Fusemail, strike one

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.

Strike One

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.

29 thoughts on “Fusemail, strike one”

  1. The account that went missing was restored by the next morning (it was still gone at 04:00, but back up sometime before 10:00). There has been no acknowledgement of my support tickets (besides the account having been restored) thus far which leaves me wondering if the problem was perhaps more widespread in their system (hence no time to respond to individual tickets)? However, their status site showed no current issues.

    In any case, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this not to occur again. I suppose when [any] services are outsourced, you trade certain amount of control for the convenience.

  2. Thanks for the honest and detailed review. We need more of this out there and hopefully this can help others as they start to evaluate email hosting providers.

    If you ever have any questions about Mailtrust please free to contact me: cameron [at] mailtrust.com or twitter.com/mailtrust

  3. Fusemail tech support finally called back about 15 hours after my first request for emergency support. The cause for the trouble was surprisising: an internal email I sent was considered spam by Fusemail’s automated system which then suspended my account. Read more here.

  4. Ville, did you come across and consider BlueTie (www.bluetie.com) in your research? Would be interested to know if you saw it but did not include in your consideration set or just did not know about BlueTie.

  5. Jeremy, thanks for the tip. I wasn’t aware of it.. didn’t come across it in Google, and it wasn’t on Wikipedia’s list of managed email providers (neither is Mailtrust, but I was aware of them otherwise). I’ll take a look at it!

    I also looked at LuxSci, but they appeared cost-prohibitive. We have various domains to alias, number of aliases for each user, and various distribution lists so that even though the number of actual user mailboxes is about 15, the number of different receiving addresses is many times that. Additionally a company that uses phrases like “Pricing philosophy” and “Standard Email entitlements / licenses” on their website scare me! 😉

  6. By the way, Fusemail folks (you must read this), I would invite you to respond once you have done something about the outbound spam filtering so that it won’t even temporarily suspend an account when supposed outbound spam is detected.

    Fusemail is a great service that has few more serious glitches (like the one that prompted this and the next blog post), and some less significant ones like the fact that the alias-lists don’t sort, or the one that prevents secure connections from Outlook to IMAP (which can be done since Mailtrust does it). But feature-wise Fusemail is very nice; for example it has it all over Mailtrust in Mail Rules.

    Stability and support I can’t comment on yet, other than the harrowing support experience last weekend. An extra level of security (if you’re paranoid about how well managed service backs up their email ;)) is provided by sending a backup of each email to a free gmail account set up for that purpose. It’s not a bad idea anyway: I use Outlook as my primary email client and every now and then accidentally delete a message that I’m reading through IMAP. Since Outlook doesn’t copy deleted IMAP messages into Trash, the message is *gone*. But with a backup of all inbound email sent to gmail, I can in such instances log in to my backup mailbox to retrieve the lost mail. This would obviously be cumbersome in large environments, but works well when there’re dozen or so mailboxes.

  7. I apologize for the issue that you experienced. I have taken care of your account so your accounts will not be spamblocked. I am very sorry that you had a poor support experience and will definitely speak with my technicians about this. Please let me know if you have any questions or issues, and I am also going to respond to your ticket.

    Cathy Reinsel
    Director of Technical Support
    FuseMail, LLC

  8. I’ve been a Fusemail customer for over 3 years and reccommend it.

    I’ve found support to be pretty good, its good value, and up until a couple of weeks ago their anti spam system was almost perfect. I don’t use the webmail as I don’t think its very good. I use IMAP.

    I haven’t enquired about it yet but in the last couple of weeks ive notice for the first time that a couple of messages have got through to my inbox, and non-spam messages have started to be marked as spam.

    I still highly recommend them.

  9. It could be the amount of spam that is on increase. Always some small fraction of spam gets through. I receive “admin” mail for several domain, hence lots of spam. Yet only perhaps dozen messages or so get through per day (of often over 1000 spam messages). I’m quite satisfied with the spam filtering.

  10. I have been using fusemail to near to a year now. I would say that it is cheap but i have many doubts about their help. Well reply is not immediate, i have not yet seen the live sales chat available. Support you probably have to wait a while to get a reply you can always leave them a message and they will reply later. They have seem to be getting from bad to worse. used to be able to sync with outlook express and microsoft outlook but they just changed a new client and now it only seems to support microsoft outlook.
    their syncing with mobile used to work without hassle, now you have to go enable it and check how to use it. It seems that you DO NOT need to download their funambol plugin included but to use the original nokia plugin to work with sync which was pretty strange for the partnership with funambol, i tried using funambol(downloaded from fusemail as plugin), but there was no settings like they said on their website, the original funambol seems to have them. Maybe they’re releasing stuff before testing them out fully. If you are rich and looking for some top notch stability and promise on features i do not recommend them. By the way syncing with symbian nokia calender works with their calender just tested it, and tools>sync>connection settings>server 1.2 works as well now used to only work with server 1.1

  11. I also continue to use Fusemail. I was testing Mailtrust/Rackspace and didn’t find them to be that different performance-wise, yet they were clearly behind Fusemail in features.

