Sourcing for a new email service

Couple of years ago I wrote about the initial troubles with Fusemail service not long after having switched to it. The grade for the service level during last couple of years is “fair” – the service is usable, and has many good features, but its stability is not stellar. For this reason it is in my plans to move the email service out of Fusemail.. but where to?

There are several hosted email solutions available – such as Rackspace Webmail or BlueTie Business Email. From time to time I’ve reviewed Rackspace’s features, and among other things they still did not support user-by-user adjustment of spam filter aggressiveness, or the ability to alias users and domains to actual accounts. Especially for the latter reason using Rackspace would be prohibitively expensive for me, so the search had to continue.

I think I have now found a workable solution: an in-house Postfix+Dovecot server with Google Postini as the edge (MX) service. Postfix is an incredibly robust and infinitely configurable mail server that I have only had positive experiences with. But I would rather not have to deal with spam filtering, and I also would rather not have to stress about “high availability” of the in-house server. Yes, the server will generally be up and receiving email, but should there be a hardware failure, I would want the inbound mail to be both cached and accessible while the server is repaired. Postini Message Continuity system provides this at $25/year/user (including spam/virus filtering), which roughly equals the annual cost of Fusemail service. If the receiving email server becomes unavailable, the arrived messages are cached, and are accessible via Gmail. Once the in-house service is then restored, the cached emails are quickly delivered.

However, one issue remained: in my configuration several of the aliased domains have ‘forward’ addresses that don’t have an associated user account at Fusemail, but that Fusemail has allowed to be forwarded to external destinations without an extra fee (or a separate account). I would not want to have to set up individual accounts at $25/year each to take care of these external forwards. But there is a way! Information about the aliased users and domains is retained in the messages as they’re forwarded by Postini. So by setting up one generic – or a “forwarder” – account at Postini, and then aliasing any such external forward accounts to it, it is possible to separate and correctly forward the emails to their intended recipients using Postfix’s rewriting rules.

Note that the in-house email server will need to be set to receive unauthenticated emails only from Postini’s IP range; that way spammers can’t bypass Postini filtering should they discover your SMTP server via port scan (and they will discover it, sooner or later). Also note that while Postini Message Continuity homepage mentions Exchange Server as the in-house mail server, they also provide instructions for how to integrate Postfix (more info can be found on the web).

While this solution does require familiarity with Postfix/Dovecot, it should offer an extremely stable email setup – and maximum amount of control over how email is routed – at a very reasonable cost.

When I get around to implementing this configuration I’ll write an article or series of articles of the process. Meanwhile I welcome any feedback, as well as suggestions for other comparable services. If a stable/high quality, reasonably priced, outsourced solution with good amount of control (equal or better than Fusemail) exists, I would consider it. But for now it seems that currently the only/best solution that won’t miss a beat while not breaking the bank is the one I’ve outlined above.