Red Condor: A Minimalist Spam Appliance

When Red Condor sent me an invitation to review its MAG (Message Assurance Gateway) anti-spam appliance, I balked. After reviewing dozens and dozens of products with failed promises over the years, I told the company to send it on, but if it didn't block 100 percent of the spam I was receiving with zero administration as it claimed, I was going to write a scathing review. Red Condor took me up on the challenge, and I have to say the company impressed me.

Bottom line: It failed. On the other hand, the appliance came close enough to succeeding that I can't write anything scathing about it It doesn't block 100 percent of the spam, but it's darned close. I tested the unit over a few months, and on most days I received no spam at all. High days were one or two spam messages. Most anti-spam products result in nearly a dozen pieces of spam in my inbox -- on a good day. The MAG 2000's anti-spam rate was so accurate that I called Red Condor to see if it was manually inspecting my mail to make sure the rates were highly accurate for the review. The office thought I was crazy. And I guess that pretty much sums up the MAG 2000's anti-spam effectiveness. It was so good I was accusing the vendor of cheating.

[ For more security coverage, see Roger A. Grimes' recent review of five sandbox security products in InfoWorld's Test Center ]

Then I sort of caught the vendor in its second misstatement. It claimed that the unit was zero maintenance, with no spam-versus-not-spam training involved and minimal setup. It wasn't zero administration, but close to it, and easily the lowest maintenance of any anti-spam product I've reviewed. And perhaps that is part of the rub. It's an accurate product, but it's a little more secretive, black-box-like, and lower on configurable features than all of its competitors (but more on that later).

The Red Condor MAG 2000 comes in the typical 1-U form factor appliance, though it runs quieter than most. The initial setup is very straightforward and standard for appliances. Plug in directly using predefined IP addresses to enter the initial IP and domain information, then reboot the device. After the initial setup you have to contact the vendor to activate the product. At this point, you are instructed to log into the vendor's Web site, your new configuration and reporting portal (see Figure 1), using a personal URL. With most anti-spam appliances, the bulk of the configuration options are done locally on the device. With the MAG 2000, the configuration is done on the Internet portal, which is then pushed to the device.

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