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Why you shouldn’t self-host

I pulled the plug on my email server this morning…and I should have done it months ago. I decided to abandon my self-hosting plans after just under a year. Why? As I mentioned in my original post, hosting web and email servers can be an exercise in masochism. It is also not an endeavor for those with a lack of spare time. A great deal has changed in my personal and professional life over the last year, and dealing with all of the extra technical work did not appeal to me.

The learning aspect associated with building an email server and gaining an understanding of good email security principles like DMARC, DKIM, SPF could be considered high-value work, but most IT/infosec practitioners would only need to know a fraction of the knowledge to run their infrastructure. Going down the rabbit hole of building an open-source email server supporting all of these is only high-value if you could earn some return on the investment. Aside from the knowledge, mine never did. The routine maintenance, tweaking, and other mundane work are tedious and potential timesinks dragging you away from other high-value work. Unless you have plans on providing this hosting as a passive income stream, there is no real point in doing it yourself other than saving “perceived” costs. Several service providers can give you everything you want and need for a nominal monthly fee. While fees may be more than your AWS or Linode charges, dumping 4 hours into a broken email server can quickly cost you more than it’s worth.

On a side note: If you do not have an idea of how much your time is worth or understand opportunity cost, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with those concepts. It will change the way you think about how you send your most valuable resource. Are you stepping over dollars to pick up dimes?

To be honest, I switched back to a number of the old services that I had been using such as Feedly for my news feeds. The service works best for me and privacy wasn’t a concern. I’ve switched my blog hosting over to GitLab’s public hosting option, allowing me to continue to use Jekyll and Git for my CMS while avoiding the murky waters around GitHub’s ownership.

Email ended up being the only service that I decided to pay for. I opted to go with FastMail, which allowed me to consolidate all of my email, calendaring, and contact management into one service not owned by the tech giants. $50/year allows me to have the same features of self-hosting without the additional work, including additional accounts under my domain. FastMail comes with a 30-day free trial, allowing you to fully migrate your email over without paying a dime upfront.

One final word of advice: An email server is like a pet dog – it requires care and feeding daily, and every once in awhile it shits on your carpet. If you aren’t prepared to feed, bathe, clean up after, and take your pet email server to the vet…you probably shouldn’t have one.

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