In response to yesterday's post about how Google may soon let you host your email systems (under your domain names) on its servers (powered by GMail), ZDNet reader JM James thinks I was off my rocker when I wrote:
In fact, I'm willing to bet that better than 90 percent of the businesses currently in-sourcing their email can't legitimately justify the practice.
Responded James via ZDNet's TalkBack:
This is a joke, right?...Do I really need to rehash for Mr. Berlind and the rest of the ZDNet community all of the reasons why mission critical applications and systems should not be outsourced? Does "Salesforce.com" ring a bell? What is wrong with you? Are you a shill for some [Software as a Service] SaaS vendor?..Mr. Berlind, you have gone way too far this time...I suggest you get your nose back to the grindstone for a bit of time and learn how IT really works, recharge yourself or something. Posts like this turn your credibility to zero.
The key phrase here is "mission critical." So, one question I have for Mr. James is, of all the stuff being outsourced today, what of it isn't mission critical? Who on earth would outsource something that isn't critical to the mission of the business? Competitive advantage? Now that's a different story. If your insourced IT delivers a unique competitive advantage that can't be had through commodity software, then I absolutely agree that it should probably be insourced. It's one of your trade secrets. But email? There's no doubt in my mind that when used effectively, email can be a great competitive weapon. But aside from the handful of hand-built customized competitive advantage-driving systems that integrate messaging and email into their functionality, are any of us really that deluded to believe that insourcing something as basic as email can make us more competitive than the next company (setting aside those companies with real security concerns that can prove their insourced system is more secure than the outsourced one).
James invokes the recent Salesforce outages as proof that I've lost my marbles. How could I possibly recommend outsourcing to a SaaSer like Salesforce or Google when the SaaSers can't seem to keep their systems running? First, I didn't recommend outsourcing to a SaaSer. Not that I wouldn't. But let's not put words in my mouth. There are other ways to outsource e-mail. Centerbeam for example would be happy to take over the management of your Exchange Servers (if that's what you have). According Centerbeam spokesperson Brian Johnson:
What we offer to do is the hard work for people that they can't afford to do themselves. We manage their Exchange Servers, their desktops, every point on the network, the temperature inside every server. When you have the infrastructure for thousands of customers, we can offer them a high level of service for very little money. We charge $45 per user per month. That covers desktop management (anti virus, backup and restore everyday, 24/7 800# dial up helpdesk, server management, email management, VPN services, etc.). The last thing a banker wants to do is have anybody on staff running an Exchange server. All a banker wants is more bankers and salespeople on staff. They don't want a Microsoft Certified Exchange Engineer on staff who is only available for one shift a day. Even if you do run an Exchange Server with three shifts of engineers 7 days a week, they'll be advising you on best practices such as backup and restore. They'll say you need a Storage Area Network (SAN) and need to send tapes to Iron Mountain everyday. The economic model for a banker to do that is very intimidating. But when you spread a best practice across thousands of customers, it allows a company like ours to offer the service the banker needs at a reasonable cost. We built a SAN. One storage area network that we build supports thousands of users. But none of those customers on their own could afford a SAN.
Setting aside any decisions regarding the type of company you might outsource your systems to (a hoster versus a SaaSer), the point is that a leveraged model (where an outsourcing outfit spreads the infrastucture costs across more users than you can) is not only going to save you a lot of money, but headaces too. Salesforce.com's outtages were undoubtedly painful for many of Salesforce.com's customers. Like the outages of the insourced saleforce automation systems out there weren't? I'll bet that Salesforce.com's outtages (on a percentage downtime basis) pale in comparison to the downtime record of in-sourced systems. In the context of email, how about we look at this way? Raise your hand if you've used GMail, Yahoo Mail, AOL's mail or HotMail because you needed to send mail but couldn't get access to your corporate email system (for whatever reasons). I don't know anyone who hasn't done this multiple times. Email systems, as it turns out, aren't that easy to run 24/7.
Lastly, for a commodity system like email, what leverage do you have over your certified email engineer to keep the email systems up and running 24/7? His or her job? Oh, that's what you want. You'd rather spend time hiring and firing email engineers than making money for your company? Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are a lot easier to negotiate and enforce with service providers than they are during an employee's annual review.
Maybe I am off my rocker.