While new technologies come and go, email is still the life-blood of business communication. I’ve worked for several small and large companies, and each one has used a multitude of technologies to foster communication among employees, but each of them relied on email to disseminate critical company information and communicate with customers.
This past year, we’ve seen a drastic increase in SPAM at Puget Systems. What began as a few each day quickly escalated into each employee spending a portion of his or her day combatting SPAM on our self-hosted email service. We are a small company of 30 employees but, even by modest estimates, employees were collectively wasting 10-12 hours a day fighting SPAM instead of building computers or assisting customers.
At this point we began searching for solutions, and that process and findings are what I’d like to share with you this week. If your idea of fighting SPAM is employing basic filtering or blacklists, you’ll be happy to know far more automated and powerful options exist today. Let’s look at a few of the most popular options.
These are hardware devices with onboard software that are deployed at the gateway or in front of your email server. An anti-spam appliance is often the best option for those who host their own email server, but still want a device that’s easy to install and manage. And since it runs its own OS, it runs in nearly any type of environment.
An example of such an appliance is the popular Barracuda SPAM Firewall, but other companies such as Cisco, Dell and MailFoundry also sell similar appliances. While appliances are known for their ease-of-use, they are often the most expensive option because of their high upfront cost. You’ll need to factor in the cost of an annual service contract. It’s also your responsibility to manage the device, and it will eventually need to be replaced.
In spite of these issues, these devices are popular and very effective. While they don’t require as much configuration as other options, MSPs can assist their customers by helping them select and manage the best appliance for their needs. One other major benefit: your customer will recognize the benefits almost immediately.
The Virtual Appliance
The virtual appliance runs on your own hardware, and includes many of the same features as the appliance you’d purchase. This is the solution we selected for Puget Systems because we manage our own email server and had server capacity to handle running another VM.
The benefits of this setup include a smaller upfront cost along with the ability to scale as needed since the software is running on your own server. For example, you can easily assign more CPU cores or RAM to a virtual appliance instead of purchasing an entirely new appliance.
The virtual appliance is also very effective, but comes with number of things to consider. The virtual appliance requires more upfront deployment planning as well as someone with the skills to regularly manage updates and patches. If you’re an MSP that’s already managing your customer’s servers, the virtual appliance could be a fairly straight-forward value-add offering your customers will appreciate.
The number of vendors offering virtual spam appliance are numerous, but a few of the most popular include products from Untangle, Sophos, and SpamTitan. Licensing can be confusing, but it’s not uncommon for pricing to be based on number of domains and mail accounts.
The Cloud & SaaS
Many small businesses have migrated their email hosting to cloud services such as Azure, AWS or Rackspace. This doesn’t mean they no longer need to worry about SPAM. Thus, companies now offer a plethora of hosted options ranging from small business to enterprise class products.
Of the three solutions I’ve discussed, this is the only option where the SPAM never (hopefully) enters your building. With a change to your company’s MX record, all email is routed through the cloud service provider before it lands in your employees’ inboxes. That’s something to consider before opting for this solution.
The benefits to this service are numerous. Getting started is as simple as changing your MX record and there’s no software or hardware to manage. Pricing tends to be reasonable and without the larger upfront costs compared to the appliance and virtual appliance route.
Many of the same players who offer appliances or virtual appliances also offer hosted solutions. While you do give up quite a bit of control, going with a cloud or SaaS solution can be fast and easy while you consider long-term options. Had we not had the skillset in house to manage a virtual appliance, we would probably have been better off purchasing an appliance or selecting a cloud solution.
Given the number of anti-SPAM products and confusing licensing structures, it will often fall to the MSP to help guide the business owner through her options. All of these options have evolved to support nearly any scenario you can imagine. Making sense of the landscape is where your experience can prove invaluable to the company that’s currently spending far too much time fighting SPAM.
Spiceworks community has many categories pertaining to SPAM. Opinions are given freely and sometimes creatively, but it’s a vibrant crowd of incredibly helpful advice.
StackExchange also hosts helpful forums although I don’t find them as active as Spiceworks.
Photo credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr