Dec 19: Mailr

Technical

This blog post is part of the FastMail 2014 Advent Calendar.

The previous post on 18th December was about how we take payments. The following post on 20th December saw us open source our core javascript library.

Technical level: low

We don't often mention individual customers, for obvious privacy reasons.

While the negotiations for the sale of FastMail back to the staff in Australia were concluding, another long term contract was completed.

The end result is called Mailr and will be launching early next year. This was one of our largest projects this year, both in terms of development time, and in terms of interesting changes to the FastMail platform.

Co-branding and reselling FastMail

We have always offered great options for partnering with us and reselling our service. At the most basic level, everybody can generate their own affiliate URL and be paid for bringing us customers.

At the business level, value added resellers can create sub-businesses to leverage our systems for their own hosted email solution, and create their own custom landing page.

The deepest standard level of integration was used for the discontinued MyOpera Mail platform. It was a complete co-branding, with custom themes and even custom features. We have always had support for completely white-label co-branding, as evidenced by the annoyingly hard to type messagingengine.com domain in all our settings (don't worry, we have plans to move to easier-to-type names in the fastmail.com domain soon).

A whole new world

Telenor wanted something even more separated, a completely standalone version of the FastMail system, integrated with their Global Backend to give single signon and a central management and support channel across all their services. There are also jurisdictional hosting requirements for some of their business units which mean that in future, we will need the ability to run separate instances with hosting in particular countries.

To support those requirements, we had to add another layer of abstraction to the FastMail platform. We call each fully standalone copy an "island', which may consist of machines in multiple datacentres.

Mailr's island is built with physical and virtual machines at Softlayer. Softlayer is a great fit for email, because email is very IO heavy, and they build real hardware to spec. This allowed us to have machines which are very similar to our regular email servers, with their great IO capabilities. We can also spin up virtual machines quickly for the services with no local storage requirements, allowing fast ramp-up of extra capability.

With Mailr now available as a fully integrated service through Telenor's global backend, Telenor business units all around the world can very easily integrate a high quality email experience as part of their service offering.

An email service

When I say standalone, Mailr is completely isolated. It is updated separately to our FastMail datacentres in New York and Iceland. The source code is stored in a single git repository still, but the list of staff with access is different, and updates are applied independently.

It also has its very own larsbot in a separate IRC channel. It's called something different, but still answers to lars because that's hard-coded into our fingers (OK, I have typed "last ack" more than once...). We don't offer FastMail as a boxed piece of software - set and forget. Email services just don't work that way - they have to interact with the rest of the world in real time, and the 24 hour on-call roster and monitoring are a key part of our service.

If your company wants to move away from running your own service, FastMail is great option - we offer a fantastic user experience, are competitive on price and provide exceptional reliability. Hosting your email with us releases your best technical staff from the day-to-day grind of interacting with the rest of the world's email servers and allows them time to add value to the things which are core to your business. Drop us a line at sales@fastmail.com.