NinerNet Communications™
System Status

Server and System Status

NC036: Migration update 25 — Final

18 June 2018 08:54:43 +0000

The migration of all email accounts from server NC027 to server NC036 is complete. In fact, it was successfully completed at 04:00 UTC on 4 June. What followed over the next few days was an unprecedented avalanche of misinformation and red herrings that resulted in our moving the new server to another data centre (a move that took ten times longer than the previous move from the data centre where NC027 was located) where the same “problems” experienced by only some of our clients magically reappeared.

We planned the migration to have absolutely no impact on existing email configurations. We did this by pointing legacy sub-domains of the niner.net domain that named server NC027 — e.g., smtp27.niner.net — to server NC036. At the conclusion of the migration these sub-domains were indeed pointing to the new server. In other words, on Monday morning (4 June) email programs would have thought they were still downloading mail from the same server, not realising (or needing to realise) that they were in fact downloading from a new server.

However, it turned out that a significant minority of email programs were somehow misconfigured with settings that worked on the old server, but stopped working when connecting to the new server. Those clients who were using the correct settings experienced no disruption at all, and when those clients with incorrect settings corrected them on the morning of Monday the 11th, the problems were fixed instantly.

Over the rest of that week (11-15 June) we helped a few clients with some issues unique to how they use email, especially where those practices clashed with current best practices for email transmission. We also dealt with some issues of senders whose mail servers were behaving improperly, causing their emails to be blocked because they looked like spammers. This notably affected email from the ZRA, but their emails are once again flowing unimpeded.

We’re monitoring the spam filtering on the new server. Any message that the server identifies as spam will have the subject of the message prefixed to add “[SPAM]“. You can use this to configure your email program or the webmail to deal with spam automatically, by filtering it into your “junk” folder or deleting it entirely. We recommend filtering to the junk folder so that you can catch the occasional legitimate message that is misclassified as spam.

Finally, in recognition of the fact that the emergency migration of the server to a new data centre on 6 June disrupted all clients’ email, and the fact that those clients with misconfigured email programs experienced a week of disruption before the issue was identified, we will be applying a one-week (quarter month) credit to the accounts of all clients hosted on server NC036. We apologise for the difficulties caused, and will apply what was learned this time to future migrations.

Thank-you, as always, for your custom and patience.

NC036: Migration update 24 — Outlook weirdness

11 June 2018 11:35:44 +0000

Microsoft are famous for ignoring standards and inventing their own so-called standards, and over the years we’ve seen evidence of that in Outlook.

Numerous clients today report that the following applies to Outlook, at least Outlook 2016:

There is no option for STARTTLS for incoming (POP/IMAP) settings. As such, you need to use the older and deprecated option of using port 995 (POP) and 993 (IMAP) over SSL.

NC036: Migration update 23 — SMTP AUTH is required for users under this sender domain

11 June 2018 09:38:23 +0000

There are two reasons why you may be getting the above error in response to messages you’ve sent to addresses on domains hosted by NinerNet, likely your own domain:

  • It may be because you’re sending from an address on a domain that we host, but instead of sending your email through our SMTP server (smtp.niner.net) you’re sending through another SMTP server, possibly that of an ISP or another email service provider. In some cases this can happen because of a situation similar to that described in the sixth bullet point of our post “NC036: Migration update 20 — Solutions“, where you’ve sent the email through a third party, perhaps an ISP, or an email account you have with another provider.
  • If you’re using some cloud-hosted application that tries to send email to you as you (or another user on your own domain), then that email looks like spam to the mail server, because lots of spammers mistakenly try to get their email through by sending their spam from your email address to your email address, or from another address on your own domain to you.

The solutions are, respectively (and respectfully):

  • Configure your email program to use smtp.niner.net to send email from any domain that we host. If you’re following the configuration instructions we send you, then that is the case by default, and always has been.
  • Have the provider of the cloud service send those emails from an address — even a “no-reply” address — on their own domain, or use SMTP AUTH to send the email through smtp.niner.net from an address on your own domain, just as you or any other human with an address on your domain would.

NC036: Migration update 21 — Screenshots

11 June 2018 07:02:05 +0000

Here are the promised screenshots that show how an email program like Thunderbird should be configured.

We will have Outlook screenshots available as soon as possible.

NC036: Migration update 20 — Solutions

11 June 2018 04:08:41 +0000

Summary

We suspect that clients having problems sending or receiving email have very old legacy configuration settings. Please see the “Email server settings” section below for the definitively correct settings.

Situation

Over the weekend we took a deep breath and stepped back to re-analyse this problem, and consult with a number of you. Between…

  • a move to a new server in a new data centre,
  • and then to another data centre to try to outrun the phantom issues at the first data centre,
  • the conclusion that Zambian ISPs were somehow complicit (and then even having that explicitly confirmed [and then retracted] by someone in the IT Security Department at MTN!) because we’d had no complaints from other countries,
  • and the fact that the new server was somehow processing just as many messages as it normally does despite so many people apparently being unable to send and/or receive,

.. we were awash in red herrings to an extent I have never seen in 22 years.

