E-mail gateway start-up IronPort Systems has begun offering its products in Europe, hoping to make up for competitors’ lead on the Old Continent with its technical prowess.

IronPort only launched in the US in October last year, so its arrival in the three largest markets in Europe (UK, Germany and France) five months later points to either great success or deep pockets.

Even so, it is behind its most direct competitors, BorderWare and CipherTrust, both of whom crossed the Atlantic a few months earlier. Steve Ronksley, MD of IronPort's European operations, reckons he can counter their time advantage with what he claims is IronPort’s higher throughput, delivered at the same price, plus savings on licence fees and sys admin.

“Both BorderWare and CipherTrust built their appliances on existing open-source message transfer agents (MTAs) such as Sendmail, Qmail or Postfix, which means they inherit all the limitations of these packages and the Sun servers they sit on,” he explained. “Only IronPort took the trouble of developing a whole new MTA with our own operating system.” This, he argues, means users avoid Solaris licences and admin costs of competing products. He also claims greater security for IronPort’s purpose-built product than for anything sitting on the Sun OS.

Of course, the reality of the market is that the three companies do not primarily compete against each other, but rather against the open-source MTAs that still make up the vast majority of SMTP servers in use today. As such, their first task is to convince corporates who are still using an open-source MTA, to shell out for one of their appliances.

The main target is Sendmail users, who make up 75 percent of all SMTP servers right now. These companies, and the smaller number of Qmail and Postfix users out there, have remained largely deaf to the attractions of the commercial version of Sendmail, which an eponymous company has been trying to convince them to buy since 1999.

To enhance the commercial appliances’ attractions, anti-virus and anti-spam software has been bundled on top. In IronPort’s case, these come from Sophos and Brightmail respectively. IronPort also bought anti-spam community and blacklist maintainer SpamCop in November, and bundles its feedback on spammers into an e-mail rating system called “reputation filters”.

Then there is the appliances’ throughput. IronPort offers two sizes of product, with the larger of the two, the C60, offering a maximum of half a million messages an hour, dropping back to 175,000 if all the security features on the box are switched on. The smaller, the C30, handles up to 150,000 messages and hour, dropping to 15,000. These speeds make its boxes up to 20 times faster than the competition, according to IronPort.

As for UK pricing, the C60 has a recommended retail price of £29,500, the C30, £15,000. As such, said Ronksley, they are “on a par with CipherTrust and Borderware in price terms, but beat them on performance". IronPort is using a two-tier distribution model, its sole distributor in the UK being Westcon in Slough.