by November 1, 2004 0 comments



Every organization, big or small, needs to communicate with other entities in order to carry out its business processes. These other entities could be suppliers, customers, distributors, partners and employees. Traditional communication media such as telephone, fax and postal mail have long been there for the purpose and will continue to. However, with the dynamic market trends and tough competition, a need is felt to expand the scope of communication options that organizations can utilize. And these other options are not the next great advancements in technology, but simple yet powerful solutions, in the form of the Internet, e-mail, Web and instant messaging. Big organizations, with equally big budgets, have already embraced these solutions to leverage their business advantages. Now it is time for smaller organizations to utilize these technologies to take their business forward. While big organizations can invest in all kinds of solutions to get the job done, small businesses require solutions tailored to their needs and not awfully expensive. For that we present to you with some solutions that can rightly fit your bill.

Internet connectivity or bandwidth
Connectivity options for smaller organizations start with dial-up. But, if your connectivity needs are to send more than a few mail everyday and if alternate choices are available, then you should seriously consider them. If alternate choices are not available, then you can even combine two or more dial-up lines using a hardware router to achieve better performance.

Among alternate connectivity options, two of the most promising ones are the Cable Internet and the DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines). The first one is a faster and cheaper option but may not be suitable for organizations, particularly since it is very weak when it comes to security of computers connected to the network. Moreover, most cable connections provide you with a private IP and you need to pay extra for a public IP, if that option exists. DSL, on the other hand, is a good solution but its performance is affected as the distance between your office and the telephone exchange increases. So if your office is within 4-5 kms distance of the exchange, you can get decent performance but beyond that it may not be suitable.

Also important in deciding for the type of Internet connection is the Internet traffic you face. Dial-up, DSL and cable are designed for situations where the traffic is downstream, like when you are downloading information. They are relatively poor performers when it comes to upstream traffic. So, to send heavy files out in a consistent manner, these may not be the best choices for you.

ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network) is the next option. There are two forms of ISDN. One is similar to dial-up in the sense that the connection is not always on. You dial up when needed, but are instantly connected and the connection remains active until you disconnect it manually. You may be billed for the number of hours you are connected or for the total data transferred. The second is the dedicated ISDN, in which you don’t need to dial up and the connection is always on. Dedicated ISDN is more expensive and requires a one-time, yearly fee to be paid. ISDN is as good for upstream traffic as for downstream traffic.

At the highest end of the spectrum is the Leased Line, which is always on, permanent connection and works well for both upstream and downstream traffic. But the cost is way too much more than cable, DSL or ISDN.

E-mail
Connectivity options like cable, DSL or dial-up are not suitable for organizations to run their own Internet e-mail servers within their organization. Moreover, the issues of managing e-mail relays and spam are too much for you to spend time on that. A better solution is to buy e-mail service from an ISP or some other service provider. An important deciding factor here is the number of accounts you want and the storage space for each. Some service providers offer hundreds of MB of e-mail space and charge you accordingly. But, do your employees really need that much space or they can work well with, say, 5-10 MB! Also you may not require providing everybody with separate e-mail space. What you can do is buy some e-mail aliases from your service provider, which is a cheaper option, and then use a local setup like Fetchmail, Postfix and Procmail to distribute mails to local users. The same setup can also be used for local mail relay for users on your network, which will save on precious bandwidth.

However, if you have a dedicated ‘always on’ connection that can transfer upstream data also equally well, then you can set up your own mail server. For this there are numerous programs available, starting from the mid-range like Mdeamon to the high-end, such as Exchange and Domino. We will show you how to use the ArGoSoft Mail Server to configure a mail server that also offers local mail routing.

Beyond e-mail and Internet
While the Internet and e-mail are the basic and most essential parts of an IT infrastructure, there are other solutions also that can help in providing faster and efficient communication. Intranets, collaboration and groupware solutions, and instant messaging are some of them. These solutions help in automating business processes, reducing paper work, improving the workflow and making the process more transparent. The requirements for setting up these solutions are not complicated. A basic intranet can be built simply by using a Web server and an HTML-editing software. For collaboration there are commercial as well as free solutions available. Lotus Domino, MS Share Point, Novell GroupWise are some of the commercial solutions available for the purpose while OpenGroupware and Exchange4Lin are some of the free offerings. For Instant Messaging, you can use Exchange
and Domino or free solutions like Jabber. 

Running your own mail server



While, there are several free as well as commercial mail server programs available, we closely examine ArGoSoft Mail Server, a free software. This program not only provides SMTP and POP3 services for sending and receiving mail but also a Web interface for the users to send and check mails through a Web browser, thus, meeting most e-mailing requirements. The software can be downloaded from http://
www.argosoft.

com/mailserver/download. aspx. The total file size is about 1.3 MB.

