[Solved] Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Discuss your pilot or production implementation with other Zimbra admins or our engineers.
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[Solved] Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby tonyg » Fri Mar 16, 2018 5:49 pm

Please move this to another board in this forum if this is the wrong one - I looked, seems this one is best.

I'm a small business owner, technically competent with servers and coding. I installed and admin full LAMP over Ubuntu, with OpenStack and Ansible. I'm capable of supporting a server and applications. We only have a few users, with a number of email accounts and aliases on our own domains, plus GMail and Yahoo. And we're only processing some tens of emails per day including newsletters, auto-notifications, etc. This is really low volume. I'm looking to aggregate all email into a single UI where possible, and redirect everything we can to/from a single email server.

Having looked through many modern SMTP/POP/IMAP options, it looks to me like Zimbra is one of the most popular and most actively supported platforms. I'd like some feedback as to whether this is suitable for a one-man DIY/admin. I understand email is a huge PITA with spam, RBLs, hacks, etc. I'm willing to go through the school of hard knocks, and earn competence with any platform - as long as it's the right platfform for the task at hand.

So, it's silly to ask in a group of Zimbra fans if it's a good platform. But for a small shop is it overkill or labor-intensive, or might it be ideal for this scenario for some reason compared to other options? One of the things that attracts me to this platform is that it's an all-in-one solution - no need to install MTA, MDA, and other components separately.

My big thing: I really hate spam. So I would really deck this out with filtering. That's the pain I have with many disparate clients and servers, separate filters and spam-filtering services require a lot of duplication of effort.

And the install guide suggests a minimum of 8GB of RAM. So far I can run multiple websites for our modest needs in .5GB. I'd dedicate another server to Zimbra, but can I get away with .5GB to support the OS+Zimbra? Aside from email and maybe calendars we don't have a lot of need for other features yet.

Thanks!
Last edited by tonyg on Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby phoenix » Fri Mar 16, 2018 6:23 pm

It's the answer you'd expect I'm afraid. Yes, Zimbra is right for any size installation. :) It is, however, intended to be a 'black box' install with all it's components and the memory requirement is advised to be 8GB - you can reduce that slightly but not down the half a GB that seem seem to be saying in your post. As you can see from my signature I have replaced the Zimbra ant-spam components wit a product named Rspamd, that will reduce the memory footprint slight and the CPU usage even on a lightly loaded system and I believe it provides better results than Spamassassin. My personal preference of a distribution would be CentOS7, it seems to have less problems than the comparable Ubuntu installs, have a look around the forums and see what you think.
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Bill

Rspamd: A high performance spamassassin replacement

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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby tonyg » Fri Mar 16, 2018 8:37 pm

Thanks for the notes, @phoenix. Your response carries a lot of weight.

It amazes me that we're still dancing around vulnerabilities with RFC protocols that are over 30 years old - we might as well be sending FAXes (which people still use for healthcare and legal). What's driving me to reconsider self-hosting is that I continue to pay hosts who still can't get it right.

I don't mind paying for a new server with 1 or 2GB RAM, but the cost for 8GB on a cloud server is more than the cost of email services - add to that the ongoing time for self-administration. This detail pushes me back to considering just another email host, where all we can do is hope that they get it more right than others.

This is really sad. Anyone else feeling the pain? Has Zimbra been the way out of that rat maze for folks here?

I'm wondering if self-hosting could be used just as a backup for failures at a primary host. With a DNS MX record set with my server at a lower priority than an email host, I'm thinking the burden of administration might be less. While I can usually connect the dots in a topology like this, I don't know if it's realistic with mail servers.

At the risk of annoying the converted, might some other solution be a better fit for this scenario? Or better, just a reduced-profile use of Zimbra?

Thanks for your patience.
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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby axslingr » Sat Mar 17, 2018 2:00 am

Zimbra is a great fit for any size organization, no question about it. I've been running it for about 10 years and it does a great job serving our users. I've never pointed an MX record directly at it though. Zimbra's always been behind another generic Linux/postfix/spamassassin/clamav relay server that I built myself or a 3rd party antispam service to divert the fire-storm of traffic that opening up smtp to the world will attract. It greatly reduces the burden on the server. Right now the antispam service that we use blocks 30,000+ emails a day from RBLs alone on good days, with an average block/detection percentage of 85%. That's traffic that never reaches our Zimbra servers. In the end, all I need Zimbra to do is serve email to our users. Let something else sort out all the crap. Even more so for you since you're the only one running the show.

