Over the past year, cloud computing has dominated IT discussions across the country, and rightly so. It offers significant business advantages, especially as resources become more constrained and IT departments struggle to add business value while maintaining existing infrastructures.
Care must be taken, however, as not all cloud-based services are created equal. Service delivery models vary greatly, from hosted providers that replicate fragmented on-site technologies to those offering sophisticated architectures. Benefits vary greatly too.
So if the devil is in the detail, as always seems to be the case, some practical tips for selecting the right partner could prove useful.
Is the basic design right?
Tight integration of services at the provider level is critical. In the case of e-mail, this means security, archiving, continuity and policy management.
The ability to provide a unified service eliminates the need for multiple interfaces, reporting and policy management. Integrated services reduce management workload and should be aware of each other in a way that gives users visibility and access to their e-mail while ensuring the evidential quality is maintained.
Can it lower IT costs long term?
Partnering with a cloud provider must, at all times, be a low-commitment relationship. The IT department should maintain complete control of user accounts and licence fees by paying for access to applications on a per user basis with a transparent pricing model. It should be able to centrally enforce company-wide policies with real-time implementation without having to rely on the service provider's helpdesk.
With cloud services, IT staff are no longer responsible for administering patches and general infrastructure maintenance, which frees up time to work on strategic parts of the business. For example, Butterfield Bank, which has offices around the globe, saves £750,000 per year with unified e-mail management - a reduction of 75% compared with in-house e-mail management.
Can it offer business continuity?
A cloud provider must be architected to offer constant availability and have rigid service level agreements (SLAs) that back up its assertions. The SLAs must be set in stone, well-documented and protect against all possible risks and downtime.
Demand references from existing customers to compare your situation.
On-demand e-mail must also be completely transparent and fully interoperable with existing in-house e-mail systems and processes.
For users, the experience with an application, such as Microsoft Outlook, should be seamless and more sophisticated and intuitive than fragmented in-house systems, providing more rapid access to archived e-mails, flawless security and keeping employees working even during outages.
Can it reduce the cost of e-mail compliance?
Business leaders need to be realistic about the regulatory risks of poor e-mail management. Currently, organisations are struggling to manage the mountain of e-mail, let alone comply with evolving regulations.
Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Solomon Smith Barney were each fined $1.65m for failing to produce e-mails requested in the course of an investigation.
Furthermore, our 2008 survey found that 69% of UK companies were unable to produce a comprehensive e-mail audit trail of email records, as required by law.
Partnering with the right provider of cloud-based services can reduce the headache of managing and ensuring compliance by providing an audit trail of all e-mail activity across all user accounts. It must be made available at all times and involve minimal input from company resources.
Delivering on promises
In summary, there is no one-size-fits-all cloud model organisations need to evaluate a supplier for its understanding of the issues faced across the business.
Selecting the right partner can deliver on the promises offered by cloud computing: low-cost access to expert guidance and highly tailored, powerful business applications.
Peter Bauer is CEO at Mimecast