How many people to admin a Cyrus system?

Reko Turja reko.turja at
Sun Nov 11 07:07:31 EST 2007

Subject: Re: How many people to admin a Cyrus system?

> On Thu, 8 Nov 2007, Gary Mills wrote:
>> We have a moderate-sized Cyrus system for 30,000 students and 3000
>> employees.  It's a critical service in the sense that thousands of
>> people depend on it.  It has excellent performance, lots of 
>> capacity,
>> and plans for expansion.  I'm the only one familiar enough with 
>> Cyrus
> I am the sole person responsible for the Cyrus installation at 
> Oregon
> State University.  Our Cyrus system is similar in size, although 
> most of

My opinion is that at least couple of people knowledgeable about the 
mail systems would be a good idea. In my experience Murphys laws hit 
hard when the people in the know are at the holidays or like. And of 
course if people change their workplace you always have another person 
inhouse who knows the mail system well. My experience is mostly from 
small business, moderately sized educational institutions (for 
Finland) and hobbyist installations, but mail backends seems in 
general to be pretty happy with minimal care (excluding Lotus ;) ).

I am using Cyrus for very small user base, 20ish user hobbyist system, 
so I don't really know what happens when you have thousands of users. 
For us Cyrus has worked like charm though, surviving OS version bumps, 
migration from BDB to skiplist and so on. Worst thing that ever 
happened was major power outage and severe accompanied power surges at 
our co-lo (which being cheap doesn't have UPSes nor allow using 
one...) which caused poor old UFS some distress.

>> My director seems interested in outsourcing our e-mail system, 
>> judging
>> by the number of articles on outsourcing that he sends to me. 
>> Google
>> and Zimbra with a commercial contractor are the latest two. 
>> Replacing
>> a perfectly functioning e-mail system seems ludicrous to me, as 
>> does
>> subjecting our users to a migration for no reason.  I assume at 
>> least
>> that he wants vendors to quote on a replacement system.  Perhaps 
>> once
>> he sees the cost, he will change his mind.  I suppose it depends on
>> whether the quote includes the real cost.  Does anyone here have
>> experience in this area?  I know that CMU and other universities 
>> want
>> to maintain their own e-mail systems.  What's the justification in
>> these cases?

The biggest benefit I can see in the outsourcing is that you 
*hopefully* have enough qualified staff in the helpdesk - As in my 
experience that is the biggest human resource hog in mail systems, and 
the need of helpdesk staff grows along the amount of mail accounts. Of 
course having well written documentation on how to read your mail with 
the chosen mail client helps a lot, but there always are those people 
who want to see the staff in person or ask help in the phone.

The drawbacks though, at least as I see them are:
If the mail system is outside your local network, what happens when 
the Internet connection dies for some reason? Of course, the mail from 
outside doesn't work in such situation, but with internal mail 
infrastructure, at least the mail inside the local network works.

Sadly much of the support staff used by the outsourcing companies 
isn't that great either, so you might have instant response to 
distress call or email, but the support might be second rate.

Outsourcing also loses you more or less agility in the administration 
of mail system, which might be a drawback depending on circumstances. 
In small organisations the agility is lost if you need temporary email 
accounts for contract workers or other short term things, usually on a 
short notice. On larger organisations you can't have your own upkeep 
scripts deactivating or reactivating accounts etc. which might lead on 
gathering of fluff on the mail system.

In general what I've learnt from talking with people who have 
outsourcing experience, the cheap outsourcing alternatives can have 
pretty steep hidden costs. Better grade services from the wholesale IT 
companies tend to be better grade than the El Cheapos, but they do 
cost significantly more as well. Generally at least here in Finland, 
outsourcing isn't the cheapest alternative.

And of course on the topic of Google, I'm not sure if I wanted my mail 
trawled for personalised advertising keywords...

And then the scourge of modern e-mail, spam and virii. With your own 
e-mail system you can be just as relaxed or strict as you want and you 
can plan the whole defense strategy on the exact knowledge how the 
mailing system works from the border mail router to the client.

If your boss is bent on outsourcing, at least make him to ask the 
quotes based on the current properties of your present e-mail system: 
availability, backups, response times, what happens if there's major 
problem at weekend/holiday time etc. Having those in the contract with 
punishments if the promises are not met wouldn't be bad either.

> I can understand why a small organization would outsource email, but
> 30,000 accounts is not small by any measure.  A 30,000 employee
> corporation is huge!

The latest company I worked in IT support did the exact opposite, we 
insourced :D e-mail, web servers, DNS etc. It was a small cross-media 
company with 20-40 employees and the gains in agility were huge. 
Adding emails for project workers for the duration of their project, 
having project websites for previews and whatever se up on their own 
secure HTTP domains on moments notice. Interestingly enough, the 
insourcing didn't really raise the costs of the upkeep.

We tried for a good while previously to explain to management that 
moving all the IT stuff in-house would be a good idea, but when our 
provider back then managed to wipe our whole website - Just after a 
major press release about winning a first prize on a Europe-wide 
competition - The management did start to see the light as well. After 
the wipe, the provider got 3 week old copy of the website back online 
after a one day "no such domain" annoncement for the interested 
people. Of course that 3 week old copy didn't have the relevant info 
about the announcement and we were unable to do anything to our 
website while the company was looking for their backup archives. Two 
weeks after that the insourcing happened.

After this experience, I'm quite leery on the promises of the 
outsourcers contra the reality. The expensive dedicated IT houses 
might have good backup strategies, but the cheaper ones tend to work 
on belief that nothing ever breaks. Of course, there are excellent 
small hosting and IT companies out there with cheap prices, but 
usually those are aimed for smaller markets and not for the companies 
whose staff is in the thousands. (And finding an excellent small 
IT-company is hit and miss as those tend to be advertised through the 

Sorry for the long ramble from hobbyist Cyrus user, but the discussion 
kind of sparked my interest. Hope it isn't pure chaff either.


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