Improving Disk I/O and Overall Performance for Your Mail Server, Part 2

In Part One of our series on Improving Disk I/O for Your Mail Server, we discussed some tweaks to your operating system and any other server software, such as anti-virus, to increase overall performance. In this post, we’ll look at settings and tweaks to SmarterMail itself. If you’re doing some of these already, then you’re ahead of the curve. However, read through and see if you can grab one or two more that allow you to squeeze the most out of your mail server performance.

SmarterMail Tweaks

Setup Domain Auto-Clean Rules for Junk Mail and Deleted Items

When SmarterMail is set up it can be configured to move any spam mail to a Junk Mail folder and any deleted items can be moved to a Deleted Items folder. This is an easy and convenient way to manage these types of emails, but users can get a little distracted and leave these folders unattended. This means that the folders can grow in size and grow so large that they take up an inordinate amount of disk space. To remedy that, administrators should set up rules to automatically clean these folders after a certain amount of time, such as weekly or monthly. Setting up these rules is a great way to ensure that these folders don’t grow out of control, take up a ton of disk space and eventually bog down your disk i/o.

Limit File Attachment Sizes – Use File Storage Instead

It’s hard to get around users sending and receiving files via email. However, you can limit the size of the attachments that can be sent and then offer SmarterMail’s File Storage as an alternative for large attachments. Attachments are stored within a mail server’s GRP file, and encoded. This encoding can add anywhere from 30% – 50% to the size of the attachment. For larger files, this means that disk space can be greatly affected when limitations are absent. File Storage, on the other hand, stores the uploaded file in a user’s folder, but the file isn’t encoded, so it doesn’t increase in size. In addition, users can better-manage file storage files right from within the SmarterMail webmail interface, thereby keeping disk space utilization to a minimum.

Create Strict Spam Settings

A very simple way to keep your mail server running smoothly is to limit the amount of email that actually comes into the mail server. A perfect example is spam messages: it’s a good idea to set up and manage strict anti-spam settings to prevent messages from even making it to the server. We have a KB article of Recommended Spam Settings that you can follow, and one of our power users and a forum Product Expert, Bruce Barnes, has an extensive PDF document outlining different spam settings and efficiencies with setting up various anti-spam measures.

Consider Setting Up an Inbound Gateway

Using an inbound gateway is a great way to offload some of the spam checks and help weed out unwanted email before it gets set for local delivery. While inbound gateways only offer SMTP spam checks (things like Commtouch, etc. can’t run on an inbound gateway), utilizing extensive checks and setting up a variety of RBLs and URIBLs can greatly limit the the amount of spam that gets to the primary mail server. From there, you can use Commtouch or other third-party add-ons to further eliminate spam. You can use SmarterMail as an inbound gateway, for free, and we have a knowledge base article that can help you set it up.

There you have it, a few more tips to help maximize the performance of your mail server. In Part Three, we’ll discuss some hardware changes and email client and mobile device settings that will help keep things running smoothly, so stay tuned!

Improving Disk I/O and Overall Performance for Your Mail Server, Part 1

While SmarterMail 11.x has a significant number of changes that greatly increase the performance and reliability of your mail server, there are still some configuration tweaks that mail admins can use to further increase performance. In this three part series (there’s a LOT to discuss) we’ll look at a few things you can do to increase the overall lperformance of your mail server beyond simply using SmarterMail. Part One will cover general server settings, Part Two will cover SmarterMail and Part Three will cover tweaks to email clients and devices as well as hardware changes to increase performance.

It doesn’t even matter if you’re running SmarterMail – any mail server will benefit from the various hardware, software and end-user/device mods mentioned. If you’re doing some of these already, then you’re ahead of the curve. However, read through and see if you can grab one or two more that allow you to squeeze the most out of your mail server performance.

Mail Server Settings

There are some changes that can be made to how your mail server is set up as well as some file system changes that can help increase performance. Below are a few ideas to get you started.

Use Robust Anti-virus

Use of good, robust antivirus software can help keep your mail server running smoothly by..well, scanning for, and removing, potential viruses that can come into your system via email. Antivirus software should be configured to scan messages as well as attachments, though care should be taken when designating where, and how often, some sections of your mail server are actively protected. See the next point, as an example. SmarterMail comes with ClamAV, an open-source anti-virus software, that can be configured when the mail server is set up, free of charge.

