Microsoft's takeover of FrontBridge likely to cause services shake-up.
Users should not sign long-term deals for hosted e-mail services, as the market undergoes a period of consolidation, analyst firm Gartner has advised.
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The advice follows Microsoft's decision last month to buy FrontBridge, which hosts e-mail services to help companies tackle e-mail security, continuity and legal compliance. Microsoft wants to integrate these services with its Exchange server product range, which is used by about 50% of companies.
Although users will be able to buy a broader range of e-mail products and services from the same supplier, Gartner has warned that Microsoft's route to merging FrontBridge with its own technologies and those from recently acquired companies Sybari and GeCad will be complex.
"Integrating these components and putting a useful policy framework around these disparate technologies will be difficult," said Gartner research vice-president, Arabella Hallawell.
"Most of Microsoft's experience is in running large-scale, consumer-focused hosted services such as Hotmail and MSN Music, rather than enterprise-hosted services, which require high levels of up-time and customer response."
Gartner said businesses should expect further consolidation in the market for e-mail services until the second quarter of 2006. It also warned users to clarify their relationship with FrontBridge resellers.
FrontBridge supplies services for a range of e-mail servers, including some for Microsoft rivals Lotus and Novell. Microsoft has committed to supporting these technologies.
Steve Jillings, president and chief executive of FrontBridge, said the merger would help customers to manage an increasingly complex messaging infrastructure. "E-mail introduces unprecedented security, compliance and disaster recovery risks," he said.
"Managing these risks is not a core competence area for most organisations, and we have provided assistance to customers by enabling these tasks to be offloaded to trusted services."
Signs of consolidation among suppliers of e-mail services and security are already abundant. In 2004, storage and server management firm Veritas bought e-mail archiving specialist KVault Software. Then, in February this year security firm Symantec bought Veritas.