by Matt Schoenherr
You’ve just been told by your IT guy that the email server is down for the next hour, at least; maybe longer. While minds more technology-savvy than your own are working on the latest outage, you take a moment to consider your email lifeline as it flashes before your eyes once again.
Your company just moved to hosting their email internally because all those Gmail and Yahoo! accounts were deemed “unprofessional” and spam was getting out of control.
“But is this progress?” you wonder.
Your company then tried to move to using self-branded email accounts with two other services, but one was too hard to use and the other didn’t support email distribution lists. Finally, your company made (what you thought was) an informed decision to bring Microsoft Exchange into the kingdom. “This is the panacea to all your email woes,” said the salesperson. You were excited. You would finally have the collaborative calendaring your office had so desperately wanted for so long. Even better, everyone would move to the powerful, popular Microsoft Outlook email client. The canopy parted, the angels’ choir sang and the land would soon be flowing with calendar appointments and email.
Then, one dark and stormy night, the server was attacked by a malicious hacker. Your company’s firewall software was outdated, so your nubile server crumbled under the weight. When it was resuscitated, it quickly became apparent something was horribly wrong. Things weren’t working properly, if at all. It was soon determined the server would need to be “re-imaged”; “A fresh start,” your IT guy explained. Fortunately, your company had backups available (great), but they were a day old, so everyone in the company lost an entire day’s worth of email and appointments (not so great.)
Exit Month One.
A week later, the telephone company (a.k.a. “telco”) was “working on a switch in your area.” Translation: You can’t surf the ‘Net or send and receive emails for a couple hours. Good thing your looming deadline wasn’t until the next day.
Then things ran smoothly for a while until last week, when a backhoe down the street took out the telco line and with it, your Internet connection (and email) again. The telephone company had things up and running within four hours, so this time you were only on the dark side of the moon for half the day. Sure, you had to explain to a handful of your customers why their emails were bouncing back as undeliverable, but they were understanding. A few even commiserated with you about their own email battles.
“At least I’m not alone,” you thought.
Now, things are down again.
Isn’t there an easier way?
Your earlier, “unprofessional” Gmail and Yahoo! email solutions were (almost) always available and certainly much more reliable than what you have been seeing lately. One of the reasons for this is larger companies who specialize in managing large amounts of servers often have more than one telephone service carrier. For instance, if a single carrier is the target of a large Denial of Service (DoS) attack, your website and email could come to a grinding halt. Large datacenters may have as many as five or more telco carriers, so if one goes down, the remaining carriers absorb the lost bandwidth and information continues to flow. Additionally, larger companies tend to be more security-minded, so security policies that mandate regular, incremental backups and strong firewall protection are more often in place and followed.
So what does this mean to the SMB that simply wants a reliable, professional-grade email service? We are pleased to say, there is a stepping stone between the giant leap of moving from the free ymail / gmail world and hosting your own Microsoft Exchange server. Microsoft now offers a “hosted” Exchange solution, allowing technology companies to host Exchange as a service and provide the Outlook email software to their customers. This means small- to medium-sized businesses can now take advantage of Microsoft’s robust email and calendaring tools without taking on the considerable cost of raising and maintaining their own Exchange boxes. Now, for about 40 cents per day, per mailbox, your company can secure these enterprise tools previously reserved for those companies with deeper pockets and greater human resources.
The moral of our story: Think long and hard about the decision to bring this critical business tool in-house. Is your IT department (person?) up to the challenge? Are you ready for the expense of purchasing and managing another server, complete with all the necessary software and licenses? Are you backing up your data regularly and are any of those backups stored off-site? Are your security policies up-to-date? (Do you even HAVE security policies?) How current is your firewall? Catching malicious viruses and malware like it should?
If you’re not sure about the answers to these questions, ask your company’s technology guru(s) in charge of such magic. A little strategic thinking up front can save you hours of “unprofessional” downtime and lost data later.
Matt Schoenherr is president of the web design and SEO company, Dreamscape Multimedia, located in Lansing, Michigan. As a Michigan SEO company, Dreamscape Multimedia offers web design, search engine optimization and marketing. For more information about Dreamscape Multimedia, please visit http://www.dreamscapemultimedia.com.