One of the biggest annoyances from our clients is when our mail server is having a ‘bad day’. There’s nothing more important than having a stable email platform. There is of course the exception of e-commerce and adwords which are equally important but let’s pretend they don’t exist.
I’ve been hosting our clients’ emails for 10 years with different providers. We started with Fasthosts, just simple 10mb POP3 accounts but they don’t provide very good spam and virus filtering and they’ve had their fair share of nightmares. Over the course of our relationship with Fasthosts, they managed to get hacked via their SQL server and lost most of our emails through their third party cloud provider. Their support team are British and helpful, but they never virtualised their network and their back-end Matrix FTP and very basic DNS caused many complications.
We then looked at 1&1 which on the outset looked good, but to cut a long storey short, as soon as you ring their support which is in India, you’re well into a packet of paracetamol. Their control panel is clumsy and I just don’t think they’re set-up for advanced users.
So about 3 years ago, we decided to look into cPanel system which is great for resellers as it provides WHM which is a kind of GOD system for managing and controlling your client accounts. There are hundreds of providers who base their architecture on cPanel hosting. I have to say that most of these providers are in a very competitive environment and offer some crazy deals, which I’m glad to say I’ve taken advantage of. You can pick up, unlimited email IMAP accounts, with unlimited size, Spam Assassin, unlimited web hosting and unlimited MySQL databases, all for a fixed fee each month. There is however some risk involved with these budget hosting providers. Ours ins’t virtualised and in fact if it breaks (like it did last week) email, web and all DNS records completely disappear. This is obviously a little embarrassing. Fortunately, this is the first time it’s happened in 3 years.
There’s a few more annoyances which you should be aware of, Spam Assassin isn’t brilliant, it will only catch about 50% of your spam which for an assassin, isn’t a very good kill rate. Secondly when you buy cheap expect cheap support, usually via email only or on-line support chat. As long as you know what you’re doing, then hitting them continuously with a stick, usually yields satisfactory responses. Remember this is on a Linux system which is fundamentally, rock solid.
So in a nut shell, there’s no perfect solution to great reseller hosting, you can pay the big bucks and make no money from it, or you can put individual good elements together and make something yourself which will produce the same results and you keep the money!
There’s a few things you need to know before we start, We use a budget cPanel provider for our hosting and emails, do not use these people for your domains (DNS). You need a good DNS provided, now most of the big UK companies have this licked, so we use Fasthosts, their new control panel now allows for everything you need.
Pick yourself a good budget reseller hosting with unlimited everything. This is essential, pick a provider that can give you and your clients a private IP. This basically means your not associated with the other riff raff. There’s a thing called reputation and if everyone else on your server is spamming away, then you won’t be effected. If your reputation is poor then none of your emails will be delivered, it’s controlled much in the same way as blacklists. So now you have your very on private budget server.
The benefit of cPanel is that your clients have full control over their hosting. You can provide them with their own control panel. This allows them to administer their email, FTP, MySQL and domain (if you wish). This has enabled us to reduce the hours spent on administration.
Now before you create a million email accounts and then find that your Spam Assassin has only come to the battle with a banana, here’s a trick you might like to consider. Message Labs (now owned my Symantec) provides great spam filtering but will cost your client £3.50 per user per month. This won’t work on shared hosting as I explained in my previous article Message Labs and IMAP. There is however another solution, this should be provided as a upgrade to your existing hosting. You can pass your emails through a Google account and then forward it back to another ‘filtered’ account. It’s pretty simple to do, and will return excellent results.
So now we have our own private hosting, with unlimited everything, world class spam filtering but still don’t have great redundancy. This can easily be solved. If you know a little about DNS, you’ll know that MX provides the ability to try in a priority. Setting up a second MX record to another provided (we send ours back to Fasthosts) will pretty much guarantee you 100% uptime on your emails. So you can set-up a second cheap POP3 email account to catch emails which your budget server falls over. You can give your clients webmail access or even set them up with a second account. They won’t mind setting this up, knowing you’re giving them that extra level of redundancy.
Lastly, SMTP which using shared can sometimes be a bit of a clumsy hit and miss solution. There’s some great new free providers out there which will not only provide a lighting quick service, they’ll also track your opens and clicks just like in your mailshot servers. I like Mailjet, you can set-up your account in minutes and you can lock it down with a nice SPF and DKIM meaning that you can pretty much get 100% of any email through to your client.
If I have one last request, it would be to get your clients all using Thunderbird, not Outlook. It’s so much better (and free) and you can integrate Google calendars with their lightning and Google provider add-on.