Xtra email changes will challenge business email server users

Email servers can't do what Xtra asks of them

Some small businesses could find their email inboxes going remarkably quiet once Telecom’s internet service provider Xtra flips the switch on changes to its email system.

Two independent technology consultants Computerworld spoke to last week warned that the changes Xtra is making to separate its consumer and small business email accounts can’t be accommodated by the Microsoft email servers used by many small organisations.

Xtra is changing its systems to require that email travels through a different server port and via SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) with SSL (secure sockets layer) protection. Similarly, users will be downloading mail from their hosted mailbox to their mail client using POP SSL encryption.

Xtra says a “small number” of its domain-name customers using hosted email also operate a Microsoft server and these users may not be able to apply the new suggested security settings right now.

“We must emphasise that the number of customers in this situation will be very limited as, in general, domain-name customers who are also using our hosted email service do not tend to operate with a Microsoft Small Business Server,” Xtra’s spokeswoman says.

According to Microsoft the issue appears to be that Xtra has assumed users will be downloading mail directly to the client and not to a server.

Microsoft technology specialist Nathan Mercer says the changes will affect all mail servers and not just Microsoft’s, and will affect incoming mail. At Computerworld’s deadline he was investigating possible solutions to the issue.

Consultant Justin Le Grice says he was notified of the proposed changes about a month ago.

“It’s outrageous interfering with the delivery of email,” says Le Grice. “It should be a communication directly from the sending to the receiving server.”

He says the information Xtra is putting out regarding the changes is very sketchy.

“I can’t see what they are trying to achieve at the end of this,” he says. “It’s a bit arse-about-face not going to your clients to see what they want.”

However, Xtra’s spokeswoman told Computerworld that the changes are in line with “current international best practice”.

The company asked customers with hosted mailboxes and domain names to update their mail-settings.

“As part of the case-by-case process we are working through with affected customers, we will be allowing customers the option of remaining on our current mail-settings.” She also confirmed that, for security and spam control, under the new secure settings Port 25 will not be open for email traffic.

“We have communicated with these customers and provided them with instructions on how to proceed with this process,” the spokeswoman says.

The settings changes are designed to improve the security of domain name customers email messages, she says.

Le Grice says this is the first time he’s ever heard of a major ISP demanding email be handled this way. His views are backed by another consultant, Kerry Ballantyne.

“The impact is their [affected users’] mail will stop,” Ballantyne says.

He says anyone who has a domain hosted by Xtra and an email server that does not support SSL will be affected.

Ballantyne says that to get a clear explanation of the planned changes, he had to battle through to Xtra’s advanced help team, which took two weeks.

When he explained that Exchange doesn’t support what Xtra wants to do, and the only solution was to change hosts, an Xtra team-member agreed with him, he says.

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Tags xtra email exchange microsoft

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