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Do the pros of running Exchange in the cloud outweigh the cons?

Do the advantages of running Exchange Server in the cloud, like ease of use and hands-off management, sound too good to be true? Check the fine print before signing on the dotted line.

The decision to run Exchange Server in the cloud is not an easy one; for every advantage there is a disadvantage. This tip goes beyond the hype to give you a realistic look at what to expect from a cloud-based Exchange Server deployment.

What’s good about Exchange Server in the cloud?

Two main advantages of running Exchange Server in the cloud involve cost and manageability. Cloud services are subscription-based, meaning that there are no upfront costs for server hardware or software licenses. Therefore, it costs much less to implement a cloud-based Exchange Server deployment that on premise.

In the past, the cost to deploy Exchange Server was prohibitive for most SMBs, who had the option to purchase the less-expensive Essential Business Server. Microsoft has since discontinued the product, though. Cloud-based Exchange subscriptions are typically priced on a per-mailbox basis; the average monthly cost of a hosted mailbox averages around $5, making it feasible for even the very small businesses. Hosting companies also provides a level of fault tolerance that was cost-prohibitive for smaller businesses.

Running Exchange Server in the cloud also lessens much of the administrative burden associated with managing Exchange. Service providers deal with ongoing tasks like patch management, server backups and meeting Microsoft’s constantly changing best practices. These companies also supply customers with proprietary, Web-based management tools, which are often easier to use than the Exchange Management Console (EMC) or Exchange Management Shell (EMS).

What’s bad about Exchange Server in the cloud?

The biggest criticism of running cloud-based Exchange is that servers are accessed over the Internet. If your Internet connection fails, Exchange becomes inaccessible. If Exchange was deployed on premise, an Internet connection failure would prevent email from traveling in and out of the organization, but users could still send mail to each other. They could also use their calendars, view contacts, etc.

The management tools that are considered a pro for some admins, can be a con for others. Administrators who have become comfortable using EMS and EMC may have trouble adapting to the Web-based management tools many hosting companies provide.

The management tools often are designed to prevent subscribers from managing certain aspects of the Exchange deployment. For example, a hosting provider may prevent subscribers from managing their own mailbox quotas.

And although a cloud-based Exchange Server deployment may simplify administration, it can actually complicate Active Directory administration. All versions of Exchange since Exchange 2000 Server have depended on Active Directory; the AD requirement doesn’t just disappear when you run Exchange in the cloud. Organizations with an on-premise Directory likely will perform directory synchronization to the cloud .

Exchange in the cloud also has an inherent lack of flexibility. If you have a third-party antivirus, antispam or Exchange management product that you want to use, for example, you’ll have to ditch that product when you move to the cloud.

Finally, when you outsource Exchange to a cloud service provider, your data is stored on the host’s Exchange servers, putting it out of your direct control. It is the hosting company -- not you -- who retains data backups.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a seven-time Microsoft MVP for his work with Windows 2000 Server, Exchange Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. For more information visit www.brienposey.com.

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