Creating your own webmail system

Macworld Australia Staff
20 September, 2016
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Email is the lifeblood of business communications. We rely on email for sending messages, storing important information and collaborating with clients, staff and business partners.

It would be easy to simply consider email a commodity service that we simply procure from a third party without too much thought. As long as they maintain availability we really don’t think much more about it.

But scratch the surface and there are some important questions to ask. Where is your data? Are you contravening local laws and regulations by using an email service that houses your data off-shore? Is the data safe? What happens if the provider shuts down the service, goes out of business or sells out to another company? And can anyone else access your data?

This is why all businesses need to consider hosting their own email service.

But it’s too hard

Running your own email service used to be difficult. You needed to configure servers, applications, gateways and all sorts of other technical components so that everything worked correctly at the backend.

Typically, you’d also need to install client software on end-point devices, which needed to be configured and maintained.

It’s no wonder webmail services sprouted and began to dominate the email business, particularly with SMBs who didn’t have the time, money or expertise to do all of this.

But they didn’t ask the right questions about security, data sovereignty and reliability.

What’s the answer?

We want our key IT services, like email, to work like an appliance. Plug them in, perhaps turn a knob or two, and reliably use them for many years. But there isn’t a similar option for email. Or is there?

The big benefit of cloud-based email services is their always-on, multi-platform capability. No matter what device you’re using, as long as you have access to a web browser, you can get to your email. But the problems we often neglect to consider can have long-term consequences.

What businesses need is an easy to set up and operate email system that gives us control over where data is stored, who can access it, delivers multi-platform accessibility while maintaining high availability.

Many of those challenges – control over where data is stored, access control, multi-platform accessibility and high availability – are problems the storage business has solved through the development of Network Attached Storage, or NAS, devices. What if you could utilise a NAS to run a high-availability email system for your business?

Synology MailPlus

Synology has been building NAS units for the home and SMEs for several years. Its focus has been on not only making the most technically robust hardware on the market, but on making those devices as easy as possible to use. Its DiskStation Manager (DSM) software doesn’t take the usual path of hardware companies that create user interfaces filled with technical jargon that’s laid out in complex ways. DSM looks like a familiar desktop operating system, so you can easily find what you’re looking for and configure your gear without needing a computer science degree.

DSM 6.0, the most recent major release, provides the option of Synology’s new MailPlus software.
The MailPlus and MailPlus Server packages allow your business to set up a secure, reliable and private mail server while giving your employees a modern mail client for receiving and sending messages. Best of all, MailPlus and MailPlus Server run on your Synology NAS, so there’s no need to rely on third-party services.

If you need a high-availability system, you can operate two NAS units as a cluster – a collection of systems that act as if they are one unit – so that a service interruption of one NAS doesn’t prevent you from accessing your email.

Think about that. You retain complete control of who can access your data, where it’s stored, and you can ensure it’s always available.

Getting started

The first step in using MailPlus is choosing a compatible NAS from Synology’s range. Once that’s done, connect the NAS to the internet. We’ll also assume you’ve already purchased a domain name for your business – that’s the part of your email address that comes after the ‘@’ sign.

Then, go to Package Center to find and install MailPlus Server. Once that’s done, launch MailPlus Server, choose ‘Create a new mail system’ to set up a whole new mail system, and click Next to continue the setup.

Note: If you’ve previously used Synology’s Mail Server system, you can migrate to MailPlus.

Then fill in the Account type, Network Interface and Volume for your mail system. In order for email to correctly redirect to your MailPlus installation you’ll need to do some DNS configuration of your A and MX records. This is needed so email coming from outside your network, from the internet, knows where your email server is.

By the way, if your budget is tight, Synology offer free domain names. For example, you could use a free domain called mybusinessname.synology.me rather than registering mybusinessname.com.au.

By default, your MailPlus system comes with licenses for up to five users. These are included with your purchase of the NAS. If you need more licences, so you can add more email users, you can buy licence packs.

Clients

Once your MailPlus server is up and running, you can either install a MailPlus client package on your Synology NAS, allowing users to access email using a web browser, or they can choose to use the client software they prefer, such as Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook.

Click Next to check the summary of the setup, and click Apply to finish.

Access to email from client software can use either the IMAP or POP protocols. Configuring which of these can be accessed is done from the MailPlus Server application that you installed earlier on.

For mobile devices running iOS and Android, simply direct users to either the App Store or Google Play Store respectively and have them search for ‘Synology MailPlus’ to download the free app for their device. There are both smartphone and tablet versions.

Once installed, they can enter the server location into the app’s settings and be ready to go in just a few moments.

Desktop client support is broad and, if users prefer, they can even use a web browser to access MailPlus using an attractive web interface from any computer.

Running your own email system, using MailPlus, is not as complex as it sounds and it offers significant control over your communications, providing you with certainty over access, data location and security.

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