Outsource Your E-mail Server

Hillary Clinton isn’t the only one to run her own e-mail server.  For the past decade or more, I have been running my own e-mail servers, from Surge Mail to Axigen.  It was finally time to realize that, while I could run my own e-mail server, I didn’t enjoy it much.  It is probably better and safer – for me and everyone else – if I have someone else manage my e-mail server.

This has been one long road of discovery.  I have run Linux operating systems for a long time and took a look at the free tools – Dovecot and Postfix – that you can use with Ubuntu.  However, I really needed something for those with fewer technology chops.  I ended up using Axigen, which has a free license up to version 8 and runs on Ubuntu.

A combination of things – not including Mrs. Clinton’s travails – made me decide to change my approach.  Axigen has announced a new version but wasn’t yet ready to commit to keeping the free license when I emailed their sales team.  I’d never been happy with how SpamAssassin – another free application available on Ubuntu – missed some messages, nor how Axigen handled them.  This was almost certainly due to the limited knowledge I could bring to bear to these applications.

All in all, after having researched different options for an alternative, I settled on Zoho’s Mail server.  For me there were three paths, one of which was hosting my own server.  The other two were to use the e-mail service provided by my ISP but then I wouldn’t be able to use my own domain name.

The last option was to use cloud-based e-mail.  If your business or private e-mail server uses its own domain name, signing up for Google Apps for Business or Microsoft Office 365 or Zoho can take the place of your in-house e-mail.

I chose Zoho because it was free for the account size I wanted.  The configuration was easy and required a few changes to the DNS servers that my mail system used.

One challenge I had with Axigen was that it stores e-mail in a proprietary file format.  You can’t export e-mail directly from their system, but you can still use an IMAP client to move a mailbox to an offline copy.  Then, when you connect to Zoho or your other new e-mail service, you can copy everything back up to the server.  Zoho does have an import tool that will work with some e-mail servers but I wasn’t successful using it.

The pros for going to a cloud-based e-mail service include:

  • I am no longer responsible for uptime and upgrades;
  • I can use two-factor authentication and SSL for my e-mail server without managing those myself;
  • Spam and other filtering tools are more powerful in Zoho than I was able to accomplish on my own;
  • I could cut down the number of open ports on my network to just basic Web traffic and forget about issues like open relays and the like.

In my case, there are no real cons.  I was already using Web mail and Zoho works with my IMAP-based e-mail applications.  You might balk at cloud-based e-mail but the reality is that your e-mail server is Internet facing and the server, the e-mail application, and the hardware between it and the Internet needs constant vigilance.

At some point recently, I no longer had the interest to maintain that vigilance or do the utility break-fix work needed.  This switch has given me more time to do things I enjoy, as well as more time to focus on maintaining the technologies that I do enjoy working with.


David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.