MS Office 365 Exchange Email

After-the-fact thought: It occurred to me that some people might wonder WHY you might want to host your own email.  Simply put, if you register your own domain (e.g., hokkanen.com), then you can manage the emails and one is never tied to a particular provider (e.g., gmail, yahoo, etc.).  You can do more, your email addresses are always yours, and you can move your email hosting whenever you want.

Blog:

I have been administering email servers for twenty years. For the first five years, I downloaded and ran my own email servers. They weren’t so complicated in the early days, but the issue became one of open relays (spammers), hacking (spammers), and upgrades (spammers). In short, doing it yourself became tricky because the spammers were always trying to leverage your free box as their entry point to sending millions of spam. So I abandoned the idea of running my own server.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve used a few different Exchange hosting providers. I finally settled on Intermedia and used them for most of the past 15 years — up until yesterday. Now I use Microsoft’s Office 365 Exchange Service, for a number of very good and important reasons. I did not PLAN on making the switch this week, so I will digress momentarily on this topic. About 8 months ago, I heard that Amazon was offering Exchange hosting on its servers for about $7 or $8/month. Considering that I had been paying Intermedia $13 (or more) for each account, I thought this was pretty good. I cannot remember now why I did not pursue a switch, but there must have been a reason. However, this past Monday I happened to look at Intermedia’s current product offering, and discovered that my “account representative” had not been keeping me apprised of the offerings, and that now the company had an $8/month (per email account) offering available. (Sound like the typical cell phone plans?) This piqued me enough to ask “Who else is offering services, and how much are they charging?”

To my amazement, I found that Microsoft was now competing with Google by offering their Exchange Accounts for $50/year (about $4/month). I called Intermedia and, of course, my “account representative” was unavailable, and so I talked to another sales rep and asked him why the Intermedia offering at twice the cost was preferable. He responded with three items:
1) Up-time. Intermedia guaranteed their uptime, and I would be more satisfied than at Microsoft.
2) Customer Service. I can call and talk to a technical support person.
3) Control Panel. Intermedia believes their control panel to be much better than the Microsoft panel.

I told the sales rep that I had been a customer for over 10 years, and asked him how long he had been with the company (3 months). I explained that over those 10 years, I had encountered many issues, including down time, routing delays, migration issues, etc. So, I wasn’t convinced that the company that authored and sold Microsoft Exchange would implement their hosted exchange in an inferior manner. I had seen my share of rebates from the uptime guarantee, and frankly, most of us don’t want rebates, we want uptime.

Likewise, I was having a hard time believing that the control panel would be terrible. They have been hosting Exchange for a number of years. And so, I decided to try out the service, and so now I will tell you what I like about it compared to providers of the past.

1) Low cost/low minimums. $4 per month per user. BUT, MORE IMPRESSIVELY, a ONE ACCOUNT minimum. Intermedia has a 3 account minimum. I have needs for 3 accounts, so this isn’t really an issue, but Microsoft’s approach allows an admin to fire up ONE account for ONE month for $4. That’s what I call an inexpensive test. If you like it, then you can migrate ALL your email, ALL your accounts, etc. If you don’t, just turn it off. And so I signed up for one account for one month.

2) Having signed up, I had a chance to examine their control panel and set-up mechanism. Very, very good. Intermedia’s panel is a patchwork of different tools, and over the years you learn where to go to do different operations, but it is a patchwork that is glued together in an inconsistent way. Even their dashboard is a nightmare in some respects. Microsoft’s panel is straightforward, and since it is relatively new, it is consistent. The only slight comment on this is that their front-end user/group/domain administration tools are on one screen, and their Exchange server-specific administration tools are on another. Not sure why this is the case, but it looks like two tools glued together, but it was fairly obvious.

