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Best Way to Handle Email for a Small Domain? 126

CorkBobbingInTheSeaOfLife asks: "Our company just had its bi-annual email crisis/outage, so my boss wants to try something new -- to give me the 'opportunity' to figure out and implement a better way to host our small domain's email. We've changed hosts a few times, but whether we spend a little money or a lot none have been as reliable as we've liked -- companies fold, get blacklisted by AOL, and so forth. Is there a way to be smart about this, without hiring a dedicated email server pro? Do reliable email hosts actually exist? Should we run 'email appliance' software (such as ClarkConnect or E-Smith) on our own server? I'd appreciate any tips here - hell hath no fury like people without email, and I am very afraid..."
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Best Way to Handle Email for a Small Domain?

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  • Simple Answers... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:31PM (#13280103) Homepage Journal
    Sometimes the "simple" answers are the best. Yes, run your own email server. It doesn't have to be E-Smith, you could run your own flavor of *nix. Set up Mailscanner/SpamAssassin/[Generic Virus Scanner] and your users will be fairly safe and happy.

    You can also set up something like OpenWebMail [openwebmail.org] and allow them to access email from the web. Even via HTTPS, if you like.

    Further, if you have an INTERNET outage, your people IN OFFICE will still have access to their email accounts. That translates as no immidate "I cant access my email" whines. And if ARIN.net lists your company (or you) as the authority, you can PERSONALLY deal with any major ISP to resolve blacklistings. I've had RoadRunner, AOL and ATTWORLDNET blacklist a series of IPs within which our email server happens to reside -- each of those were resolved within 24 hours.

    Important Notes:

    Be sure (PRACTICE!) that you know how to back up and restore your system.

    Unless they NEED shell access, point all users to /bin/false.

    Shut off EVERY service you do not NEED.

    Cheap/Easy IDS: Personally, I like portsentry + SSH on non-standard ports. Your system would need to be scanned to find your SSH server... and portsentry would ban IPs trying to scan. It's not 100%, but will keep out the script kiddies.
    • by Momoru ( 837801 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:37PM (#13280170) Homepage Journal
      I did this same thing, but be warned, I would not trust this scenario if your company does not have it's own data center or you don't plan on hosting it in a data center (ie, don't setup the email server under your desk). One 24 hour span without power or internet and you won't get the chance for "anymore of your bright ideas". There are lots of reputable companies that do email hosting for small businesses that don't charge much, and handle all the backup, power, liability etc for you. Such as register.com or godaddy.com and a handful of others. If the blacklisting from AOL with those providers is a problem, setting up your own SMTP server is much less of a hassle.
      • by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:42PM (#13280217) Homepage Journal
        Your points are valid, but for a small domain, running their own email server can be pretty appealing.

        Most of the problems associated with an outage (power or network) can be handled with an MX backup service. It wont save you from a natural disaster that takes out your business, but it'll handle the 24-hour power failures...
        • FWIW, I sink my own email for a personal domain, and use a backup MX. It shouldn't be hard to do it for a small biz.
        • Re:Simple Answers... (Score:3, Informative)

          by hackstraw ( 262471 ) *
          Your points are valid, but for a small domain, running their own email server can be pretty appealing.

          Most of the problems associated with an outage (power or network) can be handled with an MX backup service. It wont save you from a natural disaster that takes out your business, but it'll handle the 24-hour power failures...


          Most companies don't work in the dark and without power. If this one does, they most likely have backup power of some kind as well, so if email is that important even when the power is
        • Re:Simple Answers... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by booch ( 4157 )
          I would NEVER use a backup MX server. They typically don't filter spam, so spammers send all their spam to your backup MX record, even when the primary is up. Then your filtering software sees that the message is coming via the backup MX server, and doesn't need to (and can't) do any IP-based filtering.

          Maybe if you found a backup MX host that did proper filtering. But then why not have them host your email?
          • Re:Simple Answers... (Score:2, Informative)

            by Trepalium ( 109107 )
            SpamAssassin still works fine for backup MX delivered mail, provided you set the trusted hosts up correctly in the configuration file. What really breaks with this is RBL spam filtering that tests based on the incoming IP, or greylisting. SA's spam tests are performed on the headers, so the actual originating host is less important.

            Another problem with using backup MXs is the extra traffic generated by bounces for invalid recipients. Some poorly implemented RBL services have been known to blacklist you

            • If your backup MX does recipient validation before accepting the message, those can be greatly reduced. I run my own backup MX off-site (colocation would work for most people), and it verifies the validity of any of the relayed domains (as well as a few big spammer-spoofed senders) before ever accepting the message. Postfix is cool.
          • What about this.

