To hire a email host or go with corporate
May 23, 2006 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Should we attempt to hire out for a mailserver or let the seemingly incompetent corporate IT department run our mail, with all the restrictions they want to impose?

Recently our small company was bought by a big corporation.

Our mail (qmail) and web have been hosted on a dedicated Unix server (redhat 9.0) for years with only one problem (some spam list grabbed a range of ip addresses, including ours. easy to solve) , despite not having a dedicated Unix admin or anyone remotely like it. We have zero limits on the size of our mailboxes and we're quite comfortable with that.

Our new IT department wants to get rid of anything that isn't Windows and host our web & email server themselves. They've already swapped out our sales and admin Macs for PCs, though our design stations are ok (thank god, THAT was a battle!) and our web stuff is being hosted on their internal servers.

Sometime after the addition of all these PCs, we've managed to get on the CBL list. The IT department refuses to help since our Unix box isn't under their direct control and they want nothing to do with Unix. I refuse to do anything about this as they don't pay me enough to be a mailserver admin also and I have zero desire to learn anything about administering Windows. ZERO.

This IT department inspires little confidence as they seem to ignore our work schedules and take our network down for various maintenance whenever it suits them and now wish to impose limits on the size our email boxes and monitor all incoming and outgoing mail.

None of the head hunchos at this location want to ceed control of our email servers to corporate and they're willing to buck the trend a bit on this, but is it even pratical to hire out for this? how does one go about hiring an email only host for a business of about 30 people?
How does one get off the CBL list? I delisted us automatically without fixing the problem as I though IT would help and we needed email really bad that particular week. Yes, this is bad, but it was done with the best of intentions of fixing it. Now I have no idea how to fix it, if it's fixable or where to even start? IT swears that our new PCs are virus clean with regular scans and I know jack about diving into the depths of Unix.

So, can anyone recommend a good email host that will deal with the admin side of things? Will this even fix our CBL problem? I have no idea how we got on it and I'm the most tech savy person here (though that's not saying much),
posted by anonpeon to Technology (12 answers total)
Considered Google's hosted mail option? I do some consulting work for a small web design firm and we recently redirected our mail to Google's service (free for under 25 users, for the time being). It's worked just as well as Gmail.

If you're on a RBL of some sort, your mail server may be configured improperly. If you register for an account at you can try their SMTP server test, which may give you some information to go on.

(Dealt with this several times, feel free to email me)
posted by kableh at 12:07 PM on May 23, 2006

Sounds like a typical Unix/Mac vs. Windows war. It is also not uncommon for this to occur when a small company gets purchased by a large one. My advice: either give in and let the company IT dept do their jobs (and the reason they want you to change is not because they want to affect your job, it's just that they have to support a much larger number of devices than you have, and the only way they can accomplish this is through consistency), or find a new job. The fact is this: no IT dept at a large company can hope to provide any sort of decent support if every company that got bought and every internal deparment wanted things done their own special way. If you want them to be understanding of your needs, you must also try to be understanding of theirs. And I am not taking sides either; this argument remains true if a large UNIX or MAC shop bought a smaller Windows-based company. It's all about the benjamins, and its more efficient and cheaper for 10 guys to support 1000 standard servers, than it is for 8 guys to support 990 servers while the other 2 are constantly being dragged away to fix the "exceptions". Just my 2 cents...
posted by tadellin at 12:49 PM on May 23, 2006

anonpeon, can't you just hire someone to do the basic maintenance on your mail server? I've done that before (both hired someone for companies I worked for and been an admin for companies on a contract basis)? It'd be much less than $100/mo in most cases for a competent admin to log in real quick, patch software, fix any security vulnerabilities, and generally get you online again. If you can shake loose that much of a budget from your head honchos, sounds like you're good to go.

By the way, I sympathize about not-so-hot IT staff. I've seen a lot of it in my day and I'm dealing with one right now.
posted by SpecialK at 12:55 PM on May 23, 2006

I'd bet that the IT staff isn't nearly as incompetent as anon suggests. They probably just don't care about the dinky little 30 person division. a big corporate IT departement is 2 to 3 times the size of anons entire company.
posted by Megafly at 1:04 PM on May 23, 2006

So let me get this straight:

1) You don't want to let IT use windows as a mail server, because you're to lazy to learn windows

2) You're to lazy to fix your Unix mail server yourself.

IT is going to let you run the mail server you want if you want to manage it yourself, so I don't see what you're complaining about w.r.t corporate IT.

