Blog fight: on dumping email servers

Our old friend David Berlind is proposing that traditional Exchange/Notes email servers be banished in favor of Gmail, arguing that it is not a case of 'if' but 'when' enterprise starts shifting email (and calendaring) to the Internet cloud:It's only a matter of time before the remaining rub on Gmail is history and your CFO starts asking questions about that long-running cost center associated with your e-mail and calendaring systems.

Our old friend David Berlind is proposing that traditional Exchange/Notes email servers be banished in favor of Gmail, arguing that it is not a case of 'if' but 'when' enterprise starts shifting email (and calendaring) to the Internet cloud:

It's only a matter of time before the remaining rub on Gmail is history and your CFO starts asking questions about that long-running cost center associated with your e-mail and calendaring systems. In the bigger picture, you shouldn't be asking if you should be moving from insourced servers to Gmail (or an equivalent for e-mail). Within the next five years, that will no longer be an "if." The bigger question you should be asking is what application comes after e-mail and calendaring and, as time goes by, how will you manage your company's undeniable attraction to the cloud?

Ed Brill (of IBM) leaps to the defence of the status quo arguing that:

Whether it is Google's offer or Microsoft's new push, hosted e-mail is one of those things that sounds at first like a great idea.  Then you have to start asking the practicality questions.  For Notes customers, the question is much more complicated, because it's not the e-mail that is driving value in the use of Notes today -- it's the applications integrated with that e-mail.

Ed goes on to note (sic) that he's never lost a deal when up against Google. That's hardly surprising. Many businesses have massive investments in Notes that are difficult to write off in one go. The cost/benefit argument falls on deaf ears in those circumstances though I have yet to see a thoroughly evaluated comparison exercise which talks to the long term benefits of substituting cloud based alternatives.

IBM is also muddying the waters. It is hoping that its inclusion of more socially oriented applications coming out any time soon will breathe fresh life into Notes/Domino server deployments. IBM might succeed, provided its consulting led sales people don't mess up by trying to dream up cross and through selling consulting services. In my mind, that would be an opportunity for business to re-evaluate the whole email debate.

Email has become a scourge for many people. While in Berlin, one senior SAPper who seemed to have his head permanently stuck in his Blackberry said to me: "It's not the email I need that worries me, it's all the cc and Bcc stuff I don't need that I still have to wade through in the off chance there might be something of importance." How many will empathize with that problem?

I am fortunate that I receive little of that kind of waste, yet I understand why people distribute to all and sundry. It reflects the age old problem of ensuring you cover your backside in a corporate world where the ever present specter of litigation matters. Or where missing out your control freak boss could cost you a bonus or worse.

But even IBM's people find email a royal pain. Luis Suarez, an IBM knowledge worker expert and social media maven has been fighting to get rid of email by using social media tools. After 13 weeks, Suarez seems to have hit a plateau of around 35 emails a week. I'm betting that most readers would love it if they got that number in a day. More to the point, he is actively fostering the notion of Thinking out of the inbox - Collaboration through less email. (Slideshare presentation here)

I don't doubt that email has utility and that David's argument will resonate among the SMB audience he identifies as an obvious target. However, I have some sympathy for Ed's argument, not on the main grounds he suggests but on the detailed (if somewhat overplayed) argument that Google provides:

A service that its own vendor won't take the beta label off of, that has bugs or issues, that isn't best-in-class functionally, that has no offline provision of its own, and where more questions than answers exist.  In fact, I pushed on this precise point -- and learned that Google simply can't seem to answer the basic questions about support, compliance, security, service level, or integration (both internal and third-party)

Ed won't find much disagreement here today but I wonder how he'd argue if Google put its development muscle and legal eagles to work in solving the problems?

I'm much more interested in reading reasoned arguments as to when, where and how email should and should not be used. Ed talks about vague use cases and David has identified a sliver (albeit a large volume universe) where moving to the cloud makes sense. Once we reach the point of identifying clearly defined business scenarios, then we can properly address the cost/benefit issue of in-house/insourced and outsourced/cloud alternatives - or somewhere in between.