            Have 2 MX backups the highest priority backup,
            is a normal MX backup.
            But the lowest priority backup is a SMTP Tarpit.

            Normal email servers will try the highest priority
            backup if the primary is down.

            Most spamers go for the lowest priority MX and will hit the tarpit.
      • I did this same thing, but be warned, I would not trust this scenario if your company does not have it's own data center or you don't plan on hosting it in a data center (ie, don't setup the email server under your desk). One 24 hour span without power or internet and you won't get the chance for "anymore of your bright ideas".

        I currently host my mail in a datacenter (along with our webserver, etc). I was actually looking at moving it in-house. I do have a "server room" here that is locked, has everything
    • Unless they NEED shell access, point all users to /bin/false.

      If you don't want to give shell access, don't give an account at all. Create a dummy account (e.g mail-users), and let Postfix manage virtual users linked to this dummy account.

      Postfix can manage virtual users pretty easily, and can store them the way you like (e.g, if you want to manage your addresses with a web interface, postfix-mysql is adapted, if you use LDAP, you can use postfix-ldap, etc..)

      That way, you can have users with a mai
      • This is how I'm setup. Postfix with a MySQL backend. Mail is filtered through a virus scanner and SpamAssassin. I just use phpmyadmin to handle the database, but I'm pretty sure there are web packages available... if not, its not that hard to create one.

        Works, great, is reliable as hell, and I've yet to see a virus sneak through. Some spam does, but that's mostly because I haven't really setup the bayesian filtering yet.

        • Works, great, is reliable as hell, and I've yet to see a virus sneak through. Some spam does, but that's mostly because I haven't really setup the bayesian filtering yet.

          If you're looking for server-side spam filtering, bayesian filters are not the answer. Bayesian filters depend on each user's usage and definition of spam, so it could work if there was some kind of protocol of reporting junk messages between the mail client and the daemon (for each user), but afaik, it doesn't exist yet or there is no
          • True, this mail server pretty much only handles mail for family and a few friends... probaly sees about 100 messages a day of real mail, and proably 3x-4x that in spam and virus messages. I do use several RBL, and I know some people complain about them, but for me in this situation, they stop most messages before they need to be filtered.
    • by secolactico ( 519805 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:29PM (#13280614) Journal
      Very good points, to which I'll add what I probably shouldn't:

      Make sure you know what you are doing. If this is your first e-mail setup, don't throw yourself into the water before testing several possible scenarios.

      Service doesn't come up?
      Service is up but doesn't answer to SMTP requests?
      SMTP is up, but email is being rejected?
      Emails are received but never get to the appropiate mailbox?

      etc, etc.

      Make sure you know how to trace an email using your server logs. Make sure you know how to emulate an SMTP session by hand (telnet to smtp port)

      Like Jhon said, practice backup and restore. This can't be stressed enough. Every so often, try a restore from scratch (bare metal restore) to an unused machine. Make sure you keep spares handy.

      Make arrangements with somebody to keep a mail fallback server (your ISP might offer this service) just in case your network goes down.

      If you don't have the bandwidth, think twice about hosting your own email. Spam attacks, joe jobs, virus outbreaks can clog your pipes.

      Simple answers are the best. But if you don't have the know-how or won't hire somebody with the know-how, the simplest answer is to keep outsourcing your email.
    • In addition to backups, I highly recommend running RAID (software RAID has been very very very very very very good to me).
      • RAID is great, but PLEASE don't think that it is a substitute for backups. For one thing, RAID won't protect you against yourself. If you screw up the filesystem, the RAID device will happily mirror that change to your other disks. If your system is compromised, you can't restore from a known good set unless you have a offline backup. In addition, cheap disks often come in bad lots. That is, if one disk in the group fails, the likelihood of the other disks in that group failing is MUCH higher. If you
    • I'm doing this with OpenBSD, Postfix, Spam and a tar pit (pf spamd). Works fine except we are using a dynamic IP address. Not many, but there are a few that black list any dynamic IP.

      I've tried talking to the sys admins about it, but they are all zombies now.

      Make sure you have a static IP and better yet make sure your ISP will reverse it for you.

    • Be careful with portsentry. What would happen if I portscanned your mailserver and spoofed my source address as oh, say, the dns root servers?
      • Why, nothing at all, as I configured portsentry to ignore such clever things as 'localhost', trusted IPs, and, yes, DNS...

        But, yes, you MUST be careful with it... Your point is valid and I just glossed over it (it's slashdot, not a 'how-to'). Someone malicious with some insider knowledge of who your company corresponds with *COULD* cause some trouble. But that problem is small compaired to the protection and ease of set up offered by portsentry.

