Monday, November 4, 2013

Postini Transition Alternatives to Google Aps

A long time ago, when I first developed web sites and was also active on news groups, I started getting a lot of junk mail (spam).  I had published my email address on multiple web sites.  I don't like having to switch email addresses and I really like the ISP I use for web hosting and email so I looked for a spam fighting solution.  The isp ( uses spamassasin for reducing junk email, but it just really didn't keep up with the annoying mass of email that kept arriving.  In addition other associated email addresses that I have setup for subcontractors and family also received a ton of junk email.  

I went on a search again for an email filtering solution that would be easy to implement, relatively inexpensive, and accurate.  I ended up finding Postini.   Postini had been recently purchased by Google but I was very impressed with the accuracy and simplicity of the product.  Basically you point Postini to your mail server and point your DNS MX (mail exchange) records to a special Postini set of addresses.   You can then manage your email users, with multiple aliases, set levels of spam filtering and create white and black lists for spam delivery.  This worked flawlessly for several years.

I liked the service so much that I transitioned some of my web hosting customers over to Postini.  I wanted to become a Postini reseller but Google had discontinued that option, so I just setup individual accounts for these clients.

Then the ultimate in corporate consolidation began.  Postini users were told they would be transitioned to Google Aps for Business.  The pricing would remain the same and equivalent features would be available and everything would work the same, expect you would get superior spam filtering.

I had noticed that the filtering Postini had begun to falter at times, but overall it was still very good.  A few more false positives than I liked and some spam making it through, but the whitelist took care of the false positives and the others gradually died off as postini did update their filters.

I attended several webinars given by Google about the postini transition.  They really wanted people to switch to gmail for their end users but for several reasons I didn't want to do that.  My users were all happy and well versed in using the email services and could use any email client that they liked.  In addition gmail just was going down too often, while my ISP email NEVER went down.

However, Google promised that these external mail servers could continue to work with enhancements that they would make to Google Aps.  There were several other features that were essential to me as well.  One of these was a user specific white and black list.  Often times people would get on mailing lists, or company notification email lists, and while technically not spam, these users would not want these emails.  Blocking or allowing these on a user by user basis is essential.  In their webinars when this subject was brought up, Google just said Gmail would learn from the user marking items as spam or not and would then properly deliver email.  This was such a weak response that many questioned it.  The main objection is that these accounts are not going to use Gmail!

Postini also has a message center that will allow users to administer their own spam settings (if the administrator desires to allow it) or that the administrator can use to look at user email quarentine  and manage white and black lists.  I used this feature heavily to help the less tech savvy users block and allow email and to handle filtering of known malware links that might show up first in my mailbox.  If it made it past postini filtering in to my box I could be assured some of my users would get it as well.

Google hadn't (And as of this writing still HASN'T) developed a message center.

Google's repeated promise was that the transition would NOT begin for any accounts until equivalent functionality was available.

Frankly with Postini starting to fall down on the filtering job and complaints increasing from my users I was looking forward to the transition from Postini to Google Aps.  Google was to transition accounts on their anniversary date which for me is April, in case some accounts didn't want to make the jump for some reason.

Imagine my surprise when I received email on all my accounts about transitioning in late August that indicated my accounts would be transitioned and that it was required and that once the transition began it could not be reversed.  Google obviously has a drop dead date for Postini and they wanted to transition these accounts ahead of their anniversary dates.

I was satisfied to do it - but they did note that the message center application wasn't ready but would be early in the third quarter.  There didn't seem to be any option to wait, however, as they gave a 90 day deadline to make the transition.  As Postini filtering continued to deteriorate I decide to go ahead and start the transition.

That's when the pain began.  My users didn't all fully transition.  Some were partially in the new Google Aps for Business user interface and some were in one area but not others.  I reported the issue but it went unresolved so I manually deleted and re-added the users that were not properly configured.

I learned that each email account would have a separate Gmail address.  This gmail address could be used to view the spam that was filtered and the user would also receive a daily quarantine summary similar to postini where they could mark email that was captured as spam to not be spam and it would be delivered to their inbox.

I set things up according to Google specifications and mail began to filter through the new engine.  And more and more spam started to appear in end users mail boxes.  In addition a lot of false positives started to happen.  More troubling was that some occasional emails were showing up in the gmail account inboxes.  Google assured me that nothing should show there.  That my users didn't even have to know about the existence of these inboxes because we were using an external (What Google in market speak termed "Legacy Servers") mail server.  However, email was definitely showing there and there was NO FACILITY To get that email into the end users "legacy" email inbox.

I went round and round with Google Aps support on this issue and they finally said that the problem was that the email made it past their first filter but in the second filter it was identified as spam.  They never could explain why it didn't end up in the spam folder or why it never showed on the quarantine summary.

Then the issue of email undelivered came up with my users.  My users (and even myself) sometimes deleted the quarantine summery.  The summary had links to release email that was held as spam.  However, if you lost or deleted the summary there was NO WAY to get the held email delivered to your inbox.  If you logged into the secret gmail account and marked spam in the spam folder as not spam, it would move to the secret gmail inbox and NOT be delivered to the end users email server.  Without a message center there is no way to manage delivery.

In addition there is no per user white or black list available.  The filters are to learn as you release email that the email isn't spam.   They have a confusing scheme where email is released, but can then in the same interface be marked as spam.  This is so you can look at the email, then decide if it was really spam and mark it.  This was so counter intuitive to my users that they were marking legitimate email as spam as the mark as spam button was the largest and default on the screen.

In addition to all of this I was receiving email from another client that was clearly not destined for me in any way, shape, or form.  This never happened with postini.  For each of my clients I had setup an email alias that forwarded to my email for managing the billing and the root postini account.

I would setup  this account and then have a forward to the principal at the business and to me.   With Postini this was never a problem.  With Google Aps I was suddenly receiving email that was destined for another user at my client's domain.  What I found out after a bit of going back and forth is that when an aliased email is released, it is delivered not to the alias email address but to the main address associated with the alias.  So while I wasn't doing anything wrong, the email was going to the base account email because the primary business owners email was the one it was addressed to and it was the one I have the special account setup to forward to!

At this point I am spending a lot of time managing email systems that here to fore were working perfectly.  And things are becoming quite frustrating.

I also have some special needs because in the past I setup special email addresses to bypass filtering and expedite delivery.  Some of these are still in use but I personally have about 30 aliases that go to one email inbox. Postini handled this well.

In all my frustration I turned to the internet to find an alternative to Postini that would give me equivalent functionality and filtering that would be superior to the now inferior Google Aps solution.

I found several offerings.  McAfee has one, Symantec and I found a few others as well.  Each of these  had a 5 alias limit per paying account and the pricing would often quintuple what I was paying for Postini.   In addition I am responsible for more than just my domains.  I have clients that are being negatively impacted by the transition to Google Aps and I need to act.  It would be nice to be a reseller for these services in order to get some volume discounts and to better serve my clients.

I eventually found two Postini competitors that use the same basic infrastructure of  special MX servers as well as the ability, if desired, to archive email for those clients requiring an email archive.

I am going to review each of these in a separate blog posting.  Stay Tuned....

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