Frequently Asked Questions

  • General
  • Working
  • Maintenance
  • Security
  • Performance
  • Availability
  • Archival
  • User Access & Address book
  • Deployment, Setup and Migration
  • Migration
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  • 1. What is a Connect Xf subscription?
     

    A Connect Xf subscription is a time limited contract with Mithi during which you as a customer will avail of the following benefits

    1. Availability of updates, upgrades as they are released, without any additional annual recurring costs.
    2. Availability of new editions of Connect Xf as they are released, without any additional annual recurring costs.
    3. Maintenance Support from Mithi's helpdesk as per the support policy.
    4. Free consulting access to collaboration experts within Mithi to discuss integration, scale up etc.
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  • 2. What is the maximum contract duration offered by Mithi?
     

    Mithi will sign up for a minimum of one year subscription and maximum of 3 years subscription at a go.

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  • 3. What are the various payment modes available?
     

    You may opt for the following modes of payment. Please note that as the frequency of payment increases, there is an overhead added to the overall cost to account for the administrative overheads required to process these recoveries.

    [su_table]

    Mode of payment Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
    Annual one time advance payment 100% of the subscription cost 100% of the subscription cost 100% of the subscription cost
    Six monthly advance payments Subscription cost in 2 equated installments, one at start of the subscription period and one after 6 months. Subscription cost in 2 equated installments, one at start of the subscription period and one after 6 months. Subscription cost in 2 equated installments, one at start of the subscription period and one after 6 months.
    Quarterly advance payments Subscription cost in 4 equated installments, at the start of each quarter. Subscription cost in 4 equated installments, at the start of each quarter. Subscription cost in 4 equated installments, at the start of each quarter.
    Monthly advance payments Subscription cost in 12 equated installments, at the start of each month. Subscription cost in 12 equated installments, at the start of each month. Subscription cost in 12 equated installments, at the start of each month.
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  • 4. Does it matter, how many and what type of servers I deploy my solution on? In other words, do you charge for deploying the solution on additional servers?
     

    No, the number of servers or their type doesn't matter. Our recurring subscription cost is only based on the number of users hosted on the setup.

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  • 5. What are the payment terms of Mithi?
     

    The due payment (dependent on the payment mode chosen as explained above), falls due within 7 days of raising the invoice.

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  • 6. What happens if the due payment is not made to Mithi?
     

    The system would start alerting your team well in advance with messages asking you to renew the subscription and also remind you clear all pending dues. However dur to any compliance, in line with our support policy, all activity on the account would be suspended in steps described below.

    Day 0: The day on which the subscription expired: Support suspension
    Applies to Connect Xf Express subscriptions, Connect Xf Enterprise (In premise) subscriptions and to Mithi SkyConnect subscriptions (hosted service)
    -You will not receive a response to any of your tickets
    -Mithi team will not be available for any emergency or phone support.
    -Any on going deployment activity will be stopped.

    Day 7: The administration console of the system would be disabled: Administration disabled.
    Applies only to Connect Xf Enterprise (In premise) subscriptions and to Mithi SkyConnect subscriptions (hosted service)
    -You would not be able to make any changes (add user, delete user, property modification etc) via administration console or command line.

    Day 14: End users would lose access to the mail boxes: End users disabled
    Applies only to Mithi SkyConnect subscriptions (hosted service)
    - End users would lose access to their mailboxes and any other application like chat, calendar etc.

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  • 7. For you to charge me per user, how do you know the user count on my setup?
     

    This is tracked in Connect Xf, by a module in the software called the License Manager. Once you become a customer, renew the subscription or purchase additional user licences, our team will provide you a digital certificate, which has to be installed on the software. Once this is done, your setup will automatically track the total user count and subscription period. In case you are exceeding the total number of purchased user licences, an alert will be shown to you on the administrative console. Once you exceed the total number of purchased user licences, the system will not allow you add any more users. Please note that this will not in any way affect the services available to the existing end users. They can continue to use the system without any hindrance. Similarly when the subscription period ends, the behaviour is described here.

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  • 8. If I buy a subscription for 100 users, can I keep adding users on demand (even beyond the count of 100) and then pay you later?
     

    This is tracked in Connect Xf, by a module in the software called the License Manager. Once you become a customer, renew the subscription or purchase additional user licences, our team will provide you a digital certificate, which has to be installed on the software. Once this is done, your setup will automatically track the total user count and subscription period. In case you are exceeding the total number of purchased user licences, an alert will be shown to you on the administrative console. Once you exceed the total number of purchased user licences, the system will not allow you add any more users. Please note that this will not in any way affect the services available to the existing end users. They can continue to use the system without any hindrance. Similarly when the subscription period ends, the behaviour is described here.

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  • 9. What is a Connect Xf AMC and does Mithi offer this to customers?
     

    AMC (Annual Maintenance contract) as the name suggests entitles the customer to receive the following services from Mithi.

    1. Availability of Updates and Upgrades of the same edition of the software (as they are released) as deployed at the time of purchase. This is without any additional recurring cost.
    2. Maintenance Support from Mithi's helpdesk as per the support policy

    As a general policy we only offer subscription to our customers.

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  • 10. Why does one choose Subscription over AMC?
     

    The benefits of subscription far outweigh those of AMC.

