Email In The Cloud

12/13/2012 3:10:18 PM

Investigating the pros & cons

While cloud email can free up re­sources by moving email off-site and simultaneously accommodate the growing need for anywhere, anytime email access, it is often ill-adapted to en­terprises' compliance, security, and spe­cific email management requirements.

According to research company IDC (www.idc.com), Web email repre­sented just 10% of email revenue last year, but IDC expects that number to almost double by 2015 to represent 19% of total email revenue worldwide. And according to Gartner (www.gartner.com), 50% of email applications will be on the cloud by the end of this decade. These predictions, however, are contingent on providers' ability to widen the scope of their offerings to meet the specific needs of more enterprises, regardless of their size or application needs. According to Tim Hickernell, a director of research with Info-Tech Research (www.infotech.com), cloud email providers "are not there yet for everybody, but they are getting there."

Having your email in the cloud means in its simplest form that your mail server is reachable from an Internet connection anywhere you are.

Having your email in the cloud means in its simplest form that your mail server is reachable from an Internet connection anywhere you are.

However, today many organiza­tions can find use for current cloud email options despite their limita­tions. Here are some things to keep in mind when pondering whether Web email makes sense for your enterprise at this time.

Not a commodity

Because email has existed as an ap­plication for decades, and because the fundamental way email works has changed little over the years, one might deduce that email applications are very mature and don't differ much. It is easy, then, to think that email applica­tions can simply be replicated on the cloud with the same enterprise-class features that on-premise options offer. However, email is hardly a commodity product, says Matthew Cain, research vice president with Gartner. While it may be right for one enterprise, it can represent more problems and costs than it is worth.

"Email is far from being the perfect cloud application," Cain says. "It has an ill-deserved reputation as a com­modity, and that is just not so."

Enterprises often require custom­ized email configurations that cloud providers struggle to offer with more generic and one-size-fits-all products, Cain says. For example, organizations might not find a provider that can integrate cloud email services with critical business applications such as CRM, CMS (content management system), or ERP (enterprise resource planning). IT departments are often able to maintain uptime, security, and content control more effectively than cloud providers can, Cain says.

Control & security issues

IT administrators often need very direct control of email content and its management. Even if email ac­counts are stored in the cloud, ad­ministrators often need to monitor accounts, establish privileges for users, and integrate email with other applications. Larger organizations may have offices in different coun­tries with storage and content com­pliance regulations that are radically different from one another. "Many corporate email implementations are extremely complex and don't lend themselves well to the rigid world of cloud email," Cain says.

In terms of security, cloud email may not be as private as many en­terprises would like. Some orga­nizations will not appreciate, for example, how court orders can prompt providers to turn over their customers' data to third parties. Even encrypted data can potentially be accessed by the cloud provider, which possesses the keys to access it, especially if the cloud service combines email with other applica­tions for a customer. "Anytime you want to do anything useful with the information [on email servers], you must decrypt it, and if want to take advantage of cloud computation ca­pabilities, you need to give your keys to the cloud," says Ramon Krikken, a research vice president with Gartner. "Then there are two parties with access to the keys: you and the cloud provider."

In terms of security, cloud email may not be as private as many en¬terprises would like

In terms of security, cloud email may not be as private as many en­terprises would like

But despite the drawbacks, there are potential benefits, especially for those with no need for high-pow­ered features or without complex compliance concerns. "Cloud email is a three-legged stool: You need an­tivirus [and other security features], archiving, or-at the very least-jour­naling as some sort of compliance driver that does more than just serial backups," Hickernell says. "Making the shift is complicated since you need to make sure that you have these features."

Cloud Email Adoption

The drivers

One driver in cloud email adop­tion has been the perceived cost advantages. "Organizations notice how many people they have running email servers and they shake their heads and turn to the cloud because the can save costs and don't require the same level of expertise [in-house] to manage it," Hickernell says.

However, the primary impetus for cloud email adoption is the need for workers to access their email ac­counts with different mobile devices wherever they are, Hickernell says. "Previously, the value proposition was about IT lowering its operational costs by shifting operations to some­body else. But what we are seeing today is the impact of consumerization of IT," Hickernell says. "Users want their email anywhere, anytime, and on any device."

