We’ve been working on a customer project for a few months now and we’re very grateful that they gave us permission to write a high level case study about them.  This is also the first project that really warranted a case study due to the technical aspects of the solution that MG IT Solutions developed.

Message Horizon

Message Horizon are a UK based company that provide bulk email services to companies who send large volumes of electronic mail to their customers.  Think marketing campaigns, updating existing customers, news, announcements, security updates and so on.  Some enterprise-class companies will have many millions – or hundreds of millions – of email-based subscribers.  They need an efficient and cost-effective method of sending electronic mail to their customers in a world where reputation is king and delivery must be as guaranteed as possible.

This is where Message Horizon come in, providing the means to the customer, without the customer needing to host their own large-volume mail servers internally, requiring potentially specialist skills to manage, maintain and streamline the servers to always be performing at the fastest possible speeds.

Message Horizon contacted us in April 2011, we outlined and discussed the solution for a few months and eventually started work on the technical aspects and implementation in November 2011.

Our requirement was primarily to implement a server large-scale cloud-based mail server to replace an older hardware-based solution.  The first prototype server would initially be low-spec to test efficiency and performance capabilities – 1Gb RAM and 1 CPU – and would need to eventually process mail at a rate of 100,000 messages per hour.  We needed to build a Linux server from scratch and strip it down to the bare essentials, which could then be replicated and quickly reconfigured for new customers.

This was certainly an interesting technical challenge, and one which usually would require significant hardware, memory, CPU and fast disks.  We worked alongside Message Horizon’s contracted web development company – Web Ideas – who implemented a web-based interface for Message Horizon’s customers to configure the server and mail configuration.  The requirements grew as the solution was developed and eventually led us to a point where everything should be integrated and automated.  This now includes :

* Integrating with a web interface securely
* Local database settings, configuration and reporting of current state and status
* Changing the configuration of the mail server on the fly
* Adding and configuring network interfaces
* Addition of new hostnames and domains
* Automatic rotation of the sending IP address
* Automated generation and configuration of DomainKeys Identified Mail

An important factor in this solution was to do as much as possible to prevent the server from being blacklisted, and ensure that all mails sent from the server to customers arrived in their inbox, rather than any spam folder, or even worse, be filtered before even reaching the customer.  This is where correct and accurate implementation of the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) comes into play, as well as ensuring that standard DNS records are generally present and correct.

Our previous experience of the Postfix mail transfer agent (MTA) made this the primary and perfect choice for handling all the email going through the server, and so far our “high performance” settings have enabled at least 80,000 messages an hour to be sent – with an extra CPU and memory, we think it will be possible to well exceed the stated requirement of 100,000.

We are contractually and ethically bound to keep the technical details of this implementation, but if you are interested in learning more or making use of this service, please get in touch with Message Horizon and let them know how you found them.

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