    1. The technology landscape is ever changing and so is the product and solutions to keep abreast with these latest innovations and trends. For you as a business to stay competitive and productive, ensuring that you are on the cutting edge of the collaboration technology landscape is a must. The subscription model actually is a lower cost way of having the benefit of the latest product available for you always.
    2. As you opt for subscription, you are in effect outsourcing the effort of ensuring that the solution is incorporating latest trends and technologies to make your (and your users') life easier and more productive. This then leaves your IT team to focus on other projects pertaining to your business. Or else, in the best case, at the start of every renewal cycle, your team needs to start evaluating the next version of the same solution or an alternate product, wasting valuable time. In the worst case, you continue with the same edition of the product and lose the competitive advantage coming from the incorporation of new technologies. Essentially, when you opt for subscription, you are buying into the capability of the company to continually innovate, renew and refresh the solution and make it available to you at no additional cost.
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  • 11. Can you explain the storage options available with Mithi SkyConnect?
     

    Organization wise cumulative storage quota: This is a cumulative storage purchased by the organisation for all their users and all their domains. This is in multiples of GBs. In any enterprise the usage pattern of any two users is typically not the same. So while the CEO of a company will have certain requirement in terms of his mailbox size, an executive lower down in the hierarchy will require a fraction of that storage for his mailbox. Mithi's Skyconnect offers cumulative storage plans (as against equal individual mailbox space) to its customers such that the entire storage requirement of an organization (or domain) is optimally distributed across all users as per their individual requirements thereby minimizing the unused storage.

    Note: The base subscription price a certain volume of storage depending on the plan you choose (Startup, Cruise or Endurance). You can visit the Pricing page for a simple calculator that can help you understand this.

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  • 12. Do we need to buy separate storage along with the subscription?
     

    Yes. You must purchase the base subscription and the appropriate cumulative storage for your needs.

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  • 13. Can you share some sample scenarios of storage purchase, which can help me make a choice?
     

    Sure:
    a. A company with 100 users buying a Startup subscription, and wanting 10 GB cumulative for all their users. The requirement was that the administrator would decide the individual quotas. Also different users in the group have different levels of mail flow and hence some would need larger quotas, while some will need less.
    The BOM is Startup subscription for 100 users + Organisation wide cumulative storage quota of 10 GB

    b. A company of 50 users, having heavy mail flow with large attachments, wants to provide a 10GB quota to each user. The users would manage their own mailboxes. The BOM is Startup subscription for 50 users + Organisation wide cumulative storage quota of 500 GB
    c. A company of 5000 users, having medium scale mail flow of mostly small messages. The users would manage their own mailboxes and download mail without leaving a copy on the server. A small cumulative domaim quota will serve the purpose for them.
    The BOM is Startup subscription for 5000 users + Oragnisation wise storage quota of 50 GB

    The above examples illustrate that once you have clear visibility on your usage patterns, you can decide to buy only that much storage and scale up when needed.

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  • 14. When I need to buy additional users, how much will I have to pay?
     

    During your subscription period if you would need to purchase additional user licences, you would need to pay for the additional users on pro rata till the end of your subscription period.

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  • 1. Which backup software’s are supported for the data and information in Connect Xf?
     

    Yes, this is possible. Many organisations maintain a central directory of information regarding their users, resources, groups, etc. Typically this is done to centralize the information, thereby making it easy to maintain. The business applications like the HRMS, employee portals, mail, ERP, etc, ideally should be able to refer to and update the information in this central directory for their functioning. This avoids expensive and error prone duplication of data, improves application quality and usability.

    If the system is integrated with an external directory server like MS ADS or RHDS, it implies that every service on Connect Xf will directly refer to the external directory server over LDAP to authenticate the users.

    • This means that the password change operation is done only on the external directory and passwords are not synced to the Mithi directory. This will provide the effect of a single password for all applications.
    • User provisioning will happen at both points viz. The external directory and on the Mithi directory. There is no provision to automatically sync the users from the external directory to the Mithi directory. Note: There is an option to specify separate authentication servers for each user if required.
    • The personal properties of users can be automatically synced if required using a periodic sync job to copy properties from the external directory to the Mithi directory.
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  • 2. Can you give us details of Mithi’s Backup and Restoration plan?
     

    The solution comprises of two important elements which need to be backed up
    a. Each server's configuration data, comprising of the database, LDAP, configuration files, etc
    b. The mail data, calendar data, address book data, etc of all the users

    We understand the need of Backup and Restoration primarily for server (re)build (either to recover from a server crash, or build a clone). For helping with restore of individual user's data, refer to this topic to know what are recommended ways to achieve that.

    Connect Xf provides an inbuild backup tool, which gathers the configuration and basic data elements into a single zip file. This includes all that is required to rebuild a server (except for the mail data). The plan here is to schedule a daily job to take a system backup using the inbuilt tool, on each server in the setup, and ensure that these are secured offline.

    Similarly using a third party tool (or tools provided by the storage device), schedule daily incremental backups of the mail data onto secondary media, secured offline. On a request to re-build, install OS, install Connect Xf, restore the system data, restore the mail data, test and go live.

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  • 3. How does Connect Xf handle Duplicate mails?
     

    In a well configured system with adequate resources (hardware and network), it is not normal to receive duplicate mail. However, receiving duplicate mail can happen in the following scenarios

    • Mail being sent to a group and individual, where the group also has the same id.
    • Mail being sent to more than one group, where the recipient is in one or more groups
    • Weak network connection between the sender and the recipient server
    • Weak network connection between the sender client and the server
    • Change of server hardware which causes the POP clients to redownload mail which have been maintained (with leave copy) on the server.

    Refer to below topics to understand the causes and resolutions for common scenarios related to duplicate mail.
    http://xf.wiki.mithi.com/index.php/Administration:Duplicate_mail
    http://xf.wiki.mithi.com/index.php/Users_receiving_duplicate_mail_in_the_pop_clients

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  • 4. How has the new TRAI regulation regarding SMS impacted the functioning of the SMS feature in Connect Xf?
     

