Panel Discussion: Building Your Own Email Infrastructure

Jakub Olexa, Maarten Oelering, Keith Kouzmanoff

Presented by: ​Jakub Olexa, Maarten Oelering, Keith Kouzmanoff

Keith Kouzmanoff 0:05
Did you hear that they want to hear about all this nerd stuff? Oh my god, if you ever wanted to go to sleep, now is the time. Break out your pillow. Good afternoon, my name is Keith Kouzmanoff, whatever, I’m gonna be hosting this panel today. Thank you very much, Andrew and Nely for putting on this fantastic event. Let’s give it a less another round of applause. At this hotel and I am a hotel snob this is absolutely fabulous after this very good work you’ve done here. Today we have on the panel. Few gentlemen, I’m going to let them introduce themselves and tell you a little bit about who they are, who they work for, and a little bit about the experience of why you should possibly listen to what they have to say. We’re gonna start off with Jakub.

Jakub Olexa 0:40
Hey, Jakub Olexa, I’m the CEO and founder of Mailkit. We are an ESB out of Czech Republic. And as many ESPs we started 15 years ago and as many ESPs we started off on postfix and open source MTA. And throughout the years we progress when we hit the limits of the MTA. And we progressed and got power, MTA and a lot of other tooling around around our own infrastructure that gave us the insight that we really needed and that we couldn’t get when we when we started with postfix.

Maarten Oelering 1:14
Hi, good. And Maarten. Hi, I’m Maarten Oelering. I’m a founding partner of Postmastery company, eight years old. Now. Before that, I was working on an ESB in email since year 2000s. And back then I had to keep the whole system running, manage a couple of developers send lots of emails and it gave me a lots of headaches. So for two years, I did something else. And then I found that post mastery together with vellum stone. And we are a consulting company helping sellers with infrastructure trying to prevent the headaches. Also, we help them with deliverability. And we also have a nice tool which gathers all kinds of data from mgas from data feeds reputation, data and everything and brings it together. So the postmasters have a good sight on what’s happening within their systems.

Keith Kouzmanoff 2:59
Very good. And, of course, my name is Keith Kouzmanoff, I am with their seven and other open source or open sorcerer of sorts in the GPL. Glue community. We’ve been around the email world for a very long time, too long to explain. And have lots and lots of experience with ISPs, email service providers, spam filtering, as well as you folks in the marketing area. Our topic today is building your own email infrastructure. And we I think we wanted to discuss first, you know, on premise and off premise, email started out. did very well experienced any outage when Amazon AWS went down a few days ago, Netflix, you couldn’t log into Netflix, you couldn’t log into Disney? Maybe your infrastructure was hosted on Amazon and you you yourself experienced some little bit of trouble. So we’re gonna, let’s let’s let’s define on premise. Okay, that

Jakub Olexa 4:17
that’s a really difficult, difficult definition, because from my perspective, on premise should mean that you really have it on premise. But of course, that’s not the case you would have it in a data center. So at least it’s on your own dedicated hardware that you’re not sharing within the clouds. It’s not some virtual machine under someone else’s control. And it’s under your control, preferably in your rack. It’s your MTA that you have full control.

Maarten Oelering 4:53
Okay. All right.

I will say that the difference is that you own the system. So your two Oh, Winner of the system but it could be a VM, it could be in Amazon. Hopefully not the last few days. We have a lot of our customers are moving into Amazon nowadays. But yeah, they own their systems. That’s I think the difference between on prem and

Jakub Olexa 5:18
ESPN is why there are so many of us because I, while it might be considered on premise by some, for me, that’s kind of like a heresy. Like, yeah, if it’s if it’s an Amazon or Google Cloud, or wherever it’s a virtual machine that you don’t have full control over. Not really on premise, from my perspective,

Keith Kouzmanoff 5:41
right? Right. Right. Okay. So what I’m hearing is take up, you’re more of a purist, right, where the, the physicality of the machine the 42, you rack, the on premise where you can drive to the data center within a reasonable amount of time, Security does not need another person to open up the door. And I’m here for Martin that. Well, it couldn’t be this, but it also could be in a hosted solution as well. Right. Okay, very good. We are then going to discuss why these people out here, right, who some are very technical, some are very not technical. But what this definition of this on premise or off premises? Well, what is this whole thing about having your own email infrastructure? And could you tell me, probably the top three reasons why anybody in this room would be interested in the wide gas, right? General? why they would want to do this

Jakub Olexa 6:45
security, privacy? And deliverability. That would be my point of view, and control,

Keith Kouzmanoff 6:55
control. Okay, that’s for they, they told Jacob to describe himself in one word, and he said, does not follow instructions very well.

