So I have recently decided to enter the world of blogging (this being my first blog post). Wanting to have more than just a blog hosted at Wordpress or Silvrback (where this blog is actually hosted) I went ahead and used this as an excuse to finally sign up for Amazon Web Services, register a couple of domains and set up some cloud-hosted email.
Finding a cloud email host
The last time I had my own domain everything about it, including it's DNS, email, etc were all hosted on a dinky little desktop computer that used to live in a spare room in my house. However, it's no longer the "naughties" and the world has moved to cloud hosting.
A quick google search revealed the two expected players (Google with Google apps for Work and Microsoft with Office365 as well as a host of others that I either: a) hadn't heard of;b) didn't realise were doing hosted email; or c) wouldn't trust to manage a hosted static website let alone something like email.
My first thought was to go with Google Apps - I used Gmail right now, I like their suite of apps (though all I was really looking for was hosted email) and I'm comfortable with the company providing the service. I also considered Office 365 for similar reasons. It had the added bonus of being the platform we use at work.
I did a little more reading however and discovered FastMail. After reading the documentation on the site, asking an initial billing/sales-y question and then reading the reviews from other users, I decided to give them ago. The product has a very slick user interface, is competitively priced and provides just what I was looking for - hosted email. Oh - and the company is based in Melbourne, Australia as well, which was a big tick for me. So based on all of that, I took the plunge and signed up.
Experience with FastMail
The sign-up process with FastMail was very straight-forward and simple, and I was up and running pretty quickly. Because I am using AWS Route53 to host my domains, and wanted to keep it that way and not use FastMail's DNS service, setting up the required DNS records was a little time consuming. They provide some standard information on configuration of MX records as well as DKIM, which was very informative, but setting up the required SRV records for auto discovery of mail settings involved reading the RFC's and using a tool like dig to determine what the appropriate configuration should look like. All in all though, I was setup in about two hours.
This is where I hit a snag though. I wanted auto discovery set up and working. Whilst I realise this is a "nice to have" I am planning on using the service across a number of devices, as well as providing my partner with an email account, so I wanted the setup process on a new device to be really simple.
Try as I might I could not get auto discovery working as expected. I eventually logged a support ticket to try and get the issue resolved (as I figured it was something that I had done). I sent them some information that I had collected whilst trying to identify the problem and they confirmed that it did look like something on their side.
Fast forward to today (a week later) and there had been no resolution to the issue, and no update on the ticket for two days. I did receive a response from them indicating that they were trying to work out how to fix the problem but there was no ETA.
Moving to Office365
So after a week of waiting, I wasn't prepared to wait any longer (I could perhaps have been more patient) and terminated the account. Needing to go somewhere else, I had a fleeting thought of signing up with Google Apps but decided to go with Office365.
Now, I'm not exactly a big fan of Microsoft. I use a Mac wherever possible, including at work. I'm not even sure I have a laptop that runs Windows in the house anymore. I have a VM for those relatively rare instances when I need to run something under Windows. So why then Office365 over Google Apps?
I love the Gmail interface (in fact, I prefer it over the Outlook.com interface that Office365 uses) - but I want to retain my existing Gmail account. It's my primary email address and I use it for all sorts of things. I might decide to switch in future but that is probably a ways off. So the thought of having to constantly switch back and forth between accounts was one that I didn't relish. With Office365, I can have my work email coming through Mail.app and both my Google account and my new email account open and usable.
Microsoft have also made Office365 quite attractive by bundling the subscription license for its Office product into the package - as someone who uses these tools daily (not by choice, however Office is, whether I like it or not, still a defacto standard when doing business not only in Australia but all over the world) it's a real bonus to know that I can now use these tools at work or at home and be covered.
I must also give Microsoft kudos - the setup for Office365 was an absolute snap. It probably took me all of half an hour to setup all three domains, including switching between the Office365 setup and Route53 to configure the DNS records. The simplicity is definitely appealing.
So I'm now happily setup and ready to post my first blog post. I had intended this to be a review of FastMail and a resounding vote of confidence for a local Aussie company.
Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way.