We’ve taken a look at the behaviour of two of the most used email programs (Thunderbird and Outlook) and come to some conclusions about what might be happening:

  • The fact that most clients carried on connecting with no problems tells us that (a) the server was operating normally, but (b) some clients were using old (in some cases very old) settings that were permitted (but not recommended) on the old server, but no longer permitted on the new server due to the ever-increasing need to raise the bar on server security.
  • Some email programs (notably Thunderbird and various incarnations of the Apple Mail app) tend to funnel all outgoing email through a single SMTP (outgoing) account. This can lead to situations where someone might be trying to send an email from you@domain1.com, but trying to log in as other-address@domain2.net. Again, with the ongoing need to tighten email security, this is no longer permissible with just about every mail service provider in the world.
  • A lot (probably most, actually) of email programs and apps try to second-guess your selection of a port number, often after you think you’ve saved your email configuration.
  • Over the years we’ve seen some email programs and apps treat SSL and TLS in odd and unpredictable ways. The existing settings we’ve always given out still work, but in the interests of getting everyone on the same page we’re starting with a clean slate.

So, if you’re having problems sending, it will likely be worth your while to check your SMTP (outgoing) settings; if you’re having problems receiving, it will likely be worth your time to check your POP or IMAP (incoming) settings. I wanted to have some screenshots ready for this post, but I’d rather get the words up now and post screenshots shortly afterwards, so here are the settings you need to use:

Email server settings

  • Email address: you@yourdomain.com
  • User name: you@yourdomain.com (same as your email address)
  • Password: The correct password on your email account. If you’re not sure what it is, please reset it to a new one through the email control panel (admins only). It can also be reset through the webmail.
  • Password type: Plain
  • Incoming (POP/IMAP) mail:
    • Server: pop.niner.net or imap.niner.net
    • Port: 110 (POP) or 143 (IMAP)
    • Encryption: STARTTLS
  • Outgoing (SMTP) mail:
    • Server: smtp.niner.net
    • Port: 587
    • Encryption: STARTTLS
    • Authentication: Turned on
  • To send email, you must log in with the same user name (address) as the address you’re sending from.
  • Some older mail programs may not offer STARTTLS; if that’s the case for you, try TLS and/or SSL, in that order.

Additional information

I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important it is for you to be precise in setting up this configuration. No setting is “close enough”, and your computer is not smart enough to figure it out; it will just tell you there is an error. Although, having said that, I’d like to emphasise that the niner.net sub-domains with “27” in them — i.e., pop27.niner.net, imap27.niner.net and smtp27.niner.net — do still also work, but they will be phased out; do not use them.

In the case of those email programs that like to railroad you into sending all email through a single SMTP account by default, we suggest that you start with a clean slate there too by deleting all of the saved SMTP accounts (unless you have some on systems that are completely separate from NinerNet) and creating a new one for each of your email accounts. Because your email program may not let you delete the “default” SMTP account, you’ll need to make a new SMTP account the new default, and then delete the old default.

We will post helpful screenshots as soon as possible. In the meantime, please check (and, if necessary, update) your email account settings and ensure that they are correct.

Thank-you.

NC036: Migration update 19 — MTN blocking us

8 June 2018 07:23:34 +0000

I have just got off the phone with someone in IT security at MTN head office in Lusaka, and they confirm that they have been blocking our new mail server as part of a wrong-headed plan to prevent MTN users from sending spam. It is likely that the first new mail server was also being actively blocked. He says that our IP addresses will be unblocked within the next ten minutes.

This raises the significant question of whether or not this is now an Africa-wide policy with many other ISPs. Other countries manage to prevent their users from sending spam without holding the keys to a gateway to the Internet, forcing companies like NinerNet to supplicate themselves to the likes of big companies like MTN when we find our businesses held hostage.

This is why we sent the questionnaire out yesterday asking you for details on whether nor not you are still having problems, and for the details of your ISP. Please reply to those emails so that we may determine which ISPs are actively blocking our servers and take the appropriate action.

NC036: Migration update 18 — MTN LTE

7 June 2018 11:12:19 +0000

We have had this report from a client:

I have now reset my LTE unit in our office to factory default and mails are working again on MTN, weird…We will monitor and see if it goes off again

NC036: Migration update 17

7 June 2018 09:12:19 +0000

We continue to track the intermittent connections in Zambia. They simply don’t make sense. For example, some MTN customers have no problems connecting, but some do. And some people can connect on MTN, but not Realtime/HAI, or they can connect on Paratus, but not MTN.

But we are slowly managing to narrow things down with a resolution in mind.

