Running an Exchange server etc

Discussion in 'TechTalk' started by tetranz, Feb 10, 2007.

  1. tetranz

    tetranz Perch

    This is sort of off-topic but I think it probably fits this forum best. I'd like to explain my situation and just see if anyone has any suggestions or better ideas.

    I provide volunteer IT support for a private school where my partner is the manager. They have about 12 users on a Windows network using an old Dell desktop machine as a server which is running Windows NT 4 and Exchange 5.5. That was setup before I was involved. It actually works reasonably well but I've replaced the hard disk in the server three times in the last three years or so. The one I installed a few weeks ago was a 160 GB that cost $45 after rebate at a local big box store so the financial cost is not high but since I really only have time at weekends its a huge hassle if a disk problem occurs and I can't attend to it for a few days. Luckily, the backups have been good.

    I've told them that they really need a new server that has at least RAID 1, ie mirrored disks. The Dell Small Business Server offerings look good. I'm open to offers if anyone has a better suggestion (we're in the USA).

    Their domain is at Jodo where they have a DotNetNuke site. Email is done by forwarding from Jodo to pop mailboxes at their ISP. Everyone has both the ISP pop and their Exchange account setup in Outlook. Incoming pop messages are stored in Exchange. They're getting lots of spam which I notice is coming directly into the ISP so in the next few days I'm going to change things so that they use pop mailboxes at Jodo. They're on mail5 so hopefully DSpam is working for them.

    With the new server, I really want mail to come directly into Exchange via SMTP. Multiple users all popping out to a host is inefficient and generally messy. They have a business DSL line which I think allows them to run servers. There are two issues about this:

    Every penny counts. A static IP costs more. Has anyone had experience running a mail server on a dynamic IP using a dynamic dns service? We use a no-ip.com subdomain now for remote access and it works very well. One concern I have is that in the few minutes after the IP number has changed but the dns hasn't caught up, then any mail will attempt to be delivered to whoever inherits the old IP. If its rejected then that's fine, the sending server will retry but I wonder what the chances are that this machine just happens to be running an SMTP server that just happens to accept any address for any domain and our mail is accepted. Probably very slim.

    I don't know how good the spam filtering is in Exchange 2003. I bet its not as good as DSpam and Spamassassin so I'd like to make use of Jodo's spam filtering. Without wanting any special services at Jodo, my thoughts are to setup Exchange with two domains. ie, OurSchool.com and something like OurSchool.no-ip.com which would be setup with an MX record pointing to Exchange. I would define users at Jodo so that user1@OurSchool.com forwards to user1@OurSchool.no-ip.com etc. Mail would be received at Jodo, processed by the spam filters and forwarded to Exchange. Can anyone see any problems with that other than the fact that it means maintaining the users at Jodo as well as in Exchange? That would be a small price to pay for good spam filtering.

    Even though its a business account, I think the IP number is likely to be flagged as residential so to avoid being blocked or greylisted, we would send outgoing messages via Jodo. I think Exchange can authenticate to an outgoing server for relay. Port 25 out is blocked so we'll use 587.

    The cost of Small Business Server (ie Windows 2003 and Exchange 2003) with sufficient CALs is quite significant so I've pondered over the idea of getting them away from Exchange but they are really hooked on the Outlook / Exchange shared calendar functionality. Even if there is an alternative that comes close its a scary thought because they'd still want to access their old data. I don't really want to be remembered as the geeky guy who screwed things up with a "science experiment" on the server. The only other thing the server is used for is as a file server that samba on Linux would work absolutely fine for.

    Well, thanks if you're still reading. I'm not really asking for anything specific but any thoughts are appreciated.

    Cheers
    Ross
  2. manopb

    manopb Perch

    If cost, time, and reliablity are an issue, take a close look at this.
    Use JodoHost mail services as your backup service by placing them with lowest priority ranking in the MX records.

    Benifits:
    It's free.
    Outsourced - No Maintenance
    POP access
    Huge mail accounts
    Private/Shared calendar app
  3. timruns

    timruns Perch

    I agree with Manopb,
    Google Apps is great, provides pretty decent Spam filtering. I gave different clients using different levels of it.
    For a small company that wants more features than POP provides, but cannot afford a stable Exchange-ish server, I think it is a great option. The only downside is to fully utilize the features, you need to retrain the users to go to a web page, vs Outlook...
    The pop setup aspect is slightly more complex. Just because Google provides more security...
    My company actually uses Google to share/store all our documentation (Google Docs).
  4. Stephen

    Stephen US Operations Staff Member

    I have actually used google spreadsheet(back before it was merged) with the live editing/watching feature for some great communications and management features, that tool is quite handy!
  5. tetranz

    tetranz Perch

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. Unfortunately I had already suggested Google and the response was that the calendar just didn't measure up compared to the the Outlook calendar. Things may have improved since then so perhaps we'll take another look.