Maarten Oelering 7:06
I can name two other.

Keith Kouzmanoff 7:07
Okay. Oh, you’re not gonna say Oh, three? Oh,

Maarten Oelering 7:10
no. So we have five. Now, I think, an important reason, but probably not the best reason is cost. So, yeah, there’s a big difference between on premise and like using ESB is that when you do on premise, you have a big upfront investment. But beyond that, you don’t pay a lot of variable costs. So if you go for an ESB, or an SMTP provider, you you you you pay on based on usage. So if you send lots of emails, you pay more, you pay lots more. If you have an on prem system, you pay lots more in the beginning, but then it’s all. Yeah, you can send as much as you as you want,

Keith Kouzmanoff 7:58
as you want. Okay, I’ve heard great things, right. Cos I think are immeasurable to it, especially right now today with the ESP worlds that the contracts that they get you to sign it’s almost as if you’re giving you know, your next kin. To to there, there’s a year contract involved in this. And what’s to say today’s performance is going to translate into tomorrow’s performance too, as well.

Maarten Oelering 8:25
Yes, a very, yeah, I think Jacob mentioned a good one, which is control. So So you have full control. And also the privacy is very important. Another reason could be integration. So when you if your systems already, maybe in the cloud or your applications, and you want email to be close to your applications, then it’s gonna be logical to have the email function within your own your own infrastructure within your own system.

Keith Kouzmanoff 8:56
All right, let’s move on to our next question, which is what now, the audience how would we quantify or qualify if they were to think about deciding whether they’re a good candidate or not to becoming one of these on premise solutions, even even googling what some of these solutions are? What should they check for first?

Jakub Olexa 9:20
So Martin mentioned cost. I’m a big proponent of that part, because I would say, you have to do your math first. Because, yes, there’s a bigger upfront and people think that, you know, there’s no cost related to operating your on premise server, on premise, MTA, whatever infrastructure, but there are a lot of costs. So cost is really important when you decide and then you have to waive whether that’s worth the increased security. The He the privacy, the integration costs and all of that. So I think it’s a it’s a really a mathematical decision for the finance department.

Keith Kouzmanoff 10:10
Okay. All right. So it’s not that my company is worth $100 million. I have two people on my email list, it’s not as definitive as that. Right? What do you think, Martin?

Maarten Oelering 10:22
Yeah, no, I agree with Jacob that there is also operational cost. But what I mean with that there’s, there is a fixed operational costs more or less. So, of course, if you send more, maybe you and you have a bigger infrastructure, there is higher cost to it. But it’s not the same as, as the paper usage. I think, what what’s important is to consider that having all this control comes with responsibility. So so because with your own system, you’re accountable for your own actions. In all respects, so. So it’s your IPS. It’s your it’s your system, it’s how you send the emails, and you must be ready. And you must know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s very important that you know what you’re getting yourself into. But I believe that if you do things right, you can may even outperform an ESB if you do things right. So it’s really depends

Jakub Olexa 11:28
on the on the ESP and your, your team. But yes,

Maarten Oelering 11:33
yeah, yeah, it all depends. And probably the main requirement is that you, you’re willing to constantly improve so so you’re not just putting a system and say, Hey, let’s send some emails and like what we call fire and forget. Now it’s, it’s you need to, to improve, you need to know your best practices, you need to be proactive. And then I think you can outperform a system but an ESP, but I think you must, you must know what you’re what you’re getting into and being willing to, to think about deliverability

