Written by James Cordes and John DeLuca


Azure is "Cloud"; it's not "applications".  As IT Professionals, we bring our applications to The Cloud.

But WHICH applications should we bring to The Cloud?  All, some, none, the big ones, the small ones, the ones that can't go down, the ones that CAN go down??  How do we choose? How can we know if we were right?  How do we know where to start?!

One of the most considered candidates is Messaging -- Good 'ol email.  Looking into the past, we have seen messaging providers come and go.  Back in 1998, we had early multi-tenancy offered by a handful of ISPs or ASPs as we called them… Exchange was a different animal back then.  Microsoft had no intention of making Exchange a multi-tenent application for Cloud.  Heck, "Cloud" didn't even exist back in 1998.  But Microsoft has become a leader in responding to customer demand.  They are about the best there is, from a pure software perspective.  The Exchange product group took it upon themselves to rewrite the Exchange Mailbox role to reduce the number of Critical Situations (a term coined by Microsoft's Premier Alliances Group back in 2001/2002 following the horrific events of 9/11.  Critical Situations occurred when a customer was facing a serious "service down" scenario.  The complete outage of an Exchange environment, for example.  Microsoft Product Support Services and Microsoft Premier worked arduously to determine the root causes of their Exchange CritSits.  They came up with a list of five things.  SAN Zoning, Multi-Homed Server NICs, Windows Clustering Configuration Errors, Unrecoverable Hard Disk Errors, SCSI Bus resets related to backup devices residing on the same SCSI network as the Cluster Disks.  The point is, Microsoft's Exchange Product Group worked for more than seven years to re-engineer the Exchange Mailbox Role to eliminate these CritSits.  Long story short, Microsoft decided that a hosted Exchange environment would give customers the most ideal environment with the highest customer satisfaction rate.  A hosted Exchange environment meant that Microsoft, itself, would install and operate Exchange.  Ten years later, we have the result: Office 365.

Many of my customers ask the same questions that you're asking about Office 365, and they usually start with "Why wouldn't I do this? It seems to make sense."  So let's look at the facts.

1) Microsoft is running this service;  how bad could it be?

2) I have a clear definition of what's being offered

3) I can free up my existing staff to do what they want to do instead of running exchange servers

4) I get 50 GB mailboxes! That's way more than I could possibly offer my users today

5) it comes with an SLA that's three nines; I would have to spend a lot of money in order to get to that level of service.

6) it comes with Office for iPad?! I can't do that today!

7) I can include Lync and Sharepoint services too?! All on the same monthly bill?! I'm having trouble figuring out why I wouldn't do this."

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Here are some factors you may not have considered as you look at this seemingly great list of features.  Of the things to consider, we divide them into three basic categories. The categories are Trust, Cost, and Features.

Trust comes in a number of forms in this scenario.  The first one is who's looking at my data and do I know if they are. Keep in mind that your data will be housed at a public facility. This means that, not only can Microsoft look at your data, but also any law enforcement organization can submit a subpoena to Microsoft.  This action, allowing the law organization to look at your data and neither Microsoft nor the law organization has to tell you that they are doing so. Furthermore since your data is in the public facility, we can only imagine the number of attacks that happen at Microsoft Azure data centers every day. Simply do a Google search and you'll see the number of reports that leak out for Microsoft every day.  If you were at all concerned about who's looking at your email, your Sharepoint information, and your Lync traffic, this could be a concern for you.

From a cost perspective, it gets complicated quickly.  Running a messaging environment includes hard costs and soft costs, operational costs and capital expenditures.  When comparing the cost of an Office 365 monthly license, it's easy to forget all of the expenses that you incur in your current messaging environment. It's simple to tally up salaries and racks and power and cooling and cabling and disk drives and repair bills and software updates but what about the things that are difficult to account for?  What about the new spam filter that I just spent $50,000 on? That was a shared expense. Can I still use that for other things or does that cost go into this bucket? And my cool new F5 load balancer cluster? What am I going to do with that?  Do I count that as sunk cost?  Consider such factors such as: Did I just purchased a new VBLOCK that I should be installing Exchanging into?  How much time will my Exchange administrators need to build-out the Active Directory Federation?  Since Office 365 doesn't come with any sort of Helpdesk, how many people will I need to keep on staff to support my users? When there is an outage at Office 365, Microsoft will give me money back, but what about the loss of productivity? Who pays for that?