        I would also suggest setting up a cron job to release rout
  • DreamHost (Score:1, Informative)

    by avalys ( 221114 )
    We use DreamHost [dreamhost.com] for our web and email hosting. They're cheap, the plans offer lots of space, functionality, and bandwidth, and we haven't had any problems with email or web downtime in the three years we've been with them.
    • Re:DreamHost (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Or you can just use http://www.dreamhost.com/ [dreamhost.com] so the above person doesn't make like a hundred bucks off of you.
      • $100? Ooh, it's gone up, it was only something like $20 the last time I looked.

        Regardless, I don't see why you would have a problem with DreamHost paying me as thanks for referring a customer to them, unless you're just a jealous, mean-spirited jerk.
      • Move on. (Score:3, Informative)

        What's wrong with the above person making a commission? Well, absolutely nothing. You make it sound like telemarketing or something, when it's not even in the same ballpark. It's not like the end user gets a lower price. There is nothing ethically wrong with affiliate programs. Move on, spend your time grousing about things that matter.
        • A disclosure would be nice, since they're recommending something they're going to personally profit from. Why should someone believe them that it's the best way to go?
          • You seemed perfictly able to make the determination. Are you saying that most people are idiots?
            • I did not notice the affiliate link until someone else pointed it out and you flamed them for it.

              It seems sneaky and underhanded to me. How do I know they're not some huge spamhost that's going to get my site blacklisted, if I can assume that the only reason he'd recommend it is to get paid?

              • That's why you do your research as to what you're buying. That is your responsbility, not the referrer/recommender's.

                If you buy immediately after clicking the link anyway, you're a fool.

    • I second this. I've been w/ them since 1999, and have only suffered about 48 hours of downtime in those 6 years. That's not 9 9's of reliability (actually it's 3 :-), but I don't think you will find a better host for the price.
    • It looks like DreamHost (like many other sites I've seen) makes you register your domain with them....does anyone know of a service that allows you to just point your MX records at them, while they host email?
      • I host a number of domains with Dreamhost, none of which were registered through them. What gave you the idea that they had to be?

        • I dont see any option on their web site, besides just signing up for a big web hosting package including domain etc...maybe i'm not looking in the right place...
          • Their packages [dreamhost.com] include one free domain registration if you choose to take advantage of it, but they also host domains that have been registered elsewhere. Click the 'Sign up now' button and you'll see your choices.

            BTW, the free domain registration is in your name, not theirs, and you can transfer it away at any time. I took advantage of mine but transferred it to Netsol where the rest of my domains are. The services are still hosted by Dreamhost.

            (yes, that's an affiliate link, but at least I'm working for i
      • DreamHost doesn't make you register with them. I did exactly what you are describing while I was switching hosting companies.
    • Re:DreamHost (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tang ( 179356 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @04:20PM (#13281572)
      If you go with Dreamhost be aware of the following things:
      They WILL NOT get back to you with a service problem within the same work day, unless every site they are hosting is having problems. There is no way to contact them by phone, unless you email them and request them to call you at a certain time, but that certain time always has to be the next day for them to actually call you.

      I have had email go out 4 times in the past year. Each time it was only down for 1-2 hours. However, not only was mail not received, but the mail BOUNCED. Not only was I dealing with people in the company not getting email, I was getting email from users trying to contact people at our company wondering why mail to our company is bouncing. After each of these occurances I asked them what happened and if it was corrected. They actually would tell me they don't know what caused it, and they don't know how they fixed it.
      Very frustrating, since It keeps happening. The only good news is, when this problem occurs many sites are affected, so they resolve it within a few hours.
      Another issue is that to create a new email or user account you have to use their web interface, and the lag time between when you hit submit on the website and when the user can get mail has been 5-6 hours for the past several months. It still says the delay is only 2 hours on the website, but it is incorrect.

      There are many many other small things that annoy me, I was thinking about moving the company site and email off dreamhost, but I got a new position where I do not have any responsibility for this stuff.
      It is VERY frustrating. I would 100% recommend Dreamhost for a personal server due to their cheap price and good features. However, for a commercial business it is VERY frustrating having noone to deal with for several hours when things go wrong.
  • QmailToaster (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DA-MAN ( 17442 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:36PM (#13280167) Homepage
    My recommendation would be to run a QmailToaster from http://www.qmailtoaster.com/ [qmailtoaster.com]. I've run this for three years, it's very simple and easy to use. There are scripts that will install the entire setup from beginning to end.

    Then you can get a company like postini or dyndns.org or something to act as a backup mail server in case yours is down.

    I'd recommend joining the QmailToaster mailing list first, to get a feel of the community.
    • My Advice is Don't use Qmail if you looking for something simple and easy to understand. Use Postfix, Exim, or Sendmail. They are supported in some form or another with various distros.

