Posts Tagged 'Email'

October 16, 2013

Tips and Tricks: Troubleshooting Email Issues

Working in support, one of the most common issues we troubleshoot is a customer's ability to receive email. Depending on email server, this can be a headache and a half to figure out, but more often than not, we're able to fix the problem with one of only a few simple solutions. Because the SoftLayer Blog audience loves technical tips and tricks, I thought I'd share a few easy steps that make pinpointing the root cause of email issues much easier.

Before you gear up to go into battle, check the that server is not out of disk space on /var and that it is not in a read only state. That precursory step may seem silly, but Occam's Razor often holds true in technical troubleshooting. Once you verify that those two common problems aren't causing your email problems, the next step is to determine whether the email issues are server-wide or isolated to one mail account/domain. To do that, the first thing you need to do is make sure that the IMAP and POP services are responding.

Check IMAP and POP Services

The universal approach to checking IMAP and POP services is to use telnet:

telnet <serverip> 110
telnet <serverip> 143

If either of those commands fail, you're able to pinpoint which service to check on your server.

For most variants of Linux, you can check both services with a single command: netstat -plan|egrep -i "110|143". The resulting output will show if the services are listening and which process is doing the listening. In Windows, you can run a similar command from a command prompt: netstat -anb|find "LISTEN"| findstr "110 143".

If the ports are listening, and you're able to connect to them over telnet, your next stop should be your server's error logs.

Check Error Logs

You want to look for any mail errors that might clue you into the root cause of your email issues. In Linux, you can check /var/log/maillog, and in Windows, you can filter eventvwr.msc for mail only. If there are errors, a simple search will highlight them quickly.

If there are no errors, it's time to dig into the mail queue directly.

Check the Mail Queue

Depending on the mail server you use, the commands here are going to vary. Here are a few examples of how we'd investigate the most common mail servers we encounter:

QMail

Display the mail queue: /var/qmail/bin/qmail-qread
Display the number of messages in the queue: /var/qmail/bin/qmail-qstat
Reference article: Gaining Control Over the QMail Queue

Sendmail

Display the mail queue: sendmail -bp or mailq
Display the number of messages in the queue: mailq –OmaxQueueRunSize=1
Reference article: Quick Sendmail Cheatsheet

Exim

Display the mail queue: exim -bp
Display the number of messages in the queue: exim -bpc
Reference article: Exim cheatsheet

MailEnable

MailEnable users can can check to see that messages are moving by opening the mail directory:
Program Files\MailEnable\Queues\SMTP\Inbound\Messages
Reference article: How to diagnose inbound message delivery delays

With these commands, you can filter through the email queues to see whether any of them are for the users or domains you're having problems with. If nothing obvious presents itself at that point, it's time for some active testing.

Active Testing

Send an email to your mailserver from an external mailserver (anything will do as long as it's not on the same server). Watch for logging of the email as it's delivered:
tail -f maillog
On busy mailservers you might add |grep youremailid or simply look for a new message in the directory where the email will be stored.

The your primary goal in troubleshooting your email issues in this way is to isolate the root cause of your problem so that you can fix it more quickly. SoftLayer customers have direct access to our support team to help you through this process, but it's always nice to keep a quick reference like this in your back pocket to be able to pinpoint the problem yourself.

-Bill

May 29, 2013

Tips from the Abuse Department: To Catch a Predator

We've all seen the emails exclaiming, "THE KING HAS SENT YOU 1,000,000$ US DOLLARS," or "I NEED A PERSONAL ASSISTANT PAYING 500$ A WEEK." Do people actually fall for these? The answer is YES, many do. They think, "What risk is there replying to this email and possibly getting $1,000,000 or even a fraction of that?" As it turns out, there's a lot of risk.

As the senior manager of SoftLayer's abuse department, I know all about these kinds of scams, and I thought I'd reply to one of those emails to show what the interaction usually looks like and explain how the scam works.

---------------------------------------------
From: "Freddy Scammer" <scammer@address>
To: "Freddy Scammer" <scammer@address>
Subject: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Hi, I am looking for a Personal Assistant, Kindly let me know if you are interested, and i can send you more details. Thank you

Freddy Scammer
---------------------------------------------

First, notice that my address email address isn't listed in the TO field or even the CC field. I must be BCC'd along with many others. I've changed the scammer's fake name to a more fitting name, and I'll use masculine pronouns when I talk about "him." According to our friends over at 419scam.org, this guy has been flagged as a scammer using the same name and email address. The name he provided actually belongs to a company that produces lamps as well as an American historian who focuses on colonization, decolonization and African history.

