Software

Why email is a good place to start when moving to the cloud

Ian Hardenburgh points to email as one of the more likely places to start when deciding what systems can be moved to the cloud.

In my recent posts, "Like it or not, it's time to get a cloud strategy" and "Making a Business Case for the Cloud." I talked about how organizations need to start formulating a cloud strategy in order to remain competitive in the face of their competition, as well as raise financial and operational value, all at the same time. But where does one start in regards to the type of data or applications that are to be adopted or migrated? Certainly one cannot just flip a switch. And even though cloud providers and ISVs might claim to have the one-size-fits-all training program or appliance to do this type of work, there are a multitude of considerations to be evaluated. For instance, decision makers might question if they have a knowledgeable enough staff to administer the new infrastructure or what the cultural impact might be on users who are unfamiliar with the new software.

One could assume that any new cloud endeavor can echo similar concerns to on-premise IT initiatives tackled in the past. Therefore, previous to any cloud-based project, priorities need to be weighed, and a thorough cost analysis needs to be performed. Otherwise, what was set out to be a cost saving or value adding effort, could easily turn into quite the opposite.

When it comes to weighing what piece of your on-premise hardware/software should be migrated to the cloud, a sensible first choice might be your organization's e-mail system, or at least, some portion of it. This is due to the idea that for most enterprises, a large percentage of their IT budget is spent on maintaining and administering e-mail systems. For large enterprises with thousands of users, this is especially the case. Furthermore, considering the complexity of running multiple e-mail servers or add-on software for more ancillary jobs like spam and virus filtering, realizing the fully loaded costs of provisioning e-mail can only be intuited at best. This inability to forecast, or accurately project cash flow, places an unnecessary burden on the financial heads in an organization, and can often become a point of contention for IT departments when it comes to widening a budget for new initiatives.

The topology of e-mail has looked relatively the same for years now; principally in terms of networking protocol, but to a certain point, with client software as well. In fact, the e-mail functionality we use today is not all too much different than that which we used a decade ago. Furthermore, e-mail is continually being replaced with new communication mechanisms, like social networking and video conferencing software. Thus, e-mail could be denoted as something that is a more a matter of support, instead of something that is constantly evolving. And consequently, e-mail has become a game of consolidation, where tasks like upgrading/patching, installation of add-on products (like archiving ones), and basic networking and identity management have become the central focus for administrators. These days, e-mail management is merely a numbers game and an effort to cut down on maintenance required to support e-mail.

The cost associated with e-mail doesn't just boil down to hardware and software. There are other laden costs to be concerned with, such as employing a staff to maintain it, amongst other concerns, such as storage and mobile delivery. The per month cost for a given user can be in the upwards of $20 a month. Spread that out across an enterprise of thousands of employees and you have an alarmingly high figure. But at the same, through consolidation, something as seemingly insignificant as a 5% reduction in costs can add up to a sizable savings. Moreover, by going all-in with the cloud, understanding the true cost of e-mail becomes irrevocably transparent, as most cloud providers offer subscription or pay-as-you-go pricing models.

Aside from the ability to realize and reduce costs, cloud-based e-mail has a number of benefits for both on-demand and hybrid deployments. I'll talk about all this in my next post and perhaps even discuss some providers that you can source with in order to get your adoption/migration strategy going.

About

Ian is a manager of business intelligence/analytics for a small cap NYSE traded energy company. He also freelance writes about business and technology, as well as consults SMBs upon Internet marketing strategy.

11 comments
Gisabun
Gisabun

Excluding administration, what's the difference between Gmail for an individual and a company? Both are in the cloud. Wonder if some know the definition of the "cloud".

Slayer_
Slayer_

Its cloud, and its free, how about about gmail. What is the point of a corporate email then if you are not hosting it in house?

MobileAdmin
MobileAdmin

Every year we look at the main email hosting services and we're still cheaper fully loaded compared to any of the cloud solutions as well we'd have to forgo much of the customization we have done to our email environment. It makes sense if all you do is email and basic email usage. Beyond that most providers have hard settings that apply to everyone. They actually told us we should do a hybrid model (cloud and on site -- umm that's going to cost us MORE money!?!) We did a lengthy discovery with Microsoft and I've sure other enterprises have done the same exercise and they basically told us they can't beat our in house cost or provide half the ways we use email. And forget it if you use public folders, Microsoft acts like no one uses them. Cloud is getting there but until you have full control of the email servers it's all setup for scale and lowest cost model (that favours the cloud not you).

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

1. Unless you work in organisations very different to what I've worked in in the past the great bulk of emails are internal. At present all that traffic stays in house, to use a cloud service means sending that out over the Internet only to have it come back in, that's a hell of an increase in costs as down here we pay for ALL uploads and downloads. Lets take a standards issue case, I have a 1 MB file that I need to send to six team members. I upload 1 MB and they download 6 MB. Multiply that by a few thousand incidents each year and that's a hell of a lot of extra traffic going through the gateway. 2. Compliance with privacy laws means we have to have a damn good reason to have any personal data collected by us leave the organisation. Thus any discussion between personnel and other areas about staff would have to go by written document instead of email as a cloud email service puts that data with an outside organisation and in violation of the laws in some states. 3. Security of classified matter is reasonably safe when it's all in-house, but not so when the emails go out over the Internet for storage elsewhere then sucked back in. There's three important areas to think about off the top of my head.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

Thanks for commenting Fishypop. You should read my follow-up to this post which concerns the various types of deployments and some adoption/migration strategy. SOX is always hard to get into, especially when you aren't a lawyer. However, from my experience (I have over 10 years experience in risk management at publicly traded company) SOX predominately concerns archiving, and says nothing to the effect that your e-mail needs to be hosted on-premise. To put it simply, SOX's main concern, when it comes to IT, is that a company has an audit trail. In fact, and again—in my experience, SOX is more "okay" with another outsourced company doing something that isn't in compliance rather than the company in question knowingly doing it themselves. Therefore, SOX is IT concern, not a specifically cloud-centric one. I don't think e-mail is obsolete, I just think other forms of communication will eventually make it less relevant. For instance, take all the create task management software that is out there (e.g., read my article on Do.com). There are always ramifications. Sometimes not doing anything holds the biggest ones!

Fishypops
Fishypops

There are many factors which Ian has over looked in this consideration. Whilst, moving your email to the cloud, may be a good move, it also may not. For instance, there are other considerations in terms of archiving. Hello Sarbanes-Oxley? There is also the question as to "where" the email is located; does it cross an international border ? Ian talks about email as if it is about to become obsolete, Sadly not. In fact, quite the opposite. Again, Ian's premise that it may be a good time for you to move your email to the cloud, but he has certainly oversimplified the considerations, ramifications and also the total costs.

CG2245
CG2245

At what cost, and what benefit, does your org derive from having such "customized" E-mail package? E-mail now is a commodity utility like electricity - outsource it to massive scale production service providers. Also, look at Office 365 Shared Mailbox - it is the same as Public Folders.

tbmay
tbmay

Which is most important depends on your individual organization. Cloud mail like Google apps is very tempting, but it's not for everyone. Organizations need to assess whether they have very private data to keep out of the hands of any third party, and whether the hit on their bandwidth for the issue you talked about in number 1, is going to have too much of a negative impact.

Fishypops
Fishypops

I may have been a little harsh in my wording. I am glad you overlooked this. However, I think that there are such wide ranging issue relating to moving email to the cloud, that you must at least make reference to those considerations when raising the more global question as to whether it is the right time to do this. The fact that there is a part two to this, was not immediately obvious. SOX as you say concerns email archiving. However, if you move your email to the cloud, then your archiving follows.

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