Spam drove me to Google…

… or the story of how I made the transition to google apps …

Since some time in 2003, I’ve been hosting my own mail server. The purpose of this was two-fold. Firstly, it was a learning exercise. Learn more about the trials and tribulations of system administrators having to deal with the in’s and out’s of setting up the MTA (exim4 was punishment of choice) and the IMAP server (I chose dovecot). Secondly, I have a marginally complicated surname, so to make it easier when giving my email address to others I purchased a simple vanity domain and self hosting seemed as good an option as any.

Once I had things sorted out for myself, I began offering it as a service. This was more to cover costs than any genuine attempt at a business venture. The world was saturated with free and paid mail servers, I had a few contacts who had asked me about mail and web hosting in the past and I was at last in a position to say yes.

It became quickly apparent that I had stepped into a dark world of email server exploitation. Not long after I got set up, my mailboxes were being inundated with Spam. I set up SpamAssassin and this did a very good job of keeping out the worst of it. However to keep SpamAssassin on top of things tuning and feedback was required. I wrote a program that would harvest a specific ‘spam’ folder in my users mailboxes and feed this back to SpamAssassin’s bayes database with sa-learn.

At some point, probably the summer of 2008, my mail serversĀ got blacklisted from hotmail because spammers were using my servers to bounce spam to their unsuspecting victims as undeliverable messages to non-existent email addresses in my hosted domains. I quickly sorted this out but to this day some hotmail users receive a ‘suspicious mail’ warning for one of my domains.

Now it’s 2011 and the fight with Spam has worn me down and I cannot keep up. For my personal mailbox about 20 spam messages a day arrive in my inbox. SpamAssassin has successfully filtered out the other 18,000!

Enter Google Apps. Not only is it free – it’s awesome. Mail, Docs, Drive, Calendar and more – and best of all really, really good spam filtering. The process of migrating was amazingly easy. I signed up for an account and performed the setup steps to prove my ownership of of the domains I managed. Thankfully my DNS provider offers free unlimited DNS entry changes so nominating the google mail servers as my MX records was simple. I was done in about 30 minutes as I recall it. I pushed my mail archive across using a local folder in Thunderbird. There is probably a more efficient way, but it worked.

So now I worship at the altar of Google Apps and life is good. And almost entirely Spam free.


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