In the initial message, you'll see that there's no "all or nothing" proposition. Just like any scam, the scammer requests and provides information slowly to reel in a victim.

I replied back:

---------------------------------------------
From: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
To: <scammer@address>
Subject: RE: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Doing What?
---------------------------------------------

I wanted to keep it short to see if I could get him to tell me more. He didn't disappoint:

---------------------------------------------
From: Freddy Scammer <scammer@address>
To: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
Subject: Re: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Hello

Thanks for your reply, I got your email through the Chamber of Commerce directory. I am looking for someone who can handle my business errands during his or her spare time. I need your service because I am constantly traveling abroad on a missionary trip to build homes for orphaned children and doing other business as we are franchise company into alot of things.

Responsibilities:
1. Receive my mail and drop them off. {Your location doesn't matter as long as you have a post office nearby}
2. Pay my bills.
3. pay our workers on a regular basis

I would have love to meet with you to discuss this job in more detail, but I am currently away on a missionary trip. If you decide to accept the position, please read the employment requirements listed below.
REQUIREMENTS:
A. You are an honest and trustworthy citizen.
B. You need to be able to check your email regular and answer calls.

The pay is $500 weekly and you are entitled to other additional incentives after 1 month if you are hardworking. First, If I were to mail you a payment to
pay people that are needed to and your payment for your service, where would you want it mailed to?

Secondly, how would you like your name to appear on the payment? Note, payment would come in form of Check.

Provide me with the following details below to get started.

Full Name:
Complete Address(No PO Box allowed):
City:
State:
Country:
Zip Code:
Home Phone:
Cell Phone:
Age:
Occupation(If any):
Alternative Email if available:

Awaiting your prompt reply.
---------------------------------------------

Sounds easy enough right? Well it is easy. Who couldn't use an extra $500 a week! But there are a few problems here. If this sounds a lot like a "money mule" (or money laundering) type of situation, that's because it is! A money mule is a person who transfers money acquired illegally (e.g., stolen) in person, through a courier service, or electronically, on behalf of others. The mule is paid for their services, typically a small part of the money transferred.

Money mules are often dupes recruited on-line for what they think is legitimate employment, not aware that the money they are transferring is the product of crime. The money is transferred from the mule's account to the scam operator, typically in another country. Similar techniques are used to transfer illegal merchandise.

After a quick Google search for a few of the sentences in his message, I found out that this guy is low-balling me! He's offering $600 a week in other listings ... I'm hurt! I replied to see if I could get him off script:

---------------------------------------------
From: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
To: <scammer@address>
Subject: RE: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

So all I have to do is receive packages and re-ship them to where you tell me to,, also receive payments and cash it out and re-pay workers? How will I be paying them, what method? How often will I have to mail packages out and how big are they, who will pay for shipping?
---------------------------------------------

He was quick to respond:

---------------------------------------------
From: Freddy Scammer <scammer@address>
To: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
Subject: Re: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Your going to be receiving payment mostly and it has already been paid for, for the shipping . All you have to do is receive and go ahead and cash it ....... Then i will tell you what to do with the money or whoever to pay with it. got me?
---------------------------------------------

Color me amazed. All I have to do is receive a check and cash it?! What luck!

---------------------------------------------
From: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
To: <scammer@address>
Subject: RE: PA URGENTLY NEEDED
Ok seems easy enough. But I only have a PO BOX, why would this be a problem? I currently don't have a permanent address as I'm staying with a friend trying to get back on my feet and I'm not on the house lease so I can't receive mail here. Is that going to be a problem?
---------------------------------------------

Now none of this is true, but I knew that this would throw Freddy off of his game. Most scammers don't allow a post office box because they don't want to be scammed ... What's to prevent the "victim" from renting a P.O. Box for a month, getting the check, cashing it and cancelling that P.O. Box? That possibility is a risk that scammers don't like to take. There have even been reports that in some instances, the scammers will send goons to your house if you don't hold up your end of the deal.

This whole underground world that you can get quickly and easily sucked into is exciting isn't it?