      Qmail is Great if your a sysadmin, and/or programmer, and you do not mind dinking with several different patch sets, and don't mind recompiling, and installing stuff yourself until it is setup just the way you want.

      Oh, and what happens if you leave the company, who is going to take care of it if qmail breaks, or needs

      • My Advice is Don't use Qmail if you looking for something simple and easy to understand. Use Postfix, Exim, or Sendmail. They are supported in some form or another with various distros.

        Qmail alone is pretty bad, but QmailToaster is a Qmail distro that makes everything easy. Check it out before you start lumping it with previous experience, at least look at the page.

        Qmail is Great if your a sysadmin, and/or programmer, and you do not mind dinking with several different patch sets, and don't mind recompiling,
        • Qmail alone is pretty bad, but QmailToaster is a Qmail distro that makes everything easy. Check it out before you start lumping it with previous experience, at least look at the page.

          I use QmailToaster, and you still have to compile everything, and make sure the dependancies work out when you update anything. This is not a trivial matter for many smallish offices.

          Try Inter7.com or various other Qmail service providers.

          Do they provide prebuilt binaries?

          • I use QmailToaster, and you still have to compile everything, and make sure the dependancies work out when you update anything. This is not a trivial matter for many smallish offices.

            Have you used the scripts? Things need to be compiled, sure, but there are scripts to resolve all dependencies on your system, compile the QmailToaster & install it for you in the correct order. How much easier can you get?

            Do they provide prebuilt binaries?

            No one does, it would go against the Qmail license. They do however
  • by tekiegreg ( 674773 ) * <tekieg1-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:39PM (#13280189) Homepage Journal
    If you're less 50 users, might just want to consider bringing the email in-house. Find a server that can stay up, install BSD and Postfix on it, and you're good to go. If you want windows, go with Windows 2003 server and a copy of Imail.

    Don't want the job of handling email? Handyhosting [handyhosting.com] has been relatively trouble free for 3 years now. I've also had good experiences with Linkline [linkline.com] at my former job.
    • Agreed, install Postfix, and hire yourself a competant Postfix admin for 10 hours/week (whether he works them or not).
      • "Agreed, install Postfix, and hire yourself a competant Postfix admin for 10 hours/week (whether he works them or not)."

        Go the other way around. Go and hire a competant sysadmin and pay him whatever he sees fit for installing Postfix+[POP | IMAP] server+explain to you basic administration, and then pay no more than 1 hour/week of day-to-day administration. If the one you want to hire doesn't like the bussiness you immediatly know he is not the person you want to installing the system: a properly installe
  • gmail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gherald ( 682277 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:41PM (#13280211) Journal
    Get everyone a gmail account, and forward their old addresses to there.

    The price is free, the features are good, and the drawbacks are negligeable if you set everyone up with a good .sig including the business name, phone, etc.
    • Sorry, have to disagree. You probably shouldn't put your business related email out on a free email system. Likely nothing would even happen but still, better safe than sorry.

      I personally would be more trusting in an in-house managed open source server myself on a dedicated machine (with proper security audit controls -- never trust a sys admin :).
    • I want to reply to your sig. Do you really think that Technocrat is all that good of a website for adults. After all they have something called RoboDump 1.0 on the front page. A device used to make fake bowel movement sounds.

      Bah
      • Yeah but there are a great deal less IE/MS hammering and "Oh look Firefox/a Linux programmer/Google farted" stories.
    • How many small companies out there that simply have their employees use AOL for the company email? Even when they've paid for web hosting for their own domain? Too many, that's what!

      Damien
    • For the love of god. The Gmail terms of use prohibit you from anything other than personal use. If I saw a company using gmail as their corporate email server, I'd make sure never to do business with them.
      • Right. Personal work-related use. Instead of john.smith@mycompany.com, it's john.smith???@gmail.com, where ??? is an acronym for your company name or some such.

        Obviously if shared usernames like sales@mycompany.com are needed, gmail wouldn't be an option. But a small enough business will not need those.
        • No, not personal work-related use. PERSONAL USE. "The Service is made available to you for your personal use only." -- gmail terms of service, section 2.

          Using gmail for commercial reasons, such as using it as your work email address, are explicitly prohibited.
          • Damn, I guess that's that. I don't remember it being there last time I read the TOS back when there were all those trumped up privacy concerns.

            Here's to hoping google offers a "premium" service once gmail goes public. It'd certainly be worth it, which such a great interface.
  • If you are familiar with MTA's, MDA's etc, the the solution is definetely to host your own, and have a backup host on the net as a relay, just in case your box/connection go down.
    Keep in mind tho, that instead of blaming XYZ email hosting company, that you will be the focus of blame for any outages.
    Otherwise, find a place that will give you a service level agreement for how many ever 9's management is willing to pay for.
  • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:55PM (#13280322) Homepage Journal
    At the risk of buring a hole through my asbestos firewall: Have you considered Microsoft Exchange and Outlook? It has a very rich feature, can be accessed via a Web form, and Microsoft makes things pretty darn easy to administer.

