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.


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.

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