---------------------------------------------
From: Freddy Scammer <scammer@address>
To: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
Subject: Re: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

I'm afraid a PO BOX will not suffice, you can perhaps use a family members address and we can start the payments as soon as you send me the info. Please reply with the most urgent intent as I only have a few positions left as my assistant.
---------------------------------------------

At this point, I didn't bother emailing back. It's pretty obvious how easy it could be for someone down on their luck financially (or just bored) to get sucked into this type of scam. What's actually happening here is that the scammer wants to send money from a compromised account to the victim's legit account and then have the victim withdraw 90%-95% of the money and send it to another account that the bad guy has legitimate access to (probably over-seas). The victim would get to keep 5% for their troubles. Often the checks that are sent won't clear, so a victim thinks the funds are in his/her account ... Money is forwarded to the scammer from the victim's legitimate account and it clears before the funds from the scammer's deposited check disappear.

In some instances, scammers will buy high-priced items online with stolen credit card numbers and have those items shipped to the victim's house. The victim will then ship them to a different address. The bad guy has nothing to lose, and the victim takes all the risk.

The challenge with pursuing these scammers from a legal perspective is that they are often based in regions and areas out of the jurisdiction of our law enforcement authorities. As a result, they usually aren't caught, and they just move along to their next unsuspecting victim.

If you receive a "too good to be true" email from someone you don't know, let me spoil the surprise for you: It's not true.

-Dody

Categories: 
January 31, 2013

ActiveCampaign: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Peter Evans from ActiveCampaign. ActiveCampaign is a complete email marketing and marketing automation platform designed to help small businesses grow.

The Challenge of Sending Email Simply

You need to send email. Usually, that's a pretty simple task, so it's not uncommon to find users who think that sending a monthly newsletter is more or less the same task as sending a quick note to a friend about going to see a movie. In fact, those two email use-cases are completely different animals. With all of the nuances inherent in sending and managing large volumes of email, a plethora of email marketing services are positioned to help users better navigate the email marketing waters. It's tough to differentiate which features you might need and which features are just there to be a "Check" in a comparison checklist. ActiveCampaign set out to make the decision-making process simpler ... We knew that we needed the standard features like auto-responder campaigns, metrics reports and email templates, but we also knew we had to differentiate our service in a meaningful way. So we focused on automation.

Too often, the "automation" provided by a platform can be very cumbersome to set up (if it's available at all), and when it's actually working, there's little confirmation that actions are being performed as expected. In response, we were intentional about ActiveCampaign's automation features being easy to set up and manage ... If automation saves time and money, it shouldn't be intimidatingly difficult to incorporate into your campaigns. Here is a screenshot of what it takes to incorporate automation in your email campaigns with ActiveCampaign:

ActiveCampaign Screenshot

No complicated logic. No unnecessary options. With a only a few clicks, you can select an action to spark a meaningful response in your system. If a subscriber in your Newsletter list clicks on a link, you might want to move that subscriber to a different list. Because you might want to send a different campaign to that user as well, we provide the ability to add multiple automated actions for each subscriber action, and it's all very clear.

One of the subscriber actions that might stand out to you if you've used other email service providers (or ESPs) is the "When subscriber replies to a campaign" bullet. ActiveCampaign is the first ESP (that we're aware of) to provide users the option to send a series of follow-up campaigns (or to restrict the sending of future campaigns) to subscribers who reply to a campaign email. Replies are tracked in your campaign reports, and you have deep visibility into how many people replied, who replied, and how many times they replied. With that information, you can segment those subscribers and create automated actions for them, and the end result is that you're connecting with your subscriber base much more effectively because you're able to target them better ... And you don't have to break your back to do it.

SoftLayer customers know how valuable automation can be in terms of infrastructure, so it should be no surprise that email marketing campaigns can benefit so much from automation as well. Lots of ESPs provide stats, and it's up to you to figure out meaningful ways to use that information. ActiveCampaign goes a step beyond those other providers by helping you very simply engage your subscribers with relevant and intentional actions. If you're interested in learning more, check us out at http://www.activecampaign.com.

-Peter Evans, ActiveCampaign

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
August 15, 2012

Managing Support Tickets: Email Subscriptions

This week, the development team rolled out some behind-the-scenes support functionality that I think a lot of our customers will want to take advantage of, so I put together this quick blog post to spread the word about it. With the new release, the support department is able to create "Ticket Email Subscriptions" for different ticket groups on every customer account. As a customer, you might not be jumping up and down with joy after reading that one-sentence description, but after you hear a little more about the functionality, if you're not clapping, I hope you'll at least give us a thumbs-up.

