Level 7 Technology Group

order from chaos

Projects - SpamLion

In April, 2002 I became involved with a project to produce a server-based Anti-Spam product aimed at the corporate community. Conceptually, the product uses a "White List" and a new, patented, validation technology to prevent the delivery of spam. 

In a nutshell, the SpamLion™ Anti Spam Gateway is a system for validating senders and/or recipients of email messages. The validation process uses the SMTP mail transport and web services. The gateways is placed before the mail server so it affords protection to all mail systems. And, since it's server-based, there is no client that has to be installed and managed by the IT support staff.

My role in the project included the following.


In this phase, the SpamLion gateway was in development by Web Habitat. I was working with the inventor and the development group on the technology begind the validation process. I wrote a White Paper describing the product functionality and had it published. Web Habitat filed a patent protecting the Sender Validation intellectual property. It wasn't the concept of the white list - it was the way our process worked in capturing the email and quarantining it until a person replied to the validation request. The concept is similar to the Captcha technology used by sites like Craig's List.

While at Web Habitat, I created the QA test environment and ran the deployment and testing scenarios. This was my entry into desk top virtualization using Connectix, later acquired by Microsoft and transformed into "Virtual PC" and vMware Workstation. This virtualization allowed us to set up a mail server, the SpamLion Gateway and a Windows XP clienton a single physical computer. Add another computer or one with more RAM to host a second mail server and you complete the testing and validation loop. This setup will come in handy later when selling the product.

I produced the product documentation package consisting of the User Manual, On-Line Help, Installation Guide and Administrator's Manual and kept the package updated during development. Check out the documentation set and the Product Review.

Since SpamLion is software and not intended for personal use, we found no need to produced a boxed package for retail distribution. meanwhile, the dev group created the SpamLion commerce site for product purchase and distribution. I switched hats and went about producing the downloadable software installation packages for the different versions using Aladin Software's Stuffit Deluxe and the venerable WinZip. Both products allow you to launch the setup.exe program after expanding the download package. The installation package also included the Visual Basic setup program I created to automatically configure the IIS server's Web and SMTP components.

The Installation procedure is pretty straight-forward. You fill out a template of a typical email deployment thatincludes IP addresses of your SpamLion Gateway server and the protected mail server. Take this iinformation and fill in the blanks during setup. The template serves as documentation that helps the IT staff trace email flow withing the organization. After I left, this entire process was re-engineered and video tutorials were produced. Got to start somewhere. 

SpamLion Channel

Having experience working for Microsoft Solution Partners in the past, I set about creating a marketing, sales and support distribution channel. At this time the decision was made by the Web Habit owners to create SpamLion Inc as a separate entity. The Web Habitat development group came on board and I began the process of recruiting Microsoft Solution Partners to build a distribution channel to market, sell and provide product support.

Building a distribution channel is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) exercise. Download a list of Solution Partners in different cities from the Microsoft Pinpoint web site (Search for a Solution Partner). Create all marketing, sales collateral and business agreement to establish the relationship. Then work the list. I used ACT as my CRM system sending out email, phone follow-ups and product demonstrations. I was even training the partner's staff in the SpamLion product installation and testing until they became proficient. During this time I was making contributions to the SpamLion web site. The sales and technical specifications are available on the SpamLion web site. Contact sales and ask for a demo.

SpamLion is located in Northern California. In trying to break into the local market, I would take a laptop to a presentation to show off the product. I used a Dell Latitude D600 maxed out to 1GB of RAM and the typical, slow, 5400RPM disk drive. The laptop had enough computing power to support a virtualized Exchange server, a Mail Enable mail server and the SpamLion Gateway Server thereby replicating the QA model presented earlier.

In addition to marketing and sales, I was the support engineer on-call 24x7. At the time, our primary remote control tools consisted of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), PC Anywhere, and GoToMyPC that would allow a console session on the SpamLion Gateway server. If that wasn't available, then it was a long phone conversation relying on the technician describing what they are doing. On more occassions that I care to admit, I had to escalate incidents to the dev team for resolutions. Some solutions were procedural and others resulted in "code fix" that had to be regression tested, incorporated in an installation script and distributed to the customer base. Since we ran a model based on the roll up feature used by Microsoft in their Service Packs, all fixes were incorporated inot a single, current  deployment package that was available for download by partners and customers. 

Not all problems resulted in bug fixes, we got a lot of good ideas to increase the functionality of the product through customer and user interaction.