The decision of whether or not to run Exchange Server in the cloud is a big one. After committing to hosted Exchange, it can be difficult to move back on-premise. So how do you know if it's the right move for you?
Every enterprise's needs are different and, in most cases, there won't be a single reason why you should or shouldn't move Exchange to the cloud. You need to look at your Exchange organization's needs as a whole.
The size of your IT staff
If your organization has a small group of seriously overworked IT professionals, moving Exchange to the cloud might be a good idea. Doing so can help alleviate some of the administrative burden and will handle tasks like patch management and nightly backups.
On the other hand, if your organization has staff who serve as dedicated Exchange Server administrators, you may want to think twice about outsourcing your email servers. Doing so could jeopardize your Exchange admins' jobs.
Existing Exchange Server architecture
Take into account your enterprise's existing email deployment. For example, suppose that your organization spent serious dollars on premium server hardware as well as Exchange Server licenses. It doesn't make sense to outsource your Exchange deployment after investing so much money into an on-premise deployment.
However, moving to a cloud-based deployment can sometimes help you avoid large capital expenditures. This can be especially helpful if your organization has yet to deploy Exchange Server or if you have an older version of Exchange running on aging and potentially unreliable hardware. Remember: Even though outsourcing can save you money up front, it almost always costs more than an on-premise deployment in the long run.
The level of control over an Exchange organization
Many organizations have specific requirements for the topology of their Exchange Server deployment. Moving to a cloud-based environment means you may relinquish control of the server topology or which server hardware is used.
Service providers may also block access to important Exchange features. For example, I've heard of service providers denying subscribers the ability to modify recipient policies, mailbox quotas and ActiveSync settings.
If you need total control over Exchange servers, it's probably best to keep it in-house. If you're not concerned with fine tuning your Exchange deployment, a cloud-based application will probably meet your needs.
Planning for the future
It's a good idea to take into account your organization's needs in the future. For example, if you think that your Exchange organization might significantly grow or decline in the next year or two, you may want to consider a hosted deployment.
Some cloud service providers allow you to increase and decrease the number of hosted mailboxes as needed, which can keep you from wasting money on client access licenses. If you expect your organization's size to remain consistent, you'd probably benefit more from on-premise Exchange Server.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a seven-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services (IIS), and File Systems and Storage. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, Brien has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.
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