To understand the utility of the new ticket email subscription functionality, let's look at how normal tickets work in the SoftLayer portal without email subscriptions:

User Creates Ticket

  1. User A creates a ticket.
  2. User A becomes the owner of that ticket.
  3. When SoftLayer responds to the ticket, an email notification is sent to User A to let him/her know that the ticket has been updated.

SoftLayer Creates Ticket

  1. SoftLayer team creates a ticket on a customer's account.
  2. The primary customer contact on the account is notified of the new ticket.
  3. Customer logs into the portal and responds to ticket.
  4. Customer gets notifications of updates (as described above).

There's nothing wrong with the existing support notification process, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to make the process better. What if User A creates an urgent ticket on his/her way out the door to go on vacation? User B and User C aren't notified when an update is posted on User A's ticket, so the other users aren't able to get to the ticket and respond as quickly as they would have if they received the notification. What if the primary customer contact on the account isn't the best person to receive a monitoring alert? The administrator who will investigate the monitoring alert has to see the new ticket on the account or hear about it from the primary contact (who got the notification).

Ticket email subscriptions allow for customers to set contact addresses to be notified when a ticket is created, edited or moved in a particular ticket group. Here are the ticket groups differentiated in our initial release:

  • Billing - Any ticket in our Billing department
  • Maintenance - Scheduled maintenance notifications for specific servers
  • Network Protection - DDoS mitigation and Null Routes
  • Monitoring - Host Down Alerts
  • CST, SysAdmin and Hardware - Any ticket in our support and data center departments
  • Managed Services - Tickets that relate to any managed services
  • Network Maintenance - Scheduled network maintenance

You'll notice that Abuse isn't included in this list, and the only reason it's omitted is because you've always been able to designate a contact on your account for abuse-related tickets ... Ticket subscriptions extend that functionality to other ticket groups.

Because only one email address can be "subscribed" to notifications in each ticket group, we recommend that customers use their own distribution lists as the email contacts. With a DL as the contact, you can enable multiple users in your organization to receive notifications, and you can add and remove users from each distribution list on your end quickly and easily.

When User A creates a ticket with the data center and goes on vacation, as soon as SoftLayer responds to the ticket, User A will be notified (as usual), and the supportsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will get notified as well. When a network maintenance is ticket is created by SoftLayer, the netmaintsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will be notified.

Ticket email subscriptions are additive to the current update notification structure, and they are optional. If you want to set up ticket email subscriptions on your account, create a ticket for the support department and provide us with the email addresses you'd like to subscribe to each of the ticket groups.

We hope this tool helps provide an even better customer experience for you ... If you don't mind, I'm going to head back to the lab to work with the dev team to cook up more ways to add flexibility and improvements into the customer experience.

-Chris

July 11, 2012

Mandrill: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog with Chad Morris from our partner Mandrill. Mandrill is an email delivery platform built on and managed by MailChimp. Created for developers to set up and manage with minimal coding effort, Mandrill offers advanced tracking, easy-to-understand reports and hundreds of template options. In this video interview, Chad goes into detail about the history of the company as well as the major differences between Mandrill and MailChimp. In the near future, you'll see a separate guest blog from the Mandrill team with best practices for managing your email systems.

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
June 25, 2012

Tips from the Abuse Department: Part 2 - Responding to Abuse Reports

If you're a SoftLayer customer, you don't want to hear from the Abuse department. We know that. The unfortunate reality when it comes to hosting a server is that compromises can happen, mistakes can be made, and even the most scrupulous reseller can fall victim to a fraudulent sign-up or sly spammer. If someone reports abusive behavior originating from one of your servers on our network, it's important to be able to communicate effectively with the Abuse department and build a healthy working relationship.

Beyond our responsibility to enforce the law and our Acceptable Use Policy, the Abuse department is designed to be a valuable asset for our customers. We'll notify you of all valid complaints (and possibly highlight security vulnerabilities in the process), we'll assist you with blacklist removal, we can serve as a liaison between you and other providers if there are any problems, and if you operate an email-heavy platform or service, we can help you understand the steps you need to take to avoid activity that may be considered abuse.

At the end of the day, if the Abuse department can maintain a good rapport with our customers, both our jobs can be easier, so I thought this installment in the "Tips from the Abuse Department" series could focus on some best practices for corresponding with Abuse from a customer perspective.

Check Your Tickets

This is the easiest, most obvious recommendation I can give. You'd be surprised at how many service interruptions could be avoided if our customers were more proactive about keeping up with their open tickets. Our portal is a vital tool for your business, so make sure you are familiar with how to access and use it.