My feeling is that you either 1) make the biz case for unrestricted email (you're a design shop so maybe you need to ship around huge files or something) or 2) figure out how to fix the mail server yourself. Or 3) get hosted email.

If I were in your situation I'd just shop around for hosted email. Shouldn't be to hard to find, IMO.

Googling for "corporate hosted email" brings up a lot of stuff.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on May 23, 2006

Another option would be to find some unix guru to come in and fix your server for a one-time fee.
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on May 23, 2006

Work in corporate IT, megafly? My experience has always been that those guys are pretty much dicks...

Anyway, getting off the cbl -- or any list, really -- is pretty straightforward. First, test to see if you have an open relay at

From there, just go to and follow the removal procedure from there. Generally, it seems to take 24 hours to get off a blacklist.

Administering a mail server ain't that hard. Really, it's something that any techie type should be able to do -- just follow the instructions that you find online.

Do you have any additional info about how you ended up on the blacklist in the firstplace?
posted by ph00dz at 1:13 PM on May 23, 2006

Another quick question for anonpeon, are you backing up your mail server?
If so, how often? Are your backups being saved off-site? When's the last time you actually tried to restore something from your backups?
If you don't have an answer to those questions, it's just a matter of time before you lose everything.

After way too many years managing mail servers in the corporate world, I've been on both sides of your argument.
It's really annoying when you have a mail system that is working well, and are told you have to get rid of it. I've been on the losing side of that fight, and it really sucks.

That said, if I were one of the corporate IT guys there's no way I'd even consider trying to support what you have now. IT depts are notoriously understaffed. A lot of what you're seeing as incompetence, is just a very small team trying to keep their heads above water.

In my own current situation, we have 2 people administering mail for about 18,000 people. If all our servers weren't exactly the same, that would be impossible.

So, to answer your question, go with hosted mail. I've heard very good reports about Google's service.
posted by Eddie Mars at 2:17 PM on May 23, 2006

Response by poster: megafly-
We regularly have to call in outside admins to fix problems the corporate IT has tried and failed to fix.

Hiring an outside Unix admin might be the way to go. Anything specific I should look for?

1. I'm not too lazy to learn Windows, I just don't want to on a personal and professional level. I'm a designer, not a systems admin. I got a tech savvy bent, so I enjoy helpping out but there's no way in hell I'm going to admin Windows, Windows Servers and or Windows users.

2. I'm too busy to fix it myself. I got a ton of other duties and being Mr. fixit around the shop has got to stop. And it will, starting with this.

No, we're not backing up our server. We've done literally nothing to it except pick it up off the floor to vacum underneath and restart it to deal with Apache config changes. That's it.

Really, there's a host of issues here, technical, political, corporate. Hell, maybe I just need a two week vacation and a case or three of wine and a set of hot swedish twins.
posted by anonpeon at 5:27 PM on May 23, 2006

"We regularly have to call in outside admins to fix problems the corporate IT has tried and failed to fix.

Hiring an outside Unix admin might be the way to go. Anything specific I should look for?"

They let you bring in outsiders to work on corporate stuff? Hrm. Lots of 'big environments' would bring the Hammer of NO down on people real fast for that one.

When looking for a UNIX admin, even a temp, see if they will cough up references. If you put out a post that says "red hat" you *will* get a lot of real turkeys. (Been there, seen it.)

Since you're doing your own mail, do you think that they'd freak out if you brought in a Mac OS X Server to handle email for you guys? 10.4 server really does great in small environments. Postfix, Cyrus IMAP/POP, etc. Decent stuff. It's worth thinking about.
posted by drstein at 7:11 PM on May 23, 2006

Response by poster: Ok, I test for an open relay and it came back positive. I tried following the link describing how to secure Qmail, but said link is broken.

Can anyone point me to the section of the manual that deals with that. Hate to sound like an idiot, but in these matters I am at the moment.
posted by anonpeon at 8:09 AM on May 24, 2006

Response by poster: Ok, I dug around and opened up my rcpthosts file and removed one domain we no longer have.

But will this really fix anything as isn't it easy as hell to forge an email address?

The rcpthosts DID have a domain we are no longer hosting AND it was one that was (seemingly) picked up by spammer/squatter.

So I changed the rcpthosts file to reflect ONLY the domain we currently host. I did it in this format:, which seems to be the correct format on what I've looked up.

Hopefully this will help.
posted by anonpeon at 8:41 AM on May 24, 2006

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