    Is it the suggestion to use Gmail's pop service to pull mail into Outlook and store it in pst files that are backed up locally? I know they wouldn't want to use webmail all the time. They also wouldn't want to take the risk, however small, of waking up one day and finding their Gmail accounts have disappeared or been canceled or something. But if we use Gmail like that then we don't get any real use of their generous storage space. If we set the pop clients to "leave on server" then I wonder how well that really works when you have hundreds or thousands of messages sitting on the server.

    I'm not knocking anyone's ideas, just tossing up options. I know its all a compromise on trying to do things on a shoestring.

    I use Gmail myself and their spam filter is very good. I've also started using the Word Processor.

    Cheers
    Ross
  6. manopb

    manopb Perch

    I use Outlook with regular Gmail and Gmail hosted email for my own domain, as do some of my clients. Email is downloaded from the server as normal, but it is also saved/stored at Google. No need to use "Leave On Server". It works well until you max out the account and they stop allowing new messages to come in, which happend to one of my clients. Google did send notification, and she was force to delete messages to make room. Other than that there have been no negitive experiences.

    They only delete accounts with no activity within nine months.

    Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Why not test it for a couple of months, if it doesn't work out, changing over to something else for 12 endusers is no big deal.
  7. Stephen

    Stephen US Operations Staff Member

    One note, "leave on server" is not needed to be checked, gmail won't erase messages from the server even if deleted in the pop client :)
  8. manopb

    manopb Perch

    Yes, I left that part out, checked or unchecked has no effect, Gmail saves all messages until deleted at the server.
  9. tetranz

    tetranz Perch

    Thanks for clarifying that. It sounds ideal in many ways. Our backup is server only so I'd have to figure some way of backing up the local Outlook pst files with some sort of agent. Either that or have the pst files on the server but I suspect that doesn't work very well. All food for further thought.

    Ross
  10. eehost

    eehost Perch

    I'm considering using google apps on some of my domains.. but I'd like to know, aren't you concerned about privacy?
  11. Stephen

    Stephen US Operations Staff Member

    Google is not beta'ing a premium feature that is $50/year(per user), no ads etc, it is also high customizable. I knew the'yd do this at some point, maybe with the space they offer it is worth it, I know it is not something we can do.
  12. manopb

    manopb Perch

    LOL:)

    Got a cell phone, how private is that?

    Nether, my clients, or I use email to transmit highly private or c[FONT=&quot]onfidential[/FONT] information, so major concerns.
  13. eehost

    eehost Perch

    It's not just about any kind of privacy concern. Google is today holding a lot of information about you and your behaviour online, not just like the choosen mobile carrier transmitting your phone calls with your girlfriend.

    Just for your interest take a look at this Gmail is too creepy.
  14. Stephen

    Stephen US Operations Staff Member

    Couldn't the same be said about the government, about yahoo, bout microsoft?
  15. manopb

    manopb Perch

    I use my cell phone for business, so clients have direct access to me, but I do nothing by land phone, cell phone or email that I would worry about. They are all monitored in one form or another.

    I had already read that page at Google Watch, and there really is nothing stated there that bothers me enough to keep me from using their services. I guess I'm just not that paranoid.
  16. eehost

    eehost Perch

    Google seems almost like it is the goverment. I wouldn't be surprised if it is.
  17. timruns

    timruns Perch

    hmmm....
    not only do I not send super-secret spy stuff via my gmail account (or other domains which run on google mail servers), but I think that my life must be vastly more boring than yours.

    You see, no one wants to know about the things I email about. I am not defrauding wall street (at least not putting it in emails), nor am I committing treason, nor, even, am I building a search engine empire that Google would want to quash before I make my first $10billion.

    I have worked in organizations which have dealt with very confidential records (banks and universities). I now laugh whenever someone says that something is confidential. It is OK, because the risk of someone taking the information is low compared to the amount of information out there.

    Think about it -- all my email could be read by Jodohost personnel -- they, unlike Google, actually might care to know what I write, since I do business with them. I could go in to HSphere and view all my clients emails. If you are at a larger firm running exchange, guess what, the exchange admins can read your email. If you are not using encrypted emails, everywhere your email goes, between your computer and its destiniation could find out what you are writing.

    For me, I am just going to trust that Google, Jodo, and any other organization which my emails route through, could care less about what my emails state...

    just my $.02
    Tim


    PS -- i am not implying that I think Jodo personel would ever read client emails -- just using it to make a point...
  18. eehost

    eehost Perch

    Well, Jodo probably won't keep your data for ever. Google does and it's not so much about having something to hide, but about things that are fine one day and tomorrow are not and you could go to jail for them. But it's true that you have to trust someone, I just don't think it's wise to trust google so much.

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