What is the value of on-premise mail server?

Cloud, IT Business

I’d honestly like to know. If you’d like to see why and what we’re doing (disclaimer: this is a vendor event skewed towards ExchangeDefender and what we do)  feel free to join us.

In particular, when dealing with small business (not big/enterprise), I would like to know what are the key values of having a mail server on premise in the office. The following are my opinions on which key values used to be relevant that are no longer important (again, just my opinion, I don’t care if you disagree, I just care about the ones I am missing):

Issue of connectivity “Client has slow or unreliable connectivity, large attachments, etc”  – Dismissed largely because Outlook in cached mode uses comparably the same amount of bandwidth as on-premise Exchange, if they are mailing large attachments around they should be shot, etc.

Issue of broadband “My village only has dialup Internet” – Fair point. That sucks but that’s not a growing opportunity for anyone to sell software or services into (except maybe an ISP)

Issue of security “Client only trusts their server if it’s in their office” – Gotcha, security through ignorance. Hope it’s not connected to the Internet. 

Issue of legacy applications “LOB requires server A which requires CDO which only works on premise” – Legitimate but again, dinosaur.

When you dismiss all the old world psychological problems of comfort (it’s always been on-premise),  paranoia (NSA is reading my email), LOB (our vendors have us bent over), hoarding (“realtime access to email from Internic in 1996 is business critical”), and voodoo economics (“on premise Exchange with my $350 / server + $50 / workstation MSP fee to keep it all together poorly is more affordable than the cloud)… what is left?

What else am I missing as a giant selling point of in-house mail services?

Legitimate Reasons

Compliance by submission – Anytime legal and accounting get involved in managing technical operations of a company you’re guaranteed two things: it’s going to be expensive and it’s not going to make any sense so you better just do what they ask. The challenge there is that you’ll take on the legal liability and assume all of it on your own while managing the whole nightmare as well. Compliance is big in the enterprise and even midmarket and we’re making a lot of $ on our ExchangeDefender Compliance product even in the SMB but it’s not cheap by any means.

Long Term Storage – Email has, for better and mostly for worse, become a defacto file storage locker for small businesses over the past two decades of crappy file server implementation failures. One thing that has remained consistently reliable has been the ability to just “email it to me” and companies (read: massive amount of unskilled labor only capable of doing it one way that will never ever ever change) have storage needs for email that transcend the IRS record keeping requirements or any technical recommendation any sane engineer would ever recommend. Where there is pain there are profits.

Trust – While many either trust or have no other option than to trust or simply do not care because they have nothing to hide.. corporate fiduciary responsibility at times calls for additional safeguards and measures to protect data that may be stored in the cloud. As people leverage cloud services more and more the amount of trust will have to grow which isn’t likely due to the government espionage, cloud service provider reliability shortcomings, cheaper and unproven cloud services, drive to shorten the release cycle of cloud services, etc. Eventually the ability to assure continuity of business meets the convenience of not being responsible for daily operations of the infrastructure and you have you CYA.


The problem, from experience, with the above 3 areas is that while they are all important and all relevant and all probably critical.. they tend to be a very hard sell. Small businesses have a hard time parting with money and at times assume greater risk for greater savings (only to be burned or outright put out of business at a later time, “but that won’t happen to me”)

Somewhere between the good reasons, good intentions and the right price there is an answer to the majority of small business mail concerns that the cloud alone cannot address. Microsoft has failed at this. Others have no incentive or interest in anything beyond the consumer (Google Drive, Skydrive, iCloud) and other commercial services are aimed at storage and large scale server imaging and redundancy (because it’s easy to sell those)

If you can think of anything that I’m missing, please let me know. vlad@vladville.com


5 Responses to What is the value of on-premise mail server?

  1. Susan says:

    Cost. It’s the old lease versus buy argument. Many small business decision makers like the warm fuzzy of the bought and paid for versus the monthly fee.

    The dinosaur. As much as you and Microsoft point at the LOB as dinosaurs, until all of them come up with fully comparable cloud counterparts, you can’t argue with what makes money for the business. If it makes money, is reasonable efficient, it’s hard to compare that to the unknown cloud vendor product. So if that LOB app says “we need to hook into exchange”, you don’t argue with the dinosaur that makes the money that pays the bills.

    The Boss. For whatever reason if the boss is not comfortable, the boss is not comfortable. Many of these geezer bosses have lived through the move from data centers to desktop computers so this “cloud” thing isn’t new. To them the move to monthly fees/subscriptions is good for the vendor, not necessarily good for the small business who is seeing an ever increasing overhead cost. As the price tag of premises keeps going up, this is tipping towards the monthly side of the ledger.

    The generation gap: Younger small business owners (aka the facebook generation) probably wouldn’t dream of much of anything on premises these days. Older small business owners, still want to have that control.

    We’re in an awkward stage right now of no one clear choice and Microsoft’s stock price showcases it.

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