Over last several weeks I’ve gradually externalized both my own and my employer’s mail systems from internal servers to an outsourced service. My own mail has been running for years on qmail on FreeBSD. It’s worked well, but the age of my own server has become a growing concern, and in general in event of a system failure mail would not flow – that’s not good, and nobody’s going to fix it if I’m out of town. So paying couple of bucks per month per mailbox is—at least in theory—worth it to not have to stress over mail system (even though I’ve found Postfix/Dovecot really interesting and actually quite pleasant to configure.. I was going to move the qmail system to Postfix before I started thinking about outsourcing the whole thing to save time).
Meanwhile, my employer’s email has been running on Exchange for several years, starting preceding my time with the company. It has been a grief, though I’m sure it’s partially due to the fact that the the mail server is also the domain controller of a small office LAN. But why should it be? Qmail or Postfix run quite well on a Linux/*BSD server with Apache, MySQL, BIND. So I’ve been looking forward getting rid of Exchange, and migrating to Postfix/Dovecot system until, again, I started thinking that perhaps it’s not worth the stress to run an internal mail server. I’m the only person tending to it and, say, if I’m on a vacation and the mail goes down, it would not be good.
Once I started considering outsourcing email an option, I started evaluating various services. Fusemail and Mailtrust quickly bubbled to the top. Fusemail has more features, and the deciding factors (in Fusemail’s favor) were the ability to adjust the spam filtering (Mailtrust only has “on” or “off” options which is a bit scary — if the filtering is too stringent or too lenient, there’d be nothing that could be done about it.. Mailtrust’s rep suggested that I might want to look into an external spam filtering solution if I wanted more control.. but no thanks; I had been running Katharion for mail filtering for several months which worked ok, but if I was going to outsource the mail, I wanted an integrated solution), and the ability to increase a mailbox allocation for an individual user by purchasing more user accounts and allocating their mailbox allowance to the existing users. Mailtrust is fixed to 10Gb.
On the web there is about 50/50 comments for and against the quality of support for both Fusemail and Mailtrust, so from the comments alone it was impossible to deduce which service would have better support. Pre-sales support was slightly better on Fusemail side, and the few quirks ran across during setup have been addressed satisfactorily.
Tonight (Saturday evening) around 18:00 my user account under my employer’s master account suddenly disappeared. I access mail from Outlook via IMAP, and suddenly Outlook prompted for the account password. So I logged in to Fusemail admin account and clicked on my user name. [Paraphrasing] “Cannot edit terminated user account”. What?! To terminate a user account in Fusemail you have to check the checkbox next to the user name, click “Terminate”, check another checkbox (“yes, I’m sure I want to do that”), and then click on “Yes”. Only then does a user account get removed, or scheduled for deletion as it takes many, many hours for the username actually be purged from the system so that it can be taken into use again. I most certainly did not execute those steps. I’m the only one with access to that admin account, and the password is sufficiently complex so that it’s very unlikely the account would’ve been compromised. This leaves system error as the most likely cause. I called the emergency support around 18:30 and left a message (they claim to have someone on call), then again again around 20:00, and also opened an “Urgent” support ticket through their support system at 22:40. It’s now over six hours since my first “emergency” support request, so I can only assume the on-call person has gone to party (or that they don’t have an on-call tech in the first place). The emergency support number instructs the caller that “while the support technician is not immediately available, it does not mean that support would not be available immediately”. It’s looking like they were wrong.
I didn’t lose a tremendous amount of email (and perhaps Fusemail can restore it), but during this downtime emails to my account which has multiple “admin” aliases are being rejected. If I was running my own mail server I could obviously have fixed a problem already, but an outsourced solution is supposed to *reduce* system management stress.
Longevity of this outsourcing attempt depends largely on how Fusemail will deal with this situation. Having to reconfigure my user account and its associated aliases would be annoying, but more than restore I want to know what caused the problem, can they be sure to prevent it from recurring, and what’s the deal with the non-existent emergency support.
If the deleted account would’ve been that of the CEO of my employer, or my personal primary account (which I have also outsourced to Fusemail in a separate account), this first strike would’ve likely been also the last for Fusemail.
Couple of considerations for those who’re comparing, say, Fusemail and Mailtrust, or considering mail outsourcing in the first place:
- Forward/distribution management is currently better implemented in Mailtrust. It’s workable in Fusemail, but it’s more straightforward in Mailtrust. If this is an important feature to you, pay attention when you’re comparing the services.
- Secure connections (SMTP, IMAP, POP) work better with Mailtrust than with Fusemail. Fusemail is supposedly looking into this. Not a huge issue for me since the SMTP traffic is generally not encrypted anyway, so encrypting the last leg (from the service to the client) isn’t very significant.
- Fusemail’s IMAP is not blazingly fast even when accessed from a fast net connection. Same goes occasionally for their web client. They are, however, generally within acceptable limits.
- A general comment if you’re using SPF: when you use a service provider’s SMTP servers you can’t positively lock down who’s authorized to send mail for your domain. If someone who’s hosting their mail at Fusemail decides to send spam spoofing one of my domains, they’ll appear as authorized for the recipient’s spam filter since I’ve authorized Fusemail’s SMTP servers in my domains’ SPF records.
- Test (!) the support of different providers by sending them a support request on Saturday evening. See when you get a response. Fusemail claims on their website: “24x7x365 Support”, but I’m now finding that it is not completely solid; it should instead read: “You can leave us a message 24x7x365″.
- If you don’t have large number of users to support and they use IMAP to access the remote email, consider setting up backup mailboxes at gmail (free!), and creating a mail rule (available at least in Fusemail) which automatically copies those backup mailboxes for all inbound email.