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backup email

Posted on 2009-06-29
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Last Modified: 2013-11-30
I need help figuring out a way to backup all emails from our company. This includes a backup from all email accounts and the backup must include not just received emails but ALSO sent emails.

So far, we can backup all received emails simply by forwarding it to another mail account: backup@domain.com
But we've never managed to backup sent emails.

We're using our domain hosting's email service, which is not so great. So I'm open to any suggestion, including (but preferably not) building our own mail server. We're a small organization with zero IT expertise. Can you please direct me to a solution or to a service that might offer a solution?

In my mind, the solution should be to simply assign a bcc to all email accounts on the server part (cant rely on users to do this). But my email hosting provider will not add a bcc on the server side, even using vps, etc.

Thank You

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Question by:SW111
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by:jar3817
jar3817 earned 50 total points
ID: 24737344
Depending on the server you're using it might not be possible. Simple SMTP servers don't store sent mail. That is left up to the user agent (outlook/thunderbird).

If you're already bcc-ing all incoming mail to some backup account, you should do the same for outgoing. Again this all depends on the mail server software you're using whether it's even possible. Talk to the hosting company who is handling your email to see if they can set this up.

I know you don't have any IT skills in your organization, but keep in mind as your requirements get more and more sophisticated, the need for some local IT expertise is needed more and more.
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Author Comment

by:SW111
ID: 24737572
Thanks for your reply jar3817

I actually dont know what the smtp server my host is using. I'm pretty sure its not microsoft's exchange server. And I've asked them also about this: they cant setup a bcc on the server side.

Which brings me to my posting here: I've asked around on a couple of hosting companies, and none of them are offering or willing to add this bcc thing on the server side. (In fact, some seems puzzled over why I dont simply use outlook, thunderbird, etc)

I suspected that one of the answer is to have our own server. But I'm hoping someone can point me to an alternative solution. I seems too simple of a problem to have such complicated solution....

One of the concern I have of hiring a full-time IT staff over outsourced expertise is that I have to assign administrator access to the IT person. I honestly am having difficulty with that because it seems to be too risky. I've never understood how larger organizations can work around this. (A discontent administrator can pretty much wipe out all data and infrastructure of a company and reduce us to using papers and chart books, no?)

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by:Dave Howe
Dave Howe earned 100 total points
ID: 24737982
get a better hosting provider, seriously :)

I recently got one of these:

http://www.tagadab.com/virtual-private-servers/VPS_250

now, for 10 uk pounds per month, I have hosted email for three domains, and pop3s/imaps/webmail access to them. I can bcc mail to anywhere I want to, and dump anything that doesn't match into a catchall account.
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by:stefanx
ID: 24739492
What do you want to do with the backed-up mail?
Do you just want it all to be saved on a server forever, accessible as if it were a mailbox?
Do you want to build a long term archive of it (say on DVD or something)?

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Author Comment

by:SW111
ID: 24741783
DaveHowe, Thanks for the reply. I will look into tagadab.com.

Stefanx, Yes, accessible as if it were a mailbox AND I will also setup IMAP from thunderbird so we have an online copy. (evidently, POP also doesnt retrieve the sent folder content). Additional benefit is that users can access webmail when they're away and still have the sent emails backed up to a central location
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stefanx earned 350 total points
ID: 24742968
What are you using as your mailserver right now? The server from your hosting provider? Or do you have your own server onsite as well?

If you are just using the hosting provider's mail server, then I would agree with DaveHowe and just get my own server. VPS is fine if the volumes are low, but VPS's can struggle with large amounts of disk activity (like mail). They also normally have rather lmited bandwidth that you can use. However, even a bare metal server is not that expensive (around US$60/month if you shop around a bit). What to run on such a server? Well, I would suggest Linux as an operating system (because it's free and stable), together with sendmail (the mail transfer software) and a tool like MIMEDefang to handle any copying that you need to do for your backup purposes. Obviously also POP3 and IMAP server, but those are pretty standard on Linux.

Getting your own server will enable you to add mailboxes (i.e. users) as you please, and also let them use the mailserver for outgoing mail. This last part is quite cool because you can have the server set up with SMTP-Auth, meaning that your users can send mail from anywhere in the world using any type of connection. This is very useful when you have laptop users that use different types of connections all the time - they will not have to keep changing their outbound SMTP server depending on what connection they use.

What about the backup? Well, if you have your own mailserver and it gets used for both your incoming and outgoing mail, it becomes trivial to script the backup in MIMEDefang. For each inbound mail, it checks whether it is a local user sending an outbound mail or a mail inbound for one of your users. If it is the former, it makes a copy of the mail to an "Outbound" mailbox user. If it is the latter, it makes a copy of the mai to an "Inbound" mailbox user. This gives you the centralised backup copies of the mail. What I have done in the past is then also split these two backup mailboxes into folders with the date just before midnight every day. That just gives your backup mail accounts a nice structure and prevents the mailboxes from getting too clogged. For low volumes one could also make the folders monthly or weekly folders.

