Troublesome 'dong' leads to VSO email overhaul

Too many genuine emails were going astray...

Too many genuine emails were going astray...

Voluntary Services Overseas, the global charity, has hailed a rollout of email filtering services from Postini as a success after the company managed to reduce a major problem with false positives and management overheads across the organisation.

VSO is based in 40 countries worldwide and employs 930 people, many of whom work in some of the world's poorest or most troubled regions.

Increasingly it relies upon email to keep in touch with many staff. However, due to large numbers of false positives, David Sims, technical services manager at VSO, said email was creating a considerable management overhead.

As such, Sims said he took the decision to switch from Clearswift's MIMEsweeper product to Postini's managed service.

Sims told "We were looking for something to remove the daily management because we're not a huge team and myself and my senior engineer were spending more and more of our time chasing after emails that people hadn't got or that were blocked.

"It was taking us about half a man-day per week."

Many of the issues VSO experienced related to false positives.

Sims added: "Being an international organisation we have a number of issues with off-the-peg services where you get a list of bad words to check. As an example we have a Vietnamese office and the currency in Vietnam is called the dong. We also have an office in Vanuatu which at one time was on everybody's blacklist as spammers."

This meant some emails within the organisation were wrongly being fingered as spam or inappropriate content.

Under the current system Sims said he is able to establish his own white list and black list and has seen a marked decrease in the amount of false positives, while virus and spam detection remains as high, if not higher, than with the previous system.

Problems with keywords creating false positives were commonplace several years ago. UK counties, for example, whose names end in 'sex', such as Essex and Sussex, experienced serious problems in the early days of spam filtering when crude Bayesian filtering detected that word.

A spokesman for Postini told VSO is typical of mid-sized organisations which lack the resources to tackle all their IT requirements in-house. Something such as email filtering and the day-to-day fire-fighting it can require are therefore increasingly being signed over to managed service providers.

VSO started working with Postini in 2005 and Sims claims the managed service offering is also more conducive to supporting a dispersed and global workforce, reducing his need to actually touch machines in far-flung territories.

Although neither party was willing to confirm the exact value of the deal, Postini would confirm its usual per-user price has been discounted for the charity to "a single figure sum per user".