    I also set up a local cache, or proxy, for the emails arriving at Fusemail so that a local (in-LAN) Postfix server receives all the emails and they can then be accessed (by the LAN users) at lightning fast speeds. Outbound emails are likewise cached by the Postfix server and then relayed through Fusemail (or in my case by another external server that is SPF-authorized for the sending domains). This setup does away with the only major gripe I had about Fusemail: the occasional performance dips – whether they were caused by network congestion between my location and Fusemail, or by capacity issues on Fusemail’s end.

  12. Hi Ville-

    Thanks for the post on FuseMail. Much like you, I was a bit wary, but I decided to give them a shot. We go live next week.

    Like you’ve said- there’s a pretty even mix of good:bad reviews online, but the one thing that finally led me to execute was the price and the SLA that came with our agreement, guaranteeing 99.95% uptime.

    With 500 users, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I made the right decision. I’ll re-visit this blog after 30 days and let you (as well as anyone else reading) how my experience has been at that point.

  13. Has anyone found a comparable solution to fusemail at the same price? I am seeing and experiencing nothing but problems and I definitely want to avoid this in the long term (ive only been testing them for 72 hours).

  14. Fusemail has horrible uptime. support is limited to ineffective chat sessions, and the IT tier appears to be unavailable. My primary account has been bouncing mail for more than 24 hours and support has done nothing to fix th problem. Do you expect your email to be reliable?

  15. I have found that using Fusimail to receive only works fairly well. I’ve used Fusemail now for about a year, but after the initial incident (that prompted this blog post) where an outbound email I Cc’d to handful of people at work was intercepted by Fusemail as “spam” and subsequently disabled the entire account, including mail reception on Friday evening, and the issue wasn’t resolved until Sunday evening, I decided to use it to receive only – to buffer inbound mail while I send all outbound mail through my local system. Fusemail has worked reasonably well as a receive-only service. It allows decent multi-domain aliasing and grouping. For the money, though, a year ago it was a good deal for mail reception. At that time Rackspace Mail (formerly Mailtrust) could not match the features and it had its set of problems, too.

  16. Great to find an active post on this… I was just wondering if you guys used the “Geo redundancy” -option? Reliability is paramount to me, and hopefully this works out, as I’d really want to finally settle down with a single, robust e-mail backend. Surprisingly the big old names (Netsol et al.) don’t really seem to do it right.

  17. I am also considering moving from in house hosted email to outsourcing, same reasons (aging server) and company is no smaller and we no longer want to support the complexities of Microsoft Exchange. I am considering porting all users (just three of us) to Fusemail. I see this story is from 2009. What’s the long term story? Are you still using Fusemail? and when you ported your email did you lose your email history or does it still show up, in memory on the users computer?

  18. My employer made subsequently a decision to wholly externalize the mail service to an external consulting company who subsequently returned the company mail to use—now thankfully external—Exchange server. It would not have been my choice, but it was not my call.

    However, I’ve continued to use Fusemail for my internal mail (five human users plus few generic accounts) since then. It has worked reasonably well: there have been no major outages or other significant issues with the service. The only gripe I currently have about Fusemail is that their IMAP has some issue with Outlook 2010 (or Outlook 2010’s IMAP is somehow broken — I haven’t tested it with other IMAP services yet). When deleting messages from an IMAP folder the message IDs get out of sync and Outlook starts complaining.

    For this reason I have recently considered retrying Rackspace Mail (when I last tried them out they were lacking many features I really needed and that Fusemail offers), or caching the mail locally with Postfix – an arrangement that worked very well with small extra management overhead. Since the local cache is really just a duplicate of the remote mailbox it’s also not critical for operations. If the local cache server should go down, users can continue to access mail at the mail provider server without interruption.

    A cache on the LAN would obviously remove any lag that might result from use of a remote service, and there would be full control over the [IMAP] interface to the mailboxes.

  19. Is there any chance you can give some details on how you have your server set up to work the local cache? I’m also in the same situation of trying to find an external email provider / web host, basically for the same reason of I don’t like being in charge of a server when I’m the whole IT staff and I have five users.

  20. Greg, I’ll try to review the local cache configuration over the next few days and will follow up here. I had it fully configured and working before a server upgrade, but haven’t yet re-enabled it on the new LAN server (I have all the old settings saved, so reworking and documenting it should be simple). So stay tuned!