Keep Your Contact Information Current

Our ticket system will send notifications to the email address you have on file, so making sure this information is correct and current is absolutely crucial, especially if you aren't in the habit of checking the ticket system on a regular basis. You can even set a specific address for abuse notifications to be sent to, so make use of this option. The quicker you can respond to an abuse report, the quicker the complaint can be resolved, and by getting the complaint resolved quickly, you avoid any potential service interruption.

If we are unable to reach you by ticket, we may need to call you, so keep your current phone numbers on file as well.

Provide Frequent Updates

Stay in constant communication in the midst of responding to an abuse report, and adhere to the allotted timeline in the ticket. If we don't see updates that the abusive behavior is being addressed in the grace period we are able to offer, your server is at risk of disconnection. By keeping us posted about the action you're taking and the time you need to resolve the matter, we're able to be more flexible.

If a customer on your servers created a spamming script or a phishing account, taking immediate steps to mitigate the issue by suspending that customer is another great way to respond to the process while you're performing an investigation of how that activity was started. We'll still want a detailed resolution, but if the abuse is not actively ongoing we can work with you on deadlines.

Be Concise ... But Not Too Concise

One-word responses: bad. Page long responses: also not ideal. If given the option we would opt for the latter, but your goal should be to outline the cause and resolution of any reported abusive activity as clearly and succinctly as possible in order to ease communication and expedite closing of the ticket.

Responding to a ticket with, "Fixed," is not sufficient to for the Abuse department to consider the matter resolved, but we also don't need a dump of your entire log file. Before the Abuse team can close a ticket, we have to see details of how the complaint was resolved, so if you don't provide those details in your first response, you can bet we'll keep following up with you to get them. What details do we need?

Take a Comprehensive Approach

In addition to stopping the abusive activity we want to know:

  1. How/why the issue occurred
  2. What steps are being taken to prevent further issues of that nature

We understand that dealing with abuse issues can often feel like a game of Whack-A-Mole, but if you can show that you're digging a bit deeper and taking steps to avoid recurrence, that additional work is very much appreciated. Having the Abuse department consider you a proactive, ethical and responsible customer is a worthy goal.

Be Courteous

I'm ending on a similar note to my last blog post because it's just that important! We understand getting an abuse ticket is a hassle, but please remember that we're doing our best to protect our network, the Internet community and you.

Unplugging your server is a last resort for us, and we want to make sure everyone is on the same page to prevent us from getting to that last resort. In the unfortunate event that you do experience an abuse issue, please refer back to this blog — it just might save you some headaches and perhaps some unnecessary downtime.

-Jennifer

June 18, 2012

Tips from the Abuse Department: Part 1 - Reporting Abuse

SoftLayer has a dedicated team working around the clock to address complaints of abuse on our network. We receive these complaints via feedback loops from other providers, spam blacklisting services such as Spamcop and Spamhaus, various industry contacts and mailing lists. Some of the most valuable complaints we receive are from our users, though. We appreciate people taking the time to let us know about problems on our network, and we find these complaints particularly valuable as they are non-automated and direct from the source.

It stands to reason that the more efficient people are at reporting abuse, the more efficient we can be at shutting down the activity, so I've compiled some tips and resources to make this process easier. Enjoy!

Review our Legal Page

Not only does this page contain our contact details, there's a wealth of information on our policies including what we consider abuse and how we handle reported issues. For starters, you may want to review our AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) to get a feel for our stance on abuse and how we mitigate it.

Follow Proper Guidelines

In addition to our own policies, there are legal aspects we must consider. For example, a claim of copyright infringement must be submitted in the form of a properly formatted DMCA, pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Our legal page contains crucial information on what is required to make a copyright claim, as well as information on how to submit a subpoena or court order. We take abuse very seriously, but we must adhere to the law as well as our privacy policy in order to protect our customers' businesses and our company from liability.

Include Evidence

Evidence can take the form of any number of things. A few common examples:

  • A copy of the alleged spam message with full headers intact.
  • A snippet from your log file showing malicious activity.
  • The full URL of a phishing page.

Without evidence that clearly ties abusive activity to a server on our network, we are unable to relay a complaint to our customer. Keep in mind that the complaint must be in a format that allows us to verify it and pass it along, which typically means an email or hard copy. While our website does have contact numbers and addresses, email is your best bet for most types of complaints.

