The cloud is one of the great buzzwords of the modern age but, when you think about, it’s simply another form of outsourcing. It doesn’t matter what your business does, strategic outsourcing has always been one of the keys to success – knowing what you’re good at and what you should pay someone else to do.
Chances are you don’t run your own power station – electricity is simply an on-tap utility and you pay someone else to worry about the rest. The rise of the cloud similarly puts computing resources on tap, letting you hand over many of your technological needs to dedicated service providers so you can get on with doing whatever it is that your business does best.
Website hosting is one task that most businesses hand over to the experts, because dedicated service providers can do the job more efficiently and effectively thanks to the economies of scale. But when it comes to maintaining a mail server, many small to medium-sized businesses are still determined to handle it in-house because that’s the way it’s always been done.
That might be fine if you’ve got the IT staff and budget to manage a mail server, but the smaller your business is the more sense it makes to outsource your email to the cloud. Even if you do have dedicated IT staff, handing over your mail server to someone else can free up those staff to add value to the business rather than simply keeping the lights on.
Cloud-based email is particularly attractive if your business is struggling with issues such as high availability and remote access. Rather than being chained to their desks, your staff can access their email from any internet-enabled device via a web browser. They don’t necessarily have to sacrifice the advanced functionality of desktop mail clients such as Outlook. Configuring Outlook to use the IMAP protocol to check your inbox, rather than POP3, lets you keep your email in sync across desktops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones and the cloud.
Your business might have already invested in a mail server which you’re not ready to retire, but when the time does come for a hardware refresh it’s certainly worth weighing up the capital expenditure and ongoing running costs of a new mail server against the regular operational expense of handing the job over to the cloud. One of the great things about the cloud is that you can only pay for what you use, so your cloud-based email service can start out small and grow to meet your needs.
If you are contemplating moving your email to the cloud, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from. Don’t rush in – take the time to evaluate your options and weigh up the pros and cons.
Google Apps is certainly one to consider, along with Microsoft’s Office 365, which is designed to tightly integrate with other Microsoft products and services. Microsoft is already pushing many of its Small Business Server customers towards Office 365 rather than maintaining their own in-house mail servers. You can keep your existing domain names and email addresses, to minimise disruption.
If you’d rather not hand your email over to the giants of the web you’ll also find a range of hosted exchange providers, many targeted specifically at the needs of small business. It’s worth weighing up all the options and asking whether it’s still worth the hassle of running your own in-house mail server.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of national on-site computer repair and support company, Geeks2U. Founded in 2005 and with a team now over 300 strong, Geeks2U is one of the biggest Australian businesses of its kind.