    For external service I’d compare Fusemail and Rackspace, though there are many others like BlueTie. Google’s hosted service I find somewhat scary because it is notoriously difficult to get hold of anyone at Google if problems arise.

  21. I have had nothing but problems with FuseMail. While the customer service agents are very pleasant, nothing ever seems to get done. I send pdf examples and screen shots of issues, but they just want more information, examples, etc. It would be so easy for them to go into the account and just reproduce the events. I can do it! Version 3, while functional, is VERY slow to load and react. A number of features do not work at all, i.e. Outlook contact sync, Outlook calendar sync doubles events to a prior day (with different times), mail distribution lists don’t work and check box in contact doesn’t work. Sorry, but I could NEVER recommend FuseMail. Maybe one of these days they will get the bugs worked out, but I’m going somewhere else.

  22. I have used Fusemail for over 3 years and the totally suck! Poor services, issues of downtime, non-knowledgeable support staff. I thought once they got bought out then they would have better service (both in uptime and support) but this is not the case!

    Fusemail is good for businesses that do not rely on email…

  23. They continue to work so-so ok for me. However, their email server configuration doesn’t work well via IMAP with MS Outlook 2010. I’ll look for an alternative provider sooner or later. Last I checked Rackspace’s mail solution was lacking in features (as compared to Fusemail), however, it might be more solid otherwise.

  24. We’re currently on the lookout for a new hosted email provider. We were happy with Fusemail until they got bought out. It’s been down hill ever since. Actually, today it’s been down since around 3pm and it’s now about 6pm and it’s still down. We require the spam digestreport and rackspace doesn’t offer that. We also require the ability to forward all incoming and outgoing email to another account. It seems difficult to find another provider with those features.

  25. Robert, I agree, Fusemail service has been getting worse and worse over last several months. For example, the IMAP connection now drops regularly (have to restart the clients), and if you go to the Fusemail web interface, you have to wait for several minutes (5? 10?) for the mailbox to be brought current. You would think that the Fusemail webmail would be a “direct view” into the mailbox contents, but that is apparently not the case.

    Like you, I have been contemplating what to do about the mail in the future. I recently opened a trial account at Rackspace to try them out once again. And once again I was reminded that many functions that I need are not available there. Besides spam digest/report they don’t have the option to adjust the “aggressiveness” of the spam filter, and they don’t offer domain aliasing for accounts (so adding more domains for the same accounts costs extra). The aliasing arrangement I’m currently using would become a lot more expensive were I to move to Rackspace.

    As it stands, it seems the only way to get the mail working well is to bring it in house. I like Postfix+Dovecot, and there are many external spam filtering services to choose from (I should actually write a review of them..). Spam filtering in-house is often more trouble than it’s worth considering easily the large volume of spam as well as the effort to keep the filters accurate. An arrangement where the email is received by a filtering service (which would provide filter adjustments, a web-interface to manage/search spam, spam reports, and valid mail caching) with an internal mail server that would only receive non-authenticated mail from the spam filtering service’s forwarders would likely work the best. With valid mail caching, and possible web-interface to the cached mailbox would also remove the stress of having to ensure that the internal mail server never fails; in such event those features would make sure that no mail is lost and that there is temporary access to it while the internal mail server is recovered from a failure.

  26. Thank you for your writing about Fusemail. In this last month of February 2012, I have had my final horrible experience with Fusemail that started two years ago. Consistently they had problems with ATT Business mail. Normally, it would take 1.5 weeks to fix; however, this last time they failed with a fix for over three weeks. This failure has ended my four year relationship with this Canadian company. Ray Cossette, the head of tech support, is one of the main foot draggers in the company. This Canadian has kept his position of ‘putting off till tomorrow what he could not do today’. I found that Cossette was unable to get out of his denial and admit, like other techs were willing to do, that Fusemail has a hard time keeping in sync with certain carriers. I kept my email log to the support team to publish so that the world can see how businesses, like Fusemail, can shoot themselves in the foot while leaving a bad taste in the consumer’s mouth. I want my money back!!!

  27. So I have been on a fusemail auto-renew subscription for years. It just renewed in June 2013 for $24. On 9/10/2013 I receive an email that the minimum monthly fee will be $10. They don’t even have the decency to wait until my subscription is up for their 500% increase. I contacted the BBB to make sure I get a refund for October 2013 – May 2014, since I’m obviously not letting these people gouge me. Spent a whole day moving my entire online life out of fusemail. 🙁 I guess you don’t always get what you pay for. My ancient freebie accounts with various IT giants have remained unmolested over the years.

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