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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby phoenix » Sat Mar 17, 2018 6:42 am

I'd agree with everything that Lance has said in hist post above. In addition, I've been running an internet facing mail server for over twenty years and Zimbra is by far the best product in it's class for all types of users - is it a good fit for you, probably but you need to meet the recommended installation requirements. The moment you start hacking Zimbra to fit a smaller server you could end up with problems.

The problem with the 'will it be the best for me' question is that it's only you that can make that decision. I'm not a great fan of cloud services and prefer to run my own software in-house but that's just my preference. Is there a cost with running your own mail server, yes there is and it's obviously the hardware cost and your time and effort. The question of cost is, again, something that only you can decide. Commodity hardware is relatively inexpensive and perfectly suitable for a 'private' server, you don't need hi-speed SSDs for your configuration the old spinning rust drives will do fine. :) Relatively low(er) performance hardware/MB/processor will also be fine, you're not trying to build a water cooled 5GHZ record breaking supercomputer. You could also get reasonable second-hand equipment from EBAY if you like to save a few more £/$ or euros.

The cloud or hosting services, for me, provide nothing that you couldn't do yourself and the beauty of Zimbra is that it's a complete install with no additional packages and works out of the box with very minor configuration. If you went down this route my recommendation would be to use CentOS, it's the OSS version of RHEL, in my experience it's the most reliable server distribution around and has a good package management system (and getting better with the change to DNF).
Regards

Bill

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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby JDunphy » Sat Mar 17, 2018 3:51 pm

tonyg wrote:My big thing: I really hate spam. So I would really deck this out with filtering. That's the pain I have with many disparate clients and servers, separate filters and spam-filtering services require a lot of duplication of effort.

And the install guide suggests a minimum of 8GB of RAM. So far I can run multiple websites for our modest needs in .5GB. I'd dedicate another server to Zimbra, but can I get away with .5GB to support the OS+Zimbra? Aside from email and maybe calendars we don't have a lot of need for other features yet.

Thanks!

IMO, you can never have enough tools when dealing with today's mail systems. With experience you will be glad you can enable features that sit dormant for years in zimbra. :-)

There are other compromises here if a $30-$40/month KVM instances with SSD is too much. You could run a MX on a $5/month cloud KVM. Install postscreen, add some milters, tag spam, etc. Think of it like a firewall for your email system that tracks spam and forwards on the email to your mail server. Have your zimbra server at the office or house. Open up incoming port 25 only to your MX in the cloud. Most of the time the office/home connection will be up and mail works in real time. Should your office be down or you lose power, etc. mail will backup in the queues but once you reconnect, it will pick up your email. You could also look for a zimbra hosted solution and purchase it by the mailbox for your employees. Or you could do a combination of both of these. Also, zimbra scales because it can be broken into pieces so you could run parts of it on the $5/month and more memory hungry parts at your office where you have more resources... mailboxd comes to mind.

Zimbra has put a lot of the pieces together but one still needs to understand and identify those pieces to properly manage them. To me the gem is the web interface, the search, how they integrate the spam button with the spam solution, the filtering, the folders and tags, mobile push, management, etc, etc. The ability to further customize the interface with zimlets. The security, postscreen, SA, PolicyD, digital signing, DMARC, TLS, having a community to keep pushing you forward with updates, etc. There are so many moving parts to a modern mail system and zimbra manages to put it all together in a single install. That is a lot of stuff and yet they still manage to scale and I haven't even mentioned all the collaborative features yet like the sharing of folders, documents, etc, etc.

You could also just run postfix + imapd/pop and start there. Learn how to install certificates, update the ciphers, install various spam solutions but at times it will feel like you are missing some piece but then you can research it, go out and integrate as you go. Sharing and collaborative tools come to mind.

If you like control, feel like email is a critical infrastructure and component in security and protection for your business than I don't think you could find more of the pieces all in one place. For our customers, email is dial tone. They expect to get every email and they expect it to be always available. I don't think that is unreasonable today where you can layer your solutions to meet whatever requirements you set for yourself.