The ArGoSoft
Mail Server provides SMTP and POP3 services and also a Web
interface to access mail

Installation and configuration
Installing the program is a simple process, just run the set up file and after that click on a few more buttons and the installation is complete. The program can be installed on any Windows machine. After installation, just start the program from the Programs menu. From here you can configure it to send and receive mail. In the main window, click on Tools from the main menu and select Options. In the new dialog window, you will find several tabs. In the General tab, specify the IP address of a DNS server. DNS server IP address is required to deliver messages outside your LAN, to the Internet. Also select ‘Automatically Start the Server’ option to run the server automatically, whenever the system starts. The option ‘Allow Relay’ needs to be selected if you want to deliver mails to outside your network. If it is not done, then you will be able to deliver messages only within your domain. This option also requires you to provide the DNS IP address, as mentioned above. If you have this option enabled and if your server is accessible from the outside world, then anyone on the Internet, potentially, will be able to use your server for sending mail. You may want to protect your server from unauthorized use by enabling SMTP authentication. One option that you would like to disable is of ‘Allow Creation of Accounts from Web’ to prevent users from creating accounts on your mail server using the Web browser. If this is not done, then anybody on the private network or the Internet can create an account for himself, which is not a safe. In the next tab, you can specify domains, which shall be treated as local domains of this mail server. You can specify more than one domain that you want this mail server to handle.

SMTP authentication is very important to protect open mail relay from hosts on the Internet

Local domains provide local mail relay for internal users. Also, now the mail server will handle external mail coming from the Internet for these domains. For the server to receive mail from the Internet, it should be reachable through the Internet, which can be done using static and permanent IP addresses for the server or by publishing this server on the firewall, if you have one. The next tab that you should look at is the SMTP Authentication tab. Here, enable SMTP Authentication, in order to prevent open mail relay for the Internet users. For authentication you can either specify a fixed username and password or specify users (which you will define below) to use their POP3 username and password. Now define users for your mail server. Click on Tools and select Users on the main window. Click on the ‘Add new user’ button on the left hand corner. This opens up a dialog box. Provide the username, password and other optional information like real name and finger information. You can also specify, forward address for users, in case you want the mail for a user to be forwarded to some other e-mail address.

Specify domains for which you want the mail server to handle mail and provide local mail routing

Your mail server is ready for sending and receiving mail now. To send or receive mail, configure your e-mail client with your e-mail ID and the IP address of the mail server. You can also access the Web interface for checking mail. Apart from being ad-driven that may cause some inconvenience to users, the Web interface works well.

Q&A




I have an Internet connection, how do I now regulate its usage and manage bandwidth?
Internet usage management is one of the biggest concerns for most organizations, including big enterprises. For efficient bandwidth usage, it is necessary for an organization to have a proper Internet Usage Policy. You need to define, which users require Internet access and of what type. Not everybody would require access and for those who would, it is necessary to define what kind of access they need. Do they need to access the Web or only e-mail? Are they allowed to make heavy downloads; send heavy attachments in e-mail etc? For example, the top management would require complete access to the Internet whereas front office executives would probably need only e-mail. A production worker may not require any access at all. So first define your policy. Then you would require solutions to control access and monitor their usage. Some of the tools that can help are MRTG, PRTG and NTOP for monitoring bandwidth. For controlling access, you can use ISA server, Cyberoam and Squid (to restrict the bandwidth available for particular websites).

How do I control virus attacks on my network from the Internet?
With the vast penetration of the Internet, viruses no longer only travel through floppy or other removable storage. Instead, the biggest threats come from the Internet. To protect the organization from such threats, it is important for organizations to have some kind of firewall, between their internal network and the Internet. Firewalls are available as appliances as well as boxed products, which you can install on a server. Today, there are lots of low cost firewalls available and many of them are Linux based. 

How do I manage spam and virus on my e-mail setup?
Like viruses, spam is also a big security concern. At the first level, spam should always be fought at the mail server. If you are buying e-mail solution from an ISP or a service provider, you should insist that it provides SPAM protection for all your mails. For example, CyberMedia uses e-mail service from Sify, they also provide spam protection, in which we don’t receive any unsolicited mail from known spammers and after that if other mail is suspected to be spam it is marked as ****spam**** when it arrives in the mail box. You can then create filters in your mail client, which can move all such mail to a junk folder. Spamassasin, a free tool, is also very effective in fighting spam. While, spam protection is a must on the server, clients should also have some sort of spam protection on their machines. If not that, your users should be aware of the nature of spam messages. User awareness is very important. Users should not try and open any unnecessary attachments or click on links within any unwanted mail. These measures, though seemingly small, help to a great extent in safeguarding your network.

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