As we enter a new year, I made a decision to change how my personal e-mail is handled. I transitioned from running my own Exchange server to becoming a paying customer of Intermedia's Exchange 2010 hosting earlier this week. One reason I opted for Intermedia is due to it being the world's largest provider of Microsoft Exchange hosting; the company is also one of the first few providers to offer hosted Exchange 2010 service in November.
As most are probably aware, Exchange 2010 is the latest release of Microsoft's flagship messaging platform. What is less known is how Microsoft first designed Exchange 2010 for use in a hosted environment before working on the traditional server version; the development path taken by the team is markedly different from how earlier versions of Exchange were created.
In a way, today's blog is about why hosted Exchange works for me. I believe that these same reasons are also relevant to smaller SMBs who might be deciding if they should switch over to hosted Exchange 2010.
Maintenance is not optional
I starting using Exchange a number of years ago by acquiring the SBS (Small Business Server) build of Microsoft Server 2003. Installed on a virtual machine with 20GB of storage, the SBS rarely crashed, and has served my needs well. Problems with disk space cropped up recently, however, no doubt courtesy of my virtually non-existent maintenance.
Now, I set up the Exchange 2003 at a time when I worked as an IT professional. While I am confident of getting things patched up properly, I was sorely cognizant of the amount of time and resources required. After much deliberation and tallying up the monetary and opportunity costs, I realized that it just makes no sense for me to run such an important service by myself. This is a similar situation to that faced by SMBs in general.
As hosted services increase in reliability, it simply does not make sense to run one's own e-mail servers, especially since the cost of Internet connectivity continues to drop. Indeed, the cost of hardware, software licenses, upgrades, and maintenance can stack up quickly. Done correctly, the per-seat cost reductions gained by going for a hosted service can be significant for smaller businesses.
Conversely, running one's own servers entails a certain overhead in terms of maintenance and management that is simply not optional. This is especially pertinent given that many small and medium-sized organizations do not have dedicated IT staff to maintain them.
Superior Web and mobile access
Exchange 2010 offers superior Outlook Web Access, with an experience matching that of Microsoft's Outlook client. E-mails can be dragged between folders, while calendar entries can be moved around and resized. In fact, doing a right-click over various items will bring out relevant context menus instead of the standard browser options.
On top of default OWA features, Intermedia also support BlackBerry and Exchange ActiveSync. I was able to activate my BlackBerry with my new account without having to bother with installing BES or perform any additional configuration. Should I lose my device, the custom controls mean that I can bypass Intermedia support to perform a remote data wipe directly from the Web interface.
Access to the newest technologies
Finally, using a hosted e-mail service allowed me to enjoy the features found in Exchange 2010 without having to invest in new hardware or pay for an Exchange license. Because my hosted service also includes the relevant client access license for Outlook 2007 - this is normally the case for similar service providers - I also have one fewer piece of software to pay for. Ditto that when the next version of Exchange comes along.
To summarize my experience, the service has been rock stable to date. In addition, I am left impressed by the stellar and prompt technical support - the support folks at Intermedia certainly know what they are talking about.
Ultimately, if the above-mentioned points make sense for your SMB, then do seriously consider switching to Exchange 2010 soon. Alternatively, I have also written about some possible reasons that SMBs should migrate to the non-hosted version of Exchange 2010.