The best-kept UC secret: IceWarp Server

This European technology import is quietly gaining a firm foothold in the North American unified communications market.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Aug 24, 2011
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When you've followed the IP communications game as long as Enterprise VoIPplanet has, you tend to think you know all the significant players. But we recently were introduced to a major provider of unified communications technologies that, frankly, hadn't crossed our RADAR screen before.

IceWarp Server, born a decade ago in the Czech Republic as the free and highly scalable Merak Mail Server (think multi-million-user deployments), has been gaining recognition in North America as a comprehensive UC platform for enterprises, service providers, government agencies, and the like.

IceWarp, currently in version 10.3, is an open-standards-based platform that is quick and easy to deploy. It is architected to connect multiple distributed locations, including homes and temporary locations like hotel rooms, as well as corporate offices worldwide. Finally, it has a lower cost of ownership and quickest RoI of any UC product we know.

To give you an idea of what kinds of markets IceWarp serves, consider some of the highlights of its customer list: This includes major universities, such as Cornell, Georgetown, Purdue, Michigan State, and Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. On the restaurant/hospitality side, IceWarp claims Wendy's, Burger King, and Marriott, among others. Also represented are two U.S. government defense agencies and Time Warner Cable. Clearly the product scales well.

On the other hand, company statistics identify IceWarp's biggest market segment—65 percent of customers—in the 1–100-seat category, with deployments of 5,000 or more seats making up just 12 percent.

IceWarp, with all its myriad features and functions, installs to a single Linux server—in about ten minutes, according to the company. Full deployment can be carried out in a day or so.

"For most companies, with one software installer all these features are deployed," IceWarp spokesperson John O. Cooper told Enterprise VoIPplanet. "You license just what you want to use. Not every company is going to use everything up front, but it's already there when you're ready to deploy it. Any features you don't activate initially can be brought on at any time; it's just a new license key."

So what are the features? It's hard to know where to start. But we'll follow the company's lead and start with messaging. IceWarp is built around sophisticated e-mail, which few other UC vendors include in their UC offerings. Joining e-mail are business-class instant messaging and SMS text messaging.

The platform offers SIP-based telephony based on an Asterisk implementation built by IceWarp—along with audio conferencing and SIP-based video. The PBX features include auto attendant, IVR, voicemail, call recording, and call archiving.

Then there's what IceWarp calls "groupware." These applications include calendaring, global (organization-wide) and individual directories or address books, and group and individual management of tasks, notes, files, and meetings. "All the sets of data companies are used to from the Exchange world," as Cooper put it.

The richness is in the details of integration; a few examples will give you some idea:

There's a feature called SmartAttach that lets you send large files—really large files. It strips the data off the message, compresses and encrypts it, and deposits it in a designated folder at the recipient's site.

Then again, there's a feature within the task management piece that will, optionally, send you an e-mail every night at midnight, reminding you of the tasks upcoming the following day.

It's all about the cross-channel communications, the different systems working together. "If I'm in a meeting, and I set my IM status to away, and someone tries to IM me, that automatically goes to my e-mail," Cooper explained. "All of the communication modes work together based on rules you set."

Another of IceWarp's preoccupations is security, which is provided in abundance. The system boasts both server-based and online spam protection—as well as virus protection. Intrusion detection and prevention technology are built into the platform as well.

Tools provided for accessing the data include a desktop client, a Web client, and a Web phone, to which video capability will be added in the next version of the platform, due out in the fall of 2011. IceWarp supports any SIP endpoint device.

These days, any UC system that didn't provide some mobility would be considered an anachronism. With its ActiveSynch utility, IceWarp claims to be able to push data out to an unmatched spectrum of devices, which not only includes the familiar triumvirate of iOS, Android, and BlackBerry, but also Windows Mobile, and a fairly wide variety of Simbian-based devices from Nokia.

"However the end-user wants to access their data, their communications, they're free to do so," Cooper told VoIPplanet. "Mac users, Linux users, Windows users, different types of clients and mobile devices can all connect—and pretty much get the same user experience. Different clients have different feature sets, but for the most part you get the same seamless experience," he said.

IceWarp's management functions are carried out through a single, centralized management console, that is accessible remotely from anywhere on the system. The management system is tiered and roles-based, which means that many management tasks can be delegated to departmental staff or individual end users.

IceWarp's licensing model/pricing could be characterized as complex, but the company prefers to emphasize its flexibility and granularity.

For initial deployments there's per-seat fee based on a sliding scale: the more seats, the lower the price. The 50-seat price is under $90 per user; the 10,000-seat price is well under $20 per user.

This fee—which covers upgrades, etc. for a year, and is renewable at about 35 percent of the initial outlay—covers most of IceWarp's features (we'll get to the exceptions in a moment). But, as mentioned earlier, you don't have to license everything—only what you want. And those decisions can be on a single-seat basis. So you might want 50 seats of the basics, 31 seats of feature A, 17 seats of feature B. No problem.

The exceptions to the one-price-includes-all-fee, mentioned above, are the ActiveSynch mobility software, the desktop client, and the Outlook Connector, which lets companies that prefer it use the Microsoft interface. These are available on an annual per-seat subscription basis.

So—complicated? Perhaps, but once all is said and done, compared to other all-in-one solutions, priced at many hundreds of dollars per seat, IceWarp seems like a bargain indeed.

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