The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Enterprise Emails

By Pam Baker

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Email suffers the indignity of being pervasive to the point of obscurity. Much like toilet paper, everyone expects it to be there when needed, and to use it every single day, yet it is rarely given much deliberative thought. As the world becomes virtually papered in billions (trillions?) of emails, the matter becomes an exercise in exhaustion for IT pros who watch in exasperation as the stuff continues to flush their resources.


“In some cases there are costs benefits to outsourcing enterprise email, but in all cases it frees up IT resources,” said Matthew Cain, lead email analyst at Gartner. “And, for many, that’s reason enough to do it.”


Still, outsourcing enterprise email is a task best undertaken with care as email is not merely a disposable commodity, but rather the very pulse of a company. The downside to hosted email is the loss of control as you put your most valuable communications in someone else’s hands. There are quagmires and periphery obstacles to address before you hand off your email to an outsider: compliance and security issues top the list.


Timidity isn’t the answer either, as the future shoves forward fast. The days of a server in each office location are long gone. Outsourcing email greatly aids the centralizing effort where having all the email resources in one data center makes sense. But that, too, brings its own share of problems. “There will be functionality fall out between the premise-based gear and the cloud-based service,” said Cain. “But that’s not unique to email and those problems will get resolved over time.”


There are problems specific to email, however.


“With email in the Cloud, you’re not going to get that synchronization between voice and email messages,” warns Cain. This problem is more than just a simple inconvenience since “[a] lot of the security problems we see with email will increase with IM, VoIP and cell phones, said Carol Baroudi, senior research analyst of Security Technologies at Aberdeen Group, and author of Internet for Dummies and Email for Dummies.


“We need to pull the messaging stream together to have a better shot at protecting any and all of it from everything from botnets and viruses to cell phone spam.”


Better Security


Although outsourcing email may separate it from the message stream, at least for now, it does increase security of incoming and outgoing email which is no small matter to the majority of large enterprises. Baroudi said the FBI recently reported “more than 200 million machines have been infected, and all Fortune 500 companies have infected machines.”


The reason, said Baroudi, is that most organizations are not in the business of IT, they do “other stuff” as their core competencies and therefore either don’t or won’t allocate sufficient resources to safeguarding email. “Most organizations are often ill served with in-house email.”


That is not to say that message integration is impossible.


“Once an organization outsources its email, it is relatively easy to later add additional features such as team collaboration, enterprise instant messaging, Voice over IP, Web audio and video conferencing, email archiving and eDiscovery, etc.; all as part of an integrated solution from the same provider,” said Mark Levitt, vice president for Collaborative Computing at IDC.


One of the ways outsourcing email increases security is that it enables a higher perspective of traffic. “You can track traffic across different users, networks and domains which make it easier to detect threats than just looking at one machine at a time,” said Baroudi.


Outsourcing also provides another protective layer for your email. “It’s good to have some threats removed before they land,” she said.


Combined, outsourcing email may have the greatest effect on increased email security. According to The Radicati Group, in 2007, the hosted e-mail market, including corporate and consumer mailboxes, totaled 1.4 billion mailboxes. Over the next four years, the group expects this figure to increase at an average annual rate of 9%, totaling nearly 2 billion mailboxes by year-end 2011. That’s a lot of viruses dumped before they light on unsuspecting business machines.


Sara Radicati, president and CEO of Radicati said the hosted e-mail market is heating up with the release of Microsoft Hosted Exchange Server 2007, and “ … its increasing adoption by many leading and up and coming service providers,” as the latest Microsoft hosted platform opens the way for more advanced features and functionality, such as wireless support, e-mail security, unified communications, and more.


The group attributes further growth to the growing appreciation of hosted e-mail solutions as a cost-effective alternative to in-sourced messaging platforms, since they require no on-site deployment or maintenance. Radicati also said renewed competition is driving the price of hosted e-mail, making it more affordable.


To determine whether you should outsource your enterprise email, weigh the following pros and cons:




1) Costs are fixed based on the number of users.

2) Gets new users/groups up and running quickly or for specific periods of time.

3) Outsources server and patch management, system availability, and end-user support headaches to trusted 3rd party expert.

4) Frees up IT staff for other projects.

5) Consistent with trend to outsource non-core business operations.

6) Easily solves multiple office/geographic spread needs.

7) Possibly reduces energy costs / carbon imprint since it reduces the number of servers the enterprise needs.

8) Adds additional layers of security to email.




1) Requires a change in status quo to trusting 3rd party with critical email operations.

2) Doesn’t leverage existing hardware equipment or expertise.

3) May cause compliance and regulatory problems.

4) Integration is trickier with the Cloud vs. premise-based gear, but this problem exists in other areas and is therefore not completely avoidable.

5) Poses security issues of sensitive data at the 3rd party level.