|The success of any business is directly affected by how productive and efficient its staff members are, in essence “the better your staff, the better your business!” and to achieve productive and efficient staff they require the tools to do so. In our current financially strained markets businesses tend to focus on cutting operating costs, in most cases their IT department suffer the consequences. Even though your computers are the core of your business and provide you with the essential tools to attend to your daily tasks upgrading and maintaining your IT Infrastructure is neglected.
The main reason for this being the major capital outlay needed to upgrade your IT infrastructure in a business, for example; to upgrade a Server to the latest hardware and software needed to run a small operation with five to 15 staff you would have to spend between 70 and 150 K and this is just to upgrade the hardware and software, not to mention all the labour costs required.
The beauty of Hosted Exchange is that you can budget on spending approximately R 70 to R80 per user per month with no exorbitant capital outlay.
I am sure that we have all heard of hype around cloud computing? No, it’s not some spaced out IT concept that only large corporates can make use of, it’s actually revolutionizing computing in the 21st century. And the beauty of it all is that it’s affordable for small to medium sized business.
A growing number of small to medium sized businesses are choosing hosted applications (that’s in the cloud) over in-house deployments (Expensive servers at the office). The hosted paradigm allows you to shed the capital expenditures associated with traditional hardware and licensing. A remote service provider licenses and installs the application instead. You would pay a recurring subscription fee to the provider who transfers the application via the Internet.
The biggest and most impressive hosted application available at the moment is hosted Exchange. Exchange has been around for years but now with it having the capabilities of being hosted it is quickly becoming a common demoninator in every business IT arsenal.
Exchange Server can be a difficult application for small or lightly staffed organizations to adequately support in-house, so hosted Exchange has become extremely attractive and cost-effective option.
Let me focus on the Pro’s and Con’s of implementing a hosted exchange environment in your business:
The main benefit of hosted Exchange is that all associated overheads - servers, software, configuration, monitoring, maintenance, upgrades, backups and disaster planning - shift to your third party outsourced service provider. "Typically, all that is left for your IT service provider to do is to provision users and create distribution lists, address lists and maintenance.
The tangible business benefit specifically for the Financial manager’s delight is the capital expenditures and periodic technology refresh cycles associated with a major application deployment can be eliminated and replaced with a recurring subscription fee. This is an immediate cost benefit that shifts Exchange over to an operating expense, which is easier to budget. The subscription varies with the number of mailbox users, so it's also easier to track the real operating cost of your email.
There is also added flexibility because you are not committed to the capital investment of hardware and software. Instead of buying something and investing in it, if something comes along that's better suited for your business; you have a lot more flexibility to change because you didn't spend all that money upfront.
The other advantages of hosted exchange are associated with using Microsoft Exchange namely:
Users can access their mailboxes from anywhere wherever they go at any time, with full support for Outlook, a premium web browser experience, and access from a wide range of mobile devices as well. All your devices are integrated so no more duplication of mails!
More storage options make it possible to offer users low cost large mailboxes so they can access all their essential information in one place.
Calendar sharing allows users to share free/busy information with colleagues, even if they work at another company or on the road.
Email archiving gives you the ability to archive you mail as well as the ability to search for mails which have been archived from previous periods.
There are, however, some potential disadvantages to hosted Exchange, the biggest of which revolves around trust; this can easily be overcome by entering into an SLA will an accredited Microsoft IT service provider.
For example, you must trust the third party IT provider to maintain an acceptable amount of uptime and availability, while keeping mail and user data secure (especially on shared platforms). The provider is also responsible for maintaining adequate levels of performance. As stated “Your Best option is to enter into a Service Level Agreement which would provide you with set out limitations as well as response categories which would effectively lay down a trust factor between you and your IT service provider, a legal agreement would be entered into protecting the client and contracting the IT provider to provide a pre-determined level of service” Garry Cahay, CIO Ello Technology, IT service providers.
Email performance is an important consideration in a hosted environment. Considering the availability of powerful modern servers and high-bandwidth WAN connectivity, In South Africa this is most definitively a challenge but has been addressed and is on the upturn, Many ISP providers have spent millions improving connectivity. Most businesses should expect no significant difference in email performance between in-house and cloud deployments.
WAN connectivity and uptime are also critical. Any disruptions to the WAN can impair the availability of applications like hosted Exchange - even if the actual provider is online and available.
"If you don’t have a good, redundant network, you're going to have problems "Many organizations don’t think about the need for a secondary connection to the Internet from their primary location." Garry Cahay – CIO Ello Technology, IT service providers.
So the major question that you should have on lips is, how do we implement this hosted Exchange in my business environment?
The actual process of migrating from your current in-house application to a hosted Exchange environment varies according to the size of your business (number of users), as well as the IT service provider and its recommendations. As stated; “In most cases, the transition to a hosted provider doesn’t happen overnight but if planned and managed properly it can be seamless will very limited downtime. We coordinate these transitions on a daily basis and our clients are usually over the moon by the time we are done, as they don’t realize the real benefit of Hosted exchange until they have used it” Garry Cahay – CIO Ello Technology, IT service providers.
As initially mentioned our market today is extremely competitive especially in the wine Industry and by making changes to how your business and staff can increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace, implementing tools like Exchange, it can only have a positive influence on the marketability of your business.