Unexpected behavior of MS Outlook 2013 IMAP client when the IMAP Server is migrated to a new machine

Recently during an outage we encountered on one of our cloud servers, we learnt something about the behavior of MS Outlook 2013 IMAP client, which is worth sharing via this post.

To verify our observation of this behavior during the outage phase, we conducted tests on MS Outlook 2013 and other IMAP clients in our labs, which are documented below with conclusions on how to handle such backend changes to minimise the impact on end users.

Scenario/Situation:

A Mail server (bare metal or virtual) having Connect Xf  is running the IMAP service. Using a variety of mail clients such as Thunderbird, MS Outlook, Baya, mobile, users connect to the Mail server over IMAP to view their mail boxes. Typically when the users connect for the first time, the IMAP client synchronises the mailbox from the server to the client and then for every connect, it maintains the mailbox in sync. Read more about how IMAP works

Depicting an IMAP server and IMAP clients

Now if for any reason, the mail server is changed (rebuilt on another machine or even on the same machine with the same IP address and DNS host names and with the same data restored), we have observed that some IMAP clients “misbehave” as if they were a little confused by what happened back there. The unexpected behavior includes attempting to rsync the entire mailbox and not syncing any mail from the mailbox after the server change, etc.

Depicting the rebuild IMAP server and IMAP clients

Depicting the rebuild IMAP server and IMAP clients

Observed Behavior

We have documented the behavior as observed by us below and have also suggested remedial action to be taken on the client.

Lab conditions for the test:

  • During the rebuild procedure, the server was totally inaccessible to the clients. This means that if the clients were running, they would be attempting to connect to the IMAP server but would not be able to locate the server (via IP or DNS name).
  • Once the server is rebuilt and is back online, the IMAP client which is continuously attempting to connect to the server,  will now find it online. The behavior in the IMAP clients is observed and documented at this stage.
  • The email clients are configured as per steps given here.

Conclusion

Thunderbird on Windows, exhibited this behavior, but was not a serious issue. It was easily resolved by simply restarting the Thunderbird client.However, we were not so lucky with MS Outlook 2013, which was the only client that got badly shaken up when the IMAP server was changed and needed a full reconfigure and full re-sync of the entire mailbox, which can take a long time depending on the size of the mailbox and also would inadvertently load the server during this process. We found that it is possible to avoid this if the MS Outlook 2013 client is configured (in advance) with the Root folder option set.

Mind you that this is not required for MS Outlook 2010.

References: IMAP issues affecting Outlook 2013 and Office 365 functionality

Making things better at the workplace through Baya’s Video Conferencing feature

The last release of Connect Xf 3.18, launched the new Video calling and Multi party video conferencing facility (in Beta currently), from right within the browser. This allows the user to simply dial a colleague from the roster and have a audio/video chat with him/her and also add multiple people into the call to have an audio video conference with them. To join the call, a person only needs access to a browser and a web camera (easily available on most devices today).

More details about the Audio video chat feature can be seen here.

We did a little study internally within Mithi and with a customer from the manufacturing industry, both of whom are using this feature to improve their operations. This note captures some experiences of how the two organisations are leveraging Connect Xf’s new Audio Video call/conferencing facility to increase productivity

At Mithi

Reduced Travel, More Effective Meetings for the sales team

Mithi has a geographically distributed sales network and used to sync up over a conference call earlier for weekly reviews. By shifting to using the multi party video conferencing facility, the sales team now meets “virtually” by simply signing into Baya at a scheduled time and connecting into the call from within the browser. Besides being able to see and hear each other, the system also allows them to exchange information over text chat and mail, making the video meeting more effective. Result is cost savings from reduced travel and more effective coordination of work. The unproductive time spent in waiting, driving or traveling can now be put to better use.

Work from home (or anywhere) with loss of productivity

Employees on leave or having commitments at home that keeps them from travelling to office, can now login from home and be fully in sync via Baya with email, calendar, chat. They can even attend meetings (face to face) via the video conferencing feature. For a larger group meeting, the team simply projects the display on a large screen and can involve multiple employees who are not physically present. This has provided immense flexibility to employees to cater to their home commitments, while still being able to engage with the team at work if required.

Greater flexibility with Virtual Face to Face meetings with customers

Most customers and partners would like a face to face before making important buying / selling decisions, but are hard pressed for time. Mithi converts many such meetings to scheduled video meetings. This gives the team a flexibility in organising and scheduling / rescheduling the meetings.
Baya allows the creator of the meetings to loop people into a video meeting by sending them a time bound invitation via email. This allows the team to bring in all the people necessary to resolve / discuss an issue at hand at anytime during the meeting.

