In the early days of the internet, building a server dedicated to providing email for your company was a sign that you understood the significant role it played (or would play) in your company’s success. Even small companies spent countless thousands of dollars investing in these complex technology beasts, primarily because it was either that, or use consumer services like CompuServe, HotMail or AOL which just couldn’t meet the growing security and legal needs of most companies. Fast forward to today and I’m still seeing SMB companies insisting on running their own servers for reasons that have since become a liability to their own business.
Things you should consider if you are still running your own email server:
- Do you think your email server is more secure than the ones run by Google, Microsoft or any technology company who’s entire business model is built around providing that service? Unless you are in the business of providing email services, you should focus your efforts and money on your core business.
- How reliable is your technology infrastructure? What happens when your internet goes down? What about the power in your building? Most clients I know have at least one planned power outage a year and probably several unplanned ones, on top of the occassional internet circuit failure. One client was recently down for over a week during the Verizon-Frontier fiasco. Could you survive without email for that long? Could your company?
- How much money have you spent supporting an email server that provides service for a small staff? Have you calculated the cost per user per month? Is it less than $5? If not, you are not “beating the market”. And even if you are, how long do you think that will last? Did you factor in spam and malware filtering licensing costs?
- After having the same mailbox and server for years, has your mailbox grown to an enormous size and now you are running out of space and have no real means to do anything about it? Is your mail backed up? Can you even reasonably search through that much email and not have constant problems?
- Have changes in your industry required you provide security like encryption or compliance filtering? Suddenly you are faced with the prospect of needing to not only purchase new software, but also having to update your technology infrastructure just to be compatible with the new software.
If any of these five points hit close to home, you should definitely be considering the move to a hosted email provider. The market has stabilized to the point of being able to provide enterprise-grade email services on an SMB-sized budget, leveling a playfield that used to favor deep pockets and dedicated IT staff. It’s time to retire the in-house email server and invest in the future of your business instead of a dead-end technology strategy.
The cloud icon has been used to symbolize a larger, connected network in technology diagrams for at least 30 years, so it’s not hard to imagine how the concept has migrated to its modern context: a collection of inter-connected computing and storage resources that can be shared amongst multiple services that can scale up and down as needed. If you are of a generation that recalls mainframes, mini-computers and batch runs (today’s PC is actually a “micro-computer” in the vernacular of the mainframe age), it’s a similar concept, except that instead of a single, gigantic device, the mainframe is now an array of CPU’s, storage devices and network interfaces spread across multiple locations and interconnected by the internet. If your understanding is still amorphous, you have creeping semantics to blame for that as well – the term “cloud” has become synonymous for internet-based resources, which can lead to plenty of confusion and debate about privacy, resilience and security.
Clear skies or storm warning ahead?
Just as being able to tell the difference between thunderheads and fluffy cumulonimbus can help us make decisions about grabbing the umbrella or sunglasses, understanding what is “cloud-based” or “hosted” or “virtualized” (or all three) can help you make informed decisions about what services and resources you utilize for your organization’s technology needs. As “cloud-based” has become something of a marketing hobby-horse that is frequently used out of context, it may be very hard to understand how the “cloud” comes into play in any given offering, if at all. If the “cloud” is mentioned to denote omnipresent resources or availability, it may be worth investigating whether this claim has any substance. Is the company or service in question making use of Amazon’s Web Services or Microsoft’s Azure platform? Those are examples of true cloud-computing platforms – very large endeavors and companies use services like these to power their own services and apps. Is your website or email “in the cloud” or is it “hosted”? For casual conversation, it doesn’t really matter (what matters is you don’t have a server on premise to manage anymore!), but it may be important make that distinction when it comes to evaluating your own organization’s technology security and resilience, especially if you are required to maintain compliance with industry regulations or federal laws.
Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Many of you already know this because you, or your company has partially, or even fully embraced this concept: technology continues to expand the way businesses can take advantage of remote workforces and telecommuting. According to BusinessInsider.com, the number of people working remotely or telecommuting in the US has grown by nearly 80% from 2005 through 2012. However, the actual number of people working in this fashion (3.3m, not including the self-employed) still only comprises less than 3% of the total American workforce.
Despite the gains telecommuting has been making in the business world, many more companies still cling to the more traditional office-bound cultures, even such as Yahoo, where former Googler and now CEO Marrisa Meyer infamously rescinded Yahoo’s extensive telecommuting labor policy, citing the need for more teamwork and collaboration. This is perhaps the most popular justification for eschewing a dispersed workforce, but many successful small business, both startups as well as established business are taking advantage of the decreased overhead and a happier, more productive workforce, and the internet is making collaborating over distance easier every day.
What this means for you:
As a small business owner, or someone who is looking to shake up the culture of a more traditional work environment, the arguments for decreasing real estate expenses, infrastructure costs and administrative overhead will come fairly easily. However, be prepared to answer how you will maintain or even improve collaboration and teamwork, especially now if your staff can no longer pile (physically) into a single conference room with a few minutes notice. Security, standards compliance, quality control and performance management will also require new processes and new ways of thinking, and as we all know, change never comes easy, especially when someone’s paycheck or dividend is on the line.
All of the preceding challenges can be met with current technology that is affordable and often easy to use, but if you buy a bunch of laptops and webcams and ditch the cubicle farm without preparing both your people and your business, you may be in for a rude surprise. As is always the case, plan carefully how you implement technology: the easiest step is purchasing shiny new toys. The hard part is implementing them properly and securely, and making sure they are properly aligned with your business.
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