The Ultimate Dilemma
As with most ISP's, IQ used content-based spam filtering with high-grade commercial email servers. The
first sign of trouble came in the form of a no-win situation in trying to select settings for the
filtration. If the settings were left too lenient, customers received too much spam and complained.
If the settings were tightened, customers lost email and complained. There was simply no happy median
[ Next: Stop the Bleeding ]
An entire department had to be allocated to maintaining the filtering because of the constant changes in
spam activity. Customers were divided into groups and placed on different filtering systems according to
their needs. And even with all that work, no one was really happy. IQ customers expected solutions, not
improvements. They had come to depend on and enjoy our policy that there was no such thing as an
"acceptable loss" and it was coming back to haunt us.
Then, in June, 2004, a new phase of the problem began showing itself. Between directory harvests and
overwhelming bursts of spam and worm activity, the email servers began to fail. The volume was simply too
much for them, even with their commercial architecture. We increased our resources constantly, but every
increase seemed to be an invitation for more trouble. Within 3 months, resetting a mail server became a
"normal" task and the customers felt it as intermittent denials of service. We felt it internally as
well with no way to use even our own email accounts.
A solution had to be found, or IQ would be the first ISP that ever attempted to operate without providing
email. Of course, this was the same as saying “fix it or go out of business”. Letting spammers end our story
with failure was totally unacceptable. Walker and Jackson met with other department heads and everyone
agreed that there had to be an answer to this problem.
How well the company met the challenge of finding this answer would define our future.