    The new TRAI rules, has the following key regulations which impact the functioning of the service.

    1. You can now send free formatted SMS to non-DND (Do Not Disturb) registered mobile phones between 9AM to 9PM only.
    2. You can send only a specific number of SMS a day.
    3. If a receiver of an SMS is to complain that this SMS was unsolicited, you are liable for prosecution with penalty.
    4. To be able to send SMS to all mobiles, 24/7 you need to register yourself to be a transaction service (something like a bank) and provide an undertaking that you will only send SMS in pre-approved formats. This undertaking is provided by the consumer (you) to the bulk SMS providing company.

    Connect Xf can work with 2 modes to connect to the SMS:

    1. Send SMS to your users and associates via a GSM modem connected to the serial port of the server. In this case you can use the email to SMS feature of Connect Xf, to communicate with the users or outsiders, but this use is bound by rule 1, 2 and 3 above
    2. Send SMS using an http based service of a bulk mail aggregator (service provider). These service providers now work only pre-approved formats (Rule 4). Hence using this method, it is not possible to convert email to SMS and send across.

    This is unfortunate. However, Mithi recommends the use of Android and Apple based phones which can now connect to the Connect Xf server over commodity GPRS to receive Email, use Chat, Calendar and Address Book directly with no specialized intervention.

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  • 5. Can we do selective mail archiving with Connect Xf, e.g. archive only external mail?
     

    Yes, the compliance archival system in Connect Xf allows you define rules to specify which mail should be archived. These rules are applied per user or per group of users. The rules are

    1. Archive only internal mail (local mail between the users of the email system)
    2. Archive only external mail (mail being exchanged by the users of the mail system with the external users)
    3. Archive both.
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  • 6. Can we disable mobile access for certain set of users in Connect Xf?
     

    Connect Xf supports standard protocols for services, which are used by the clients, both desktop and mobile. Since the last mile connection to the services happen over the same protocols, irrespective of where the connection comes from (desktop, mobile or web), it is not possible to enforce a policy for disabling mobile access for certain users. The workaround to this is to allow such users only web client access and disable their POP/IMAP completely. This will ensure that these users cannot access their mail neither from mobile nor from desktop clients like Thunderbird or MS Outlook.

    User set 1: Web client access only, no mobile, no desktop client access
    User set 2: Web client access, mobile access, desktop client access
    User set 3: No Web client access, mobile access, desktop client access.

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  • 7. Does Connect Xf integrate with Blackberry Enterprise Server?
     

    Connect Xf works on open protocols and standards like XMPP for chat, SMTP/POP/IMAP for Email, CalDAV for calendar and LDAP for address book. Any mobile device supporting all these standards will work seamlessly with Connect Xf over regular GPRS connections. Devices which support all these protocols and can work smoothly with Connect Xf are Android Phones, Android Tabs, iPad, iPhone, etc.

    As for Blackberry, there are open standard solutions for Chat and Email. Calendar and LDAP is not supported by Blackberry since they are a proprietary solution. Connect Xf will not be supported by BES since BES works only with Exchange, Lotus Notes and such proprietary protocols.

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  • 8. How is a mail considered as spam or part of a mass mailing campaign?
     

    The Email setup, scans all incoming mail from the Internet based on several parameters, as explained below:

    Working of the Spam Control and Cleaning solution on Connect Xf Email Service. Once mail lands on the Connect Xf servers, it will go through the following broad stages.

    [su_table]

    Stage Dependence
    Greylist & other basic checks like RBL, etc This is a reputation filter which works most efficiently if we have a ready whitelist of domains which are regularly senders to your domain. Any new domain is treated as a potential spammer and is put on hold for a few mins and is expected to retry.
    Virus scanning Mail detected as viruses are marked and moved into a quarantine folder.
    Mail policies Mail flow can be controlled to groups and users based on policies defined using the mail attributes like sender, mail size etc.
    Spam content scanning The mail content is scanned by spam assassin to detect spam.

    [/su_table]

    Attacks from outside happen when spammers send junk mail from one or more varying ip addresses, meant for local users. The connections from these attackers of the following types

    • Connection from an already blacklisted IP addresses, which are dropped at the firewall stage
    • Connections from invalid IP addresses (essentially improperly configured outgoing relay servers with no reverse PTR, or return MX etc set)
    • Connections from valid IP addresses and are meant for a nonexistent local user (a user id which doesn’t exist on one of the local hosted domains)
    • Connections from valid IP addresses and are meant for a valid local user (a mail which is scanned and marked if found to be a spam)

    Connect Xf relies on strong SMTP level reputation filtering mechanisms to detect spurious connections such as return MX, reverse PTR check, sender ID check, etc. While most features in the product provide automatic perimeter security to these kind of attacks, In addition the servers are equipped with agents which alert when a DDOS attack happens, so that our service engineers can scan the attack and manually blacklist the offending IPs. During a severe DDOS attack, while the impact is minimised, the server is still working hard to fend off the attack and it not uncommon for there to be a delay in receiving mail from the Internet. Mithi's hosted service deploys multiple incoming relay servers to provide head room to handle these situations. All our domains have multiple equal priority MX pointers.

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  • 9. Can we have Single host for multiple domains with separate instances of each, with no overlap of data (user and administration)?
     

    The application is capable of hosting multiple organisations, each with multiple email domains, with each domain having their own users, groups, policies, class of service, mail store etc. The data is securely segregated logically with no overlap across domains, across users and across organisations.