Limit the Resident Shield (or Similar) Component

Many anti-virus applications have a component that runs in the background that scans every single file that is copied to, saved to or even opened on the mail server. While these components allow system administrators to keep their mail servers virus-free, on heavily-used mail servers this can be a real drain on system resources. Therefore, it’s best to limit the resident shield component to only those locations that will most benefit by setting up exceptions in your anti-virus administration area.

Limit Where and What Is Scanned by A/V

In addition, you’ll only want to scan messages that come into the spool, and if possible, only scan writes and remove scans of disk reads. Disk i/o and CPU can be heavily taxed when scanning mailboxes over and over and over again. While you can run periodic checks on the server as a whole, maintaining the spool is the best way to ensure your mail server is virus-free as the only way a file can get to a mailbox is when it is written to the spool or to working/temp directories. Therefore, scanning writes only is a great way to keep your mail server virus free. Some may see this as a possible decrease in overall server security, but it will result in dramatic improvements to overall disk i/o and utilization.

Disable Pagefile

Opinions on the advantages of disabling the Windows pagefile vary: some say you should keep it “just in case” while others say that modern applications will never need it, so why keep it? Besides, most businesses run servers with more than enough RAM to compensate for any potential benefits that the pagefile represents. Therefore, you may as well disable your pagefile. The only time it’s beneficial is if you’re running a mail server with 4GB of RAM or less – and, to be honest, why would you do that?

Disable IIS Logging for the Webmail interface

Any Web hosting provider offering Windows hosting can attest to how IIS log files can grow..and grow…and grow. That’s great for customers’’ sites, but it’s not something you necessarily want to have happen to the SmarterMail Web interface. There’s enough reporting within SmarterMail for end users and administrators that seeing views, visits and hits isn’t necessary. Therefore, when you set up SmarterMail as a site in IIS (which is highly recommended in our system requirements), it’s a good idea to simply disable IIS logging for that site. Use the reports within SmarterMail versus using the IIS logs to generate reports.

A Few Other Items

There are a few other things that can be done to help optimize your mail server. These are pretty self-explanatory, so we’ll just bullet point them:

  • Disable hibernation or sleep for your server

  • Disable Windows Indexing as this reduces overall disk i/o and extends SSD life

  • Make sure write caching is enabled

  • Disable defrag for your spool, especially if you’re using a SSD

  • Defrag RAID arrays at least every couple of days, but do it off hours if possible

  • Do NOT use a realtime defragger – only use the one within Windows itself

  • Don’t defrag while backing up  your mail server

There you have it. A few tips to help maximize the performance of your mail server. In Part Two, we’ll discuss some settings for SmarterMail itself, though these tweaks can possibly be made to any mail server, so stay tuned!

SmarterMail 11.x BETA Now Available

We’re excited to announce the BETA of the next version of our popular Windows mail server: SmarterMail 11.x. Over the last few major releases we focused on providing an incredibly powerful and user friendly Web interface that users would enjoy.  With this latest release, we kept the same look and appearance but rewrote the underlying architecture with the latest Internet technologies to dramatically improve the speed, reduce the size and increase compatibility with all the latest Internet browsers and tablets.

In addition, SmarterMail 11.x brings several new features, server side optimizations and fixes that continues to make SmarterMail compatible with the latest Internet trends.  As with all releases, we worked closely with customers and partners and while we couldn’t incorporate everyone’s ideas into this release, we prioritized our users’ wants to create a new version of SmarterMail that we think you’ll really like.

So let’s take a look at what’s new…

Tremendous Performance Increases

We spent a great deal of time benchmarking SmarterMail and then making changes to increase the level of performance across the board. In many instances we’ve seen increases of 70% or more in the speed and responsiveness of the SmarterMail 11.x interface. We’ve also seen huge decreases in memory and CPU usage, even under extremely heavy loads. All of this means that the product runs much quicker and much more efficiently than previous versions. Some of the changes we’ve made include:

  • Re-factored and completely re-wrote many areas of the web interface to reduce the amount of JavaScript code, CSS and HTML, making the entire web interface much faster, much more responsive and much lighter weight.
  • CSS files have been converted to LESS, making stylesheets much smaller and more efficient.
  • The button bars were re-factored to be lighter weight controls.
  • The context menus were re-factored to be lighter weight controls.
  • The date pickers were re-factored to be lighter weight controls.
  • The tree view controls were re-factored to be lighter weight controls.
  • Greatly increased the performance of the Web interface.
  • Replaced the message editor control with a more lightweight control.
  • SmarterMail Service memory has been drastically reduced using SpamAssasin.

