquah, Wash., recently unveiled an appliance that allows a Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 to be managed remotely by the vendor while keeping the hardware at the customer's site. CipherTrust Inc., based in Alpharetta, Ga., has recently upgraded its IronMail filtering appliance to have compliance content filtering.

A dual use for one appliance

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, N.J., has deployed two appliances in its network. One filters e-mail for the university's three e-mail systems and the other filters messages for personal health information to ensure the medical institution's HIPAA compliance.

"Each appliance has its own features," said Oscar West-Crews, a manager in the core systems and technology group at the school. "They do things better in their own way." Features like content filtering for compliance, spam and virus filtering and customization ability influenced the university's purchasing decisions, he said.

"[With an appliance] you're basically locking down a configuration environment and providing the same thing to every customer," said Roger Gerdes, CEO of Azaleos. "We could all go out and have people manufacture individual parts to build an automobile, but it's very likely that it's not going to be as efficient or as reliable as one we could go buy."

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