    Each domain of an organisation can have a separate set of administrators who can only work with and manage the entities which belong to their domain. This is achieved by defining roles (role based administration).
    Similarly each user, who logs in, can see and work only with his own data/information without having the "authority" to view data of other users.

    The entire security is based on logically defining "Access" and "Authorisation" policies across users (administrators and users).
    Most of our setups host multiple such instances (domains) on a single server and each instance is controlled and used separate sets of users.

    On the other hand, the flexibility of the application is such that it is possible for the enterprise administrator to define roles for users, which allows them cross domain access. E.g. a single super administrator for all the instances.

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  • 10. In case of the mail parking service, if my site fails, can my end users access their mail from the mail parking service via Outlook, TB or web client?
     

    No. Mail parking only holds mail in the queue. Your users cannot access mail via any client (not even Baya).

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  • 1. How much storage should I provision for my mailing solution?
     

    Provisioning for Live mailstore: This would be collection of the live mailboxes of all users, which are being continuously updated with new mail, and activities by end users such as reading a mail, deleting, replying, moving of mail etc. Typically the size of this storage volume is decided by the quota that you wish to allocate to each user. It is quite possible that you may provide different quotas to different users depending on their need. A simple formula can be used to compute the mail store space required for each user group (Storage Requirement = Number of users for a quota X Quota size). Summing up all these storage requirement for each user groups would give the total mail store requirement. It is recommended to keep a 20% or more headroom for expansion in users and quota.

    Provisioning Compliance Archive mailstore: This would house a read only copy of every mail sent and received for the selected set of users. This store is accessible via the compliance archive interface and only by authorised personnel. Typically organisations need archival information to be retained for about 7 years (depending on the type of organisation). It is recommended to have a volume size which can hold mail for approximately one year, which allows clean rotation at the end of the year, and easy maintenance of the information in blocks of one year. Use this simple formula to compute the requirement of a volume for about 1 year's worth of archived mail:

    Archive volume for a year=(number of users for whom mail needs to be archived) * (average number of daily mail sent and received) * (average mail size) * 365 * 0.5 (compression)

    If it is feasible, you may opt for retaining the data for all 'n' years on the live mailstore as active volumes OR you may opt to keep 2 volumes active, while keeping the rest on a secondary media like the tape. Depending on the method you choose, the provisioning of the space for the compliance archival data will change. At the minimum, you would need 2 active volumes (each to hold about one years data)

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  • 2. Can I find the IP address of the sender of a mail from Gmail?
     

    Google's Gmail service omits the sender IP address information from all headers. Instead, only the IP address of Gmail's mail server is shown in Received: from. This means it is impossible to find a sender's true IP address in a received Gmail. The IP of those who send from a Gmail address is hidden. Gmail gave a explanation for this :
    "Don't worry -- we aren't enabling spammers to abuse the system by not revealing IP addresses. Gmail uses many innovative spam filtering mechanisms to ensure that spammers have a difficult time sending bulk emails that arrive in users inbox"

    Some useful links to explain this behaviour
    http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=26903
    http://compnetworking.about.com/od/workingwithipaddresses/qt/ipaddressemail.htm
    http://aruljohn.com/info/howtofindipaddress/

    The only way to go about this is to use mail policies to restrict the flow of mail to users of your team.

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  • 1. In our environment, Users sometimes need to share their credit card numbers in the email. At no point this information should be available to anyone working on the server (not even in logs). How does Mithi ensure this content security in Connect Xf?
     

    1. The solution components do not store any part of the message body in any of the logs. This will ensure that no part of the message is visible in the logs. Only the subjects are stored for troubleshooting and reporting.

    2. The only place the mail is delivered in its entirety is to the user's inbox and to the archival system (if configured).

    3. If you plan to host our solution (Connect Xf) on your own servers within your data center, the storage is accessible only to your authorised administrators. This is controlled using role based administration. (refer here for more details)

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  • 2. With Connect Xf, can we delegate a new Web-based multi-mailbox search capability to a specialist user, such as a security compliance officer, to make the e-discovery process easier and more centralized?
     

    Mithi recommends deploying the built in compliance archival solution to help you get quicker access to the archived mail. Easy search interface to find mails based on mail attributes like from, to, subject, etc.

    For further reading:
    Mail Archival for Compliance
    Mail Archival options

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  • 3. Can I get alerts of suspicious activity like sending large mail outside the organisation or to a distribution list?
     

    This is in fact better handled in Connect Xf via the mail policy engine which prevents problems instead of controlling them post mortem.

    Easier mail policy controls via the GUI which allow granular user level or group level controls. The controls are intuitive and reduce the number of policies by a large order. E.g. for a group of users, by default deny all mailing, but allow only these exceptions. These are also easier to manage since they apply entity wise rather than like a large sequence of policies.

    For further reading:
    Demo Videos
    Mail Policies: Wiki , Presentation, Video

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  • 4. What controls are in place to ensure that data transferred is complete, accurate, traceable and recoverable?
     

    Complete data transfer is ensured by the protocols who work on a handshake basis and close the transaction only after receiving an acknowledgement from the recipient server/client.

    Accurate data transfer is ensured by the services who monitor the transaction flow for any errors or warning as reported by the OS or base api. In case of any error the transaction is aborted and the data stays as is, waiting for a retry. The administrator can keep track of this by scanning the logs for errors/warnings/failures.
    Essentially unless the two parties transacting the data, report to each other that the data has moved without any errors/warnings, the transaction is not approved/closed.

    Traceable is ensured by recording each transaction in the relevant logs. The reporting system also records each transaction in a database for quick lookup and generation of MIS reports.
    Recoverability is ensured by daily snap shot backups, and (if configured) mail archival for each user. With mail archival, a copy of each mail sent and received is recorded in a user wise archival, read only, that allows recovery of single mails or the entire mailbox.