3) VERY CLEAR IMPLEMENTATION ADVICE. Because of their scale, they have detailed directions on how to implement your domain server changes and stuff like that. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I did not really need it for the basics, but they also step you through what to put for smart phone integration and other tools. INVALUABLE for the person who just bought a domain. Instead of having to try to learn from a manual, the tools step you through the process. IMPRESSIVE. (That isn’t to say that I violated some of their implementation due to my idiosyncratic needs, but for someone who is new, it would be hard to make a mistake.)

4) Capabilities. I have seen capabilities in the Microsoft Control Panel that are nowhere to be found in the Intermedia Control Panel. LOTS of them. Whether it is setting their service as Authoritative or Relay or setting spam response levels, there is much to be leveraged. The defaults, by and large, make complete sense. I deem this much improved over the Intermedia panel.

5) Customer Service. I will say that there is a differnt model in play here. Microsoft seeks to develop online resources capturing community information and then offering that up as support. This CAN be very useful, assuming you know how to search for the right answer. There is online help for Exchange Hosting as well, and I found these documents to be better. I resolved some tricky issues with this material. Finally, you can submit a customer service ticket. I’ll let you know how that works when I use it. Yes, it is nice to get a person on the phone, but I am skeptical that it is worth TWICE for EVERY SINGLE EMAIL ACCOUNT. If I were a complete ignoramus with a 3 accounts, then it might be worth the extra money, but this is thousands of dollars over the life of the account, and if you have 10 or 20 accounts, then I would deem it completely not worth it. You’d be better off hiring a consultant to help you implement the Microsoft setup.

So, within one day of testing on a spare domain, I deemed the Office 365 Exchange Hosting to be better and cheaper than the Intermedia platform. By the end of day 2, I had migrated over my three accounts and all of their email, contacts, etc. I’ll leave the Intermedia account (which is no longer receiving any email) in place for another week or so just as a security measure, but I think my relationship with them is doomed.

There is also a lesson to be learned for corporate vendors…. Keep your customers happy.  Don’t let them think you took advantage of their ignorance.  Intermedia, you “got” me and my money.  But it upset me a little, and caused me to look around.  And so you lost a customer of nearly 15 years.  Was that extra $100 worth it?  I’ll refer everyone to Office 365 now.  That’s something to think about if you are a vendor.

Memorials, tea time, and temples

On the way in to Sandakan, we stopped by the war memorial where we learned of the Sandakan WWII POW camp. The treatment of the prisoners was brutal. As was explained, the Japanese had signed but not ratified the Geneva convention on prisoners of war. After having worked the prisoners on an airfield, they were taken on a death march to another location. Along the way, only 6 prisoners managed to escape either the march or the ultimate destination and avoided death. 2500 died, some of them summarily brought out to a field and shot (if they had not died before). More would have died at the other camp, but it was liberated first. Here’s the memorial marble obelisk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following day we could a walk up the hill from the harbor to the English Tea House. It must have been quite the location in the 30’s with the British gentry who lived in Borneo. It has been fairly well maintained, and they had a very nice tea set.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Afterwards, we went over to a preserved house of a British writer, Agnes Keith, who wrote Land Beneath the Wind (I think) and a number of other books about her Borneo experience. She and her husband (who headed up the Forest Conservation department) were imprisoned on a neighboring island during the Japanese occupation, and they suffered deprivation, broken bones, etc. Years later, they visited Japan, which was a sign of reconciliation in my mind.
Here is the photo of their house on the hill which had been destroyed during the occupation but which was rebuilt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, we walked over to an old Buddhist temple, which was both small and had the feel of a very old religious building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The photo above shows a mural on the wall which was very hard to see in the darkness of the temple but which photographed quite well.

