Email forwarding follow-up

Our email forwarding upgrade has been completed! In general, it went very smoothly, with (of course) a couple of exceptions. The disruption was minimal, significantly less than expected; we were able to do a live migration of our UI to use the new backend without having to take it offline at all, and nobody was unable to manage their email forwarding for more than a few minutes. The new servers are running very well and the email processing scheme we have implemented seems to be working out.

The biggest glitch we encountered was that AT&T promptly put the new outbound delivery IP on their spam blacklist, causing a few people who were forwarding to an AT&T-served mailbox to wind up with quarantine folders full of bounce messages. In what I’m trying not to call a surprising and unexpected response, AT&T actually apologized, a real person indicated that they would resolve the problem, and the problem is confirmed resolved. While I naturally wish that hadn’t happened in the first place, their response was good and quick and they deserve full credit and praise for it.

We did use that situation as an opportunity to make some big improvements to the quarantine feature that make dealing with bounce messages more palatable, including changing the “forward” option to just re-send the original message (where possible, since sometimes bounce messages from other servers don’t include the whole message) once the problem is fixed.

The quarantine is now also paginated, so you can see the whole thing if you have more than one page of quarantined messages. It also has an option to decode properly-formatted bounce messages, so you don’t have to stare at a list of 30 identical MAILER-DAEMON “Returned Mail” messages trying to figure out which is which. That option is resource-intensive, though, so it cuts the number of messages displayed from 50 to 10 to keep page load times down.

With these changes, the quarantine is starting to look and feel a little like a rudimentary webmail client. I want to remind everyone that, although it’s essentially now possible (if not pleasant) to read quarantined mail as if it were a mailbox, that’s not what it’s for. It is a temporary, volatile holding tank for messages that can’t or shouldn’t be forwarded and can’t or shouldn’t be returned. Our policy is to provide at least 10 megabytes per domain for quarantine. Currently, once a domain’s quarantine exceeds 12 megabytes, the system will expire out messages until it drops under 10. 10 megabytes can go faster than you think if something with a large attachment winds up in there, so don’t treat the quarantine like permanent storage.

The other glitch pertains to a handful of people who were participating in an email hosting trial we offered earlier this year using a reseller relationship that no longer exists. They were left in the lurch by this change, but we’ve contacted those people privately, and we’ll continue to do our best to help each of them make alternate arrangements.

Those two issues aside, I am very happy with the way this change managed, and super proud of our new system. Almost proud enough to make a foray of our own into email hosting. Almost. Maybe next year.

Since we felt we finally had the service we wanted to provide, we restarted the billing for email forwarding last night. Anyone using third-party DNS need not worry, we’ve pointed all our MX server names at the new email cluster.

We’ll be updating all of our documentation in the coming weeks to reflect the changes. In the future, we may offer the ability to search the quarantine; the new servers are so much faster than the old ones that such an option is now viable, where it wasn’t before.

But first we’ve got some other things to take care of, like the cron support we’re committed to releasing by the end of the year.


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  1. I’ve never been so happy to hear the word ‘cron’ in my entire life. Keep up the good work guys!

    Comment by CEG — November 27, 2008 #

  2. This is great- I had several conversations with yourselves in the past regarding clients who had phoned us up to say that my mail server was refusing their messages (i.e. due to NFS policy), so this change is very welcomed. I’ve recommended NFS to many people, despite some ‘minor’ annoyances with the service, so it’s good to see them gradually being phased out. Brilliant news.

    Comment by Kris — November 27, 2008 #

  3. Works great! Any way that the spam_proc page can redirect back to spam after a few seconds?

    Oh, and Happy day-after-Thanksgiving!

    Comment by Thomas Tuttle — November 29, 2008 #

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