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  • 1. Why is Mithi's Mission Critical solution suitable for a large user base?
     

    A large active user base (anything above 7500 users) typically requires the following characteristics from a collaboration solution:

    1. Reliable and Resilient (in case of any downtime or failure, handling queries or escalations from such a large user base could be a major challenge)
      The Mission Critical solution from Mithi provides redundancies at all layers, viz
      - Multiple relay servers in active active configuration
      - Dual load balancer servers in a cluster
      - Multiple stateless mail servers in active active configuration
      - Multiple Centralized Directory servers with service level auto fall back to available directory server.
      - High end NAS storage device with built in redundancies.
    2. High and consistent Performance (Such a large user base could generate variable load at all points. The solution should deliver a consistent and fast experience to the users)
      The redundant servers at each layer, balance the load evenly thus ensuring that each resource is optimally loaded. Provisioning for sufficient head room on each resource ensures that the response to end users is consistent.
      At the application layer ensuring that only clean mail are allowed to enter and leave the system, physically isolating the varying load from the regular consistent load, and using tools and policies (such as max mail size, restricting mail to distribution lists, etc)  to enforce a consistent usage pattern, etc help to provide a consistent high quality end user experience
    3. Easy to maintain (A simple, clean, layered setup will be easy to maintain and manage)
      The clean layering of the flow of data and requests, makes it easy to setup a monitoring practice to ensure uptime. We have observed approx 99.97% uptime on this architecture at customer sites.Using a combination of automatic alerts and a practice of daily monitoring, such a setup is fairly easy to maintain.
    4. Easy to scaleup (Large organisations grow in big increments. The solution should be able to grow easily with the needs)
      At each layer, simply adding or removing resources from the farm will add capacity since the the resources are configured in an active active mode. E.g. adding another mail server under the load balancer, will automatically cause the load to be distributed into the extra server, thereby adding capacity.
    5. Secure (More, diverse and distributed users implies reduced control on the client end. This means that the solution should be able to protect against internal and external security threats)
      The security framework of Connect Xf is very comprehensive
    6. Affordable (Traditionally large scaled up systems are very expensive. The solution to keep the costs in check)
      Mithi's solutions rely on commodity hardware, commodity operating systems, and the open source base platform to have a very low platform cost. A combination of reduced cost components and the ease, reliability and performance of this solution provide the maximum bang for the buck. We are confident that overall, your saving would be to the tune of 80%.
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  • 2. Why is a server load balancer required at the application layer?
     

    The Mission Critical Email solution is based on a high availability architecture, comprising of redundancies at all layers. Users access the mail application via multiple mail servers all of which are connected to a common storage. Any of the mail servers can serve any user's request (made possible since the directories are replicated amongst the mail servers or there is a common directory for the site and the common shared mailstore). This means that if one of the mail server is to fail, the users can transparently access their mailbox from another mail server in the farm.

    The load balancer unifies the mail servers to appear as one to the end user. As a result the end users only use one common URL/IP to access their applications. To make this possible, the load balancer maintains a list of active mail servers in its cache and when a request is made for a certain service like HTTP, SMTP, etc, it passes the request on to the one of the available mail servers (using one of several algorithms like round robin, MRU, etc). The load balancer accepts requests for application protocols and ports such as SMTP, IMAP, POP, etc. It is a critical component to make this architecture possible.

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  • 3. In a Mission Critical setup, can I replace the Load Balancer with a DNS round robin configuration? Will it not achieve the same objective?
     

    To start this discussion, I would like to point you to this link to understand why we need a load balancer in the mission critical architecture of Connect Xf. The load balancer achieves redundancy along with balancing the load by maintaining a list of servers which are "alive" and have an acceptable of "Quality of service" (QOS - read response). Thus if a server is to go down/fail, the load balancer will detect this, remove it from its list so incoming connections are not diverted to that failed server.

    With a DNS round robin, it can at best just load balance. It cannot achieve the redundancy element. This means that if a server is go down, the DNS system will be oblivious of that and will continue to send it requests. The users initiating these requests will receive an error.

    Another reason why a load balancer cannot be replace by a DNS round robin system is that for HTTP requests, we would need a sticky session feature. This feature ensures that connections between a client and a designated server are sticky for a given period of time or that session. This is required since tomcat sessions are not transportable across servers.

    To summarize, these are the downsides of a DNS based architecture for load balancing:

    1. There are typically no heartbeats or failure detection with DNS records, so if a given server in the rotation goes down, its A record must manually be removed from the DNS entries
    2. The time to live (TTL) must necessarily be set quite low for this to work at all, since DNS entries are cached aggressively throughout the internet
    3. DNS systems dont have any support for the sticky session feature.
    4. DNS makes use of caches, and clients can't force caches to refresh. if you regularly switch DNS entries you will observe 80% switch in 5 minutes, but it generally takes more than one week to get close to 100%. So DNS does not provide fail-over.

    References:
    http://serverfault.com/questions/101053/is-round-robin-dns-good-enough-for-load-balancing-static-content

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  • 4. For the Connect Xf applications, what is the typical Read to Write ratio for the I/O to/from storage?
     

    Considering the nature of the apps, email accounts for the maximum I/O on the storage. We have noted that number of Reads are about double the number of writes. This is because once an email lands in the inbox, it is read, accessed and searched multiple times.

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  • 5. What is the Bandwidth usage of Connect Xf Email Server?
     

    Click here to read details.

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  • 1. What is the Disaster recovery plan with failover and failback process?
     