The following day on the day to the airport we went over to the new Buddhist temple built in 1987. It was massive and showy as you can see in the photos. It was at the very top of a hill and had a great view.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, here is a photo that Kate took of one of the local fishing boats which reminded me of the way they painted spitfires in WWII.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Downtown Sandakan

So we moved over to the downtown Sandakan area and stayed at the Sheraton. New hotel, very nice, and about $50/night. Here’s the view of the harbor:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We went over to the Central Market and saw the wet market with all sorts of fresh fish for sale, and then went upstairs where Kate bought a few things and took some photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nearby, as we walked around, Kate saw some guys photographing a model near the bus station. Kate asked what was going on, and we found out that it was a photography class where they are taught skills and then go out and take photos using the skills just taught, in this case with the hired model.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rainforest Discovery Center

We went over to the Rainforest Discovery Center which is a science educational center with a lot of trails and canopy walk right through the jungle. Here’s an example of the jungle that I refer to, and you can see the canopy walk below. We’re at about 100 feet up, and the canopy walk is about 65 feet up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We also hired a private guide to take us on a night walk. He started by showing us the flying monkeys, which truly glide from tree to tree as they make their way around the forest at night. You can see this one crouching right before he jumps and the inset shows him flying through the air.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As we went through the jungle, we saw all sorts of creatures. Kate spotted this Mangrove snake, a rear-fanged poisonous snake. This snake was probably about 7 feet long, though we only saw a portion of him as he slithered by us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We even saw a slow moving lori, which is a primate that comes out at night. He moves around the trees eating insects and fruit. In this photo, he is hanging upside down as we came upon him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We also saw insects like this cave centipede. This is one of the more ancient forms of centipedes, but they do have poisonous bites which are painful.

CaveCentipede

In terms of insects, we also saw this 3 foot long bee hive on one of the very tall trees. There were multiple beehives in this tree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, we saw a Malay badger. They aren’t actually a badger, but really a skunk.

MalayBadger

Proboscis Monkeys

The law of unintended consequences…..No matter what you do, you will have unintended consequences. For example, Rudy Guiliani decides that it is bad news for people to have heart attacks in New York due to trans fats. So, he single handedly brought about the wiping out of huge amounts of ancient rain forest. How’s that? Rudy gets his legislation passed in NY city. Trans fats were critical in lots of foods to keep the consistency of the food correct. Think Oreos. Lovely cream filling as long as the oil doesn’t separate and make it all gooey. So the major cookie manufacturers like Nabisco see Rudy’s legislation and decides the time has come to make the switch so that they don’t have to worry about this sort of legislation. But what to use? The singular alternative is palm oil. And so these companies started buying large quantities of palm oil. Which resulted in LOTS of people in places like Malaysia razing the forest to the ground to plant palm oil plantations to provide the supply. Thus, Rudy wiped out large swaths of rainforest with his legislation in a most unintended way.

We saw these palm plantations covering VAST areas of Borneo. One of these landowners saw the proboscis monkeys about to get wiped out from his mangrove forest, and so he left a small corner of it to make it a proboscis monkey preserve. (They’re found nowhere else but Borneo.) Here are some photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

According to National Geographic, scientists think the large nose amplifies the large males calls for both controlling their group and warding off competitors.

Land of the Orang-utan

We left Semporna today to move over to Sandakan, a town on the northern edge near ancient forest. We’re staying at the Forest Edge Lodge, and, as you can see from the photo, the vegetation is lush.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After having a great meal at the lodge (satay with coconut dipping sauce, vegetarian curry, fried tofu), we headed over to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Reserve which was about a 10 minute walk. The reserve takes young Orangutans that are orphaned and gets them to an age where they can be released. The animals live in the reserve, in the wild, so to speak, not cages. They put out some food twice a day for them which include native fruits and plants. There were found younger apes and one older one (based on size). Here are some photos:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kapolai and Mabul

Today we visited the island of Kapolai. Well, none of the island is above the waterline. But they’ve created a resort on stilts. We didn’t get to visit the stilt resort, but we snorkeled the reef.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was quite good. Here are some features:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Later, we went over to Mabul. The snorkeling was not that great over there, but we did see a few fish that we had not seen elsewhere. Here’s a photo of the village next to the dock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, back at the hotel, we saw this large heron on the building across the street.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We came to learn by watching him, that he was fishing for birds, i.e., the swallows flying overhead. They must land near his perch and he snatches one and then eats it. Life can be short in this ancient ecosystem.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers