I decided to look for two hosts to replace PowWeb, one for email and one for basic web services.
As of December 2006, we’ve registered with Everyone.net for email services. They specialize in email – that’s all they do. I trust that they don’t screw it up as much as a company where that’s just one of many services. Their basic plan only allows for 5 real email boxes where we’re used to unlimited boxes at PowWeb, but with unlimited alias addresses for each real address, this isn’t a problem for our small business.
Switching services is always traumatic for me. I don’t want to provide step by step instructions below but just give you an idea of the sorts of things that need to be looked at when you’re changing hosts. There were several key issues that I needed to address:
- Getting our DNS MX record to point to the new host
- Getting our DNS TXT SPF record to point to the new host
- Creating a limited set of email users, and creating all of the other aliases that we already have, then ensuring that the aliases are pointed to the proper addresses.
- Making sure PowWeb was not still somehow getting some of our mail
- Making sure that pointing our mail services to another host didn’t interrupt our existing web services which I plan to move later.
After registering with Everyone.net, setting the MX was easy. MX means Mailbox eXchange, and it’s just the way the internet finds out where you get your email. I just changed this from mx.powweb.com to siteurl.everyone.net (or whatever the actual names were) and waited some period of time for internet name servers to recognize the change. All documentation says this could take up to a few days but for us it took just a couple hours. I suspect internationally there are some name servers that still aren’t updated for a couple days.
Powweb has several mail servers, so they have ‘A’ records (alias records that translate ZZ.yourdomain.com to an IP address). Rather that changing the several ‘mx.nebula-rnd.com’ A records to point to everyone.net, I simply deleted them. PowWeb also has A records for ‘mail’, ‘smtp’, ‘pop’, and others related to email and web mail – I deleted all of them. I then created CNAME records (aliases for hostnames rather than IP addresses) which pointed ‘pop.nebula-rnd.com’ to ‘pop.everyone.net’ and ‘smtp.nebula-rnd.com’ to ‘smtp.everyone.net’. Our email clients used to send/receive mail with ‘mail.nebula-rnd.com’, so changing to smtp.* and pop.* was the only small change that was required on the client side. By the time I got done hacking up the A records the only ones left were FTP and WWW.
I have to tell ya, there was a good amount of panic associated with changing that MX record:
– Do I need a period after the hostnames? (answer=no, required online chat with PW support)
– Do the A records automatically disappear after changing the MX? It seems stupid for those to point to a different host than the MX. (answer=no, I had another chat with support who led me to believe otherwise)
And what about that SPF record? I got the text for the SPF from the everyone.net site. PowWeb doesn’t allow customers to change their own SPF anymore so I needed another chat with support to get them to make the change.
What is SPF and why was this important?
Sender Policy Framework allows a receiving server to verify that the sending server is authorized to send mail for the domain indicated in the sender address. This is an experimental protocal intended to stop spam spoofing. The SPF record says ServertX is the only one authorized to send mail for this domain. So unless that’s changed too, receiving servers getting mail from everyone.net will see that only the PW server was authorized to send, and they might trash our mail. Oops. Powweb support people will change the text of the TXT record to any SPF code you want. Again, there was panic here because I’ve never done this before, so how do I know I’m giving them the right inf?. As luck would have it I think I gave them the right text.
Digression for a small rag session:
As I was modifying the DNS records (A, MX, and CNAME), a bug in the PW Ops panel put some funky text into one of the CNAME fields. It looked like "ARRAY(0x8d63b910a)’. When I asked the PW support person what they was they said it was a CNAME and provided a definition for that acronym. Duh. I asked if it was supposed to be there and they said it was. I said "you know and I know that’s not a valid hostname, what is it?!". They asked for authorization to access my site and after a couple minutes they said it was gone. Duh again, they just deleted the funky text. I said "Hell, _I_ could have deleted that myself, my question was ‘what is it!?" They guessed that it was a bug – yeah, and I know better than to trust people who don’t know what something is but they delete it anyway, that’s so responsible…. Tier1 support people are usually pretty useless and this one and most of the people I spoke to at PW were all in the same calibre. When I get on those Live Chats or even on the phone with a support person, my opening statement is something like "I need to ask you about X, are you familiar with this?" Inevitably they say "sure, what’s your question?" Then when I ask the question I can see the "deer in the headlights" look, all the way through my network and up through their screen. There’s always a "can you wait for a couple minutes" – as the person no doubt runs for help from a tier-2 person. OK, I won’t rag further. These people are there to serve as front-line defense for the people who have a clue. I know some of them care, that they’re probably trying hard to do a good job, and if they’re sitting in Bangalore they may be struggling with language issues too. I just wish they wouldn’t pretend to be experts, or that they’d transfer me to tier-2 as soon as they realize they’re over their head.
Anyway, we’ve been running for a few days now with email from Everyone.net. We’ll knock on wood and hope that the move was worthwhile. I can immediately see that there’s less crud in our email headers, and that instantly helps with mail filtering. And our clients who weren’t getting their mail before are getting it now. I can only hope the web hosting change goes as smoothly. I’ll tell you about that in an addendum to this posting within the next couple weeks.
If anyone else is considering migration of email services, check out Everyone.net, see if their pricing and services are in line with your needs. If you do register with them, let me know – one of the sales people there was very helpful to me and I want to let her know it was worth it.
In my next article on this topic I’ll let you know where I’m going for web hosting services. It’s already paid for and I will be doing the switch during the next month (we just went to a monthly plan with PW). Expect a posting by the New Year.
[EDIT: 16-mar-2007] Comments and trackbacks have been disabled for this article due to an unusual amount of trackback spam pointed here.