    There are other requirements for any mail solution you'll ignore at your peril:

    • Backups - Make them and test them
    • Virus Scanner - Even a Linux house needs to worry about Macro Virii, etc.
    • Spam Filter - Sometimes comes with the virus scanner
    • Firewall - You need one anyway, make sure it's not based on the same OS as your server
    • Data center environment, such as cooling, conditioned power, physical security are all good things to have
    • Backups - Make some more, test them again
    --Mike--
    • Have you considered Microsoft Exchange and Outlook? It has a very rich feature, can be accessed via a Web form, and Microsoft makes things pretty darn easy to administer.

      Please tell that to my sysadmin. We've had two major failures in the last two weeks, both with some data loss and both resulting in messages being silently dropped for a period of time. Add to that a very poorly designed web interface, and being locked into a small subset of mail clients, some of which only implement a limited subset o

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Tell me about winmail.dat files and then tell me again how easy it is to administer.
    • by kayen_telva ( 676872 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:44PM (#13282472)
      exchange is only useful if you need the shared calendaring/scheduling/etc that it provides.
      otherwise, a linux box running courier-imap, your choice of webmail interface, and exim/postfix/etc is going to be a LOT cheaper
      and the free solution does not have the artificial 16gb limit on storage (soon to be 75)
      outlook works wonderfully with courier-imap.
      just make sure you have a REALLY nice battery backup on all parts of the wan connection and the email server so when the lights go out, the mail keeps flowing...and a backup MX record too
      • Cost is a relative thing, if you can manage the server yourself, and avoid the expense of a new administrator, it helps. The cost of the software is just one part of the picture.

        The 16 Gb limit hurt me hard once upon a time, and it snuck up on me... the Enterprise version doesn't have it, so we upgraded. It does truely suck to have that artificial limit, I agree.

        Mail servers retry, so you aren't likely to lose email unless you're down for a day or more. If people are relying on email as a reliable mode of

  • Google please help (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Leknor ( 224175 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:55PM (#13280323)
    It would rock if you could simply point your MX records at smtp.google.com and let them do the rest. We get a great webmail, Google gets loyal customers.
    • I have emailed Google many time about this. I would love to move my domain to them. I would even pay for this. I have never recieved a response. I hope they do this someday.
  • Qmail is a good place to start, seems to be easyer to configure than sendmail. Qmailrocks.org has a nice set of instructions.
  • Although you'll get made fun of for not knowing everything there is, qmailrocks.org offers fairly simple instructions on setting up qmail with ClamAV and Spamassassin.

    If you know nothing about mail you can learn enough in a few days to get qmail up and running. The mail list and forums are highly active and full of people willing to help you.
  • A few options (Score:4, Interesting)

    by j-turkey ( 187775 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @01:59PM (#13280360) Homepage

    As outlined in earlier posts, you have quite a few options when it comes to email service.

    You can have it hosted. This is probably the easiest option. It sounds like you've had some bad experiences with this, and may be wary of it. You will have the best luck going with larger, more established hosts that embrace modern technology and have a strong, well documented, and well enforced AUP (that bans all kinds of spamming).

    The second option has also been mentioned. Run a small Unix-based email service out of your office. This is probably the cheapest option, and depending on whom you compare it to, day-to-day management and troubleshooting can be quicker than a hosted service.

    The third option is going to be an unpopular one with the Slashdot crowd (and in some cases, understandably so). Check out Microsoft Exchange (try the one bundled with Small Business Server). There are other groupware applications out there, and some (like Novell/SUSE's OpenExchange) are worth consideration...but nothing is Exchange. If you're already a Microsoft shop, you should definitely consider it as it integrates well with the MSFT software that you already have. Of course, it's budget dependant (and is an expensive platform to use). In your case with a small shop and limited experience, I would have a third party come in and set it up for you, and sign up for a service contract.

    For an end user (especially management types), Exchange has every feature under the sun. It would help if you identified your goals (specifically budget and featureset desired) and then decide on what product is best for you. However, I would advise you to leave no option off the table, even if you have personal issues with the software. Also, all of these options are available as hosted solutions. However, it's important to weigh out both the benefits and drawbacks to hosting. Benefits are relatively obvious, and some drawbacks are that you lose control over your service, and certain quick tasks (like a password change) can take hours or even a full day for them to get around to.

