Small Organisation Server

Ambridge Garden Club – email

Electronic mail was the first Federated service carried over the Internet, and in some ways it pre-dated the IP based system we think of as the Internet today, as it was possible to send emails for example from systems connected via UUCP to others using DECmail a long time (in internet terms) before the creation of the Web.

Ambridge Garden Club members want to be able to communicate with each other over email, using, if they wish email addresses like, and these should be, at the choice of the member, accessible using the club mail system as a store and messaging system – using the “Internet Mail Access Protocol”, or a web interface to that; or they should be forwarded on to another email system of their choice. They will want email addresses for key roles such as, and for groups of people such as

Unwanted emails (spam) should be rejected, as far as possible, while ensuring that wanted email reception and delivery are reliable.

Setting up email – an overview

Actually setting up the email for Ambridge Garden Club was more convoluted than ordering the domain or purchasing the server, so there is no step by step guide. The components used are capable of scaling up to deal with many thousands of users, so have many options for configuring them, and there were other possibilities for the components as well. The ones below should be suitable for a small organisation and they should be susceptible to automated installation and configuration for future purposes.

User Database – LDAP

Information about the members of the Garden Club are stored in a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) database. This holds their names, and other information, such as their email address. There are many tools available for manipulating the database through web interfaces, and many of the services our club members will want to use, email, instant messaging, web page publishing and so on can use LDAP as a store of information.

Mail Transport Agent – Postfix

Postfix handles mail receiving and sending to any address which ends in Some members want their mail to be forwarded to another mail system, and this is handled by a combination of postfix-ldap to find their addresses in LDAP and postsrsd, which ensures that the email forwarding is Sender Rewriting Scheme friendly.

Other options would be Exim or Sendmail.

Mail Server – Dovecot

The mail which is not forwarded is delivered into Dovecot. This will allow members to access their mail via their choice of email clients, such as Thunderbird, or K9mail, or the Roundcube web front end.

Other options would be Courier.

Mail Filtering – Sieve

Sieve allows mail to be sorted into folders as it is delivered, or unwanted messages to be rejected, under the control of the person using the mail account.

Web Frontend – Roundcube

Roundcube provides a fairly simple web interface to an IMAP server. The implementation at Ambridge Garden Club is configured to only access its local server, and to have the sieve plugin to manage mail

Other options would be SOGo

Small Organisation Server

Ambridge Garden Club – initial server purchase

Following on from registering the domain, the Ambridge Garden Club needs a server to provide the services it will need.

Ordering the Server – Step by step

I am using Mythic Beasts, but as described in registering the domain, there are many alternatives, and by providing an alternative to Facebook and the advertising supported model for small organisations, I hope this can boost the independent Internet Hosting provider market.

The Garden Club treasurer should log in to their account at and click on the Servers dropdown at the top, and then select ‘Virtual servers’, and they will see a screen like this.

If they select ‘Pay yearly’ and ‘Order now’ they will see a screen like this. Pay yearly was chosen as cheaper, and for many small clubs keeping the administrative work down is important.

The lowest specification server was chosen, and HDD (hard disks) rather than SSD (Solid State disks) to get more disk space for the money, and I do not, initially at least, expect disk performance to be an issue. IPv4 was left selected. This is the old type of internet address, as at present it is quite likely that there will still be Ambridge Garden Club members who do not have the new IPv6.

The annual cost is £82.80.

On accepting the order a confirmation screen is displayed:

Here you have options to say where your virtual computer should be, and what its ‘Service name’ should be. This name should be between 3 and 10 characters long, and will show up as the name of your computer in the Mythic Beasts control panel, and in the actual name of your computer on the internet. The Ambridge Garden Club decided to have their computer in London, and that the Service name should be agc. The actual computer on the internet is called ‘’. At a subsequent stage I will arrange for it to be seen as ‘’. Once you confirm your options you will see a confirmation screen similar to the following:

This shows what is about to be purchased in a different format. Press Pay to continue, to another payment screen, for filling in the usual details, and once they have been entered you should see a screen like:

You now have a computer (albeit a virtual one) out on the Internet, but before it can do anything useful you will need to install an ‘Operating system‘ and some software. This will be covered in the next post.

Small Organisation Server

Ambridge Garden Club – registering the domain

At the heart of the Internet is the Domain Name System, or DNS. The first thing the Ambridge Garden Club needed to do was to register a domain name. There are many sites on the Internet which provide Domain Registration, but I went with a company which also provides ‘Internet hosting’, that is the ability to rent a computer, or a virtual computer, from the same company to simplify billing.

