The Cloud: A Great Place for Enterprise E-mail
Cloud-based e-mail architecture might well be better, faster, and cheaper than any of the alternatives
By: Tal Golan
Aug. 3, 2009 12:45 PM
Recognizing e-mail as the central tool in today's contemporary business model is effortless - any breakdown in this mission-critical instrument and companies come to a virtual halt. Staff collaboration is limited, customer and vendor relationships are potentially compromised, and IT resources must be re-allocated to administer first aid, leaving other work sidetracked. The necessity of restoring the system becomes paramount, the monetary toll is secondary, and the debt to be paid is always exacted.
In addition, e-mail is one of the first entry points into an organization and perhaps the single most targeted vector for enterprise security attacks. A recent Google-led study estimates that 94 percent of all e-mail is now spam, with threats that go far beyond the annoyance of unwanted e-mail to include malicious components such as phishing attacks, worms, Trojans, bots, and other Internet crimeware. Ever more sophisticated attacks, such as location-based spam, ensure the continued expansion of the volume and depth of spam that will assault the enterprise environment.
Considering the multitude of threats enterprise e-mail faces in conjunction with the vital role e-mail plays, deciding on an e-mail infrastructure becomes a decision that will impact not only a company's bottom-line, but also its corporate mission. While several years ago IT managers may have been choosing simply between an in-house or hosted solution, today's enterprise IT leader can examine many service architectures, several of which include cloud-based components. These models include hosted e-mail with a cloud-based e-mail service provider, hosted support services whereby some e-mail services run in the cloud (such as keeping mailboxes on-site with e-threat protection being cloud-based), or splitting it completely, with some users on-site, some users cloud-based. Service models that leverage the cloud are able to offer a number of advantages in-house and hosted solutions may not necessarily be able to, and should be given strong consideration when deciding on best e-mail practices for an organization.
For enterprise organizations that require "five 9s" reliability, cloud-based e-mail services are a good fit because of their dependability, which surpasses that of most in-house counterparts. Also, cloud-based services bundle in important security advantages, not the least of which is that e-threats can be addressed and mitigated well before they enter the enterprise network. What makes both of these advantages possible is the ease of scalability provided by cloud-based services. Small-to-medium sized organizations operating in the enterprise are able to take advantage of an economy of scale once only available to the largest of organizations.
With the considerable rewards of cloud-based e-mail - increased reliability, heightened security, and the ease of scalability - cloud-based e-mail architecture might well be better, faster, and cheaper than any of the alternatives.
"Five 9s" Reliability from the Cloud
While the cost of maintaining reliable e-mail is high, the expenses associated with a lack of reliability are even higher: e-mail malfunctions, hardware failures, denial of service attacks, or unplanned downtime come at a steep cost that affects all departments. There are the obvious direct IT costs associated with fixing reliability issues in-house, but also indirect ones, including cost to re-direct resources, corporate functions that wait, diminishing client confidence, and finally time-sensitive information delayed or lost.
According to a 2009 Forrester Research study on e-mail in the cloud, Should Your E-mail Live in the Cloud? A Comparative Cost Analysis, most executives haven't put forth the effort or resources to understand the real cost of hosting and operating enterprise e-mail with reliability. The study revealed that most firms grossly underestimated the fully loaded costs of their enterprise e-mail - an expenditure that includes staffing costs, maintenance, storage, archiving, mobile e-mail, and financing.
Taking these direct and implied costs into consideration, cloud-based e-mail services may be a good choice in terms of both reliability and cost savings. Cloud-based e-mail services tend to have a higher level of reliability than what the majority of firms can deliver individually - and at an economy of scale that lowers individual cost dramatically.
Much like the egalitarian model of a utility, a cloud solution delivers identical reliability and consistency to every participant, from the largest multi-national organization to the smallest three-person startup. Every user is assured the same advantage as the other participant. Smaller and mid-sized firms are not able to allocate sufficiently to even partially approximate a similar level of e-mail reliability, service offering, breadth of technologies, and consistent application of the cloud-based offering.
Any business-centric tool that must be fully operational at a near-flawless level is going to extract a more than equitable quota of mind-share, money, and manpower. Shrinking the gluttonous resource drainer that e-mail reliability can be to a more manageable and fixed cost is compelling enough to give serious consideration to using cloud-based architecture.
The Cloud Heightens Security
Of equal consideration is the benefit of reducing the strain on bandwidth and the conservation of resources that comes from off-loading the intensive, tedious work that e-mail processing can be to the system. Off-loading e-mail from the network server can reduce the heavy e-mail lifting for the server and reduce bandwidth requirements. Using cloud-based services keeps the enterprise network focused on more dominant and core assignments.
Those who voice concerns about cloud-based security traditionally cite discomfort with control and data storage, lack of clarity about security mechanisms, and the travel of data between the LAN and the cloud destination (encrypted or not, encryption key management concerns, and the like) and finally who has access to the data. Questions are raised about how the provider would respond to a security breach and recover losses.
Such concerns disregard the inherent weaknesses that exist, but are more easily overlooked, with in-house e-mail solutions. There is a one-eye-shut mentality toward the real dangers of security breaches at the local level and the greater likelihood that such infractions would occur at this closer level. The challenge, cost, and difficulty of securing the on-site enterprise infrastructure are as underestimated as the level of investment cloud providers are focusing on their security.
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