The future is hosted, online e-mail

The future is hosted, online e-mail

Summary: I believe the ongoing discussion here on ZDNet on the topic of in-house e-mail vs. outsourcing is missing some important points so I thought I'd chime in. David Berlind originally started the discussion with some speculation about Google's e-mail hosting service with Gmail. Phil Wainwright then jumped in with some useful information about the oft-misperceived TCO of e-mail as well as some decision points to use when deciding which approach to take.

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TOPICS: Browser
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I think the ongoing discussion here on ZDNet on the subject of in-house e-mail vs. outsourcing is missing some important points so I thought I'd chime in.  David Berlind originally started the discussion with some speculation about Google's e-mail hosting service with Gmail.  Phil Wainwright then jumped in with some useful information about the oft-misperceived TCO of e-mail as well as identifying useful decision points to use when deciding which approach to take.

It makes about as much sense as maintaining your own power generation facilities; you can do it, but why would you?

While this was all good discussion, inline with my Enterprise Web 2.0 bent, I come in as a particulary strong advocate of online, hosted software.  I'll assert that well beyond the traditional concerns of cost and reliablility, the whole rules of the game of e-mail are changing.  And determining the right path to take will be a challenge as these rules evolve in the Web 2.0 era.

First: E-mail as a data sink. Let's be clear that we need all of our e-mail, available anytime, anywhere. I am a voracious consumer of e-mail for my work and personal life, and most of the people I know are too.  What this means is that I absolutely count on 24/7 access to my e-mail folders from wherever I happen to be.  My e-mail folders, like most of us now, have become a central archive of all the conversations I've ever had, a database of all people I've had those conversations with, and a repository of every document they've ever sent me.

This is a trend that the online, hosted e-mail providers already recognize: that e-mail is becoming a sink for all the information relevant to us including e-mails, appointments, to dos, and even documents and media storage.  Hosted e-mail like Gmail and Yahoo are already offering gigabytes of storage to handle this and Google even provides easy search and automatic organization of conversations while advertising that you'll never have to "throw anything away."

Second: E-mail continuing as the center of communication as new mediums sprout.  The nature of e-mail itself is changing and evolving.  And IT shops will have a hard time keeping up.  It's not just that we want flexible, rich, roaming clients or we that store more and more things in our inbox, but that e-mail is also being used differently.  Folks want to add voice, video, chat, RSS feed subscriptions and more to their e-mail systems. 

Things like podcasting and the rise of video services like YouTube are just two things that are changing the perception of what's possible and expected.  And the e-mail client is actually a good place to handle production and consumption of these new communication formats. But our traditional clients are increasingly falling behind in support for them.  As a minor example, take the Web 2.0 vocal e-mail service, Springdoo, that allows you to send an e-mail from anywhere.  Convenient and a great alternative, but not something you'll find the staid Outlook client encouraging. 

If you still think your organization's e-mail staff can keep up with the pace of change and match the possibilities available in the hosted service world, just look at Justin Blanton's Gmail extensions pageUpshot: The online, hosted world is improving and evolving quickly, almost always outpacing the microcosm behind the firewall.

Third: Shortcomings of provincial e-mail systems.  Then there's the constant pains of in-house e-mail that stops us from focusing on what we're actually supposed to be doing: When was the last time you had to spend an hour archiving e-mail at the request of your IT department to free up space?  When was the last time your enterprise e-mail was down, or just not accessible where you were, and you had to use a Web mail service anyway?  How about the last time your inbox was full because someone sent you large (but needed) files and you lost e-mails?  What about the last time you had to use an application other than your corporate e-mail cient to participate in a newer communication method?  Too many times I'm guessing.

 Prefer outsourcing your e-mail...

Frankly, as software services on the Web become a perpetual dial-tone that we can absolutely count on from anywhere we happen to be standing, we'll find that hosted services will provide the richest, most flexible, and useful versions of our software applications.  This includes e-mail in particular.  I predict that the economies of scale that mega-hosters like Yahoo! and Google can apply to the problems of reliability, scalability (both in terms of bandwidth and storage), never minding ready access to innovation, will far outweigh almost any in-house proposition. 

Some of you will think this position is naive in the large enterprise, but I would suggest that e-mail will continue to evolve, fragment, and be pushed online anyway for the reasons I give above.  And the larger the enterprise, the harder it will be to compete with the pace of change and the demands for the same.  That's not to say that a few very large organizations won't continue to achieve high levels of efficiency and cost-effectivness with their e-mail systems but it's the classic distraction problem.  Organizations spend untold millions managing non-strategic IT assets and it causes them to lose crucial focus from their core missions.  It the end, it makes about as much sense as maintaining your own electrical power generation facilities; you can do it, but why would you?