Use Keywords

We use a mail client specifically developed for abuse desks, and it is configured with a host of rules used for filtering and prioritization. Descriptive subject lines with keywords indicating the issue type are very useful. Including the words "Spam," "Phishing" or "Copyright" in your subject line helps make sure your email is sent to the correct queue and, if applicable, receives expedited processing. Including the domain name and IP address in the body of the email is also helpful.

Follow Up

We work hard to investigate and resolve all complaints received however, due to volume, we typically do not respond to complaining parties. That said, we often rely on user complaints to determine if an issue has resumed or is ongoing so feel free to send a new complaint if activity persists.

Be Respectful

The only portion of your complaint we are likely to relay to our customer is the evidence itself along with any useful notes, which means that paragraph of profanity is read only by hardworking SoftLayer employees. We understand the frustration of being on the receiving end of spam or a DDOS, but please be professional and try to understand our position. We are on your side!

Hopefully you've found some of this information useful. When in doubt, submit your complaint to abuse@softlayer.com and we can offer further guidance. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll offer suggestions for SoftLayer customers about how to facilitate better communication with our Abuse department to avoid service interruption if an abuse complaint is filed against you.

-Jennifer

August 17, 2011

SendGrid: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Tim Falls of SendGrid, a technology partner that provides cloud-based email infrastructure for reliable delivery, scalability, real-time analytics and flexible APIs for customers who want to focus on driving their own growth and profitability.

Company Website: http://sendgrid.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/sendgrid

Understanding the Value of [Email] Infrastructure Services

The Fall of DIY ... As We Know It
Today more than ever before, businesses depend on third party services to operate efficiently and achieve their objectives. As a business leader, you have countless web applications and software as service solutions at your fingertips, which collectively address just about any problem or demand imaginable. Examples include cloud-based file storage, cloud and dedicated web hosting, recurring billing applications, online HR management portals, APIs for telephony and geo-data, and managed email infrastructure and delivery services. Startups and established corporations alike can utilize these tools quickly and simply with a credit card and a few clicks on a trackpad.

So, what does this mean, and why is it worth recognizing and appreciating? Well, it means that your life is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. And if you fail to recognize the opportunities and advantages that these resources offer, your competitors will soon leave you in their proverbial dust ... if they haven't already.

The gist:

  • You don't have to do everything yourself anymore ... So don't!
  • Be the best at what you do, and rely on other experts to help with everything outside of your realm.

The Email Puzzle
Let's face it. Email sucks. Not email in and of itself - obviously, it is an essential part of our lives and is arguably one of the most transformative communication tools in human history. But, from a business standpoint, the implementation and maintenance of an effective and efficient email system is truly a nightmare. If there is one thing that web developers across the world can agree upon, it may be this: Successfully integrating email into a web application just ain't fun!

To better understand the challenges developers face when integrating email into their web applications, let's look at an example (fresh from my imagination). Through this discussion, we'll uncover the clear advantages of working with a partner in email infrastructure and delivery.

Let's say you're building PitLovabull.com -- a social, online community for dog owners. Sound lame? Well, it's not ... because it's "different." As the clever name indicates, it's specifically for pit bull owners and advocates. Community members interact with each other and your company in a number of ways: Forum discussions, photo sharing, commenting, direct messages, the "give a dog a bone" button (think "like") and buying cool doggy stuff. Each of these features involves email notifications ... "Sporty's owner just responded to your forum post on Healthy Dog Diets." "Barney's owner just tagged your puppy Stella in a photo." "Thanks for purchasing a new collar for Boss! We'll notify you by email when your package has shipped!"

After six months of grassroots marketing, tens of thousands of passionate pit bull owners have joined your community, and your email volume has grown from 800/week to 8,000/day (that's almost 250k/month!). As a budding bootstrapped startup, you cut costs wherever you can, and you choose to manage your own email servers. You quickly find out that server costs grow substantially as you send more mail, customers are complaining that they aren't receiving their email notifications, and your support team is stretched thin dealing with confused and frustrated customers. The end result: Poor deliverability is directly (and negatively) affecting revenue! What's more: You have no insight into what is happening to your emails - Are they being delivered? Opened? Are links within them being clicked? Have you been blacklisted by an ISP?

Upon deep reflection, you realize that your developers are spending more time on email than they spend building awesome features for the community! Plus, you find yourself, the CEO/Founder of the company, researching mundane crap like ISP rate limits, Sender Policy Framework, DKIM, and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 — a few of the less-than-interesting aspects of email that must be understood in order to achieve optimal deliverability of your notifications and newsletters.