As we mentioned in a blog post late last year, we feel efficiency IS a product feature, and SmarterMail 11.x really proves that point.

Simple Customization of the Webmail Interface

personalizationSmarterMail 11.x introduces a much simpler way for users to customize the look and feel of their webmail experience. Now, rather than having to access system files to create custom styles, users can simply override existing SmarterMail styles with their own variables or, more simply, by modifying the overall color scheme of the primary, secondary and hyperlink colors. Users can even drastically revise the look of the webmail interface. For example, by moving the navigation icons to a horizontal position versus their default vertical position. Of course, if the Domain Admin prefers the defaults, customization at the user level can be disabled, thereby preserving branding and corporate identity.

Significant Improvements to Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync

Note-2-Calendar_smCustomers using the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) add-on enjoy the industry standard in syncing technologies for all mobile devices and will be ready for the next version of Microsoft Outlook for Windows that’s coming in Office 2013. With SmarterMail 11.x we’ve made some significant changes in how SmarterMail integrates EAS, including better handling of the most popular devices from Samsung, the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, and seamless integration with their native email clients.

Changes to how SmarterTools products work with add-ons are often only available with major upgrades due to the agreements we have with our vendors and partners. Customers who stay current with Upgrade Protection are able to take full advantage of these changes and modifications, not to mention receive full version upgrades at no additional cost. In addition, with SmarterTools, you can reinstate your Upgrade Protection at any time and still receive a discount. And unlike our competitors, SmarterTools doesn’t force customers to purchase each incremental upgrade that’s available when reinstating Upgrade Protection.

IPv6 Now Available

With the dwindling availability of IPv4 addresses, more and more hosting companies and service providers are moving towards utilizing IPv6 addresses. In addition, there will come a point where businesses of all shapes and sizes need to begin using IPv6 addresses as well. SmarterMail 11.x is here to help ease that transition. In fact, implementation of IPv6 with SmarterMail 11.x is just as simple as IPv4 – there’s no learning curve, no hassles and essentially the same functionality is available for IPv6 addresses as for legacy IPs. End users won’t even be able to tell the difference!

Greater Calendar Control

new_calendar In SmarterMail 10.x we greatly increased the functionality of our calendaring, and with SmarterMail 11.x we’re continuing that trend. In this latest version, users can not only set the default view for their calendars in the Web interface (either daily, weekly, monthly or all appointment views) but users can also automatically clean out old calendar entries. Domain or System Administrators can also default the auto-clean feature for calendars, making it an ideal solution for those admins who want to keep their mail servers manageable and running as smoothly as possible.

spell_checker

Improved Spell Checking

No one likes to send emails with spelling errors. With SmarterMail 11.x we completely revised how spell checking works, greatly increasing the accuracy and adding in grammar support. In addition, the new spell checking ignores things like URLs and email addresses and users can select an option to force spell checking before their email is actually sent, which should help with those awkward misspellings and grammar mistakes. You can also add your own words to your own dictionary to further customize and simplify your communications.

contact_pictures

Personalize Your Contacts

With the growth in popularity of social networks, people are used to see whom they’re talking to when typing up messages. SmarterMail 11.x allows users to add pictures to their contacts, thereby putting a face to a name, as it were, when typing up emails or using the included live chat. Contact pictures will even carry over to third-party live chat clients like Adium or Pidgin so users always see the person they’re communicating with, regardless of medium. In addition, ActiveSync and CardDAV will synchronize contacts with your choice of Third-party applications.

New Features for System Administrators

As if the incredible performance increases won’t make their jobs easier enough, we’ve also included several new features, tools and improvements for System Administrators. Some of these include the ability to utilize an abuse detection rule that allows blocking of IP addresses that exceed a set number of authentication failures over a variety of protocols, the ability to delete IP address that no longer exist right from the IP address bindings page and the implementation of the UIDPlus extension for IMAP. System administrators can even search log files written to the MRS\App_Data\Logs folder from within the management interface and much more.

17 Different Spell-check Dictionaries Included

In addition to the improved spell checking, SmarterMail also includes dictionaries for 17 different languages. The languages supported include:

  • English (US+UK Combined) – DEFAULT
  • English (US), (Australia), (Canada), (UK)
  • French
  • German/German (Switzerland)
  • Greek
  • Hungarian
  • Italian
  • Norwegian
  • Polish
  • Portuguese/Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Russian
  • Spanish

Greater Support for International Customers

SmarterMail is a truly international product. With customers in well over 120 different countries, support for languages other than English is a priority. In addition, as SmarterMail’s adoption across the globe continues to rise, support for non-Western character sets is also essential. With SmarterMail 11.x we’ve not only included support for right-to-left languages in our Web interface, but we’ve also gone through the entire product and greatly simplified our language strings to make things much easier for automated translations and for customers who create their own translation files.