You would not have any problem managing your own zimbra platform given that you landed here through research :-) and already have done quite a bit from what you listed in support of your business. I am not saying that you won't have a steep learning curve but that can come when you are ready. The first thing you will discover is that different big providers will send your email to spam unless you follow their rules. For some it is registering your ip space. For others, it's Digitally signing and/or SPF, DMARC, etc, etc.

PS... I started out with running vmware server and two zimbra installs each in 512MB each on the same hardware. It worked perfectly but it was a ton of work to shoehorn it all in there... With a modern zimbra version, I would not even try but we have done it with 4GB as of 8.6 for some special use mixes. Our cloud hosting keeps increasing our memory at the same cost so I think 8GB is probably the lower limit given the cost profile we pay for VM's. I don't normally pay much attention to what software vendors recommend for memory requirements myself but I know I can't expect support either - We use the network version (paid version) in all our installs - for a few extra features that are not available with zextra's or OSS... but that is changing too so I am quite happy with progress that is being made for zimbra's future with NG projects. The zimbra alliance has done a remarkable job keeping things going forward for the OSS version. End of my soap box. We are fans of it zimbra here. surprise. :-)

HTH

Jim
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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby tonyg » Sat Mar 17, 2018 9:43 pm

Once again, sincere thanks for the replies. I need to digest this.

To be totally transparent, I'm using DreamHost DreamCompute services, where we spin up our own OpenStack instances. Their cloud services in this regard are just like Digital Ocean, Hostgator, Rackspace, etc - all of which I've considered for VPS/cloud services. I've become somewhat adept at using Ansible to manage these servers. I've been with them for over a decade and have seen some poor performance but in the last couple years their offering has been quite good.

I'm currently paying Everyone.net and another small email-related service, totalling less than $60/year for our modest small business email needs. 8GB at DH would cost $48/month. I need to shoe-horn the cost plus effort into something that gets me closer to that $60 mark. Even $120 wouldn't be bad - but 48*12 = $576 is too far in the wrong direction. Am I being naïve or unreasonable to hope for versatile and effective email in this price range? (I don't really care about the money. To me a small amount of time with a client will pay for the whole thing. There is a fun factor to do this as cheaply as possible ... we gotta do something to keep the fun in this thing we do.)

The idea is attractive of internally hosting Zimbra on unused hardware, with a VPN/firewall between here and a DH/DC instance with an MTA. I'll look into that. It will eliminate the monthly cost of hardware for this one purpose, and that will be the deal-maker.

My only other two options seem to be going the DIY route with components, or simply taking the advice of many and just not trying to self-administer email for all of the reasons you guys know well. I'm thinking you deal with the basics Plus everything else, because you want that enterprise-ready solution. I want control and versatility but I don't need file sharing and other features in Zimbra. So maybe I should be scaling back to earn my chops with just the basics for MTA, MDA, IMAP/POP3, security, etc etc, and then possibly scale up to Zimbra if that packaging is a better solution for my purposes.

And rather than going all the way from Zimbra down to DIY with components, maybe I should be looking at something like Mail-In-A-Box (concept, not specifically) where the components are pre-assembled but only for more modest email needs, not taking it to the next level with calendar, collaboration, etc. Any ideas on that?

As I said, I need to digest, research, and decide what Value means in this context.

Regards to all.
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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby axslingr » Sat Mar 17, 2018 10:37 pm

You might give Zoho Mail a look. It's free for up to 25 users and up to 5GB per mailbox.

https://www.zoho.com/workplace/pricing.html

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Re: Absolute Noob - Is Zimbra right for me?

Postby tonyg » Tue Jul 31, 2018 3:37 am

I just wanted to thank everyone here once again for your helpful feedback. I installed Zimbra yesterday and have started down the dark path. :)
Per recommendation, I'm running CentOS7. It looks like 4GB of RAM might be overkill for my modest needs but over time I'll play with that, try to improve performance, and scale back features that we don't need. But if I can get all of my domains into Zimbra,I'll be happy to pay for whatever RAM it needs. My goal is to eliminate fees to existing email hosts, and create the stability that they're not providing. I'm OK with the required time in the school of hard knocks to make that happen.

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