Debunking the myths of archiving and messaging – and the role of the cloud

With the recent ‘buzz’ around cloud computing, many organisations are starting to consider moving various parts of their IT infrastructure to the cloud to leverage the associated benefits these service providers can deliver

September 15, 2010

By Chris Hathaway, Director, Soarsoft Africa

With the recent ‘buzz’ around cloud computing, many organisations are starting to consider moving various parts of their IT infrastructure to the cloud to leverage the associated benefits these service providers can deliver. Moving a ‘part’ of a function to the cloud, like email archiving, while keeping the actual messaging function in-house, may seem a safe or smart bet if the organisation wants to ‘test’ cloud based services – in reality, its not. There are a number of misconceptions that need to be exposed.

Testing cloud based services in this fashion is a trend we have observed in a number of organisations. The thinking is that email archiving is initially easier and less hassle to move and not as critical to the daily business functions.  However, upon closer inspection this just does not make as much sense as initially anticipated; it is potentially far more prudent to take the entire messaging platform requirement to the cloud – or keep everything on-site until you are ready to move to the cloud with the entire requirement.

The first misconception – cost implications

By far the most expensive piece of running a messaging platform like Microsoft Exchange or IBM’s Domino (Lotus Notes) is the combination of the associated network, licensing, hardware infrastructure, DR/continuity, security (SPAM and Virus Protection), skill and administration costs.  If these costs already exist, the on-site costs of an archiving platform are in fact very low in comparison, and often leverage the same infrastructure and administration resources.  Moving only the archive piece to the cloud without also sending the entire messaging function to the cloud at the same time is really just getting rid of the easy bit and keeping the most expensive and complicated piece on site. Even more telling is that most of the hosted service providers of full messaging platforms in South Africa and around the world (e.g., MWeb, Business Connexion, etc.) offer a full messaging service that includes the security and archiving piece for only a fraction more than the cost of hosted archive-only providers!

Second misconception – Only old data resides in the archive

Another common misconception is that archiving involves the storage of ‘old’ less important data. In fact, data is now being archived after a much shorter amount of time and often even archived immediately. This is largely due to the necessity of efficiently managing the sheer volume of data now passing through organisations on a day-to-day basis, but also because the compliance role is almost entirely managed by the archive solution. As such, the archive has become an increasingly important part of an organisation’s IT infrastructure – with 99% of an organisations data residing in the archive immediately and only a small portion of the data retained on the email platform, where the core functionality is actually focused on sending and receiving email rather than storing it.

Another disadvantage of separating the messaging and archive functions is that the email records often need to be stored in a different format and in a relatively unrelated system to the email server you are running. This can lead to high ingestion costs of historic data and even worse, crippling costs of exiting the platform. The management of permissions and security from an internal “Domain” across the cloud can also lead to a far more complicated process than expected, not to mention the bandwidth constraints and reliability.

Third misconception – loss of control

When it comes to messaging, many organisations are under the impression that if they outsource their messaging to the cloud, they will effectively lose control of this vital aspect of business communication. In reality, the larger hosted email service providers can leverage the critical mass provided by multiple tenants on their platforms to investments in the very best architectures, skills and technologies as they become specialists in their field. Furthermore the cloud based providers need to continually roll out the newer versions to remain competitive and retain their client bases; and additional services like SharePoint, Office Comunications Server, CRM and Live Meetings can also be quickly added at a fraction of the cost, infrastructure and skills requirement that would have been required for the equivalent “on-site” implementation.

A better strategy…

When one takes all of the above into account, it makes much better sense to either outsource both your messaging and archiving requirements to the cloud; or keep both on-site.

If you are going to have a “hybrid” solution between the cloud and “on-premises”, rather let it be the archiving role retained on site.   By retaining archiving onsite and outsourcing messaging, organisations are able to get rid of the larger expense of running a reliable mail platform, while keeping the smaller expense of onsite archiving in-house. Onsite archiving means search requests will be faster, and control of retention and disposition of data is easier and cheaper to maintain.

When should I be considering ‘cloud-based’ options?

Often the time to look very closely at the benefits of a move to the cloud is at the time of a major version upgrade, infrastructure re-fresh or migration of your messaging platform (e.g. Domino/Notes or GroupWise to Exchange.).  Other situations that may get you considering a move could be the requirement of an archive platform, an eDiscovery request, staff volatility or a recent outage of messaging services.

As more and more organisations seek to take advantage of the benefits presented by cloud computing, and as South African organisations are now exposed to new options when it comes to messaging – it is important that decision-makers think strategically about what to move to the cloud first, and what can be kept onsite if need be. Consideration should also be given to who is entrusted with making these decisions – as there is often a potential conflict of interest between what makes good business sense, and the safety of such a decision-makers’ job at the organisation, especially at smaller organisations