Mar 072010

MSOL Hosted ExchangeAbout six months ago…

With the end of W2K Server looming, and failing hardware, it was obvious that we needed a plan to replace our aging Windows Server 2000/Exchange 2003 mail server.

Our original thought was to build a new mail server.  We spent a few weeks looking into how to properly recover an Exchange server from disaster. While my supervisor and myself are not lacking in the day-to-day administration of an Exchange server, we recognized that what it takes to learn to run an Exchange server when things go terribly wrong was well out of the available amount of time we had. (I had a favorite chapter from a book we read on the topic. It was titled: “How to lose your job with Exchange“) With that in mind, costs were calculated. The backups, the testing, the dev environment, the need to keep replaceable hardware on hand, the power requirements, and of course, the cost of downtime every time there was a problem at our building.  I work for a company who only has about 50 employees, but half of those employees work in offices outside of the office that would house the exchange server, and many of them are on the other side of the globe.  When our internet service went down, so did email.  When the power went out, so did the email.  When we rebooted for Windows Updates, down went the email.

With all of this taken into consideration, a proposal was drawn up that detailed these costs vs. the costs of hosting exchange with an external provider.  The cost savings for moving to a hosted solution was immediately apparent even before ‘soft numbers’ like user productivity were taken into account. Just the physical cost of proper hardware, backups, and power exceeded the cost of more expensive services in year one (when the server is purchased), and at best tied after year one. When soft costs like downtime and risk (what if the building catches on fire or is hit by lightning?) were considered, it wasn’t even a race anymore.

We considered many providers in this proposal, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.  Each and every one of them was summarily beat by MSOL’s Exchange Hosted service based on a combination of cost, features, and reliability.  With one exception- Google. Google offered a very powerful set of utilities, and ended up losing out in the end for one small reason, and one large one.  The smaller of the reasons is that they seem a bit over priced, and they seemed to force many ‘features’ on their service that our office didn’t need. À la carte pricing may have helped. The largest reason we chose not to use them was user training.  We have many users who have never used Google’s services, and have tailored Outlook to their needs over years.  Any attempt to switch away from that model would meet extreme resistance, and possibly move us back towards running an in house Exchange server.

The decision was made to go with MSOL’s Exchange Hosted service to replace our ailing Windows 2000/Exchange 2003 Server.  In my next posts, I will move on to talk about the migration process, and then begin to give my thoughts on their service.

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