WebCentral to challenge beleaguered ISPs for email crown

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Self-styled 'incognito ASP' WebCentral has set out to topple kingpin ISPs in the email server space, acquiring 50 percent of an 18-month-old Sydney spam filtering and monitoring firm for an undisclosed sum.

Lloyd Ernst, CEO at Queensland-based WebCentral, said the web-hosting and managed services provider would use its equity in messagecare -– which makes popular spam filtering service SpamTrap -– to build offerings that would challenge ISP dominance of the mail server space.

Given recent email outages and service difficulties at many major ISPs, WebCentral believed there was plenty of opportunity in the mail server market. By adding messagecare and SpamTrap to its artillery, WebCentral would generate firepower for its own services targeting the big end of town, he said.

“SpamTrap starts off with a retail offering for consumers but goes through to one for corporate customers and large ISPs,” he said. “There's a lot of synergies with us as we want to move in the corporate and ISP mail service space.”

While SpamTrap's initial push was to consumer retail, WebCentral wholesalers would “move out” to push SpamTrap to ISPs and to larger enterprises seeking an alternative to the majors. messagecare products would be available to resellers and other partners as well, he said.

“I think as more ISPs look at what they are doing and ask whether it is their job to be a mail server, there will be lots of opportunity,” Ernst said.

messagecare –- run by an experienced senior management team including former OzEmail CTO Andrew Kent -– was only 18 months old and SpamTrap itself was still in a commercialisation phase. As yet, messagecare had not made any money, he said.

However, WebCentral would support messagecare for the remainder of the commercialisation and both companies would jointly develop new products and services. WebCentral would integrate messagecare products into its ASP-type managed services, and provide marketing assistance and resources to messagecare, Ernst said.

He said SpamTrap had an advantage over some other anti-spam products in that it helped users better target if a particular network was sending spam, rather than a particular PC. Today, spam was often harder to detect than previously because one attack often came from many different PCs.

“Now there's distributed spam attacks which can grab control of 100-200 machines and send spam out from those machines but at [lower] levels,” Ernst said.

He said WebCentral had been seeking ways to partner with a spam-monitoring company, but both companies had decided that in this case buying equity in messagecare was the best move.

“It's not really part of our normal strategy. It was an opportunity we saw. It's unusual for us to take equity,” Ernst said.

messagecare said that SpamTrap uses four databases, a global network of spam traps and proprietary collection techniques to collect and classify spam. A 'fingerprint' of each spam email is recorded and added to a database.

The system then 'fingerprints' each user's incoming email messages and compares them against that database. A match is declared spam and filed for viewing and deleting by the customer, messagecare said.

messagecare's SpamTrap scored 5/6 in the December issue of AJB Publishing's PC Authority magazine and was described in that review as effective and well-priced. The Sydney company was started by OzEmail founder Sean Howard.

messagecare has claimed it invested more than $1 million developing SpamTrap and associated technologies.

WebCentral is a private company 49.4 percent owned by ASX-listed FTR Holdings. WebCentral has about 150 staff and hosts some 60,000 websites and domains.

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