    Click here for details.

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  • 1. Can each user have two mailboxes one primary and one archived, to allow users to keep their primary mailboxes organized and uncluttered?
     
    Mithi (from day 1) has had Personal archiving as a feature to allow you to have dual mailbox for the users. The users can refer to this read only archive account for searching older mail, total mailbox retrieval. The primary account is typically managed by quota. Refer this link for further details.
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  • 1. Does Connect Xf support the variety of Smartphones including Apple products, Windows Mobile devices and Blackberry?
     

    Connect Xf now supports more open standards which allow Android phones, tabs, pads, iPhone and iPad mobile devices to access Connect Xf over open protocols (SMTP, POP, IMAP, CalDav-Calendar, LDAP-Address Book, XMPP-Chat) over commodity GPRS connections.

    For further reading:
    On Mobile Devices
    Get More Done with Connect Xf

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  • 2. Does Connect Xf provide an advanced communication platform including Email, Calendars, and Contacts, Meetings and Appointments?
     

    Mithi recommends the use of Thunderbird, which is a free, and reliable client. It supports the open calendar, address book and email protocols seamlessly. It is also tightly integrated with Connect Xf (a plugin allows the Thunderbird user to perform certain property modifications like password reset, vacation reply, etc from the client itself).

    Using open protocols and standards allow you to intermix the use of webmail client, desktop mail client and mobile client on the same mailbox, calendar, chat and address book data.

    For further reading:
    Configuring Thunderbird
    Desktop Accessories

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  • 3. Does Connect Xf support Message Recall?
     

    No, Connect Xf does not.

    Message recall is a proprietary feature specific to the architecture of MS Exchange and its tight integration with MS Outlook. There are several conditions to be met for recall to work even in the Exchange environment. Please refer to this link to know how recall works in MS Exchange.

    For a system based on open standards, which is accessible by any standard compliant client, this facility is not available since the client cannot play the critical role of deleting the message from the Inbox of the user.

    We recommend to all our customers to simply send a mail intimating a recall (no guarantees if the content of the recalled mail was read or not), which at least gives them a legal/policy edge if required.

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  • 4. Does your solution support search within attachment? Will it find mail if we provide the name of the attached file name?
     
    The Baya client (web client) does not support searching within attachments. As for the desktop clients and mobile clients, this depends on the capability of the email clients installed. From some cursory research it appears that there may be plugins to make this possible within the clients. The search however may work on attachment names (again this depends on the plugins installed)
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  • 5. Does Connect Xf support Calendar and tasks with free-busy look up from Outlook? Thunderbird / Baya?
     

    Outlook calendar integration with the Server is not supported since Outlook only works with MAPI (a microsoft propreitary protocol which is supported primarily by Exchange). If Outlok calendar is used, the data stays on the client and is not synced with the server.
    To sync calendar data with the server, Thunderbird or other clients supporting CalDAV have to be used. E.g. Android, IOS, Baya.

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  • 6. Can users who connect to Microsoft Terminal services (now known as Microsoft Remote Desktop services) access the Mithi Connect Xf applications?
     

    Applications from Connect Xf run within a browser or can be accessed from desktop client software like Thunderbird, MS Outlook, Pidgin, etc. Once a user connects to MS Terminal server or a MS remote desktop from a PC/laptop, his session is running on the remote server or PC. In this remote session the user is able to use all the applications available within the terminal. If the remote session allows the use of a browser and/or Thunderbird, MS Outlook and other compatible applications, the user can connect and use the services from Connect Xf.

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  • 7. Can the users see their Distribution List expanded (in other words can they see the members of a DL)?
     

    Yes. Users will be able to see the members of a DL via Baya the web client. Desktop clients and mobile clients access the Address book on the server over LDAP and using their native in built address book applications present the data to the users. In these clients, the members of the DLs cannot be viewed.

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  • 1. We would like to host multiple domains on Connect Xf/Mithi SkyConnect Setup, would we get a Global Address Book which has contacts from across our domains?
     

    Yes this is possible using the flexible address book configurations. The solution allows you to configure custom address books which source contacts from different sources. So you can compose a named address book composed of contacts from 1 or more domains. The address book is virtual and presents the latest contact details if the user/administrator is to modify any of the contacts.

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  • 2. Can we use an alternate port for IMAP, POP and Chat instead of the standard ports specified by you?
     

    Yes. Connect Xf allows you to modify the ports of access for the various services.

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  • 3. Can we install any of the servers in this architecture as VMs (Virtual Machines)?
     

    Yes, any or all of the servers in the setup can be based on VMs. However, it may be noted that, one physical hardware can host multiple VMs and so its quite important to ensure redundancy at that level too and ensure that VMs are spread across multiple hardware E.g. mail server VMs may be hosted across different host servers. A benefit of using VM is easy scale out since simply cloning an existing server will quickly add capacity, without having to provision a server, install the OS, install, configure and test the application, etc.

    The only exception to this is when you would like to deploy an Active Passive setup based on DRBD. In this setup the two servers are kept in sync using block level replication based on the DRBD component and this setup necessarily needs two physical servers of identical configurations.

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  • 4. Can you suggest the IOPs specification of the storage required?
     

    The below table provides our calculation of IOPs required from the application perspective. These are based on an analysis of all the IO activity which happens on a particular type of server. The IOPs calculated for an application as well as those observed using OS tools like iostats are way higher than those experienced by the disk. This is because the OS caches the filesystem in the memory and only page faults may results in disk IOPs. The RED HAT document explains this behaviour. It also recommends using blktrace to collect disk IOPS information. The data collected using blktrace can be processed using seekwatcher.