Luckily, you just hired Joey, a fresh, young hacker who's active in the developer ecosystem and always on top of the latest technologies. While exploring PitLovabull's web hosting control panel on your SoftLayer servers, he discovers a better alternative: The Softlayer Email Delivery Service &ndahs; a hosted and managed email infrastructure that's already built for you! Joey signs up with a credit card for $150/month (which covers a full 250k emails/month), changes a few settings on your web application, and within minutes all of your email is being relayed through SendGrid.

May All Your Email Dreams Come True
A few months go by ... Email is in your customers' inboxes. Deliverability is being tracked and displayed on your web dashboard, along with open and click rates, blocks, bounces, spam reports and unsubscribes. Customer Support receives fewer emails, calls, and IM chat requests. Engineering is busy implementing a backlog of feature requests (not doing email stuff). Sales are gradually increasing and overall customer satisfaction is higher than ever.

Empowering Developers
But wait, it gets better! After researching SendGrid's APIs, you recognize the potential for extreme customization, in the form of internal and external features. Internally, the SMTP API allows you to assign a "category" to each of your emails (password reminders, purchase confirmations, etc.) and in turn collect unique statistics for each category. Externally, the Parse API allows you to receive incoming emails to your web app. In a single day, Joey codes up a new feature, and now any community member can email a picture of their pup to post@pitlovabulls.com, include a caption in the subject line, and the picture and caption are automagically posted to that user's profile!

The New Meaning of Do-It-Yourself
We all know it's difficult to trust a third party to handle the critical elements of any operation. With the help of proven SaaS models that employ advanced technology, cloud-based infrastructures and dedicated experts, companies can now feel more comfortable moving into a modern mode of doing-it-themselves: Pay a nominal monthly fee to a service that handles email (or recurring billing, or telephony), and let the service do the dirty work and liberate the brains of your brilliant developers so they can focus on innovating with the tools available to them.

I hope this story helps entrepreneurs and business leaders think smarter as they build their dream. The lessons illustrated in the context of email apply across the board. We're in a fascinating time, where building an internet business has never required less capital and has never allowed for the laser focus that is afforded to companies today. Open your toolbox, work smart, and build something that people love!

-Tim Falls, SendGrid

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
July 8, 2010

Scams

So I’m sitting at my desk pondering deep, legal thoughts: “What is more boring to read – a patent or a real property lease?” “Why does our CFO like to wear pink?” “I wonder if we left food on the counter, and if The Dog ate it?” And then I think, “Can a lawyer be scammed?” As in scammed by the Nigerian email scam? (Rest easy - this is a hypothetical as far as your lawyer is concerned. The answer is a resounding “No!” At least, not yet, to date…..) After all, the lawyer is the one to sue people when you fall for the scams. And the lawyer is generally cynical and wary and suspecting.

But, alas – in general, the lawyer can be scammed. One Texas lawyer was approached by a Japanese client to do collections work. He agreed and was in the process of initiating the process when the client indicated that one of the companies that owed it money had paid. So the client sent the check to the law firm to deposit and indicated that the firm should deduct their fee and wire the rest of the money back, and then proceed with the remainder of the collections. The Texas lawyer had his staff check to see if the check cleared, and it was allegedly confirmed by the bank that it had cleared. So the fee was deducted and the rest of the money ($182,500.00) was wired back to the Japanese client. Shortly after the wire transfer took place, it was determined that the check was fraudulent, and they tried to stop the transfer, but it was too late. After realizing he had been scammed, the lawyer declared, “I’m a capital ‘D’ Dumbass.” http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202427717175. Other attorneys have fallen for this, or slight variations, as well. http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202448356229.

Another attempt at scamming that we in-house attorney types see quite often involves a company’s trademarks or domain names. The email typically reads as follows:

Dear Manager

We are a professional intellectual property rights consultant organiz-ation, mainly deal with the global domain name registration and in-ternet intellectual property rights protection. On March. 22th, 2010, we formally received an application from KangShen Technology Lim-ited, they applied to register the internet brand (softlayer) and some in China and Asia's domain name.

During our preliminary investigation, we found that these domain names' keyword is fully identical with your trademark. Therefore, we need to confirm with you, whether you consigned KangShen Techno-logy Limited to register these domain names with us or not? Or, is KangShen Technology Limited your business partner or distributor?

