Let's face it, having a ginormous, space-age datacentre reminiscent of the bridge of some futuristic star ship sitting in the middle of the office sets my geek-senses tingling too. Realistically however, unless you're a tech giant, maintaining an in-house infrastructure is rapidly becoming too complex, too expensive and way too dangerous for most organisations, especially those just starting out.
And one of the first places where growing organisations need to start strengthening that infrastructure is in communications.
Most organisations recognise the value of Exchange servers in providing a broad mix of communication solutions in a secure and flexible package. The question which comes up most however is whether or not to keep that solution in-house or to use a hosted service.
TCO and TCA… did someone say TACOs?
All references to delicious Mexican food aside, one of the main things you need to consider when moving to an Exchange server is the Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO. You may also hear this referred to as Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA) in your research. For most, these two mean roughly the same thing: 'how much is this all gonna cost'.
This leads into the most immediate difference between an in-house implementation or a Cloud based hosted Exchange. In-house implementations carry a significant up-front capital investment in hardware and software, plus the added HR expenses in the technical staff needed to install, deploy and maintain that expensive hardware and software.
Conversely, a hosted environment gives you a fixed cost of entry, which again allows your organisation to stay more financially agile. Development and infrastructure costs are shared by everyone and passed on in the form of a monthly per-seat subscription. This opens many possibilities, allowing organisations to take advantage of enterprise-grade solutions at a fraction of the cost (TCO) while letting someone else shoulder the burden of all the technical stuff.
Which is a nice introduction for my next point.
Technical Support & Maintenance
From deployment to ensuring ongoing maintenance, running an Exchange server takes technical know-how and isn't for the uninitiated. In-house deployments will require at least one person on staff who will be able to ensure that things are set up correctly and continue to run smoothly.
And even if that person manages to get things set up right, what happens when something goes wrong? Not having the proper support in place can mean the difference between downtime and communication blackouts lasting from minutes to possibly hours or days.
Again, in a hosted environment, all that is taken care of for you. The Cloud based infrastructure is maintained by a worldwide network of world-class professionals who have achieved a 99.999% overall uptime and further back this up with a financial guarantee.
What's more, if you box a bit clever and choose a Cloud partner that offers a fully managed service, your Exchange may not only be deployed for you, but configured and integrated with your existing workstations and business machines as well. Each Cloud partner will have slightly different terms and services, so again, good research is the key to finding the best fit for your organization.
Data Control & Security
One of the big misconceptions and myths about the Cloud is that 'someone else will own my data', or somehow otherwise have access to it.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, most folks already have a lot of their data in the cloud, even if they don't realise it. Any photos on your phone are probably backed up, and those backups are already living happily in the cloud. Any file you upload to Dropbox technically lives in the Cloud. If you use Google Drive or OneDrive, your data lives in the cloud.
Hosted Exchange is no different. Your data stays yours and neither your Cloud partner nor their upstream CSP has access or rights of ownership.
But at the risk of sounding like a gameshow host, there is actually more. The hosted Exchange infrastructure is compliant by design, meaning that it meets industry standards like ISO/IEC 27001, HIPAA, FISMA, EU Model Clauses, GLBA… along with a bunch of others. I don't purport to know each of those personally, but I know enough about them to know I wouldn't want the responsibility of trying to stay compliant with them, certainly not on my own.
And as far as keeping your inbox safe and uncluttered, all emails sent and received through Exchange are subject to strict Advanced Threat Protection and the most obvious SPAM is filtered out at the server level before it even reaches your inbox.
Maintaining these features on an in-house deployment of course means constant upgrades and updates to stay ahead of the threat curve.
Hosted doesn't mean online-only
The final question we get a lot is; if I use a hosted exchange, won't I have to use webmail or Outlook Online?
Not at all.
There are a number of hosted Exchange packages and yes, some do have online-only access. Buying direct from Microsoft, you've got a couple of online choices, then you'd have to purchase a full Office 365 subscription to get Outlook 2016.
If you are looking for Exchange-only services, have a look around. There will be some Cloud partners who offer bundled exchange/Outlook packages. Excusing the shameless plug here, we actually have one ourselves.
For us, it's hands-down
Surprisingly, for me the question was only recently answered definitively. The companies I worked with having always run our own data centres and in-house email and list servers, I naturally resisted the idea of handing critical business data over to someone else.
I had always dabbled with distributed technologies though, and the advancement and promulgation of the Cloud and its associated technologies in the last few years drove the final nails in the coffin of my dream of having a data centre that looks like something off the set of a famous Sci Fi TV series.
With the exception of shattering my aforementioned geeky dreams, embracing Cloud technologies has so far had the highest ROI of any single logistics decision I've made in the past few years. Being freed from the daily headache of hardware and software maintenance has freed us up as a company to focus on the important things, like our customers.
All in all, that's a long-winded way of saying that yes, we would wholeheartedly recommend going with any hosted service over an in-house implementation unless there is a specific need which would be served by keeping things on premises.
That includes Exchange.