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MailFrontier Gateway Appliance M500

  • Editors' rating
    8.8 Outstanding


  • IBM x-Series hardware
  • easy setup and intuitive management GUI
  • automatic updates
  • best of breed antivirus scanners
  • users can manage own junk mail and security settings
  • choice of Linux or Windows


  • We would have liked more documentation on deployment with non-Exchange mail servers and open-source LDAP systems

The market is awash with email security products, and choosing something to suit your particular needs can be an arduous task. However, if it’s the easy life you crave you could do a lot worse than MailFrontier’s Gateway Appliance, which really is one of the easiest security solutions we’ve come across.

It's not all plug and play, though: you do need to know how to attach the appliance to the network, and you will have change your router/firewall setup to direct incoming mail to the MailFrontier gateway rather than send everything direct to the mail server. But that’s about it and, once installed, no special technical knowledge is required to either put the various tools to work or manage the appliance on a day-to-day basis.

The usual browser-based interface is employed, which proves highly intuitive and easy to navigate. Technical terms are kept to a minimum and you get instant protection as soon as the appliance is switched on, with automatic updates as standard and no need for any fine tuning unless you really feel the need. Which is just as well as, despite the apparent simplicity, the MailFrontier Gateway Appliance has quite a lot to offer.

To begin with there’s antivirus scanning of both inbound and outbound messages using a combination of Kaspersky and McAfee technologies. Messages can also be scanned for spam, plus there are facilities to block phishing and other fraud attempts. MailFrontier’s own Cognite technology is employed here to check the reputation of sending mail servers, examine message content, validate embedded URLs and so on. Anything suspicious can then be blocked or quarantined in a junk mail bin to give time to check for false positives. Moreover by linking the appliance to a suitable LDAP directory service (such as Windows Active Directory), users can be left to manage their own junk mail, either via a browser or using Outlook and Lotus Notes plug-ins.

Of course, letting users loose on quarantined mail isn’t necessarily a good thing. So we particularly liked the option to stop messages marked as possible phishing attempts being retrieved from the junk mail box. Mail with virus attachments can be similarly ring-fenced, and we liked the rules-based policies which enable the level and type of mail security applied to be tailored to suit particular individuals or user groups.

A slew of monitoring and reporting tools also come as standard, including a dashboard display to see, at glance, what’s been trapped by the MailFrontier device, who the worst offenders are and so on. There’s even a Return On Investment (ROI) calculator to see what you’re saving as a result of not having to deal with all that unwanted spam and other nasties.

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Aimed primarily at companies running Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes/Domino, the MailFrontier appliance can, in fact, be used with any SMTP mail server. You can also purchase the software separately and deploy it on your own hardware if you want. However, the Gateway Appliance avoids all the hassles of this approach; MailFrontier has also eschewed the usual whitebox platform taken by other appliance vendors in favour of IBM x-Series hardware.

There are two models on offer, starting with the Pentium 4-based M500 that we evaluated, which can scan up to 50,000 messages per hour. That’s likely to be more than enough for most small to medium-sized networks, while the dual Xeon-based M1000 can handle large enterprise loads of up to 100,000 messages per hour. Multiple appliances can also be clustered together to build extremely scalable, distributed, defences.

There’s also a choice of operating system. You can specify either Red Hat Enterprise Linux (as on the review model) or Windows Server 2003; both OSs are security hardened and, interestingly enough, there's no difference in price. Indeed, it’s mostly down to a matter of what you think best suits your organisation, since you get the same functionality and the same user-friendly browser GUI no matter which OS you decide to go with.