Yes, I know, corporate e-mail systems aren't going away any time soon.  But are they become more and more irrelevant?

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  • Comments working yet? <nt>

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    Justin James
  • Complete accurate, and not pertinent

    Mr. Hinchcliffe's article is, for the most part, correct. Unfortunately, none of what he states has any bearing whatsoever on the idea of oustsourcing vs. insourcing.

    "I'll assert that well beyond the traditional concerns of cost and reliablility, the whole rules of the game of e-mail are changing."

    Yes, the rules of the game are changing. But how does that affect the decision where to have the email be delivered to and picked up from?

    "E-mail as a data sink. Let's be clear that we need all of our e-mail, available anytime, anywhere."

    All the more reason to keep it in-house, because 95% of the time, it will be accessed from inside the LAN. Better to have it running at 10/100/1000 Ethernet speeds than WAN speeds, unless no one in your company actually works at the office.

    "Hosted e-mail like Gmail and Yahoo are already offering gigabytes of storage to handle this and Google even provides easy search and automatic organization of conversations while advertising that you'll never have to "throw anything away.""

    I love this argument. Gmail/Yahoo/et al offer multiple gigabytes of email storage and my internal IT department can't. Hogwash. I give my users UNLIMITED storage space. I can add additonal email storage space in under 20 minutes, at a total cost of about $300 for 150 GB (adding two 150 GB disks to my mirrored RAID). How much will an outsourced provider charge for this much extra storage?

    What you're REALLY complaining about is a typical IT department's policies, no insourced IT as a principle. You might as well complain that enterprise anti-virus stinks, because it kicks off a full system scan in the middle of the work day.

    "Second: E-mail continuing as the center of communication as new mediums sprout. The nature of e-mail itself is changing and evolving. And IT shops will have a hard time keeping up. It's not just that we want flexible, rich, roaming clients or we that store more and more things in our inbox, but that e-mail is also being used differently. Folks want to add voice, video, chat, RSS feed subscriptions and more to their e-mail systems."

    And it's ALL running on SMTP/POP3/IMAP/MAPI. What bearing does this have on where the email gets sent to? Completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    "But our traditional clients are increasingly falling behind in support for them. As a minor example, take the Web 2.0 vocal e-mail service, Springdoo, that allows you to send an e-mail from anywhere. Convenient and a great alternative, but not something you'll find the staid Outlook client encouraging."

    So having someone else collect the SMTP input and deliver it to your copy of Outlook via POP3/IMAP/MAPI is suddenly going to trnasform your copy of Outlook into a better email client? Or would you prefer some lame AJAX web client? Read a recent post of mine about why I despise web applications (http://techrepublic.com.com/5254-6257-0.html?forumID=99&threadID=184332&messageID=1959455&id=2926438).

    "If you still think your organization's e-mail staff can keep up with the pace of change and match the possibilities available in the hosted service world, just look at Justin Blanton's Gmail extensions page. Upshot: The online, hosted world is improving and evolving quickly, almost always outpacing the microcosm behind the firewall."

    So some people are mangling their inboxes to imitate what a VPN does easily and more securely, and you call this "innovation"? I call this stupidity. GMail hacks are just people trying to do with SMTP/POP3 what FTP, WWW, VPN, SSH, telnet, etc. already do, but do better.

    "Third: Shortcomings of provincial e-mail systems. Then there's the constant pains of in-house e-mail that stops us from focusing on what we're actually supposed to be doing: When was the last time you had to spend an hour archiving e-mail at the request of your IT department to free up space? When was the last time your enterprise e-mail was down, or just not accessible where you were, and you had to use a Web mail service anyway? How about the last time your inbox was full because someone sent you large (but needed) files and you lost e-mails? What about the last time you had to use an application other than your corporate e-mail cient to participate in a newer communication method? Too many times I'm guessing."

    Once again, these are either incompetant internal IT guys (in the case of down systems) or bad IT policies. I guarantee you, if you gave an internal IT budget the same budget for storage and servers that you paid a third party vendor, you'f get more space. What, you think that Google or Yahoo, or whoever gets harddrives and SAN equipment for free?

    J.Ja
    Justin James
  • job security, not efficiency

    i can't respond to the technical advantages/disadvantages of hosted vs. on-line, but from a business owner standpoint i am a big fan of hosted solutions. i am also very interested in applications that help my teams work smarter, not just provide the same old functionality. i need to use IT systems as a competitive advantage, so i need them to assist my employees in working better.
    stevecubberly9
  • AMEN!

    A well written article making a great point! In house email is so outdated. Its time to make the switch.
    rm6565