How-To Guide: Migrating Email To The Cloud

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For businesses that are thinking about moving their IT into the cloud, email is a good place to start

There are many reasons why now might be the right time to migrate your organisation’s email to the cloud.

While confusion may still surround a standard definition of cloud computing, the ubiquitous adoption of broadband and mobile Internet makes it far more likely that web-based email is now a familiar work tool.

When delivered on a subscription basis “as a service,” email software applications offer organisations the opportunity to rationalise the cost and management of an essential communications tool. Coupled with cost and efficiency savings, the migration of email to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model can also help harness productivity gains associated with mobile email access.

The growth figures speak for themselves. Four years ago, Gartner said the SaaS email market represented 1 percent of the commercial email market back in 2007. It predicted this would grow to 20 percent by 2012. But that was before smartphones and tablets started to permeate the average enterprise, where “checking emails on the move” became the norm. In fact, research, conducted as part of insurer swiftcover.com’s quarterly Life Index, estimates that five million UK employees on holiday will check their email every day.

Email is a good first step to the cloud

Love it or hate it, our familiarity with Internet-based access to email makes it an easy target for any organisation looking to make a business case for some kind of initial cloud adoption. Depending on the level of strategic and cultural change the organisation is willing to undergo, migrating client-side email applications to the cloud may be the least disruptive course of action when looking to streamline the IT estate.

Given the maturity of collaboration software packages like Lotus Notes and Outlook Express, there are a lot of options available for providing rich client access to SaaS email resources. Microsoft Office 365 for example, which includes Office Professional Plus, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online communications, has packages aimed at mid-sized enterprises with a monthly maximum charge of £17.75 per user.

Just as with Office 365, email is often now sold packaged with associated applications like calendaring, contact databases and instant messaging. All of these functions can be outsourced to a dedicated service provider. Systems integrators and IT services providers can manage packaged custom requirements using dedicated offsite hardware and software.

Migrating email services to a private, hosted cloud IT infrastructure often comes with the benefit of having management tools and support and transition services thrown in, so end-user disruption can be minimised and also bundled with additional mobile access. But this kind of migration often comes with a hefty per-user price tag that usually makes the return on investing in this option the preserve of large multinational enterprises.

Outsourcing: a good option for small businesses

Outsourcing to generic hosted or application service providers, who often aggregate email with other services, like broadband and telephony from Star at £45 per user per month, can provide another way for any size of organisation to harness the benefits of cloud computing for email. The attraction of using hosted SaaS email applications in this way relies on the advantage that the accompanying service can eliminate the need for client-server software installation or maintenance overheads from the end-using organisation, taking the headache of setup away from the responsibility of its IT team.

That’s not to say that the IT team will not need to be involved in the migration to such services. An average enterprise email implementation will need to:

  • Map, synchronise and migrate access control directories
  • Transfer on-premise mailboxes
  • Configure existing or new mobile device connectivity
  • Perform service validation testing
  • De-provision or repurpose on-premise IT systems

But the many shades of cloud computing mean that, if your organisation is prepared to migrate to a new email platform, other benefits can be used to mitigate the costs of migration. Take for example, the many options available with BlackBerry Business Services. While it is possible to access POP3, IMAP, ISP, Outlook Web Access email platforms running on BlackBerry devices via a number of telecoms and mobile providers, support for enterprise platforms like Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus, Domino and Novell GroupWise must be accessed via a dedicated hosting provider or an in-house deployment of BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

The former option includes the cost of the handsets and paying for users’ mobile voice and/or data plans. It can even provide security features that can wipe, lock, restore and locate devices remotely. But the latter, enterprise packages starting at around £3,500 per 2,000-plus users, also include 256-bit encryption and web-based console IT security policy and user management, and more detailed service level agreements accompany dedicated mail server hosting services.

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