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View Full Version : Email server vs. 'virtual' email server




colenbjw
Apr 3, 2008, 08:02 AM
Greetings,

In your experience, what is better for a small business (8-10 email accounts): having your own email server, or using a web hosts' 'virtual' email server?

Let me explain where this is coming from:

I've been looking into the different options that we have for our email system. Recently, we had to change web hosts, and that required updating of our DNS records, which broke our existing email system. That is, we were running an Exchange server in our building, which was backed up nightly. We felt as though this was a good method of ensuring that our email service was reliable, and especially that we had control over our emailing 'history' if something should happen to the server (or service). Our web site was hosted by a web hosting company, mainly to ensure uptime and reasonable loading times of the site, as our little connection to the web would probably not be 100% reliable. When the web host switch happened, our Exchange server was able to send outgoing mail, but incoming mail was the problem.

Now, with the changeover of hosts, we're using the 'virtual' email server provided by the new host. Our staff are happy because they can use webmail (or, more usefully, they can set up their mail client to work the in the same way on the road as in the office). But, we're a little uneasy with the backup situation - the host is proud of their daily backups (kept for 15 days). This backup is great, except that a full history of email can't be kept on their server (I suppose it could, but you'd have to pay for the space), and, if something should happen to the hosting company (go out of business, start having poor service, etc), WE don't have the backup...

So - I'm contemplating taking back control over our email server... using Leopard Server. I'm sick of Exchange/Outlook/Entourage - love some of the features, but hate the 'lock-in'.

We have a fairly basic connection to the web (through Bell) with a fixed IP address. It should be possible to have Leopard Server set up to serve email within the building, and hopefully give access to our team while on the road, correct?

Ultimately, my question is this: How hard is it to set this type of thing up in OSX Server? (For reference, I'm not a networking expert, and for anything critical, I would seek the advice of an Apple networking consultant). I'm thinking of trying it out on a 'new' network (a pretend business, or something like that). Should I bother doing this, or go straight to the consultant?? I do enjoy figuring this type of thing out, but will I be getting in over my head?

Any thoughts or comments (or alternatives to our email backup conundrum) would be much appreciated!

Thanks!

PS - My apologies if this isn't 'focused' enough - also, apologies if info is missing - I'm just curious for the feel of the responses (typically, in the research I've done, people suggest "the only way of doing this is..." except that MY situation is different from theirs).



Sayer
Apr 3, 2008, 12:38 PM
OS X Server has built in support for POP mail (download it all), IMAP (stays on server) and webmail.

If you have an in-house server you'd need an externally accessible IP address that won't change (static) and must update your DNS info's MX (mail exchange) info to point to your in-house server with its static IP and own sub-domain e.g. mail.yourdomain.

A lot of the mail config is done in a relatively easy to use GUI app.

The downside is that your email server could be used as a spam email relay if not configured properly to block that and if you use IMAP you could quickly fill up a HD with all of the employees mail (spam and all). And then there's backing up all that mail on the server in case of hardware failure or file system corruption.

Personally I'd rather own my own server. You control hardware and software and all data on it. Once it is setup its setup. Just let it run. And you can add more features later such as file sharing for groups/projects, internal web sites for collaboration or time clock/tracking stuff. Or account management, central software updating and more.

ChrisA
Apr 3, 2008, 01:57 PM
Your problem is not with where to put your email server, at the hosting company or at your location but with the quality of your ISP's email server. If your company is like most and "live or dies" on email then you need a robust email service. A robust service will have multiple redundent email servers located at different locations. Your DNS servers will have multiple MX records, one for each of the mail servers. Anyone who is anyone selling email services should have this kind of a setup.

You also will want a local mail server so local intra-office mail does not have to go outside to the Internet, that's just silly waste of bandwidth.

That shoud be the goal. I've set up something like this more than once using Solaris and Sendmail but, sorry never on Mac OS X. The bottom line is you need servers at BOTh your site and the ISP

stukdog
Apr 3, 2008, 09:55 PM
We have a lot of people who really like to be able to control the hardware and the software in our data center. They set their Mac mini up exactly as they like it. Some people like it this way.

On the other hand, for those who just like to set up their accounts, but let someone else manage all teh risks and filters and spam control, I think that Google Apps is really, really nice. It's free and offers everything Gmail has but with your own domain.

http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/index.html

mim
Apr 5, 2008, 07:07 AM
Have a look at Gmail for domains. It's good - full email 'backup', Gmail interface for web browsing, and IMAP for syncing with desktops, laptops, blackberries, iphones. I've changed my own personal email over to it after running my own OS X server using postfix for years. At work we have a dedicated Exchange server, but if we were starting again I'd seriously consider gmail for domains - it's just too easy.

colenbjw
Apr 10, 2008, 09:45 AM
Thank you for all your replies - I appreciate them all!

In fact, I agree with them all - though I tend to feel the same way as Sayer wrt keeping the server in-house. I think I'm going to set up a test email server (with a just-for-fun domain name) here in our office, and use that as a proving ground for my understanding. Then, probably end up using a combination of your responses to get to a final 'product' in a couple weeks...

Is it possible, say, to have our in-house server as the primary MX entry (lowest MX number in the list) and somehow use Bell or another ISP's email server as a secondary (backup) in case our server goes down, connection is lost, etc? Presumably that would be the same as using an ISP with various email servers available for use - but still being able to control the majority of our email service (i.e. all of it, except when something goes down).