Keith Kouzmanoff 12:19
Yes, yes. Okay. So blasting at what is it called? Blast and pray have heard that one? Right. Let me just give you a little bit of my experience, I was a cruise director on a cruise ship. And the joke between the people who work there is and the audience Hey, welcome to the cruise line you we brought you on as passengers. And when you leave, you’re going to leave his luggage, right? Because there’s they’re all the buffets, right? Well, now, you could just laugh and smile if this is true, right? So we all have on premise solutions, or can build one and direct them. Right. So a when a first time person, the joking within, you know, our inside joke is when a person who for the very first time calls us up or sends us a message hey, I’m brand new to this. I would like to explore one of the possibilities, at least in my house, is why don’t you try someone else first? Right? Because the onboarding process is so complicated sometimes. And there’s not a lot of things that that people really have had thought about that translates into this next question. Okay. So there’s, I think we discussed basically two points in building something online, the software and hardware requirements that are going to be there and then the, the operational parts, and part of that is the intangibility and the deliverability. Can you can you give, can you give me an elevator pitch on what that kind of looks like?

Jakub Olexa 13:49
I’ll give you an example. Okay, we had a financial institution coming to us recently. And there, they got references from other financial institutions that are using our platform, and they would be interested. But because of their security policies, they need to have everything on premise, and they can manage. And then we started to break it down for them, okay, so it’s not a problem. This is this is what the cost will be for you, at your volumes. If you use this as a service, where we take care of it, and this is what you need to get on top of an MTA and this and this software and this analyzes you need to get people who are skilled who understand deliverability who understand email authentication, who will be analyzing the work you do the deliverability logs and all of that stuff. Only the math didn’t work. So it was easier for them to change their internal security policy, rather than insist on Oh, it has to be on premise. Because it doesn’t, not even for financial institution. And in many cases, you know, if you calculate the costs, and the biggest cost is going to be human resources, then suddenly, that variable price of birth email doesn’t matter. That’s peanuts compared to employing highly skilled deliverability specialists or, you know, paying post mastery for their consulting services. It’s simply not going to not gonna add out. So that is really critical.

Maarten Oelering 15:53
What do you think it? Well, yeah, I know, it’s good to have these perspectives, of course. But we are, we are frank in that. So when when we get people saying to us, Hey, can you help me set up a mail server or an MTA then then of course, we will tell them? Okay, what’s your expected volume? Is it a few million a month? Maybe you should go to an ESB? Is it more? Well, yeah, maybe then it becomes interesting. But but be aware, it’s much more than an MTA. It’s, it’s setting all this up with DNS with your domains, and making sure your emails are correctly aligned. Doing all the following all the standards, the guidelines from a from the ISPs following the best practices, so all these levels of it’s really complicated. And of course, you can hire someone to do that for you, and to help you. But there’s also a cost to that. And you and you must be willing to, to not only do that once, but do it all the time and keep keeping an eye on things. So we often have people coming to us, I didn’t change anything. But now my email gets into the junk. Yeah. But the providers, ISPs, they are constantly changing. They’re constantly tuning and updating their filters. So if you don’t, then you Yeah, at some point, you might end up in junk.

Jakub Olexa 17:25
Yeah, I would say also, what is often ignored is the issue of scalability. Because we often hear these these customers coming to us, and they say, but we already have our infrastructure, we have Microsoft Exchange. Yeah, we are, we know how to send emails. And it’s, it’s all set up. But then you look at the volume that they have. Yeah, it’s a utilities company. They’re sending 50,000 emails a month, for example, right? But it’s, those are corporate emails, those are, you know, customer support, et cetera. So it’s spread out over time. So their peaks are very low. And it’s very, very easy for exchange to handle that volume. But suddenly, they want to start sending their monthly bills. Yeah, that’s one peak. Right? And it’s, yeah, it’s very difficult to set up an infrastructure for one peak.

Keith Kouzmanoff 18:34
Yeah, it’s very, very, it’s the marketing page, or just the billing speak, or doesn’t want to change your password. Right?