    Please note that the IOPS on the storage will be different, as the OS will cache the read/write requests.

    IOPS for Master and Cascaded provider

    [su_table]

    IOPS Per User
    Server/ Partition / /mailstore /archive
    FE 0.07 0.01 0.01
    Mail Server 0.39 0.2 0.1
    Mail Router 0.25 0.02 0.04
    Master 0.19 0.01 0.01
    Cascaded Provider 0.05 0 0
    IOPS Per Server
    Server/ Partition / /mailstore /archive
    FE 350 50 50
    Mail Server 1950 1000 500
    Mail Router 4375 350 700
    Master 950 0 0
    Cascaded Provider 250 0 0
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  • 5. We will deploy two Leased lines for our setup. Can we add two DNS records such that and if one link fails, access can continue on the second link?
     

    a. Incoming: You can have 2 parallel active active MX pointers for your domain. Each MX pointer IP address is serviced by separate links. The IPs are natted to the relay servers. Mail will come in via both links (load balanced). If one fails, the other will continue functioning.
    b. Access: For access from out side, your users will access mail.domain.com (which points to leased line 1). In case leased line 1 fails, you would need to make a change to the DNS record of mail.domain.com and change the IP to the leased line 2.
    c. Outgoing: Depending on the firewall you are using, the outbound traffic can be automatically balanced amongst multiple links (this is a feature of the firewall)

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  • 6. What is the stepwise Migration Plan?
     

    Click here to read details

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  • 7. Can we use SAN or IP SAN in place of NAS box, so that it can be utilized for other application also? If not, then can you explain why the mission critical solution will work only with a NAS?
     

    Mithi's Mission Critical Email solution will work only with a NAS since the core idea to achieve mail server redundancy is to be able to serve any user's access request (POP/SMTP/IMAP/HTTP/LDAP) from any mail server. Using this capability in combination with a load balancer allows the solution to offer a single URL/IP for users to access the application interfaces/services. Most requests by end users, will obviously access the mail store of that user.

    This implies that each mail server should be able to access (read and write) the mail store of each user. This is only possible if the mail store volume on the shared storage can be simultaneously mounted on all the mail servers (hosts) for read/write. This is possible only with a NAS over NFS protocol. The SAN device can mount a single partition as read/write only on a single host, while the same partition can be mounted as read only on other hosts.

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  • 8. How do I choose a NAS for my Mission Critical setup?
     

    NAS solutions have various applications ranging from being a simple back up device, to being a file server, to being used as a store for transactional data like a mail store or a database store.

    Depending on the application, the performance and reliability of the NAS device has appropriate relevance. E.g. for a simple backup application, the usage is typically in a batch mode, offline and not impacting the end users directly, and hence the performance is not so critical. However for transactional applications, which are sensitive to time, the performance and reliability become critical.

    Performance Benchmarks

    For a mission critical application like email & collaboration to work with acceptable performance, it is important for the NAS device to respond within an acceptable time to read/write requests.

    To check if the performance of a NAS device is acceptable for an email system, you could run the following test on the device. It’s a standard write test for a 256 MB file to check IO speeds of a device.

    Write benchmark: The response of this should be less then 5 seconds for the Real component of the time.
    time dd if=/dev/zero of=/data/testfile bs=16k count=16384
    Read benchmark: The response of this should be less then 0.2 seconds for the Real component of the time.
    time dd if=/data/testfile of=/dev/zero bs=16k count=16384
    The test assumes you are mounting the NAS partition on to a Red Hat Linux server over NFS.

    Functional Testing

    • Mount using the following settings in /etc/fstab should work
      10.118.6.68:/data1      /mnt/data                nfsd     rw,bg,vers=3,tcp,timeo=600,rsize=32768,wsize=32768,hard,intr,noatime,nodiratime   0 0
      Note: Please replace the IP, volume name and mount point appropriately
    • It should allow creation, modification and deletion of files and folders in the mounted partition
    • It should allow changing permissions and ownership rights on the files and folders in the mounted partition
    • If a new file is created in the folder, it should inherit the folders ownership rights.
      5. Should be compatible with Linux file systems and file names E.g. ':' and other such characters are allowed characters in the file names.

    Impact of poor NAS performance on an Email and Collaboration system

    Since the NAS is used as the mail store, its critical to have the performance of the I/O within the limits as described above. Using a device with a slower performance will impact:

    • Mail flow rate: Since it takes longer to write the mail to the store, the queues will take longer to clear.
    • End user experience: Since the clients (POP or IMAP) would be reading from the mail store continuously, any delay here will result in a slower experience.
    • System functions: Operations like backups, archival, storage auto management etc would perform much slower.

    NAS Technologies

    The technology used for NAS devices can be classified broadly as follows (this note does not provide any information on the hardware and other appliance configurations):

    NAS solutions based on configured NFS servers:
    Typically these solutions are configured on dedicated servers using the Windows or Linux operating system with NFS server configured. The main drawback here is the use of a general operating system not highly optimised for performance. Also some of the operating systems used are prone to virus attacks and performance bottlenecks if used extensively and exclusively for file I/O.
    These solutions are typically suitable for applications where performance is not so critical like the backup or a file server.

    Dedicated NAS devices

    This solution are typically housed in appliances, with redundant storage drives, and run a dedicated File operating system and NFS server, optimized for reads and writes to reduce latency. Typically in these devices, the performance can be given a boost by using faster and higher performance drives like SAS.

    These kinds of solutions are suitable for mission critical transaction environments.