Choice of supplier

There are companies from which you can buy combinations of a domain name and Web Hosting often with some specific interface to make it easy to build web sites. Some will also forward email, or even host email, but for an example Small Organisation Server I wanted some flexibility and to be able to select ‘best of breed’ components, hence the generic decision to go down the Hosting Provider route, for a company which provides the kind of system from which the rest of the services the Ambridge Garden Club needs.

There is quite a large choice in such systems, and at this stage it is worth doing some research, but I chose ‘Mythic Beasts‘ – an Internet Service Provider I have dealt with before, and their service and supports has been prompt and knowledgeable. Their pricing is also open and transparent. There a many places where you can register a domain on the internet very cheaply for the first year, but have to pay much more for subsequent years, or find you are automatically paying for ‘options’ such as security certificates from them that you did not necessarily want (or at least not from them)

The cost to register ‘’ was £7.20 for the first year, and the same for subsequent years, including VAT.

Step by step

First the Ambridge Garden Club Treasurer should to go and sign up as a customer. They will need an email address, a real postal address etc, and can set up a separate billing address.

They should log in to their account and click on Domains, and then on ‘New Registration’ where they will see a screen like this

If you know the domain you want to use you can register it directly, or you can search for domains and see some options. Different types of domains have different costs, so a domain that ends .london for example, is more expensive than one that ends

The system will check if the domain you want is available, and if so you will see how much it will cost.

Here you enter the details of the person, and organisation who is registering the domain.

You are unlikely to see the ‘held for manual review’ section, in red – my personal setup is much more complicated than most, but you will see the requirement to comply with the terms and conditions.

Having entered, or confirmed some billing details – you can pay by credit card, or direct debit, you should see a screen similar to the above.

Congratulations, your organisation is now the proud owner of a domain and you have started your journey towards an Internet presence.

Other options

I will not go into these in detail, but might expand on them, or add more at a later date.


Another hosting provider worth checking out.

Amazon Web Services Lightsail

Amazon has a bewildering choice of Web services, and even, this, their simplest option, requires an unfeasible amount of computer understanding for a garden club to manage. Other big cloud service providers also tend to aimed at buyers with an IT department or whose interests tend more towards computing than gardening (or knitting, model railways, croquet, local archeology or whatever)


A venerable hosting provider, note that they do not provide a Domain Registration Service, so you would have to shop for that separately.

An umbrella organisation

Some small organisations are part of a larger organisation, for example Scout troups and Guide companies in the UK come under the umbrella of the Scout Association or Girlguiding UK respectively. Similarly Phab Clubs, such as Oxford Phab, are affiliated to National Phab. Although Oxford Phab has a registered DNS name of, if the domain was administered for it, it would be possible to delegate to a system controlled by the club. See the post ‘It is good to be a Tree‘ for more on this.

Small Organisation Server

The Ambridge Garden Club

The Ambridge Garden Club does not exist, but I am presenting it as Small Organisation Server example, for how a hypothetical small organisation, a group of a couple of dozen to a couple of hundred people with similar interests can set up an Internet presence which meets their needs, without resorting to the alternative ‘Big Social Media’ model of advertising. I will demonstrate how the services it uses are paid for, and show how it was set up. It is also ‘federated’, so that it should work well with similar organisations.

The village of Ambridge does not exist, it is a fictional village in the long running radio soap opera The Archers. My parents listened every day, but I am no longer in touch with what is going on, but its characters provide a range of non technical people, who might well come to see the value of doing some things on the Internet, but as a tool, not as the central thing in their lives.

I am providing this as an example for several audiences. For small organisations such as gardening clubs, for software developers, and for Internet hosting providers.

For Small Organisations

These could be

  • Garden clubs
  • Model Railway societies
  • Parish councils

I hope to provide a step by step model of what I actually did to set up the Ambridge Garden Club system, from some of the options for renting the computers needed, to exactly what needs to be done for each step. I also hope the end site will provide an example of what can be achieved.

For their treasurer I want to show how much it cost. Everything has a cost, even the things which are apparently free. By providing options where the costs are explicit I hope to increase people’s choices, even if they decide the advertising supported route is better for them.

For Software Developers

I hope to give a model of how a small organisation, as described above, might want to bring together the various diverse pieces of software they use, with the things which could be improved to make it simpler for a non technical user base.

To get an idea of the target user base, ideally it should be possible to set up, administrate, and use the system on an iPad or similar, without the need to know about console logins or the command line at all. I know this is not possible at present, but there is no fundamental reason why this should not be a goal. It should be possible to understand how all the components work, but it should not be necessary.

For Internet Hosting Providers

I hope to show the types of services which might be useful for a group of people as described above, to enable them to target their offerings and provide transparent, easily understandable pricing. (not every garden club treasurer knows how many cores a server should have).

Feedback and community

The first version of this is likely to be more complex and technical than I would like, but having an open model allows the parts to be improved.