Why I Stopped self-hosting my mails, IM and website

Marc Weistroff 2012-12-14

A year ago, I started an experiment. I wanted to quit gmail and gtalk services
and prove me that I could host my emails and my IM myself. It went quite well
but I decided to stop and subscribed to fastmail.fm and
to hosted.im.

Installation

A year ago, I spent some days installing a fully functionnal mail/web/jabber
server. Hopefully, I had some good tutorials
about setting up a mail server. On the jabber side, it was quite easy even if
sometime, my WTF-o-meter level was really high. I blame my totally absent
knowledge of erlang and mnesia here.

The easiest part was to set-up varnish and nginx on the server. This is
because I use these technologies every day. I still think that serving static
files with a reverse proxy could be much more easier and quicker to setup.

Backuping is easy and cheap, thanks to Amazon S3. I did not suffer any crash
and did not have to restore my data. I think I would have cried if I had to do
that because of the time needed to set-up the server again. The pain would
have been bearable thanks to the EBS (if it doesn’t fail).

My final set-up used these technologies: Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon
CloudFront, Amazon Elastic Block Storage, Postfix, Dovecot, Sieve, Varnish,
Postgrey, Spamassassin, Nginx and Ejabberd.

Running it

Here is what I learned:

  • SMTP servers obey Murphy’s Law. If you have an important mail to send, it
    will fail. Fallbacking to gmail happened too many time.

  • ejabberd is stable. In a year of operation, it failed once and restarting
    it made did the trick. The guys behind
    ejabberd
    did a really great job.

  • Spam was virtually absent from my mail. Spamassasin and postgrey worked
    well.

  • Sieve
    is great. I mean really really GREAT. Filtering mail in gmail is a pain.

  • Mail clients all suck. Sparrow was an exception.

  • I’m not nerdy enough to use Mutt.

  • I should have used a configuration management system like Chef, Puppet or
    CFEngine to create the server. It would have doubled/tripled the time
    required to configure it properly, but it would have been an asset if I
    wanted to migrate my services to another host, which I considered at some
    point.

Now

Yesterday, and after too many problem with my SMTP server, I decided to end
this experiment and started looking for a reliable mail provider. I chose
fastmail.fm because of the price, migrations processes and the Sieve support.

This website is now hosted by Amazon S3. The only cron job that I had is now
run on heroku. My jabber service is being migrated to hosted.im.

This will costs me around 50$ a year and this is definitely worth the time I
won’t put in managing a server.

Creating, installing and configuring software is easy. Achieving reliability is
hard.

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