    The Recommendation

    Mithi recommends the use of a dedicated NAS device for the suggested high availability configuration of Mithi Connect Server. The higher initial cost of such a device is easily offset by the gains encountered in the ease of management, higher throughput and high reliability of the high availability configuration of Connect Server.

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  • 9. How do I choose a Load Balancer for the Mission Critical Solution?
     

    For Connect Xf to be deployed in a mission critical (HA) environment, a load balancer is a critical component in the architecture. The load balancer should satisfy the following specifications/requirements to be able to work in this solution configuration.

    • Should support HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, POP, POPS, IMAP, IMAPS, LDAP
    • Should support these load balancing algorithms - Round Robin, Sticky Session, Least Connect
    • Should have built in redundancies to handle self failure.
    • Should support Quality of service checks to detect server failures and remove them from the pool
    • Ability to dedicate traffic for a protocol to a specified server pool.
    • Provide detailed logs and analysis for audit and troubleshooting.

    While choosing a load balancer solution, you may want to consider the following:

    • Will this load balancer be used only for the collaboration solution based on Connect Xf or will you be using it for other applications as well.
    • Will you need to balance other protocols operative in the company like network bandwidth balancing/control.

    Unless you plan to deploy the load balancer for other applications or protocols, you may want to consider the simple and cost effective open source based Load Balancer application, which is deployed on 2 commodity entry level servers in a cluster and is quite effective in the mission critical solution.

    If not you may consider deploying a high end specialised appliance, which offers greater flexibility to manage different protocols, more controls and policies and is essentially multipurpose. These however are quite expensive.

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  • 10. What are your recommendations when choosing a Storage system for my Mail Store?
     

    If you choose a NAS, please consider the following

    1. In an Active Passive availability setup, a common store will be used by both the primary and secondary server. Replication of mail store will thus be avoided. This will improve reliability and quality of service.
    2. It can scale to a Component balanced setup (mail services on a server and front end services on another) or a Active - Active load balanced setup.
    3. Please choose high performing SAS drives with the highest rpm since i/o is most critical to functioning.

    If you choose an external attached storage or a SAN, please consider the following:

    1. Choose high performing SAS drives with max rpm since i/o is most critical to functioning.
    2. In an Active Passive availability setup, we will need two sets of volumes one each for the Primary and the Secondary store. Replication based on DRBD will run between the two volumes.
    3. This will not scale up to support an Active-Active load balanced setup.

    If you choose to deploy a server internal storage, please consider the following.

    1. Choose high performing SAS drives with max rpm since i/o is most critical to functioning.
    2. In an Active Passive availability setup, we will need two sets of disks one each for the Primary and the Secondary store. Replication based on DRBD will run between the two servers.
    3. This will not scale up to support an Active-Active load balanced setup.
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  • 11. What is the ration of Hot data v/s cold data in % or GB/TB w.r.t customer data size?
     

    Hot data = Hot data is data that needs to be accessed frequently. It is typically business-critical information that needs to be accessed quickly and is often used by a company for quick decision making. At present we see the entire mailstore as hot data, since we allow for search and change over the entire mailstore.

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  • 12. What is the recommended Block size , while configuring the storage?
     

    This is can be configured as per requirements of the storage - commonly used are 8KB or 16KB

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  • 1. Does server migration include the mail store in my Outlook client PST Files or desktop client databases?
     

    Normally we dont venture there at all and allow the end user to deal with that. However in rare situations, if there is a need to copy the mail for a few users back to the server, this can be done by using a desktop client to copy mail between two configured accounts. Mithi can accommodate this in the server migration process, if the PSTs are available at a central point in a single PC. This activity will be done remotely.

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  • 2. I dont have an IT team which can do the reconfiguration of the desktop clients. What is the best way forward?
     

    Either you can send out a mail and ask the users to do this themselves or look at outsourcing this to a partner, who will deploy resources to go to each PC and do the changes. You might need to build this into the budget.

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  • 3. What are various ways to migrating the mailstore from my existing system?
     

    There are three approaches to migrate the mailstore:
    Dont migrate: Let users flush the mailstore of the existing mail system to their desktop clients and start Connect XF with a clean slate. This approach may not be feasible if there were users who were accessing  their mail box using a web client (mails are then stored on the server)
    Server to Server migration using IMAP: Using an open source tool called “Imap sync”, we can demonstrate the migration of a few mailboxes. This tool is sensitive to changes in formats depending on the IMAP server implementation at the source.
    Server to server migration using a desktop email client: For each user, configure 2 mail accounts (source can be POP or IMAP and the target is IMAP) and simply drag-drop mail from the source account to the destination.

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  • 4. Whats the best approach for migrating from my exiting mail system?
     

    Each mail system differs and the migration approach is decided in the planning phase. This is influenced by the accessibility of the old system, the requirements for how much to migrate, whether any new tools would need to be developed or sourced to enable this, etc. There is no “one size fits all” while working out a migration strategy. Our team will study the system, requirements, discuss with your team, prototype sample migrations and then come up with a comprehensive plan.
    Ideally, you might want to look at avoiding this altogether and starting a fresh. It will prevent using up of the storage with legacy data and will give you more flexibility to mould the existing system a new.

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  • 5. Can you gaurantee a 100% mail store migration?
     

    The data cases pertaining to the vast variety of email normally available in the mailboxes make it a difficult gaurantee to keep. The migration effort is undertaken on a best effort basis with the latest versions of the tools available for the migration. In addition we focus on using tools with connectors to standard protocols like IMAP. Depending on the backend, it may so happen that the IMAP protocol may not be a native protocol to the source, thus requiring conversions along the way. During any such conversion, there is a high likelihood of a small percentage of losses.

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