Running your own mailserver is a joy, but also some work. You have to worry about Anti-Spam and Anti-Virus, and what happens if the mailserver itself were to have a HDD Crash? So one typically needs to have some form of backup in place as well. You also have to be in control of your domain so that you can point the MX record of the domain to your mail server. What about security issues? Yes, you have to keep your eye on that too, and you will probably have to upgrade the server every 3 years or so. Basically, anything that goes wrong means that users are going to phone you. jar3817 is right when he says that you may have to get some inhouse IT skills inhouse at some stage.

OK, so where to from here? Well, if you feel up to getting your own mailserver but need help setting it up (and/or running it), you can probably ask anyone that has posted here (we probably all have commercial jobs in this line too ;). Or you can post your requirements on a jobsite like monster.com and get people to bid for doing it for you.

Hope that helps.
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Author Closing Comment

by:SW111
ID: 31597915
Ok. I suppose, since almost everyone is leaning towards having a mailserver of my own, then that is the best solution?

I was hoping to find a host out there that will provide this feature. A backup of all emails seems to be so basic that I'm having difficulty comprehending how no one is offering such solution.

I am somewhat petrified of the prospect of having to maintain my own mail server, let alone upgrading it every 3 years. I will normally be more than happy to outsource this kind of jobs, only that I'm located in Indonesia and might be difficult to work with overseas based vendors. This is why I'm hoping to get a simple solution like a different hosting or perhaps using one of those appliance (which actually doesnt seem to add any benefit because I'll end up maintaining the appliance anyways)
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by:stefanx
ID: 24743187
You may also want to look at http://www.mimecast.com/ although this is very much geared towards corporate users?
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by:Dave Howe
ID: 24743880
yes, we are a mimecast customer. They don't provide hosting as such, although they *do* provide webmail, reliable (backed up) storage, admin access to all mailboxes and pop3 access.
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by:SW111
ID: 24751347
Thanks for the referral. I've visited mimecast but havent pinpointed what exactly it is that they do. Plus they dont put up their pricing on the website, so I'm guessing, as you say, that they are geared towards corporate users and must be much too expensive for us.

I'm looking into zimbra open source edition which seems to be simpler than mail server such as postfix. I hope their hosting solution is not too expensive.
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by:Dave Howe
ID: 24752529
Mimecast are a prefilter service. They perform some graylisting, limited spam filtering, and quite good antivirus, plus they allow you to access historic mail going back for a period defined by how much you are willing to pay for back history (we have three years at 150 users, and yes, its scarily expensive)

I used the "exim" open source email server, on ubuntu, on the host I pay for, and it took me about five minutes to set up, along with some dynamic redirection (user@domain -> user@otherdomain+user@localhost, plus a final "catchall" mailbox which mostly gets spam) - setting up spamassassin and graylisting took longer, but not by much :)
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by:SW111
ID: 24752633
Thanks DaveHowe.
I think your Exim solution is what I should try, only on postfix. I've setup a hylafax mailserver with postfix on ubuntu using one of the idiots guide from the internet. So it should be less difficult for me.

Somehow I've been led to think along the line that I should host the mailserver myself. While I think a better solution is to keep my current hosting and try to get postfix to work together with them.

I've just learned of a software called getmail, which seems to be a utillity to extract everything from ISP mailserver to postfix (including sent folder). The only thing is that I need to get postfix to send email to ISP mailserver and let the ISP pass the message to the final destination. (I thought this would make it a gateway mailserver, but I've been told that its not that simple). That way, even if my own mailserver is down, I can always revert back to using outlook/webmail directly on ISP webmail. Now if only I can find an idiot's guide....
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by:Dave Howe
ID: 24752866
how are you storing the mail on the hosted solution? if you have imap access, then a bit of scripting (vbs, python or perl are all viable options) could harvest the entire imap mailbox for each user, preserving folder structures, and back those up in a zipfile for later use (or just leave them on the hard drive as a set of .eml files)

you *would* need to know the imap password for each user for that though.
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Author Comment

by:SW111
ID: 24754044
Well, currently I'm forced to use POP since if we didnt download the emails even for a couple of days, then it would get full and start rejecting incoming mails (cant upgrade the size anymore, this is the package with the highest offered size).

It seems that the ISP system is designed so that users download using POP and cannot keep emails undefinetely on the mailserver.

This "little" problem is actually one of the main cause we're still using a single, general company email instead of allowing individual emails for each users.

But am I on the right track with my last post? Use Postfix with getmail to "get" all emails on the ISP mailserver. Since to get to ISP mailserver, Sent emails will have to pass postfix, I expect archiving sent emails wouldnt be a problem anymore? Then I can have the users access the webmail on postfix instead on ISP mailserver? If this is so, than I probably should open another thread on how to go about developing this solution. Thanks DaveHowe.
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by:Dave Howe
ID: 24754532
yea, you can use getmail or similar to "pull" the pop3 mail, then redeliver it locally. that just leaves the job of backing up the local database (you can also then offer imap and webmail for your users, so that they keep their mail in the local database instead of on their own machines)
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