Short-listing options

Despite the risks and potential drawbacks, there are cloud email of­ferings that can meet the needs of many enterprises. But determining what service options might or might not be right for an organization in­volves making very accurate total cost of ownership calculations be­forehand. Determining whether a potential vendor's services offer an adequate fit for an enterprise's needs, regardless of its size or industry, is obviously critical, as well.

Factors to consider include the price of extra storage and whether or not the provider can offer the backup, account management privileges, application integration, and other features that an enterprise might re­quire, Hickernell says. Any potential vendor under consideration should also have SAS 70 Type II certification, which indicates that the provider is meeting compliance regulations.

Pricing can vary tremendously, re­flecting the varying degrees of com­plexity of the wide range of options in the market. Consumer-grade prod­ucts are free but lack management and enterprise security features. On the other end of the spectrum, high­end cloud alternatives can cost $50 per seat per month, according to IDC. However, most enterprise-class ac­counts cost in the $7 to $10 range, IDC says. "With hundreds of cloud providers available, you have many choices," says Robert Mahowald, an analyst for IDC.

Despite the risks and potential drawbacks, there are cloud email of¬ferings that can meet the needs of many enterprises

Despite the risks and potential drawbacks, there are cloud email of­ferings that can meet the needs of many enterprises

Larger companies' email architec­tures often must exist under complex circumstances, such as when a com­pany has offices in multiple coun­tries with varying regulations. These and other requirements that large organizations often have can make Web email more expensive than on-­premise offerings when all costs are considered, Hickernell says.

For medium-sized businesses, the cloud can serve as an attractive email hosting environment for many but not all organizations. Enterprises with 500 to 2,000 email inboxes are in what Hickernell calls a "gray zone." In the case of medium-sized enter­prises with a large number of users that require advanced features vs. only a small group of workers that only have very basic needs, keeping email in-house can make more sense, Hickernell says.

Small businesses can almost al­ways benefit from cloud email, es­pecially those that are cash-strapped and do not require advanced email features, Hickernell says. Cloud email lends itself well to the needs of smaller organizations that require more basic yet reliable manage­ment, hosting, and backup services at a much cheaper cost than what is required to buy servers and run them on-site. "Small businesses are the real sweet spot for cloud email," Hickernell says.

Small enterprises facing expen­sive email server costs associated with in-house email represent good candidates for off-loading much of their email management needs onto a cloud provider. Many small enter­prises, for example, continue to use Microsoft Exchange 2003 and are in­terested in alternatives to investing in the newer Microsoft Exchange 2007 servers and architectures, Hickernell says. "So we are seeing many Microsoft Exchange 2003 folks at small enterprises, gravitating to­wards [cloud options]. In this case, it is cheaper for them instead of going through the complexity of imple­menting newer [servers]." Hickernell adds that small startup enterprises, or rapidly growing ones, are also par­ticularly good candidates for Web email adoption.

The hybrid way

Many organizations can benefit from a hybrid email architecture that combines on-site servers and cloud services. In some cases, for example, it may be cheaper for an enterprise to keep email servers on-site for the email needs of some (but not all) of its users who have complex applica­tion requirements or special security needs. That same enterprise might outsource its email management to a cloud provider for users that only require a basic (and lest costly) email package.

Public universities with tens of thousands of students often opt for a hybrid alterative, Hickernell says. They often keep the email servers for the faculty and administration staff in the universities data center but will offer students cheaper cloud alternatives. In addition to univer­sities, large organizations and even some medium-sized enterprises are increasingly opting for a hybrid im­plementation, Hickernell says. It's an alternative, he adds, to just saying, "Let's switch completely from on­-premise to cloud."

Key points

Enterprise Web email usage should increase significant­ly in the future, but today's cloud offerings can lack advanced features many organizations require.

Email is by no means a one-size-fits-all commod­ity product; cloud provid­ers struggle to tailor their offerings to the specific needs of enterprises.

Web email usually of­fers a better fit for me­dium-sized enterprises and smaller companies than it does for large organizations.

Hybrid email configurations can allow organizations to out­source their more basic email needs while keeping email accounts with more complex requirements on-premise.

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