Q&A: Mean on mail

Q We have twenty mail accounts, half being IMAP and half POP, accessed using Mail. Some receive only a few messages a week, others (mainly the IMAP ones) up to 70 a day, some with large attachments. Our ISP limits total mail storage to 125 MB, so we move most of the IMAP mail to local storage every week. Accessing these mails from our laptops and iPhones is cumbersome. Is there a better way?

A First try to negotiate a better deal with your service provider. That is a ridiculously low storage limit for so many mail accounts, particularly using IMAP, where mail is traditionally held on the server until deleted; your allocation of around 10 MB per IMAP user could easily be consumed with just a few hefty enclosures.

If you really cannot do better than that, your only thorough solution is going to be running your own mail server. Although this might seem a seriously daunting matter, if you choose your server product carefully it need not be so. There are two that spring to mind that are worth looking at next.

osxmailserverOS X Server is ridiculously cheap from the App Store, and supremely easy to configure. Despite its simple front end it is industrial strength, but you would need someone to learn to use and administer it.

Kerio Connect is more expensive but is fully featured, and in its ‘bigger’ editions supports some quite large corporate systems. Again it comes with a comfortable front end, so you will not be left trying to edit complex Unix-style configuration files.

Comments If you opt to run your own mail server, you will need to dedicate a Mac to this task, and it will normally also need a local DNS server. The latter can be set up simply to serve your local network, which is not difficult to do.

The last mini Server model might have been ideal, with its twin internal hard disks, but has been discontinued. If you want a compact system, the regular Mac mini is a strong contender, but you should consider fitting it with an external RAID array. You could instead use an older Mac with sufficient disk storage. Small mail servers do not need a lot of CPU speed or power, but must be protected by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

You would also then need to arrange with your current provider so that your server can collect mail directly. An MX arrangement, an off-site server that stores mail in the event of your own server failing, needs to be made, perhaps with your ISP.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 28 issue 09, 2012.