Is that it?

Of course not! SmarterMail 11.x has many more features and improvements. You’ll find them in the release notes we’ll post in the SmarterMail 11.x BETA forum, but here are a few more that might be of interest:

  • A new content filter action was added for flagging messages and setting their priority.
  • Print preview now includes a list of attachments, perfect for regulatory compliance.
  • Users can now set start dates and end dates for their auto-responders.
  • Status messages and tip text now drops down from the top of the page and no longer disrupts page flow.
  • Language strings have been simplified so that they are much easier to translate.
  • In the webmail interface, the message grid now adds a color to the subject of unread messages to better distinguish them from messages that have already been read.
  • The ability for SmarterMail to detect missing attachments when they should be present. For example, when a message contains the word “attachment” but no files are attached or the subject is empty.

Getting started with the BETA

To get your hands on the BETA simply visit the SmarterTools BETA release forum, where you’ll see how to:

  • Sign up for the BETA
  • Get a special BETA license key
  • Download the latest BETA release (we update it regularly)
  • Communicate with other BETA testers and the SmarterTools development team
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest release note and BETA news

Sign up for the BETA

5 Ways to Avoid Being Blacklisted

As the developer of popular mail software, we get a LOT of questions asking for tips and tricks on how to best manage mail servers. We are constantly getting questions on how to configure anti-spam, what anti-spam measures work best, how to set up a mail system for X users and/or Y domains. We even get some pretty off-the-wall tickets from potential administrators who tell us that they want to set up the next Gmail or Hotmail to give the world free email, then turn around and ask ”But, how do I do that?”

Most mail administrators realize that the configuration of a mail server, much less the business rules around how email is managed, is really up to them – there’s only so much we can offer in terms of how to best manage and maintain a mail server. What we CAN do, however, is provide email administrators with a number of tools to help ease the entire process. This post will focus on a few of the features and tools within SmarterMail that can both ease an administrator’s management tasks as well as give them peace of mind when it comes to preventing their mail servers from becoming blacklisted.

Lock down users and mailboxes

Users. If they’re not using “abc123” for their passwords, they’re mass emailing cat videos to their friends and family. There are several things mail administrators can do to keep users from abusing their email privileges, not to mention keeping mailboxes, and entire mail servers, secured. SmarterTools makes these things extremely easy:

    • Set up password policy and perform password audits
      Administrators should set some guidelines for users so that they don’t gravitate towards the most commonly used passwords. In addition, periodical audits should be run and users notified if their passwords don’t meet requirements.
    • Require SMTP authentication and sender match authentication
      Spoofed emails can be a real problem, and now some compliancy agencies require mail servers to ensure emails can’t be spoofed. Therefore, mail admins should be sure to enforce SMTP authentication and then take the extra step of enabling sender match authentication, so that the mail server will ensure the sending address matches the SMTP authenticated address. Doing this will greatly reduce, if not totally eliminate, senders spoofing mail accounts.

      • Throttle outgoing email
        Set up some simple throttling rules, either for users, for entire domains or even for particular features, like mailing lists. Throttling allows administrators to manage the amount of email that flows out of mail servers. Couple throttling rules with spam checks to achieve even better results.
      • Spam check outgoing email
        In addition to throttling, spam checking outbound mail can help keep mail servers running and can help prevent a single user from getting your entire server blacklisted. Administrators can spam check outgoing messages against any of the included spam lists that come with SmarterMail. Couple this with usage reports and system events to stay on top of potential issues.

Set up Abuse Detection

On top creating guidelines for users, mail administrators also have tools at their disposal that will alert them to potential issues way before they become problems.  Two tools come to mind for keeping the mail server secured and off of blacklists:

      1. Internal Spammer Notification- There are times that, no matter what other preventative measures an admin has in place, users try sending out mass emails. Most of the time these are legitimate attempts, but there are the occasional users who simply want to spam. Setting up a notification to fire off when a sender reaches a certain number of the same sized emails in a given time frame can help prevent a user from spamming, regardless of their intent.
      2. Bad SMTP Sessions - Keeping on top of bad SMTP sessions assists mail administrators with preventing email harvesting attacks against a mail server. Harvesting attacks can open a mail server up for address harvesting, and that can lead to your users getting spammed or even accounts getting hacked. Neither result is good for mail admins.