We did receive a call from a client who has talked to at least one ISP up on the Copperbelt, and they informed him that they allow some connections but not others, and they allow some connections intermittently such that it works one minute and stops working the next. This is exactly the behaviour our clients are seeing, and it seems to be intentional on the part of at least one Zambian ISP! Now, these are very vague statements, but our client asked us for an email explaining how our system works and is configured that he could send to them. Herewith a copy of our email:

Thanks for your phone call. As I said on the phone, this mail server operates in exactly the same way as the old mail server. There is simply no way to operate a mail server on the Internet that does not conform to the same interoperability standards as every other mail server on the Internet. Sure, the are minor variations on how some things are done internally on all servers, but for server A to talk to server B and deliver an email — or for a personal computer or phone to get that email to server A in the first place — they all have to be talking the same language.

Also, I find it very difficult to understand an ISP saying that they allow some standard behaviour and disallow other standard behaviour. And it’s even more bizarre that they say they allow some behaviour intermittently; what’s the point of that?!

With that editorial out of the way, this is the configuration of both the old and new mail servers:

SOFTWARE:

  • MTA (mail transfer agent, i.e., mail server software, SMTP): Postfix
  • MDA (mail delivery agent, i.e., POP and IMAP): Dovecot
  • Web server (control panel and webmail): Nginx

PORTS (all TLS/SSL):

  • POP: 110/995
  • IMAP: 143/993
  • SMTP: 587
  • Web: 443

This is a 100% standard configuration, and as I’ve said before, is exactly the same as it was on the old server … EXACTLY the same.

Any ISP is welcome to contact me directly, by email or phone, to explain why users on our system should be subject to some sort of arbitrary blocking of anything. And they’re welcome to contact me just to ask questions or for a friendly chat. Everyone in the world (barring repressive dictatorships, which I don’t think Zambia has become just yet) uses these same port numbers and configurations.

Please keep me informed. Thanks.

Craig

NC036: Migration update 16

7 June 2018 05:43:46 +0000

Are you wondering if our mail server is really up or if we’re “having problems”? We could be lying, but this third-party service will uncover our lies:

https://downforeveryoneorjustme.com

Every time we check, mail.niner.net and webmail.niner.net are up. Please check for yourself. In fact, we suggest contacting your ISP and asking them why you cannot reach a server that is alive and well.

You can also check the pop, imap and smtp sub-domains of niner.net, as well as the old pop27, imap27 and smtp27 sub-domains, all of which are working.

We actually do strongly urge you to contact your ISP about the fact that you can only intermittently connect to our mail server. They are the only ones who can help you with your connection to the Internet when it is not working properly.

NC036: Migration update 15 — Possible return of connection issues

6 June 2018 16:35:16 +0000

As happened on Monday, after initial success with setting up the new mail server, we’re again receiving reports from clients in Zambia (so far) that are starting to have their connections to the server dropped by their ISPs. This is incredibly frustrating, certainly for you, of course, but also for us.

If this is happening to you, you can help us help you by submitting what’s called an MTR report. MTR is a network diagnostic tool that gives us quantifiable information we can analyse and (hopefully) act on, showing where the network problem affecting your email lies so that we may possibly contact the organisation responsible for the problem.

If you’re running Windows, please download WinMTR. The file you will download is just a zip file that contains the actual program (32- and 64-bit versions). Read the “README.TXT” file for instructions on which version to use. All you need to do is double-click the appropriate file and the program runs; it’s not actually installed on your computer. Then type nc036.ninernet.net (yes, that’s ninernet.net, NOT niner.net) in the box as prompted, and select the start option to begin generating report data. Once you’ve gathered enough data, please use the copy or export functions to send us the report.

Please also send us the following information:

  • Your IP address.
  • The name of your ISP. If you have access to multiple connections, an MTR report from each ISP would be greatly appreciated.
  • If you have a reliable contact at that ISP, his/her name, position, phone number and email address.

Please email this to our usual email address, or send it via our contact form.

Thanks.

NinerNet home page

Systems at a Glance:


Loc.SystemStatusPing
Server NC020, Chicago, United States of America, OPERATIONAL.NC020OperationalPing
Server NC023, London, United Kingdom, OPERATIONAL.NC023OperationalPing
Server NC027, London, United Kingdom, INTERNAL.NC027InternalPing
Server NC028, Vancouver, Canada, INTERNAL.NC028InternalPing
Server NC031, Newark, United States of America, OPERATIONAL.NC031OperationalPing
Server NC033, Toronto, Canada., OPERATIONAL.NC033OperationalPing
Server NC034, Lusaka, Zambia, INTERNAL.NC034InternalPing
Server NC035, Sydney, Australia, PROVISIONING.NC035ProvisioningPing
Server NC036, Amsterdam, Netherlands, OPERATIONAL.NC036OperationalPing

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General Information:

This blog provides information about the status of NinerNet Communications systems. Dates and times of posts to this blog are in the UTC time zone, and dates and times given for events are also in the UTC time zone, although conversions may be offered for some time zones common to our clients. Please use the World Time Server to ensure accurate conversion of dates and times to your own time zone.

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