Are you considering hosting your own email? Learn more about the pros and cons from Fastmail.
Self hosted is email is running your own email server on hardware or servers that you control. This could be a mail server on a computer (or even a Raspberry Pi) running inside your home or office or on a server hosted in the cloud.
You might be considering moving to or setting up self hosted email because you’re frustrated with your current email provider. Perhaps it’s the functionality, spam handling, or the mail configuration, or just a poor support experience that leads you to think about self hosting.
If you’re already hosting your own email, are you looking for an alternative that’s easier and more reliable?
Let’s explore the pros of self hosting your email.
When you host your own email, you know that your data only leaves your control when you send an email.
Your email isn’t being used to power an AI tool, advertising engine, or machine language interpreter. It’s not used to tailor advertising content. It’s only being used by you for your own purposes.
If you’re concerned about data privacy and know that free email is paid for by your data, self hosting gives you back ownership of your data.
There are multiple mail servers you can choose from. Some handle particular tasks better than others. Self hosting lets you pick the mail server that does what you need it to do, configured the way you want it to work.
Self hosting doesn’t just stop there: you also control the whole ecosystem. All the complementary software is also yours to choose from and configure to your specific requirements too, from the MTA (Mail Transfer Agent) to firewall software, from spam scanner to RBL (Realtime Block List) handler.
Availability of mail storage has increased significantly over the years, but if you have large email attachments or just a lot of mail to keep on file and want more space to keep it, self hosting lets you give yourself as much storage as you need.
If you’re setting up a mail server for yourself or your business, you can also add on accounts for your friends and family too and give them the benefits of your direct expertise.
Let’s explore the cons of self hosting your email.
When you self host your own mail, there will be times when your mail server is offline. Hopefully, these are planned outages: reboots for operating system updates or patches to your mail server. Still, sometimes they are unexpected: your house lost power or a DDoS attack hit your server.
You won’t always have time at the point of failure to immediately and fix every problem, leaving your mail server down until you can give it your attention.
Mail hosting used to be simple. Servers were generally standards-compliant (or we had fewer expectations about interoperability than we do now), spammers were less prevalent, and abuse vectors weren’t as involved as they are now.
Running your own mail server means that you don’t just have to know how to configure the software. It also requires that you are an expert in server security, mail server reputation and deliverability, anti-spam tooling, and, depending on your needs, potentially push notification management, search tooling, and a web client.
Mail servers no longer trust each other by default because fraudulent operators have made that too risky. Instead, each mail server has a reputation: this is a measure of how trusted they are by other mail servers to deliver good quality email (instead of poor quality spam or scams).
If you have a low reputation score, your mail is less likely to be delivered to its destination because the recipient’s mail provider thinks you’re probably just another spammer.
Your mail server reputation can be affected by things outside your control.
You can mitigate this if you send a sufficient volume of mail that the good significantly outweighs the bad behavior: but self-hosting providers often have very low mail volumes, making it hard for other mail servers to know if you can be trusted.
Once you discover you’ve ended up on an RBL, getting yourself off the block list can be hard. Email providers have channels they use to stay in touch with each other to troubleshoot deliverability problems like this. Still, it’s difficult for someone self-hosting to reach the right people and get yourself delisted.
Monitoring your deliverability and then taking action to ensure that mail you send will arrive at its destination is an ongoing chore.
It’s a bit like owning your own property instead of renting. You can now hang all those pictures and paint the walls and share with the messiest pets and pick your own carpets, but with great power comes great responsibility. The onus is on you to also fix anything that breaks: broken window, leaking dishwasher, the ceiling mold.
The same is true when you self host. Whether it’s old software that needs to be patched, a disk failure that needs to be replaced, an operating system that needs to be updated, a greylist that needs to be tweaked, or the pet sitter kicks out the power cable while you’re away on vacation. The only person who can fix these things is you.
You might be prepared to put up with inconveniencing yourself occasionally while you fix and tweak things on your mail server, but if you’ve offered mail hosting to friends and family, there is that unspoken social pressure to keep it up and running. And you’re also on the hook for support when they need help with a mail client not connecting or a calendar not syncing.
The biggest negative of self hosting your email is time. Setting up, managing, repairing, and supporting a mail server takes ongoing time, week after week.
If you have the expertise to run your own mail server, but you want that weekly maintenance time back for yourself, you want a provider who will treat your mail with the same care and attention to detail as if they were in your shoes.
You want Fastmail.
Fastmail is the expert’s choice of email provider.
Let us take that burden of deliverability, maintenance, anti-spam, and interoperability off your hands. We know email: we are an organization of experts who have been doing nothing but email for over 25 years. We even help write the standards!
Give yourself the gift of time and transfer your mail to us: taking care of your email is our full-time job.
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