Maarten Oelering 18:43
That’s the that’s the problem. If you if you really do on prem in in the literal sense that you have your your computers in your office, and within eight megabits per second uplink to the internet, and you think you can send the bursts of emails, we’ve seen that happening only recently. It doesn’t work. But it can work, if you will, for example, you’re on AWS, and you’ll get your IP straightened out or you bring your own IP. And if you talk about what do you need to what are considerations, then, then the IPs are often an important aspect. Because IP still have a lot of reputation tied to it. And even the range of IPS the block. The block of IPS has reputation tied to it. So if you go to the whole host or around the corner, and maybe maybe they they even don’t understand emailing. You need to check on the policies of the hoster. What are their policies? If you go to Google Cloud, it doesn’t even work because it’s, it’s blocked by default. LifeLock Right, yeah. So, yeah. And also with Asier. And with AWS, you have to fill in some forms and make sure that the policies don’t bite you. Yeah, there, those are really important things to consider and making sure that you get a good start and do and do the things right.

Keith Kouzmanoff 20:26
I think you you really put the nail on the coffin just in that one statement at the start. Right?

Jakub Olexa 20:34
You also have to realize that there’s a difference between on prem and having a complete infrastructure

Keith Kouzmanoff 20:39
checkup, I’d love ESPs, they put the it’s like playing T ball, right? They put the little thing there, they put the ball on the on the tee, right? And they give you the bat that’s like this big, and they say swing and they keep you just keep swinging it right. It’s like a very easy process. But when Martin said that it’s it starts with the beginning, I think is critical to right. The onboarding of the emails is the very critical path. Yeah, how the quality data that’s coming in there, right? I mean, if I’m bringing something in on premise, I’m going to be some relationship with the IP provider, right? The BGP announcement of it, or I own it, or the hosting company that’s providing it? Well, they’re going to have neighbors as well, and a history of having bad reputation as well as the ESP that I choose to could onboard bad people as well, bad actors or having another shady business packers, right. But the control of bringing on premise where you can clean up your own street and keep it clean, I think is super critical. But I love the argument that but then you have

Jakub Olexa 21:50
to do it even with a proper ESP, a proper ESP would insist Why do I know which one’s proper? Well, you look at their practices, you look at what they what they ask of you, whether they ask you to take certain

Keith Kouzmanoff 22:04
paperwork, so to release like, like the hosting providers that, you know, we’re not going to open up port 25 Unless you send us a photo ID. Your next Boykin right and prepaid a million dollars, right?

Jakub Olexa 22:18
Not quite, we have a we have a pre vetting form that customers have to fill out and provide us with information about their practices, you know, their samples of their past emails, etc. And based on that, we will decide whether we want that customer or not.

Keith Kouzmanoff 22:37
Okay, let’s let’s let’s get to the meat and potatoes. Right. What are some of the on premise solutions? What are what are my choices really out there? For doing it? I think Andrew put up power MTA postfix. Hale on momentum, which is power, MTA I think there that’s a little bit and Mark tech, and there’s some OEM pro Drupal, that some CRM stuff. What what do we have? What What would be your go to choice.

Jakub Olexa 23:07
So for me, it’s a professional MTA, whether it’s power, MTA Hailong, or Green Arrow, there are momentum. There are many professional MTA systems, which are made for senders. But there are many, many open source or closed source options, like exchange, for example, that I mentioned that many people think that is an MTA that they could use. It’s not it’s not not going to scale properly. So so it’s not postfix. Because we did that we took that path, we know why it doesn’t work. But these days, many CRMs are able to send the mails, right? So it’s really from WordPress, Drupal, sugar, CRM,

Keith Kouzmanoff 24:05
sugar, daddy,

Jakub Olexa 24:06
there’s so many, so many options. But back to what is on prem and what is infrastructure. Sure, then you’re starting to build out the infrastructure, you’re starting to think about other parts of what you’re doing. It’s not just the MTA in the end, because the MTA allows you to send it out the SMTP part, but you need to be able to create that content to manage your lists.

Keith Kouzmanoff 24:37
Martin I’m gonna put your paint in a corner All right, your grandmother or your granddaughter no weight relative wants to get into email marketing, you’ve got to pick a platform for do you choose and eat first of all, do you choose an ESP or do you choose on premise? I think we already know the question there Right. But if she wants to do on premise, what would be the entry point

Maarten Oelering 25:00
Yeah, if it’s my grandmother, I would, I would certainly send her to an ESB.

Keith Kouzmanoff 25:05
Okay, fair enough. Fair

Maarten Oelering 25:07
enough. Not enough volume. But ya know, I would something’s falling. I would certainly ask like, like what Jacob said that he does the vetting. I would also ask questions I would I would I would ask, yeah. Do you do you also what what kind of environment do you have? What kind of needs do you have? What kind of features do you want? There’s lots of options there. We see power empty, of course, the most often in the field. Lots of ESPs. Use it. Agencies,

Keith Kouzmanoff 25:45
that’s a workhorse.

Maarten Oelering 25:46
That is definitely that’s a that’s really a workhorse. But there are other solutions. Out there are newer ones. There are older ones, there’s open source ones. So yeah, it’s it really depends. I would say,

Keith Kouzmanoff 26:04
Okay, let’s, I’m gonna jump in, I already asked a loaded question, right? Because I already knew the answer. Okay. And what that translates into our next one open source or a commercial product, right, we talked about the power game to a workhorse. And the loaded question mark. Yeah. It’s a mailing list manager. Okay, like mailman, or dadan mail, or PHP mailer, or something else, a smaller sized, something that doesn’t cost a lot of money. It could cost as little as $6 to do hosting. It’s

Maarten Oelering 26:38
open. Yeah, then probably something like postfix will be a good fit. Yeah. postfix. Yeah. Because also, if you well, some, we also see sellers with 20, post fixes, or maybe even more. And the problem is, with postfix, you can only do one IP, so they have virtual machines and everything. And they and they are constantly the operational costs they forget about because they need to maintain that stuff. And and, and also, when something goes wrong, they don’t know they are they see it after the fact. So in that case, if you if you if you have a if you’re a large, much larger center, then of course, it makes much more sense to go for commercial MTA. Because it will save you time. It will it will you can focus on other things. You don’t have to focus on systems administration. But for like mailing list manager, yeah. postfix makes perfect sense. Yeah,

Keith Kouzmanoff 27:43
you’re absolutely right. The cost. I think Jacob said the scaling part, too. You’re right. You’re absolutely right to Martin. I mean,

Jakub Olexa 27:50
but you mentioned PHP mailer. Yeah, when I see PHP mailer, I asked myself, Why don’t they use MailChimp?

Keith Kouzmanoff 27:59
Right, like, what is the point or Constant Contact or summary? Very element,

Jakub Olexa 28:04
right? That something very, very cheap, just almost freezer friendly. Yes. It’s almost free. It’s not more expensive than if it’s not going to break the bank. Yeah, right. The problem when you when you start off with bhp mailers, and these off the shelf, open source solutions, and it’s often that you grow, but the system doesn’t cheer and you start hacking. We, we were we were there. We had the 30 postfix servers. And we actually worked with post mastery to move to power MTA. Yeah. Because at the end, I started calculating how much are we spending on programmers hacking postfix. And making it do the stuff that we need from deliverability perspective. So someone, someone going to PHP mailer, and postfix is going to outgrow it, and then the costs will start racking up. Go to MailChimp.

Keith Kouzmanoff 29:15
Yeah, yeah, I definitely agree. I think the I think the reason that we see the PHP mailers and MLMs, they’re called MLMs. Okay, it’s not multi level marketing. are you marketing people? It’s called mailing list managers for us. And this is probably an entry point and as Jacobs described, there is much better easier solutions out there that are practically free, right? And the T ball part, but as I see if you’re starting off in this as a small list or something like that, and you will definitely come with headaches. There is absolutely I think we can agree on you are going to have headaches, whether it’s from volume or scaling, or deliverability, there are those pains in there. And you will have to jump to another product if you don’t start with that one as well. So there’s a lot of things in there. And how do we wrap up our last question? Right. So we have the last question, which is not the last question, because now that we’ve decided to bring our on premise solution, our emails now are in the spam folder. Yay. So let’s let the ESPs do all the hard work two seconds, Jakub.

Jakub Olexa 30:35
Yeah, I say, ask your ESP to take care of

Maarten Oelering 30:39
Maarten. I will say don’t blame your infrastructure for that.

Keith Kouzmanoff 30:44
It was a nice round of applause for coming out here today. Thank you very much. All right. That’s it. You can go back to sleep. I’m so glad it’s over. I have to pee. I’m not joking. sharing that. Yeah, it’s a joke. All right.