If you have no relationship with this company, we assume that they have other purposes to obtain these domain names.

Currently, we have already suspended this company's application temporarily due to the seriousness of this isuue. In order to avoid the vicious domain name grabbing, please let the relevant person make a confirmation with me via email as soon as possible. Thank you for your support to our work!

Best Regards!

Well, that doesn’t seem like a scam. Those nice people are letting us know that some other company is wrongfully trying to register our domain name in China and Asia. How can that be a scam? Here’s what happens:

Dear Nice Chinese Registrar Company:

Thank you for alerting us to this evil deed. No – KangShen Technology Limited is not our business partner or distributor. They are trying to usurp our valuable trademark and domain names in China and Asia. Please do not allow this registration to go forward. Thanks again for being so alert!

Dear SoftLayer:

You are so welcome! We are so glad we prevented them from illicitly using your domain name. In order to protect your rights to these domain names that they tried to register, we will register all of them for you in China and Asia for $3,800.00 USD. Please let us know when to proceed.

So then you wire your money to the Nice Chinese Registrar Company, and you never hear from them again, and your money is long gone. So what seems to be a Registrar trying to help you out, turns out to be a scam.

Lessons: Lawyers can be scammed. Trust no one on the Internets. Do not share any personal information or credit card information with anyone (or any entity) that asks for it in an email. No one is just going to give you money. If you just want to give your money away, play the lottery or give it to me. CFO’s who like pink appear to be inherently evil.

March 29, 2010

Motivation by Lance

SoftLayer has now been around for over four years, which is just crazy! I remember when there were less than twenty employees with just a hope and a dream. NOW LOOK AT US! There are many reasons why SoftLayer has become so extremely successful. The people who work here really care, they are extremely intelligent, and we work in a great, fun, and committed environment. I thought it would be funny to go back and look at some of Lance’s old emails, sent out to our teensy-tiny sales team back in the day. I got a kick out of this, because it was extremely entertaining. Lance never hesitated to shoot us an email reminding us how hard we needed to continue to work for our goal. Some of the things we were excited about back then boggle my mind. Here are a few highlights!
Example # 1 --
Sent:Fri 2/17/2006 9:57PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:It’s Official
“We just sold our 100th server……well actually we are at 102!!”

***This is hilarious and adorable looking back, considering we now have 24,000 servers in production and 1,000+ in inventory.

Example # 2 --
Sent:Thurs 3/30/2006 5:35PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Changes
“Lots of changes to keep up with in the portal……
Check out graphing from the customer side – now has daily/weekly/monthly/billing and table data!
Automated OS reloads are live for customer control!
Click around a bit and see what the dev team has put together over the past few weeks.
Good stuff!!”

***We were excited about bandwidth graphs and automated OS reloads, which is a regular staple now! This is not to mention all of the amazing features our development team has added to the portal since then. These features include, but are not limited to, purchasing servers, hardware control, monitoring configuration, DNS management, public and private port control, firewall setup and management, CDN management, IPMI Management & Stats, etc. etc. etc. THE LIST GOES ON AND ON!

Example # 3 --
Sent:Fri 9/8/2006 2:59PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Ding!!!
“We just crossed the $6M recurring revenue mark!!”

***Sure, it takes baby steps, but now we have reached $110 million in recurring revenues, which is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.

Example # 4 --
Sent:Sat 10/14/2006 1:39PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Job Well Done
“Hats off to all the folks that worked last night to build the 33 Pentium D’s. Not only are we server building experts now, our build team cleared the build queue within two hours of arrival at the Infomart last night.
It’s a good thing…..because Sales is on fire today………13 Servers by 1:00 on a SATURDAY!!”

***Our build team has done nothing but improve even from near perfection back then. They have been known to build out 100+ servers in the recent past within a few hours. The same definitely goes for our Sales team, who do you think sold all of those servers to be built out after all?

Example # 5 --
Sent:Tue 9/25/2007 9:10PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Big 4-0
“Hit 40 tonight and I will buy the Steak Finger Baskets and Blizzards for lunch/dinner tomorrow!!
Yip – that’s DQ Country Style”

***This is classic Lance, who knows true motivation is through the belly. For those of you who are not familiar with Dairy Queen, their big red sign is the true “Texas stop sign.”

It is great to be a part of a fast-growing company such as SoftLayer. Keep up the motivation, Lance!

Subscribe to email