Within this article I am not trying to make recommendations either way, but rather, help you make an informed decision. People often under estimate how important the email system is to the business – right up until the point when it is not available!
Exchange Cloud Compliance:
Find out what your company’s email data compliance requirements are, with a focus on any geographic constraints on where the email data can physically reside. Does your data need to be kept within your company premises, or does it need to remain within your country? If your email data must remain within your company premises (often for legal reasons) then this will rule out any Exchange Cloud solution straight away.
If your email data must remain within your country, then you will most likely be able to find Exchange Cloud providers who can guarantee that the email data will remain within the country, and not be stored in some random overseas location. It is worth checking if any such provider might replicate email data to another country, for disaster recovery purposes – as this may not meet your company’s email data compliance policy.
I have worked on one project after the Exchange Cloud solution had been sold to a customer, only to find out all their email data had to remain within their company premises. This wasted everyone’s time, as this should have been one of the first things to establish.
Exchange Cloud Uptime, Internet Connection and Proxy Servers:
Running email from local email servers does not place a heavy reliance on your internet connection, except for internet email. If the internet connection fails, then your email system will still function normally, and you can send out a communication informing user’s that internet email is not working due to a fault.
However, if you move to a Hosted Exchange Cloud solution, all your email clients (eg: Outlook 2010) will connect to the email service over your internet connection via your proxy servers. Any loss of service in either area will result in complete loss of your email service, with no ability to send out an email update informing users of what the problem is.
Hosted Exchange Cloud solution providers will boldly state fantastic service reliability uptime statistics such as 99.999% in their advertising. This is all very well, but you must understand that this refers to their internal Hosted Exchange Cloud infrastructure, and not the end to end service between your Outlook 2010 clients and their Exchange 2010 Mail Databases. Have a look at the small print on what is included, and excluded, in their reliability uptime statistics. This is all very reasonable, as they cannot be expected to manage your internet connection and proxy servers. But you need to consider what steps you can do to improve the resilience and reliability of your internet connection and proxy servers. You should at least review this area to see if any improvements can be made, such as upgrading your proxy servers, or adding a secondary internet link through a different provider.
Exchange Cloud Performance:
Hosted Exchange cloud providers will expect you to be using Outlook 2010 with cached mode enabled, or be using the Outlook Web Access (OWA) client. This is quite reasonable as if these access methods are not used, the performance experienced by the end user will not be very good.
If you use Outlook 2010 and need to use cached mode for all instances, does this fit in with your wider infrastructure? One example is if you use Citrix to present Outlook 2010 to your users, as this will typically not be using Outlook cached mode. But if you move to a Hosted Exchange cloud provider, how are you going to configure your Citrix Outlook 2010 clients? Do you somehow add disk space to the Citrix Servers, and enable cached mode, or do you remove the Outlook 2010 client from the Citrix Servers, and then present an Outlook Web Access icon for Citrix users?
Check your internet pipe size and utilization, and estimate what the impact will be on traffic on your internet connection. Even if you use Outlook 2010 cached mode, there are Outlook 2010 functions that will result in peaks of internet traffic, such as downloading the Outlook Address Book (OAB), and sending (and receiving) large emails. Steps can be done to mitigate these areas such as adopting a different schedule for the OAB, and reducing the maximum message sizes allowed within the email environment.
Exchange Cloud Exchange 2010 Patching Frequency:
Find out what the patching policy is for the Hosted Exchange cloud solution, as you need to know how often patches and Service Packs will be applied. The frequency of these updates may not align to the frequency by which these are applied within your current email environment. For example, you may encounter an issue that affects all users, and is addressed by the latest Exchange 2010 Service Pack. How soon will it be before the Hosted Exchange 2010 provider applies this update, even if you request it?
Exchange Cloud Archiving:
Do you use email archiving now, or will you use it in the future? Will your Hosted Exchange Cloud provider offer an email archiving feature, and if so, how will it work, and how much will it cost ? You might want to consider if you can use a split model, whereby you run a local email archiving solution that uses an Outlook 2010 add-on, but your Exchange 2010 mailboxes are hosted in the cloud. There are too many different scenarios and products to describe here, but the topic merits careful consideration.
Exchange Cloud Cost:
Often this is the single biggest driver in considering a move to a Hosted Exchange Cloud solution. The financial people in a company like to be able to forecast costs, and being able to fix a cost per mailbox per day is very attractive to them. Are you able to provide an equivalent, comparative costing for running the mailboxes on the internal email system? I would suggest that it would be difficult to do so, because of all the factors that make up the answer – such as: resource costs, hardware costs, depreciation, backups etc… Even if you are able to reach a final costing figure for your internal email system, there is still significant risk that this figure may increase due to unforeseen circumstances. This makes the financial argument to move to a Hosted Exchange solution very strong. There may well be some technical features that will no longer be available to your business following a move, but can you put a financial costing against not having these – probably not, in my opinion.
Another item to consider is that financial people might base the on-going costs of a Hosted Exchange 2010 Cloud solution as the user count multiplied by a dollar cost. For example: 10,000 users and $10 per month, which equals $100,000 per month. However, typically, they will not have included the additional (non-user) mailboxes used for Shared Mailboxes, Application Mailboxes, and Room & Resource Mailboxes. I have seen environments where these additional items add up to another 1,000 mailboxes. This would add 10% to the monthly costs of the Hosted Exchange Cloud solution.
Exchange Cloud Backup and Recovery:
Find out from the potential Hosted Exchange Cloud provider what the Service Level Agreement (SLA) is for recovery of email items (messages and mailboxes) is? Compare the service being offered to what is offered with your internal email system.
Exchange Cloud Administration:
It is common for Hosted Exchange Cloud solutions to provide an administration portal, through which you can perform basic mailbox management tasks. You should check what features are available through the portal, and if there are any constraints.
Exchange Cloud Anti-Virus:
Check what anti-virus protection is included in any potential Hosted Exchange Cloud solution. Does the anti-virus solution only offer protection for internet mail traffic, or does it also provide Exchange 2010 Hub Transport Layer protection? How often are the anti-virus pattern files updated? In addition, will you be contractually obliged to ensure that your Outlook 2010 email clients have local anti-virus protection?
This article aims to make you think deeper about any decision to migrate your company email to the cloud. I am aware of incidences where companies who have decided to migrate their email back to “on-premise”, after not having a good cloud experience. What were their reasons ? Contact me if you want some impartial advice.