And lastly let's talk about Flexibility.  Sometimes we talk about flexibility in the form of functional requirements. For example, do I have third-party applications that plug into my current Exchange environment? ..that might plug into my current SharePoint environment? …there might be gateways to my Mail environment, are they the same ones used to archiving mail into a secondary failure domain by using SourceOne. Does that link to Office 365. If it doesn't, have I evaluated, and do I like the native archiving that Microsoft provides me in Office 365? Many consumers of Office 365 come back with the answer that they don't like...

At the end of the day, the services that you offer your end-users are all that matter. When Joe from accounting is using his iPad to check his mail when he's at his daughter's soccer game, he could care less which server model you installed his mailbox on. He does care, however, that there are messages in his inbox from an undesirable website. He also cares about the mail that he forwarded to the automated mail dispatcher that's linked to Sharepoint, and that the workforce application actually notifies his manager that he needs to be on vacation the week of July 14.

Let's face it, IT is complicated these days and chances are very good that you've created a fairly complex system of interworking parts to service the needs of your users. If your desire is to get out of the email business, this is easily accomplished by working with one of EMC's Service Providers. We can get you what you need without sacrificing any of what you want.  And, the costs will be in-line with or less than the long-term costs of Office 365.

Exchange is a critical application for you and having control over messaging applications and data is important to the end users of messaging systems. EMC Exchange Solutions dictate that Exchange and its data stays within your control.  This means that data sovereignty and data governance is not at the mercy of another organization. Exchange data and its access remains under your control, within your security and privacy mandates, and is compliant by being auditable, attestable, and discoverable.  Finally, control means streamlined infrastructure management, automation, and proven best practices delivered through EMC Exchange Solutions.

Many IT organizations may believe that outsourcing Exchange to Microsoft Office 365 is their low-cost option.  That is usually not true.  Earlier this year, Wikibon demonstrated for any organization with more than 300 Exchange seats, Office 365 is more expensive than well-managed on-premises Exchange deployments.  And, larger enterprises needing high-availability Exchange from Microsoft can expect to pay 47% more than high-availability in-house deployments.  Customers deploying converged infrastructure can realize even greater levels of economic benefit.  Furthermore, an well-known SLA can ensure you even greater cost controls as you grow. Similar cost benefits can be had over Google and many other hosted Exchange service providers.

Flexibility is central to many messaging architects. This means that you are not limited in your choice of add-on software.  Because you are not limited to the options of a service provider, you can add third-party messaging tools and deeper application integration.  This means that Exchange is not disconnected from other critical business applications and the organization is better able to integrate and expedite their business processes.

Finally, protection and availability are what your end users demand.  In a mobile-connected world, systems must be available constantly.  By owning and controlling Exchange infrastructure, you are assured that disaster recovery and business continuity meets your business requirements.  Privacy and security is managed in-house as opposed to trusting another organization.  High-performance and high-availability is assured as opposed to promised by others.

Some organization, however want to "get out of the email business entirely".  This means that they want to use email, they simply don't wish to run email.  Certainly, you have more Exchange hosting options than ever before, but these options are not limited to the list gathered by Gartner.  There are compelling, value-based arguments to deploy EMC Exchange Solutions on-premises, but some organizations will be dead-set on outsourcing Exchange.  For these companies, EMC Partners are trusted service providers.  These partners are distinguished by using the same EMC infrastructure and uphold these same value propositions around your customer’s critical Exchange environment.  Often times, these EMC Powered SPs can actually take your existing infrastructure and either manage it for you, or transfer it to their Co-located Data Centers and run it there.  It's not often that you get to have your cake, and eat it too.

When looking at your options for messaging, there are few reasons to settle for less than what you want.  EMC is the company who can help you achieve your messaging goals at the lowest cost, highest levels of trust, with unmatched flexibility.