    • The main problem with Exchange (and most Microsoft software in general) is that when it breaks, it's usually very difficult to figure out what broke and how to get it fixed. With Open Source solutions, you can take a look under the covers and figure it out. With Exchange, you either find your problem listed in the MS Knowledge Base, or you're SOL. Even when you call MS, all they do is look it up in the KB, unless you're a really large company, paying them a lot of money. And with Open Source, Google provide
      • The main problem with Exchange (and most Microsoft software in general) is that when it breaks, it's usually very difficult to figure out what broke and how to get it fixed.

        Agreed...and I've been on both sides of this. I've worked on a development team for a large (tier 1) ISP who was developing early ecommerce hosting platforms. We were developing Unix and Windows platforms side-by-side for our web hosting operations center. I believe that it used IIS 3 and some version of MS Commerce Server with Wi

  • (redundant, but concise)

    Most of your out of the box solutions will do well for you. If you're under budget constraints, or just want the reliability of an "appliance" (after it's all configured and running) any of the downloadable *nixes will do you well. Debian [debian.org] (my pref), Fedora [redhat.com], or *BSD, for example, include postfix for the SMTP portion, a selection of IMAP and POP3 services to choose from, various web-mail interfaces, etc... right out of the box (or I guess ISO).

    If it were me (and it has been), I'd go
    • Ditto the postfix bit. I have used it for several small companies, and it runs beautifully. Spam filtering (blacklists, spamassassin, greylisting) works nicely, you can easily view statistics via munin or something similar, and there are a ton of log analysis scripts and proggies out there.

      My preferred combo is FreeBSD + Postfix with TLS/SMTP (for "outside" clients) + Dovecot secure imap + OpenSSL + Openwebmail. If you absofuckinglutely must, you can drop this setup in a DMZ or third interface of a PCEng [pcengines.ch]
      • As for redundancy, do nightly incrementals, use a decent RAID-5 controller (adaptec 2810SA or equivalent) with hot standby and don't forget to use hard drives from different lots, and maybe mirror your drives to another box if you're paranoid (I've never needed to do this but if you're really worried you can do RAID-10.

        For a business, yeah the RAID-5 is required when you don't want to loose ANYTHING. For my home system I do nightly mirroring, and that's good enough. If I loose a disk, I loose less than a

  • I can't answer your main question, but i'd advise against E-Smith. It's a nice product, but the community around it has degenerated to a point where we've decided to move our small company server to Fedora or something else generic.

    It's a shame, as it is a nice system for small companies. What's ClarkConnect like then?
  • I havent seen it mentioned yet but Lotus Domino srait out of the box is fairly easy and has many after market products. Lotus also has a large user/admin community. It is pricy though.
  • Courier MTA (Score:2, Informative)

    by psicat ( 237781 )
    I would suggest RedHat or CentOS running CourierMTA http://www.courier-mta.org/ [courier-mta.org].

    The standard Courier bundle has everything you need for a mail server (web administration, webmail, imap4, pop3, TLS/SSL, filtering, mail lists, fax support, etc...). If desired, all you need to add is SpamAssassin and a virus scanner. I have been running this combo for years with great results.

    -Nathan
    • I've been running CourierMTA for about 4 years now and I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly agree with that recomendation. Courier is Very good... but its also Quirky as all get out. Compared to say Exim or Qmail there are just a number of things that are just different enough that they can begin to add up to make your life more difficult. The latest thing I noticed is the lack of an Easy user friendly vacation message setup. Having to manually set up .forwards can also be a pain, and while I really approv
  • by GangstaLean ( 102189 ) <gangstalean@nOspaM.birdinthebush.org> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @02:51PM (#13280827) Homepage
    Really, there are certain costs with DIY vs. hosted. They are:

    DIY
    • Always have access to mail, even if internet is down
    • Granular control over routing, message groups, etc.
    • Control over spam solutions

    Hosted
    • Someone else does the backup
    • Access to some higher end features w/o the work
    • Groupware functionality w/o the work
    • Webmail already solved for you


    I ran my own mail server for my various domains, and have set up mail servers for companies. currently I'm using Fusemail [fusemail.com] for my personal and consulting email, and I'm starting to think that I would recommend it for most small companies.

    The reason behind this is, I don't have the time to do the administration myself. I have other work priorities, and messing around with a server all the time is not one of them. The other benefits are, network synchronization of calendar, IMAP, server side sorting, and eventually Outlook pluggability (good for PDA users).

    You can do this stuff yourself, but it takes time and is not always reliable. The down side of picking an external provider is, when your internet goes down, email is down, even internally. That can hurt a company and your credibility.

    With that said, I would look potentially at email service providers (not web hosting providers) for an external solution, and probably exchange for an internal solution with groupware, and other unix solutions for internal email without groupware.

