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The Scout promise and sign (c) The Scout Association 2007

Be Prepared

During my time as a boy scout I learned so many important lessons and, over time, came to understand the significance of the Scout Association's motto: Be Prepared. Years later I find the Scouts' motto to be one of the most valuable beliefs to hold-on to in business - especially when it comes to email and IT.

Be prepared to do without email

Scary thought isn't it? Can you honestly picture doing business today without email? Before you dismiss this notion as daft can you remember just how long ago it was that you used to rely upon faxes? Relatively speaking, we haven't been using email all that long yet in the very short amount of time they've been around an email address has become more important than a credit card number, more important than a landline phone number - an email address is proof of existence.

Online you only exist if you have an email address

Pretty much any service you access online requires you to have an email address: if you want to buy anything online you'll need to provide your email address; if you forget a password you've created then you'll probably need your email address in order to reset the password. Unlike a mobile phone that requires a country code and comes with a usage charge, an email address is generally tarrif-free and, what's more, it's globally unique to you. An email address allows you to remain an individual online, free to roam and connect wherever and whenever you choose.

Email has become a massive single point of failure

Our utter reliance and dependency upon email is its single largest threat.What would you do if you couldn't access your email?If you've ever been part of the Scouting movement then you'd know the importance of being prepared and would have a contingency plan in case the unthinkable happens and you find yourself without email and disconnected from everything and everyone.

Yesterday the unthinkable happened

During an outage that lasted a little under 2.5 hours yesterday, a number of our Customers found themselves without access to email. Rackspace, our provider of IMAP email services, had a major outage that resulted in Customers' inability to connect with their accounts to send or receive email. No email was lost (merely held in a queue until it could be delivered) yet the outage demonstrated what the impact of having a single point of failure can be. Some Customers were prepared and able to take the outage in their stride, some weren't.

Being prepared means having to think the unthinkable. Prior to this outage we'd envisaged the scenario of an email outage with Rackspace and put in place a reporting process that enabled us to notify affected users by text - there'd have been little point emailing them as they couldn't receive email! In IT we do our best to avoid having any single points of failure; we run scenarios, design fail-safe frameworks, we test, we monitor and always have a fallback position because we're utterly reliant upon computers and, as we all know, all computers will at some time in their lives have a wobble and break. Being prepared, having a contingency and a back-up plan has never been so important.

Email contingencies

There are failover measures built into the heart of the email delivery protocols yet this doesn't mean that email is fail-safe and anything you can do to eliminate single points of failure will, one day, become incredibly valuable to you.

Wherever possible we'll encourage Customers to run their email accounts away from the server that hosts their website. Imagine having your website go down because of a webserver failure and being unable to notify users because the very server that hosts your website is also the server that hosts your email and, being down, prevents you from being able to send email? Scary, I think you'll agree. So we're always happy to move Customers away from their standard POP3 email accounts onto IMAP accounts.

Email accounts, regardless of whether they're POP3 or IMAP run on computer servers and computers will occasionally wobble. So, when the provider of IMAP email accounts (in this instance Rackspace) has a wobble then it's reassuring to know that Sub@omic Customers will have a contingency and can switch the SMTP servers used to send email from Rackspace's to the server that hosts their website. Having such a contingency in place means that although inbound email may be held up for a little while the flow of outbound email may continue uninterrupted. Especially important if, like one Customer yesterday, I'm on holiday from today and need to send email which will tie a few things up before I finish.

Webmail to the rescue

If the thought of choosing a different SMTP server in the preferences of your email software such as Outlook fills you with dread and terror, never forget that Sub@omic Customers are able to access an email account via webmail. Simply point your browser to http://www.yourdomain.co.uk/webmail. Enter your email address and password into the login fields and you'll be able to send email using your own business email address.

Belt, braces and a bit of string

It's not only the Scouts that get a mention in this blog but I'm pleased to be able to give one of Dad's favourite sayings an airing alongside one from Robert Burns :o) The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley, so for the times you need a contingency in case your contingency fails it's reassuring to know that we can also provide you with dedicated outbound SMTP facilities, just in case you feel the need (like us) to be really, really prepared.

guy avatarguy9th February 2015
An interesting point Steve. Goes hand in hand with a robust data backup / recovery strategy I would have thought. Which is of course the exact reason why you are very wise to mention it because most businesses do not have a robust data backup / recovery strategy in place, let alone an email outage strategy!

My email is provided by my franchise Head Office who use (dare I say it!) 1and1! This is to say the least somewhat frustrating as it appears a lot of ISP providers have spam listed 1and1! So much so that we have reverted to having to have a gmail account to communicate with some of our customers!

The other thing worth potentially mentioning is the number of businesses who don't have a "proper" email address. Something of a personal bugbear of mine, I generally refuse wherever I can to buy from anyone who uses as a business email address a hotmail, yahoo or gmail address. It tells me everything I need to know about how professional the business is. I always remember the famous Red Adair quote "If you think a professional is expensive, try using an amateur!"
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