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personal mail server, virtual appliance repository

Jarod Wilson wrote:
> I got tired of maintaining my own mail server. I don't have time
> or patience for maintenance anymore, would like to lower my power bill...

All perfectly reasonable and practical considerations. It really should 
be easier to run a personal mail server. One thing that would make 
things a step easier (or at least rewind the clock to a time before spam 
was the dominant traffic) would be the ability to outsource spam filtering.

Basically an SMTP proxy that you could use as your public MX, which 
would then relay to a private server you run. That way it can be someone 
else's job to keep up with the latest in anti-spam measures, yet you 
retain control over how your email is delivered and stored. Of course 
there are commercial providers for this kind of thing, but I'm not aware 
of any that would be cost effective on a personal scale.

Another approach to this problem might be virtual appliances. In that 
scenario you might have an anti-spam SMTP proxy appliance, which 
requires virtually no site-specific configuration. You'd keep up on the 
latest anti-spam techniques by periodically updating the VM, just as you 
do with packages in your distribution.

As the hardware for my personal mail server is approaching end-of-life, 
I'm considering this latter approach. My main concern with it is that I 
don't want to take OS maintenance effort and simply multiply it by the 
quantity of VMs that will reside on the new hardware. That seems hardly 
a win. Any Debian or Ubuntu install always requires some degree of 
customization beyond the usual network config. Selecting preferred 
packages, logging locations, etc.

An ideal system would provide a library of pre-packaged virtual 
appliances, and a framework that lets you custom configure a template VM 
once and have that applied to all of the appliances you install.

I know there is a collection of virtual appliances available for VMware. 
Has a similar library been built for OSS VMs and related projects, like 
Ubuntu JeOS for example? (A brief glance at the web site doesn't show 
any obvious virtual appliance library, but I do see they have a 
Python-based VM builder, which I suppose could be customized to spit out 
a VM incorporating your preferences. Though it seems more likely that 
you'd use this once to create a base OS, customize it, then copy for 
each appliance. Which means you need to build your own appliances.)

For the appliance concept to really deliver on the promise of turn-key 
setup and minimal maintenance, you need to make maintaining the 
appliance as easy as 'aptitude upgrade' - either ran external to the VM 
such that the entire appliance gets replaced with an updated version 
(and local settings merged back in), or ran within the VM, but pulling 
the core applications from an appliance-specific repository. (If, say, 
you have a mail server appliance, you want to be sure when you update 
it, you aren't just getting the generic version of Postfix from the base 
OS repository, but instead the version with MySQL interface compiled-in, 
and the configuration files the appliance author created to make Postfix 
work with MySQL and Dovecot, etc.)


Tom Metro
Venture Logic, Newton, MA, USA
"Enterprise solutions through open source."
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