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HP/MS deal a boon to messaging

The Microsoft/Hewlett-Packard alliance could bring improved techniques for handling messaging clients on large-scale networks.

One result of the tighter alliance between Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard may be improved techniques for handling messaging clients on large-scale networks.

HP and Microsoft announced last week a broad-based alliance that focused on extending HP's service and support network to Microsoft customers. But a part of the deal that many publications overlooked also means that the two companies will work on improving messaging interoperability between HP's OpenMail messaging system for HP-UX and Microsoft's Exchange for Windows NT.

Microsoft's enterprise messaging product is the Exchange Server. While the company has claimed that Exchange can run several thousand users on a single Exchange Server, the truth is that each server can only store up to 16GB. That means that if each user is assigned about 25MB for a personal mailbox--a typical corporate configuration--then Exchange can only support 500 users per server. For a large corporation with thousands of users in hundreds of locations, that means having a lot more servers at additional cost.

Microsoft has taken affront at the suggestion that Exchange has scalability problems. But the company does admit that Exchange has limitations.

"Where we?re bound is on the 16GB disk capacity," said Greg Lobdell, group product manager for Exchange Server, conceding that "the math is accurate." Indeed, within Microsoft itself, one Exchange Server supports 300 to 350 users, each with a 50MB mailbox.

If Exchange is to support more than 1,000 mailboxes per server, each individual mailboxe would have to be small. Oregon State University supports 2,500 students per Exchange Server by reserving only 6MB per mailbox, which isn't realistic for most corporations. Digital Equipment deploys between 1,500 and 2,100 users per Exchange Server, but uses clustered servers to do so, according to Robert Bismuth, Digital vice president of corporate strategic alliances.

Lobdell added that this constraint doesn't apply to Internet email boxes based on the POP3 standard, only to MAPI clients.

But now, Microsoft and HP can team up on their sales calls to large organizations who want to set up enterprise-wide mail systems. Companies will be given a choice of architectures. Some of these options could be based on HP's OpenMail, a messaging system known for its ability to easily support thousands of clients.

Customers who run Windows NT only on their servers can link several Exchange Servers together to form an Exchange backbone, although each server will still have only 16GB of storage capacity. Those who run NT and Unix, however, can use Exchange for departmental workgroups and then use HP's OpenMail as an enterprisewide backbone. Those who run Unix servers can plug all their MAPI clients, including Exchange clients, directly into OpenMail.

In addition, HP will abandon its OpenMail for NT, which has been competing directly with Exchange.

"HP has given up the low end, but solidified its position on the high end," said Tim Sloane, an analyst with market research firm Aberdeen Group. "This puts HP in the position of being the only company with the Unix platform that supports the Windows desktop applications."

Microsoft has been trying to compete with Lotus Development and its Notes groupware and messaging offerings. HP, for its part, has also been faced with stiff competition from Lotus in bids for large multinational companies, traditionally HP's stronghold.

Analysts think the deal will help both companies. Microsoft gets a foothold in new markets through the HP alliance, said Joyce Graff, a research director at Gartner Group, while HP gets a substantial number of new customers for its service and integration business. This is a "win for both," she said.