    What you need to decide is how much responsibility you want for being the point person on email. If you're already afraid of the result, better to hire a domain expert, and one that's been in business. Get a good SLA (service level agreement), and assure that your internet connection is either redundant or up most of the time.

    • Webmail already solved for you

      As opposed to the ever-so-tedious process of installing, say, SquirrelMail? I mean, it's not like it comes with major operating systems like Fedora or anything...

      • Keep in mind this individual has said he's already afraid of potential problems, so let's not assume that installing a unix server is going to be a piece of cake. It may, and it may not.

        In addition, while squirrelmail may address the mail issue, it may not address the groupware functionality his users may require (calendaring, ldap address editing, tasks, group appointments). I've had offices as small as 5 people insist on having Exchange based on their "need" for groupware.
        • In addition, while squirrelmail may address the mail issue, it may not address the groupware functionality his users may require (calendaring, ldap address editing, tasks, group appointments). I've had offices as small as 5 people insist on having Exchange based on their "need" for groupware.

          Golly, if they need groupware that badly, build moregroupware. It works for us, and we even use it as project management software.
  • I use a linode.com vps to handle my email. I don't know that it's not a great solution for a company, because it's got a bit of a kludgy feel to it, but for a person with a vanity domain, it's pretty good.

    I use my domain registrar's DNS servers, use a SMTP server on the vps to catch mail for my domain, and forward it from there to two places -- a pop account provided by my cable company, and a gmail account.

    Gmail is nice because you can configure the "reply-to" address, so outgoing mail acts as if you're s
    • If all you're doing is mail and a simple website, it's easier and much cheaper to host a vanity domain with Namecheap, a DNS registrar. They can provide you POP3 service for like $25/year, 10 mailboxes. Or, for part of the basic $8 registration, you can set up mailforwards. I don't know if there's any limit to how many you can do, but you can forward arbitrary addresses in your domain to some other mailbox. If you're hosting example.com with them, you can point astrashe@example.com to, say, astrashe@gma
  • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@@@earthlink...net> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @03:28PM (#13281155)
    Look into what Apple has to offer. Mac OS X Server looks very nice. It will run on anything from an old iMac to a Xserve G5. It features spam filtering, web mail, anti-virus, and encrypted connections.

    I haven't used Apple's server products since the days of Mac OS 9. I'm just a fan of their products.
    • <old codger>Bah! iMacs aren't old! Even a Macintosh SE is only middle-aged. If you want an old computer, get a PDP-11!</old codger>

      Well, okay, I jest about Macintosh SE. It's as bad a dinosaur as the PDP-11. But iMacs still aren't old enough to be "old" yet.

      --Ender
  • Short answer: No. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AnotherBlackHat ( 265897 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @04:00PM (#13281426) Homepage

    "Our company just had its bi-annual email crisis/outage, so my boss wants to try something new -- to give me the 'opportunity' to figure out and implement a better way to host our small domain's email.


    So you're unhappy with 99.5% uptime.
    (assuming that those two outages per year are for a full 24 hours...)


    We've changed hosts a few times, but whether we spend a little money or a lot none have been as reliable as we've liked -- companies fold, get blacklisted by AOL, and so forth.
    Is there a way to be smart about this, without hiring a dedicated email server pro?


    So you're not going to be happy with a solution that involves having someone else do it...


    Do reliable email hosts actually exist?


    There is no such thing as 100% uptime.

    While better than 99.9% uptime hosting does exist,
    you're not likely to find one without doing a lot of work, and even then there will still be outages.

    There isn't an ISP in existance that will both let a random company do email, and not be on some blacklist somewhere.


    Should we run 'email appliance' software (such as ClarkConnect or E-Smith) on our own server? I'd appreciate any tips here - hell hath no fury like people without email, and I am very afraid..."


    Best advice I can offer is to tell your boss that despite the problems you've had with [best service provider to date], there aren't any better solutions available, and you recommend living with the problems, rather than dealing with a whole new set of problems.
    Anything else would set you up as the fall guy when email breaks in the future.

    -- Should you believe authority without question?
  • Advice (Score:4, Informative)

    by dodobh ( 65811 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @05:06PM (#13281881) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I work for a _very_ large email hosting company. If you have less than a few thousand users, don't even think about hosting with us.

    Your choices will depend on budget and administrative flexibility.

    1> Outsourced hosting: This is probably the easiest and cheapest method available. However, it is also likely that if your hoster is primarily a webhost, you will be hurt by someone else putting up bad scripts or software on the same box.
    Going with companies dedicated to hosting email is probably a better choice.

