Making the move to a cloud-based mail solution might seem like a daunting task to take on, especially having to get the approval from management before implementation can start. If you're a consultant or small business owner you may also be leery of jumping on the cloud mail train. These are some positives to help solidify your proposal as well as some obstacles you're bound to get questioned over that you need to consider before you jump into the cloud mix.
- There is no need to have dedicated staff to manage internal email servers. This is a significant savings and can be substantial depending on current server requirements.
- Paying for only what you need. The cloud mail models are typically built around a cost per user — per month or per year. These can range from just a few dollars per user to over $20 per user. The price generally increases as services and extended support requirements are added.
- Flexibility that is cost effective and simple is built in to most cloud mail options and allows for the uncomplicated addition and deletion of users. The majority of plans charge only for what you use per month. In other words, no paying for licenses you're not using. This option may also be easier to manage compared to other volume or per-use licensing schemes.
- There is no need to worry about security updates on mail servers because it is all managed by the cloud mail service provider. This actually increases protection because security experts are at work around the clock monitoring for potential problems and taking corrective actions. If you don't have dedicated staff that monitors and updates email servers on a constant basis, you may already be vulnerable to exploits. Cloud providers know this is a big sticking point for businesses. Google Apps for Business touts that they "undergo regular security reviews by third parties and SAS 70 audits by an independent third party." No security solution is perfect, but having experts on your side at a reasonable cost makes good business and security sense.
- There is no physical server equipment to worry about. This reduces the total cost of ownership and is reduced further if you have multiple servers. Additionally, costs are reduced if a disaster recovery site has additional mail servers to maintain. Also gone are the costs for upgrading hardware or for the manpower to fix and maintain these servers.
- There is no need to purchase software unless there is a need to have a frontend mail suite on clients such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail. No new server operating systems or migration plans to contend with.
- Cloud mail inherently provides a great back-up feature. If a system crashes, is stolen, or damaged, emails are easily recovered with virtually no costs besides replacing the hardware or the client. With the seemingly endless string of natural disasters we face you can never be overly prepared, especially when the cost is actually less than what you're currently paying.
- Cloud mail allows for easy integration of tablets and mobile devices to the business scene. In fact, cloud mail thrives on these platforms and makes them viable enterprise devices. Launching cloud mail services can go hand in hand with the deployment of these devices throughout your company. Even if only limited at its inception, these devices will continue to gain enterprise acceptance, and transitioning to cloud mail only eases the inevitable.
- Most cloud providers have 24/7/365 technical support and a wealth of supporting documentation online. This is a service-oriented model and gets away from the older and less profitable sell-and-forget model of software only. This means that continual customer satisfaction is in their best interest which ultimately provides a better working relationship between you and the service provider.
- Moving to cloud mail reduces energy consumption. Running dedicated mail servers continuously can add up over time. Then include all of the environmental controls required to keep them working correctly and the dollar amount keeps climbing. So going green can be an added benefit to migrating mail services to the cloud.
There are some negatives that need to be addressed before making the case to move mail services to the cloud. The better you understand these constraints and have answers prepared, the better off your presentation will be received.
- The need for adequate bandwidth to support users (including uploading/downloading attachments) has to be addressed before thinking of making the move. This can strain bandwidth from your ISP that is already being consumed by other high demand applications such as videos and teleconferencing. Additionally you need to ensure firewalls are prepared to handle the onslaught of web traffic.
- Even though staff may be reduced in the server room, there is still a valid requirement for expertise on managing cloud mail. Managing accounts, groups, aliases and the like requires personnel who understand the needs of the business and have the necessary technical skills. For smaller businesses that don't have dedicated technical staff, consultants or outsourcing are viable options to keep you running. For larger businesses this might require retraining existing personnel. However you may find that utilizing consultants or outsourcing is more cost effective given the reduced workload.
- There are ongoing costs per user. Although it may not seem like a lot at first, make sure you run the numbers for longer periods. You don't want to get caught off guard when someone drops a large figure for per user/per year and you didn't already know that cost.
- There is a loss of security at the local level and you don't have physical control over the company's email. To answer this fact you need to delve in to the cloud service provider's security strategies that you are considering. (I'll address some of these details in a future post.)
- It's harder to enforce company email standards. Before presenting the cloud mail migration plan, make sure you consult you Information Security Officer to discuss available options. Also understand what your cloud mail service provider offers to assist you in managing standards. For example, Rackspace offers cloud Exchange services which are fully functioning servers in the cloud with the ability to enforce standards as well as many other Exchange features.
- Policies, in most cases, are going to have to be modified to allow for mail services from the cloud.
- The ability to check email afterhours or at inappropriate places will exist. Work with the cloud service provider and your Information Security Officer to address this early in the process to avoid sensitive information leakage. Updated user agreements are a must.
- Composing emails offline can be difficult if not using email client software.
- There may be limitations you need to be aware of. One such example is that each Google email account is currently limited to 2,000 emails a day.
- Finally but, perhaps, most importantly is the user experience. Speed of service and functionality may be vastly different than what they are currently used to. Understanding this upfront, providing user training, and focusing on the upside of cloud mail will help prevent user anarchy.
Steven has 20 years experience in information and network security, network engineering, operating systems, technical writing, facilitating, and project management. He holds Cisco, CompTIA and other industry certifications and studied Information System Security at American Military University. He now works as a tech consultant for SMBs implementing security, industry compliance, networking and Cloud solutions.