These days, it seems everybody is talking about “cloud computing,” even if they don’t completely understand what it is. If you’re among those who are wondering what the “cloud” is all about and what it can do for you, maybe you should investigate moving your email to the cloud. You’ll find that there are several hosted Exchange providers (including ourselves) who would be very happy to help you do it.
Why switch to hosted Exchange? Well, it is fair to say that for most SMBs, email has become a predominant tool in our arsenal of communications. The need for fast, efficient, and cost effective collaboration, as well as integration with our corporate environment and mobile devices, has become the baseline of operations – an absolute requirement for our workplace today.
So why not just get an Exchange Server or Small Business Server? You can, but managing that environment may not be the best use of your resources. Here are a few things to consider:
Low and Predictable Costs:
Hosted Exchange has become a low cost enterprise service without the enterprise price tag. If you own the server and have it deployed on your own premise, it now becomes your responsibility to prepare for a disruptive business event: fire, earthquake, flood, and in the Puget Sound Area, a dusting of snow. And it isn’t just an event in your own office space that you have to worry about:
- A few years ago, there was a fire in a cable vault in downtown Seattle that caused some nearby businesses to lose connectivity for as long as four days.
- Last year, wildfires in Eastern Washington interrupted power to the facility of one of our customers, and the recovery from the event was delayed because their employees were not allowed to cross the fire line to get to the facility.
- If you are in a building that’s shared with other tenants, a fire or police action in a part of the building that’s unrelated to your own office space could still block access to the building and prevent your employees from getting to work.
- Finally, even though it may be a cliche, you’re still at the mercy of a backhoe-in-the-parking-lot event
The sheer cost of trying to protect yourself against all of these possibilities can be daunting, and many business would rather spend their cash on things that generate revenue instead.
Depending on features and needs, hosted Exchange plans can be as low as $5 per month per user – although to get the features most users want, you’re probably looking at $10 or so – and if you choose your hosting provider carefully, you’ll find that they have already made the required investments for high availability. Plus you’ll always have the latest version available to you without having to pay for hardware or software upgrades.
For many small businesses, part of the turn-off of going to SBS or a full blown Exchange server is the technical competency and cost associated with managing and maintaining the environment. While there are some advantages to having your own deployed environment, most customers I talk to today would rather not have to deal with the extra costs of administering backups and managing server licensing (and periodic upgrade costs), hardware refresh, security, etc. With a good hosted exchange provider, you will enjoy all the benefits of an enterprise environment, with a simple management console.
Quality hosted Exchange providers will provide an SLA (“Service Level Agreement”) and up time guarantees – and they have the manpower and infrastructure in place to assure up time for their hundreds and thousands of users.
For deployed Exchange, you’ll need to invest in a robust server environment, power protection (e.g., an Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS, that can keep your server running long enough for a graceful shutdown – and maybe even a generator if you can’t afford to wait until your local utility restores power), data backup and recovery hardware and software, and the time required to test your backups. (Important side note here: If you never do a test restore, you only think you have your data backed up. Far too often, the first time users find out that they have a problem is when they have a data loss and find that they are unable to successfully restore from their backup.) The cost/benefit ratio for a small business is simply not in favor of deployed.
Properly setting up and configuring an Exchange environment and not leaving any security holes can be a daunting task for the non-IT Professional. Most SMBs will need to hire someone like us to set up and manage the environment, and, although we love it when you hire us, and although the total cost of hiring us may be less than it would cost you to try to do it yourself (especially if something goes wrong), it is still a cost.
With a hosted environment, there is no complicated hardware and software setup. In some cases, hosting providers have created a tool that you execute locally on your PC that will even configure the Outlook client for you.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- Do we have the staff and technical competency to deploy and maintain our own Exchange environment?
- What is the opportunity cost/gain by deploying our own?
- What are the costs of upgrades/migration in a normal life-cycle refresh?
- Is there a specific business driver that requires us to deploy?
- What are the additional costs we will incur? (Security, archiving, competency, patch management, encryption, licensing, etc.)
This is not to say that some businesses won’t benefit from a deployed environment, but for many – and perhaps most – businesses, hosted Exchange will provide a strong reliable service that will enable you to effectively communicate while having the peace of mind that your stuff is secure and available from any location where you have Internet access. Even if the ultimate bad thing happens and your office is reduced to a smoking crater, your people can still get to their email if they have Internet access at home or at the coffee shop down the street. If you’re as dependent on email as most of us are, there’s a definite value in that.