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ZOL to stop providing email and Webhosting services directly, customers to be migrated to Microsoft 365 at start of July

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ZOL customers who log into it’s MyZOL platform are being greeted with a dismissible notice telling them that ZOL will stop providing Web and Email services directly to them starting 02 July 2021. Their email and backup services will instead be migrated to the Microsoft platform effective from this date. Affected customers are being asked to contact support.

This is truly the end of an era where ISPs didn’t just provide you with access to the internet but also provided some services including email and web hosting themselves. It means the cloud has won. Everything is going back to the cloud just like in the beginning when screens were just dumb terminals connected to mainframes.

Reminiscing about ZOL’s email and webmail

I have had an on and off (mostly on) relationship with ZOL starting around 2007 when a friend and I teamed up to sign up for what was then known as a ZimSurfer account. This was during the first economic meltdown which people often refer to colloquially as 2008 and just like now we had lying politicians and government authorities in charge who claimed everything was going well when it wasn’t.

We accidentally discovered for example that Zimbabwe’s TelOne gateway to the internet was being occasionally switched off. Yes, at one point creditors literary switched off Zimbabwe’s access to the internet due to debts. We only discovered this after complaining to ZOL that we couldn’t access Google. That’s when we upgraded our dial-up account, with the help of the company that I was interning for, and he and I got shiny new Webmail as a perk. We also registered a domain for company emails. Again that was a thing.

The advantage of getting email straight from your IP was that it tended to be faster as opposed to say getting it from Gmail. We had a 26kbps dial-up connection on an analogue phone line-loading the Gmail interface was a struggle. I was already a proficient Linux user and when people complained about slow email I came up with a pretty slick email setup:

  • Instead of having each person connecting to ZOL’s webmail and wasting precious bandwidth loading all that HTML and stuff I set up a fetchmail script on an Ubuntu server running Ubuntu 8.04 LTS
  • The script would regularly login into each ZOL account check for new emails and if there was any new mail, pull it down using IMAP
  • It would then connect to Postfix on the same host i.e. localhost and hand over the emails
  • Postfix would then hand over the email to DoveCot the email server
  • When people checked for email using Outlook they would be picking it up from that Dovecot server which was on the same LAN. That was pretty fast.
  • When people send emails, they were relayed via Postfix on the same LAN so again it was a breeze from their perspective. Postfix would then relay the mail to ZOL/Econet’s mail server.

Yes at one point Econet had their own email service which was or something like that. We also used the same email set up when Econet finally launched GPRS and for $25 you could have blitzing speeds of 128kbps which was unlimited. Exciting times.

Why is ZOL migrating

In a FAQ section provided on the migration notice ZOL says they have been using a legacy LinuxSci platform to cater for their customer’s needs and it seems it has become a pain to maintain and ensure availability. I can relate too. I used to be an advocate of hosting my own email but at some point, I just gave up. For US$2/per user per month my cloud services provider can provide a better service that doesn’t have me tearing my hair every now and then when the services go down.

They are doing this for the same reason businesses stopped having on premise email servers. Yes, at some point it was pretty standard to host your own email services within your premises. Having worked as a young boy to maintain such a system, I can confirm it’s not worth it. Most IT departments tend to be understaffed as they are not a core business. This means that you have to stop helping people plugin back their mouses ( or is it mice?) and keyboards and run to the server room to fix email issues.

SMEs simply signed up for services like ZOL mail instead. ZOL would handle that headache for them and it seems even ZOL has had enough headaches and want Microsoft to handle the issue. This means that you will be paying ZOL to pay Microsoft to provide you with email. Users can choose between the following plans:

  • Exchange Online Kiosk doesn’t come with Outlook integration and is limited to 2GB mailbox size
  • Exchange Online Plan 1 integrates with Outlook and comes with 50GB mailboxes per user
  • Exchange Online Plan 2 comes with a 100GB mailbox per user

It also doesn’t seem like this will be an automated process or maybe it is, there are questions there. While ZOL seems to imply the migrations will be done by 02 July the FAQ section says those who want to migrate have to get in touch with support. If you are affected I think it’s best you get in touch with ZOL as soon as possible to get clarification.

One question you may have is why Microsoft and not Google Workspace? Personally, I have always preferred Google’s cloud offerings compared to Microsoft but the thing is a lot of businesses already rely heavily on Microsoft products and Liquid Intelligent Technologies being partners with Microsoft may have influenced the decision.

It’s not clear whether you have to option to choose your own email provider or not. It should be easy to do that though as all you will need to do is sign up with your preferred provider and ask ZOL to updated your MX records on their end. Another thing that’s not clear is how much the service will cost you per month or if you can pay using ZWL which the government says is being accepted internationally.

You should also check out:

Quick NetOne, Econet, And Telecel Airtime Recharge

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