Saving time and costs with Virtual Job interviews

The typical process at Mithi used to be to test a candidate using online testing mechanisms and then conduct multiple face to face interviews. For remote candidates, we would first have multiple interview rounds over phone and then invite the candidate over for the final interview to our office. By switching to using Video calls for all interviews, the HR team has an additional level of comfort since they have now seen the candidate and also the candidate gets to see the team (as they go through multiple interview rounds), without needing to travel at all. The system is more efficient, saves cost of travel and allows the team to opt to have another few rounds if needed at mutually convenient schedules without having to deal with the logistics of arranging for travel and stay.

At Sharada Industries

More productive and cost effective Operational reviews.

Earlier Sharada Industries managers and C level people would have per-scheduled travel itenaries to visit and conduct reviews of the various plants located across India. Working this way caused them to either travel too much for impromptu/unscheduled meetings or postpone some important face to face reviews to the next planned trip, possibly leading to delayed decisions. By switching many of their review activities to using Baya’s video conferencing facility, the Sharada management can now schedule any number of virtual meetings as required, allowing them to take quicker business decisions without having to wait for the next trip or spend time and money on an urgent trip.

Getting technical expertise from across plants together with a click

Typically in such industries, it is common to have experts in different areas of the production spread across plants or may be concentrated in the HO. While the plants are staffed with operators to handle production from a set production system/assembly line, any major breakdown in the process, may need expert intervention. In the earlier days, experts would travel “urgently” to consult on such breakdowns. But now Sharada uses the video conferencing, gets the technical experts from various locations on the call and uses the web camera to demonstrate the problem situation. Using this the experts are quickly able to suggest fixes and guide the operators to make the fix, resuming the process quickly and efficiently.

So, how could you use the video conferencing feature in Baya to make things better at your workplace?

Why a Hybrid (Cloud+In Premise) solution is better than a fully In Premise solution for SMEs

Fully In premise solutions make maximum sense for enterprises only if they can afford to maintain a reliable private data center (resources, operations man power, infrastructure – power, cooling, spares, compute, storage, network and OS/App licenses) to ensure maximum uptime on all fronts. This is true for any applications and more so for collaboration and communication apps since they are most frequently used to enable teamwork. Add to that, if the mail exchanger (MX) server is located at the in premise data center, the need for maintianing a high uptime becomes even more critical to reduce chances of mail delays and possible mail loss on the inbound path. Additional investments and planning is also required to setup a DR site and backup systems.

Related: 5 Unavoidable Reasons to Adopt Collaboration Services on the Cloud

Considering all this and more, while we feel that for SMEs, using Cloud Based collaboration services is the default way forward,  its possible that you are unable to shift to an 100% cloud hosting model for various reasons.

In such a situation, you may want to consider hybrid solution , that allows you the flexibility and privacy of maintaining an in premise setup and adds on the benefits of shifting a part of your critical workload to the cloud.

Mithi SkyConnect - Cruise

Mithi SkyConnect – Cruise

  1. 99.9% uptime: The Cruise solution (hybrid) hoists the Mail exchanger and mail cleaning work load onto the cloud. This adds a very high level of reliability to this critical function, which “should be always on” since mail is always flowing in from the external world.
  2. Mini DR site: Additionally, the cloud platform can store inbound mail in respective mailboxes on the cloud itself for a defined period so that the user has an option to login to the cloud account and access these new mail in case of any disaster or temporary loss of access to the in premise server.
  3. SecureMailFlow: To top it all, the Cruise solution will also provide you with a SecureMailFlow (a mail cleaning service on the cloud)  to detect and quarantine spam and virus infected mail. Considering that most of the mail traffic is junk, this will free up immense amount of compute and network bandwidth (since only clean mail will make their way in) on the in premise infrastructure.
  4. Optimized local mail flow: You maintain your in premise server, so that the mail traffic amongst users on the LAN/WAN stays local within the server, which reduces load on the Internet Bandwidth and also speeds up the mail flow amongst the local users. In most organisations, local mail flow accounts for the bulk of the mail traffic.

Related:  Working of the Hybrid Cruise solution

Yes, while the Cruise solution may cost more initially since:
- Its a fully managed service that involves cost in terms of compute, storage and network infrastructure, man power resources and a NOC for maintenance and monitoring.
- The solution comes bundled with SecureMailflow, a mail cleaning service based on one of the top International security solutions.
In the long run considering that you will benefit from the following:
- Save on compute and bandwidth resources
- Save on manpower required to manage this aspect of your infrastructure
- Get 99.9% up-time on your most critical collaboration function (inbound/outbound mail delivery)
- Get access to a mini DR site, that can be used to retrieve inbound mail of the last ‘n’ days and also send mail out in case of an outage on the in premise site/server.
Our research and experience with customers has shown that you get a better overall ROI by choosing a hybrid over a fully in premise solution.