Use System Events!

System events are a great way for administrators to be notified when something happens on the server. Below are a few examples of the types of events that an admin can create. In terms of notifications, an email can be sent or a SMS can be sent as well so that admins are aware of issues almost immediately.

      1. Be notified when any abuse detection rules are tripped
      2. Keep an eye on system memory or spool count -
      3. Receive a notice if a message over a certain size is being sent
      4. Tie into throttling and get a notice when a user’s email is throttled

Lock down mailing lists

Mailing lists can be a big problem, especially if they’re set up improperly. As an example, recently New York University had an issue with a mailing list that was incorrectly set up and that allowed every NYU student  – all 26,000 of them – to post replies to the entire list. Lovingly labeled the “Reply-allpocalypse”, imagine the headaches had several hundred students reported the list to SORBs or SpamHaus? Therefore, it’s best to use these simple rules of thumb for mailing lists

      1. Only allow moderators to post to a list, unless the list is very small and/or very well managed
      2. Set mailing list email to lower priority
      3. Throttle your outgoing messages

Keep an eye on your reports

SmarterMail has a number or reports that admins can use to keep an eye on their server, their traffic, the spam that’s being caught and much more. Reports are a great way to spot trends and even identify the potential for trends, so that admins can head off issues well before they become full-scale problems. Some reports of particular interest are:

      1. SMTP Out usage
      2. SMTP Out Connections
      3. Outgoing spam reports
      4. Abuse Detection

So there you go. While we can’t set up your mail server for you, we can certainly provide the tools you need in order to ensure you’re running a safe, secure and reliable system once you DO get it up and running.

That being said, there is zero guarantee your servers won’t get blacklisted at some point. Therefore, one final piece of advice: use separate IP addresses for SMTP, so that you can change it from time-to-time. This gives you the ability to change IPs in the off chance one gets blacklisted, so that your mail server can quickly get back up and running while you work with the blacklist organization to resolve the issues.

So, do we have any email admins out there? What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your email systems, and your users, secure?

Microsoft Exchange – Now Even More Expensive!

A large number of small businesses, enterprises, ISPs and other service providers use SmarterMail to provide communication services to over 15,000,000 end users worldwide. Some of these organizations chose SmarterMail over alternatives like Microsoft Exchange because of the high traffic volumes SmarterMail can handle without compromising the mail server’s stability.   Others like the the fact that SmarterMail’s overall cost is about 20% of Microsoft’s Exchange solution, even when including add-ons like antivirus and synchronization protocols. Starting December 1st, these customers will be even happier they chose SmarterMail!

That’s because it’s about to get even more expensive for companies using Microsoft Exchange since Microsoft is increasing their licensing costs again! This is, ostensibly, because Microsoft has finally realized that people are interacting with their products in new and different ways that they didn’t anticipate. Therefore, they’re essentially taxing you for those changes.

What’s happening is that Microsoft is increasing the client access license (CAL) costs for small business and enterprise customers as well as for service providers trying to provide Microsoft Exchange services to small businesses. With these increases, Microsoft is really making it difficult for service providers to provide online mail services as they continue to increase costs but also introduce very cost effective services themselves, such as Office365 and Outlook.com.

This is where SmarterMail really proves its overall value.

SmarterTools provides small businesses and service providers with the ability to have in-house mail services at a fraction of the cost of using Microsoft Exchange. Service providers can even create software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that easily compete with Outlook.com and Office365, not only on features but on price as well. SmarterMail supports everything Microsoft Exchange does such as standard IMAP, POP, and SMTP as well as calendaring, contacts, tasks, notes. It also supports push technologies for mobile devices using Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Exchange Web Services, SyncML, CalDAV and CardDAV. SmarterMail even supports live chat using industry-standard XMPP protocols that integrate perfectly with live chat clients like Adium, Pidgin and even Microsoft Live Messenger.

No matter if your users have an iPhone, Android tablet, Microsoft Surface, Microsoft Outlook 2013, Apple Mail or any number of other mobile devices or desktop clients you can provide them with the SAME EXACT experience as Microsoft Exchange users have.

We have a great section of our help documentation that provides more information about how SmarterMail compares with Microsoft Exchange, both from the User side as well as from the Administration side.

Your friendly neighborhood tax attorney says, don’t get burned by the Microsoft tax!

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