    2> Running your own server colocated in a datacentre: This gives you full control on the box, and attendant responsibility. If you choose your hosting company properly, you will find that you can email almost anywhere. (There _are_ people who will block even large hosts with very little justification).

    3> Do it inhouse: You need minimal business class connectivity (permission to run servers, static IP and proper reverse DNS). Hire someone to setup the box for you, or use an appliance. Using a non appliance box gives you more flexibility, but some more responsibility as well.

    What you need to do is decide on
    a) What OS/distribution to use.
    b) Which MTA to use
    c) Which IMAP server to use.

    I would go with a well supported Linux distribution (RedHat/SuSE for the commercial, Debian for free) or a FreeBSD 4.x box. My personal MTA of choice is Postfix, with Courier-IMAP doing POP3 and IMAP with webmail served by Squirrelmail.

    If you _need_ a web based UI for management, use Webmin.

    For spam filtering, SpamAssassin and Clamav for the antivirus. Wrap both these with amavisd-new.

    The documentation for all these products is excellent, and plugging stuff in is trivial.

    Your (Free) alternatives for MTA are: Exim, Qmail, Sendmail.
    For the IMAP server: Cyrus, Dovecot and UW-IMAP.

    Some people here recommend a backup MX. I would suggest avoiding the backup MX, since mail is queued for 5 days normally. If you have downtime > 5 days, you have bigger problems.

    The cost of doing this inhouse would be in terms of the time you spend in updating packages and reading the documentation.
    • heh, that sounds almost exactly like my favourite solution, FreeBSD, postfix, amavisd-new, clamav, spamassassin, maildrop, courier and squirrelmail.

      I wouldn't use webmin just for web based e-mail management tho, for a small to medium site I've found postfixadmin [high5.net] a very nice solution. It uses the database extendability in both courier and postfix to make managing users and domains a snap. (And as maildrop uses couriers authlib as well it will find the mailboxes perfectly).

      The maildrop and the amavisd-new con
  • Magma [magma.ca] has incredible service and support and in my experience is about as rock solid reliable as you will find.

    If there has ever been an e-mail outage I certainly haven't noticed it in several years. And I rely a lot on e-mail.

    Great anti-spam filtering too.
  • Provided you have a stable fixed IP, host the e-mail server yourself.

    You said you are a small company, but you haven't said what do you mean with "small".

    Let's say 500 mail accounts. OK; let's say 1000 accounts.

    Your easiest and safest bet is looking for a savvy Linux sysadmin/free lancer to implement it for you. Provided everything is in place (hardware, connection and your VISA card if you don't own an Internet Domain) it won't take more than two days (I'd say 5-10 hours of -relaxed, work). He will do t
  • I don't know how many people you have working under your domain or what business you are in, but perhaps you could consider a move to a forum based solution. If your business does something that would benefit from a community-based forum, I recommend going in that direction.

    Just a small-timer's observation, but I have pursued running a mail server for a small web site I run, and I found the process to be defeating in every way. SMTP, POP, and DNS constitute a remarkably arcane way of sending text-based mess
  • Disclaimer: I work for FastMail.FM [fastmail.fm]

    Many of the customers we pick up previously used either free email services or an email component of an overall hosting company. The problem being that since email wasn't the primary business of their provider, it wasn't treated with the priority that email users need.

    A good place to compare services and read reviews is EmailAddresses.com [emailaddresses.com]. There are forums specifically for a few of the bigger dedicated providers there, as well as more general discussion areas, and the ow
  • Hosting your e-mail in-house doesn't mean you need an expert on-staff. Find a local consultant who can setup , e.g. linux/postfix/cyrus/mailscanner/clamav/spamassass i n, and show you how to add accounts and manage the quarantine.

    Work with him to refine the configuration for your enterprise and you'll have a hot, fast, nearly ideal e-mail system.

    It may need a few hours of love every few months for updates but not much beyond that

    Oh, and for the love of God, don't skimp on the UPS for the server and let it s
  • I use a multi-vendor solution to this problem. I subscribe to Postini for virus and spam services, which has several benefits. First, they provide spooling services should my email server become unavailable. Second, ALL inbound and outbound email from my domain passes through their server, adding a layer of protection for my email server and the email servers of our customers (should an internal virus outbreak occur). Third, our MX record lists Postini IP addresses, so I am free to move my email server
  • Looks like this was posted durings kids' half-hour so I'll un-recline my chair and get my hands on the keyboard...

    Firstly let's return to the requirements. You say your boss wants something "better" and you illustrate the point by mentioning an "outage". Okay we've got a little bit to go on there. Furthermore you talk about experience with "hosts". Think I might be able to guess where you're coming from here. Think we might be able to discount Linux.

    Anyway, I digress: what exactly was getting to your boss?

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