Why are you hosting your email yourself?

In my travels around SMBs it comes as no suprise that I find it still common practice that they are hosting their email system themselves on their in-house server(s).

That comes as no suprise because the majority of those businesses have a server running the SBS 2011 operating system. One of the seductions of SBS 2011 was, and still is, that it comes bundled with Exchange Server 2010. This was, and once again, still is, seen as a huge inducement because you get your email provision effectively for free! Those businesses I visit that don’t have an SBS 2011 server, often run Server 2008 R2 or, more suprisingly to me, Server 2012 R2 also with Exchange 2010 installed.

When I pose the question “why do you host your email yourselves?”  the responses I get fall into the following categories:

  1. From the SBS 2011 users….. “because it’s free!”
  2. From the SBS 2008 users….. “because, at the time we installed our servers, there was no alternative to running Exchange ourselves”
  3. From all…… “because we can add as many mailboxes as we like at no extra cost!” and “we’re in control!”

On first hearing, these sound like convincing arguments, so why am I writing this article proposing that those businesses ditch hosting their email system?…….

Risk, Cost and The future!

Hosting you own email service is no longer a necessity, with the advent of Microsoft’s Exchange Online service. Let’s deal with the issues you face by hosting your email system in-house:

Risk:

  • Availabilty: Severs go down, when your mail server is down, for whatever reason, you email system stops for the duration. Routers go down, when that happens, your email system stops.
  • Performance: If your mail system is running on the same computer as everything else (as in the case of SBS 2011) performance for the other fuctions the server is running will, over time, degrade.. The more mailboxes you add, the worse it gets. Exchange requires and takes a lot of resource and even if you manually restrict that resource, the slower your mail system becomes.
  • Spam & Malware: Filtering out the risk posed by spam and malware in self hosted email systems is a complex and skilled job. In my experience, more often that not it’s not been configered properly, if at all, or the installation of a spam server has been required.
  • Data Loss: If you suffer hardware failure and you haven’t got disaster recover covered off, you’ve lost all your email history and, even worse, the entire mail system configuration.

Cost:

  • Hardware: Your initial investment in hardware to run your mail system isn’t where it ends. Unless you vastly over configured the specification of your hardware platform when you bought and installed it, you will need to keep adding to it as the mail system grows in terms of mailboxes and useage. Your hardware will need to be replenished and replaced over time.
  • Licensing: For those that are not running SBS 2011, the cost of licensing, including User client access licenses, is not cheap. As new versions of Exchange are released (Exchange 2013 & Exchange 2016) you are into more cost by having to re-licence in order to upgrade to get access to the extra functionality offered by those products.
  • People: Exchange servers don’t manage themselves. They need constant monitoring and when they go down, they need manual intervention to fix. These people costs, whether they be internal staff or third party I.T. support personel, have to be paid for.

The Future:

  • End-of-life: SBS 2011 reaches end-of-life in 2020. As an SBS 2011 user business, you will have to start thinking about replacing it in the next couple of years. Remember, Exchange does not come bundled with the Server 2012 or Server 2016 family of operating systems.
  • Taking Exchange with you: When you are faced with either having to move to a next generation version of the Windows Server operating system and you want to carry on hosting email yourselves, you are into taking the hit of a significant associated cost. Transferring your in-house hosted Exchange mail system from not only one operating system to another, but also from the old hardware to the new hardware will be a complex, time consumming and expensive project.

So, what’s the alternative?

Simple! Give serious consideration to moving over to Exchange Online in Office 365.

Using Exchange Online, whether it be via one of the Office 365 Business Plans, Enterprise Plans or the Exchange Online Plans, takes away the the risks and costs outlined above associated with running an Exchange server in-house. By decoupling your email system from your in-house server(s) by moving in to Exchange Online, you will also gain the benefit of making moving to a new server environment and architecture in the future to run your other business applications much easier and far less expensive!

Through Exchange Onle Plan 1, the cost per mailbox is £2.50 per user mailbox per month and will provide every thing most business require of ther mail system. Advanced functionality, such as in-place hold and data loss prevention can be achieved by subscribing to the Office 365 Business Essentials plan instead at £3.10 per month per User.

Those costs, at first sight may seem a blocker. Don’t be put off straight away, do your maths. Work out the current cost of ownership of running your In-house Exchange server, weigh up the risks outlined in ths document and take into account the future! All of a sudden, the Exchange Online cost will seem excellent value for money.

Yes, there is a cost involed in migrating your email history to Exchange Online and setting up the environment, but it’s not as expensive as you may think. Microsoft Cloud Partners like myself can undertake the move for you and, because we have great third party toolsets at our disposal, the cost becomes very affordable.

So, make the move and ditch that Exchange Server!