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Mitch Irsfeld

TechNet Flash, Volume 12, Issue 16 - August 11, 2010
TechNet Flash Editor's Note from Mitch Irsfeld

Email, the Lowest-Hanging Fruit of the Cloud

Email is emerging as the low-hanging fruit for cloud computing in the enterprise. Mimecast's recent Cloud Barometer Survey 2010 showed that more than half of enterprises have already adopted some form of cloud computing and 66 percent said they are now thinking of moving to the cloud. And guess what the most popular service is? That's right, email.

Which costs evaporate in the cloud?
The obvious way to save money when moving email to the cloud comes from reducing or eliminating the hardware, administration, and support costs of manning your own servers. Yet it also reduces the burden of routine tasks such as installation, provisioning, ongoing maintenance, patches, updates, and upgrades. In addition to hardware and support staffing costs - the two largest chunks of on-premises email budgets - your software costs, including security and anti-malware overhead, move to a variable cost model that can be expanded or contracted based on the task.

The transformation due to the convenience of cloud computing is still underappreciated. I think Jeff Staser of the Staser Consulting Group said it best in this short video when he quipped that thinking along traditional lines of owning servers is like "owning a car at every airport so that you have one when you need it. We'd rather rent that car when we're travelling."

In the article Tier Your Workforce to Save Money with Cloud-Based Corporate Email, Forrester Research says that companies with fewer than 15,000 mailboxes will find it cheaper to host all their mailboxes in the cloud compared to on internal servers. But larger companies should realize that different types of email users have different costs associated with their mailboxes, and that they can selectively migrate certain classes of users to realize substantial savings. Forrester reports that a typical large firm moving 20,000 occasional users to Microsoft Exchange Online can save more than $63 per person annually, a first-year savings of $1.26 million. That's low-hanging fruit, if ever there was such a thing in information technology.

For more on measuring savings when moving to cloud computing, check out CIO Magazine's 8 Ways to Measure Cloud ROI.

Cloud Coexistence
Organizations can take advantage of online services within their own networks before embracing the public cloud. As Steve Ballmer predicted earlier this year at an IDC conference in Brazil, the whole software and hardware architecture for what we think of today as the server is what we'll think of tomorrow as the cloud. "If we operate the cloud, we talk about it as the public cloud, but these same technologies will be available over time to our customers with a special support relationship with us, for example with our Windows Azure and SQL Azure technologies, so that you can run your own private cloud, if you will, in addition, and benefit from these same technologies."

Remember that there are several gotchas in the idea of considering only per-user service fees for hosted email servers. You'll need to make sure that services like archiving, filtering, security, and compliance can be delivered with equal or better results. The various applications that work with your email system (such as integrated voice, instant messaging, live meeting, and conferencing) will have to be integrated and tested.

Exchange Server 2010 was designed to support hybrid deployments of on-premises and cloud mailboxes. Exchange Server 2010 SP1 includes functionality that supports coexistence with Exchange Online, however, Exchange Online is still being updated to support the Exchange 2010 SP1 functionality.

Exchange 2010 also uses an identity service called Microsoft Federation Gateway which runs in the cloud to provide the trust infrastructure needed for secure sharing of calendar, contacts, and free/busy information.

Exchange Online
Once you decide to move mailboxes to the cloud, setting them up is fairly easy with Exchange Online. Our content cowboy at large, Keith Combs, recently subscribed to Exchange Online and walks through the simple process of setting up domains and users in his Exchange Online Overview posting. There you will find two short Exchange Online screencasts: Part 1: Account Logon and Domain Setup, and Part 2: Adding and Testing Users.

As Keith points out, there isn't really a downside to giving Exchange Online whirl. You can get the 30-day trial free. You don't have to commit any of your production domains to this process for testing, and, if you decide to buy, the subscription is month-to-month, so it's easy to make changes.

As noted in TechNet Magazine's Exchange 2010: A Closer Look, you will ultimately be able to manage Exchange Online from the Exchange Management Console and Exchange Management Shell, once Microsoft updates Exchange Online to Exchange 2010. This will allow you to manage an on-premises solution or a hosted service from the same console. For now, the Microsoft Online Services Administration Center gives you an online management portal to manage services and users. You can import multiple user accounts, use email migration tools, create distribution lists, create SharePoint site collections, and submit service requests to Microsoft Online Services Technical Support from the dashboard.

The Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite is a handy bundle of several popular messaging and collaboration solutions, including Exchange Online, and also provides email coexistence and migration tools. If you have Active Directory services and Microsoft Exchange Server, the Microsoft Online Services Directory Synchronization Tool can synchronize user accounts, contacts, and groups from your local environment to Microsoft Online Services. You can also use this tool to make your Microsoft Exchange Global Address List (GAL) available to users in Exchange Online.

Need to convert internal email archives to the cloud? Use the Microsoft Online Services Migration Tools to forward copies of your Exchange Server mail to your Exchange Online mailboxes. You can also use the Migration Tools to copy content from your Exchange Server, POP3, or IMAP4 email server mailboxes to your Exchange Online mailboxes.

Coming Soon in Online Services
With the launch of Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, and Office 2010 earlier this year, the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) team has been working hard to update BPOS and get closer to parity with those on-premises server products. In the coming months, expect previews of the new capabilities in Exchange Online, including:

  • Voice mail with Unified Messaging
  • Integrated archiving
  • Retention policies and legal hold
  • Transport rules
  • Multi-mailbox search
  • Conversation view
  • MailTips
  • Enhanced web-based administration
  • Role-based access control
  • Remote PowerShell
  • Free/busy between cloud and on-premises
  • Cross-premises management
  • Native migration tools

Stay abreast of the previews on the Microsoft Online Services Team Blog.

Thanks for reading,

Mitch Irsfeld
Editor, TechNet Flash

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