Enabling Email Spoof prevention on Connect Xf: Impact and Client configurations

There are several good resources on our website and blog that describe what email spoofing is , how impacts your business  and what you can do to prevent it on Connect Xf

It is strongly recommended that you enable the spoof check feature on your server to prevent internal spam attacks which eventually lead to a lot of junk mail escaping your servers into the Internet. Once this impacts your IP reputation, the outbound IP addresses of your server are likely to get blacklisted in RBL sites worldwide, causing a major impact on all your users

This article is about describing the full impact and plan to enable the spoof check feature on your Connect Xf server.

Step 1: What is the Expected and Correct client configuration if Spoof check is enabled?

Essentially when a user sends a mail using a mobile client like android, IOS, etc or desktop client like Outlook, Thunderbird etc. it is important that the following two configurations carry the same value:

  • The email id configured for the account.
  • The authentication email id configured for the account.

Only if these two email id values are the same, will the mail from this user be allowed to pass through the server.

The Reply to address can be same as the email or different if the recipient’s reply must land somewhere else

Why do users set these two email ids differently, while configuring their email account?

Typically most email servers will relay any type of mail once the user has authenticated himself. This means that once I have connected to a server, authenticated myself, the server now will become my servant and relay any mail for me (from anyone to anyone)

Lets see some typical reasons why users specify different email ids for authentication and for their account.

Scenario 1:

I am James and I work in the support department of Acme corp.
I configure my MS Outlook to authenticate with my email id: james@acmecorp.com
However I want replies to my email to come to support@acmecorp.com
So I will configure the account email id as support@acmecorp.com

Scenario 2:

I am Mary and I work in the marketing department of Acme corp.
I want to shoot a mail campaign to about 1000 users but any replies to the campaign mail should come to marketing@acmecorp.com
So I configure my Thunderbird to authenticate with my email id: mary@acmecorp.com
And I will configure the account email id as marketing@acmecorp.com

Essentially this configuration, where the authentication email id is different from the account email is is always done so that the replies come to a different email id.

Alright, I will make the changes you suggested, but I still want to achieve the objectives in the above scenarios.

You can still achieve the objective of having replies come to a different email id by configuring the “Reply To” email id in your account. This will ensure that when the recipient replies, the reply will be sent to the email id specified in the “Reply to” box. An image for this is shown below.

Check screen shots below of the WRONG configuration and the CORRECT configuration to be done on clients.

Android


iPhone


Thunderbird


MS Outlook

Outlook_New

Step 2: Enabling spoof check on the server

Only after all the clients are configured as above, should you get into this step where you enable Spoof check for the “Default” SMTP address such that any connection from the end users will get checked for spoof check

Command to enable spoof check for the default SMTP control :

/mithi/mcs/bin/setsmtpcontrols.sh default -spoofcheck 2

Click here to learn more about SMTP controls

Mithi’s Hall of Fame 2014

Rewarding and Recognizing Mithi’s In-House Stars of 2014

Any organization that operates with a view to grow bigger with time needs a healthy, engaged and enthusiastic team.

Related: The Mithi way to build great teams

Rewards, Recognition and Appreciation

Mithi believes that the core way to engage people in a team and bring out their best is to give them challenging assignments, allow them the freedom to do their best on those assignments and also encourage and support initiatives that have a lasting impact on the business.

Recognition, in simple terms, means acknowledging someone’s hard work for:

  • Specific accomplishments that they have achieved
  • Actions or initiatives taken
  • Attitude or behaviour demonstrated at the workplace

Doing it the Mithi way

The Mithi culture, over the years, has been rewarding and recognizing those individuals (and teams) who work towards achieving the company’s goals with its core values in mind by exceeding expectations. Mithi combines appreciation with recognition in the form of expressing gratitude and realizing the value provided by its employees in front of all their peers, by citing specific instances or examples of the things the awardees have done (which have, in turn, had a positive impact on the business of the company).

At the core of Mithi’s values is undying respect for the associates; and we take pride in our constant endeavours to maintain a professional workplace – a hub of opportunities where our associates can thrive. We wish to be recognized among the leaders in nurturing and promoting a diverse-yet-inclusive workforce, which works in a collaborative environment with a strong familial culture.

We value people. The company goes above and beyond trivial monetary perks to build employee loyalty and indirectly fuel Mithi’s growth, in line with its vision and mission.

As another eventful year floats away and a new year beckons, here’s a pat on the back of our stellar performers who added value to Mithi’s growing business repertoire in 2014: