Should You Offload Messaging Management?

by Jacqueline Emigh

Managing messaging is a science for most operations, provided they have the expertise on hand. When is it a good time to save yourself some hassle and hand your organization's mail and messaging over to an outsourcer?

Administering e-mail and other messaging functions can eat up a lot of management resources. As a result, some organizations are now turning instead to service providers, under either traditional outsourcing, hosted management, or remote management scenarios. Aside from cost savings, providers claim to provide guaranteed service levels, as well as expert help with problematic platforms, viruses and spam. Some administrators, though, still oppose working with providers, often citing privacy and security concerns.

Kansas Farm Bureau Services (KFBS) is one example of a relatively early adopter. The bureau hired US Internetworking (USi) for Exchange 2000 migration services and messaging management. Amy Grothaus, KFBS's Web manager, cites four main reasons for the decision: recruitment issues; a requirement for "24/7 availability in a non 24x7 shop"; system uptime; and "a need to focus current staff on other key enterprise initiatives."

In fact, some analysts are predicting a boom in messaging services over the next few years. "Outsourcing can significantly reduce the cost of ownership of a messaging system," maintains Michael Osterman, principal of Osterman Research. Other reasons for teaming with a provider include more predictable costs; guaranteed service levels; better contingency planning; and "a single point of contract for resolving messaging system failures and other issues," according to Osterman.

"Not having to manage the messaging system on a day-to-day basis means that IT can take a more strategic view of key issues," the analyst adds.

"If e-mail outsourcing makes economic sense for your company -- and you want to free your people up from a lot of busywork -- then by all means go ahead," recommends Jon William Toigo, an independent industry analyst specializing in storage and network management.

Still, though, some network managers aren't exactly enthusiastic about managed messaging. "You really need to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether outsourcing is right for your company," suggests Zachary A. Slavin of The Slavin Group, a systems and services provider in New York City .The cost-benefit analysis should take into account the cost of hardware, software, and licensing, along with the entire cost of administration.

"You need to look at the cost of salary and benefits for the e-mail administrator, as well as the cost of having a supervisor on call when the administrator is out sick, for instance," Slavin adds.

In traditional outsourcing, the outsourcer comes into your company, and managed outsourced functions on-site. Although managed hosting typically costs less than traditional outsourcing, it offers less customization, too, observes Tom Kucharvy, an analyst at Summit Strategies..

Beyond costs, a number of other factors can tip the scales in one direction or the other. Companies can get be more likely to gain from either managed hosting or traditional outsourcing if they're having trouble attracting and retaining good technical staff, or if they're seeking very specialized skills.

Factors that tend to drive decision-makers away from outsourcing include security concerns and a lack of confidence in outside providers, particularly if the customer has already been burnt in the past.

"If you have confidential matter residing on a server, it's essential to keep the data from prying eyes," according to Slavin.

"Companies are mainly afraid they'll lose granular levels of control," counters Philip Pridmore-Brown, product line manager, enterprise messaging, at Critical Path.

Kucharvy also points to a number of temporary factors that could be holding up some deployments. These include a battered image of hosting providers; shaky financial positions of some of the players; lack of sunsetting announcements by some vendors, "and therefore, a lack of urgency in upgrading;" slow emergence of remote management tools; and many customers' "underestimates" of the costs of running their own messaging systems.

Some vendors, including Critical Path and Syntegra, are now providing their messaging solutions in a choice of two ways: as a product only, or as part of a managed service.

Actually, big enterprises are being quicker to apply traditional outsourcing to the messaging picture than mid-sized corporations, according to Kucharvy.

"The largest corporations have been leading the move to full outsourcing, to get the service levels they need at lower costs, as well as to free up their people from really trivial administrative tasks," says the Summit analyst.

Some companies that are still hanging back "are not comparing apples to apples - they're only counting the cost of the server and the cost of the license, for instance," Kucharvy adds/

For their part, vendors have been carving the messaging outsourcing market into a variety of niches. Syntegra, for instance, sells into both the corporate and service provider markets.

"Most of our corporate customers are very large. If they're not large, their networks have some level of complexity. The typical profile for mid- sized customers is that they've been growing through mergers or acquisitions, and that they now find themselves with a bunch of people who need to be integrated into the corporate networking system," says Judd Frahm, Syntegra's VP of managed services.

Meanwhile, though, some SMBs say that hosted messaging offers just the sort of turnkey solution they want. Grothaus says she was generally satisfied with the USi-assisted Exchange 2000 migration, although it involved some issues around connectivity, as well as the need for user interaction to update profiles.

At this point, KFBS is handling new account setup, but relying on USi for other aspects of messaging management, according to Grothaus.

Meanwhile, Mi8 recently added the International Amateur Athlete Federation (IAAF) to its roster. Without the use of hosted management, the organization might have needed to install a messaging server at each of its 400 offices worldwide, maintains Mi8 CEO Dave Castellani.

Mi8 is moving more adding more remote messaging management to its hosted management offering, according to Castellani. Meanwhile, in a non-exclusive deal, traditional outsourcer EDS is now reselling Mi8's services.

Manhattan, Kansas or New York City?
"Being in Manhattan, Kansas, we're two hours away from a major city - which is Kansas City - and it was hard at the time, with the dot coms, to recruit technical talent to this area. So we knew we couldn't manage (Exchange 2000) inhouse," according to the KFBS's Grothaus.

"You might want to outsource if you're unable to recruit and retain competent IT staff, whether because you're small, or because you're in an undesirable geographical location," echoes Slavin.

"If you're a small company, it can be more cost effective to outsource, whether you're located in Kansas or in New York City or San Francisco," agrees Philip Pridmore-Brown, product line manager, enterprise messaging, at Critical Path.

Running in the background?
Advocates argue that outsourcers can manage messaging more efficiently due to economies of scale. Moreover, messaging is seen as especially suitable for outsourcing, since it usually isn't integral to the customer's core business.

"Messaging is strategic, but it's kind of been conquered and solved. It just needs to be running in the background, without problems. If I'm a chemical company, I'm in the business of creating chemicals, not providing networking services. If I'm the CIO, maybe I want the internal staff to be more focused on security, or on managing business applications," Frahm illustrates.

On the other hand, managing e-mail in multi platform environments can be a tough nut to crack.

"I have an environment using a Novell (NetWare) 4.11 server and GroupWise 5.2. Everything is functional. (However), the ultimate decision maker in the office is unhappy with Novell, but loves GroupWise. I have a new server to play with and see if it will be capable of replacing the Novell server. The problem is that it is a Windows 2000 server," writes one administrator, in an Internet newsgroup.

"When I put the checkmark in "workstation only"on the Novell client so that the Win2K server is NOT connecting to the Novell server, Console One can't see anything! No NDS objects, and especially no GroupWise objects. So in that mode I can't adminster anything NetWare/GroupWise-related. Yet GroupWise functions and I can get into mailboxes. I need to be able to log into just the Win2K server and administer the stuff and GroupWise, without logging into a Novell server as a client."

From Windows 2000 to DecNET
Many outsourcers and managed hosting firms specialize in specific platform niches. These can run the gamut from emerging e-mail platforms like Exchange 2000, to mainstream environments such as Exchange 5.5, Lotus Notes and GroupWise; to legacy systems like DecNET and IBM's old PROFS.

"If you're running a legacy system on a mainframe, you might want to outsource management to someone who specializes in that area. Alternatively, you might want to bring in a hosted provider to give you one of the newer solutions," Slavin suggests.

In any case, it's a good idea to find someone with demonstrated experience in managing the platform you choose, whatever it may be. Grothaus found that out the hard way. Before working with USI on Exchange 2000 migration, KFBS hired another outsourcer for Exchange 5.5 migration and management. "We encountered multiple issues of an unstable environment during two-week migration," she recalls. The previous outsourcer also failed to implement the password policy KFBS had requested, in several attempts.

"Each messaging system - whether it's Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, or whatever - has its own unique issues," Slavin concurs. Interliant is one example of an outsourcer that runs a Notes practice.

Many outsourcers specializing in Exchange follow managed hosting and/or remote management models. These include USI and Mi8.

Some outsourcers prefer to use their own proprietary messaging servers, though. "Exchange wasn't designed to scale at the level of the Internet," according to Pridmore-Brown. Critical Path's messaging server runs on Solaris, Linux for S/390, and AIX, as well as on NT.

Syntegra offers customers a choice of either the Syntegra messaging server or Microsoft Exchange. The Syntegra messaging platform operates on Linux, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, and Tru64.

Syntegra will also manage Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, and even the old DEC All-in-One, "but this is more a matter of creating gateways to mainstream Exchange or Syntegra," says Frahm.

Other players converging on the messaging space range from outsourcing giants like IBM, CSC, Hewlett-Packard/Compaq and the "big 5"; to telecom carriers such as Sprint and BT; to smaller specialists such as United Messaging, for instance.

Out with spam, in with IM?
Syntegra also specializes in anti-spam, anti-virus, instant messaging, and wireless messaging management, according to Frahm. On the anti-spam side, Syntegra is partnering with Brightmail.

Just about every outsourcer in existence, though, is now claiming to pay special attention to spam and viruses. "We're very focused on eliminating spam and viruses before they ever hit. If customers don't have this, the repercussions to their business can be enormous," maintains Pridmore-Brown.

According to a survey conducted by Brightmail, the total volume of spam skyrocketed by 46% between November, 2001 and January, 2002. Over the same period, though, the total volume of e-mail rose just 14 percent.

"You're already beginning to see more of a tilt toward instant messaging (IM), and away from e-mail, on a regular basis. You might see that going forward this will accelerate, particularly with the continuing growth of spam," predicts David Strassel, an analyst for the Intermarket Group.

Others, though, think that spam and viruses can be easily dealt with inhouse, assuming a company has the resources. "There are hardware and software products readily available for both problems, depending on what you want to do. You can insert antivirus and antispam controls in your firewall, for instance," Slavin says.

Regulations a driver, too
In the current regulatory climate, companies in fields like finance and health care are having a hard time figuring out which e-mails need to be archived, and for how long, Toigo notes.

NAC requirements, for example, dictate that messages dealing with broker- dealer solicitation need to be archived for seven years, sources say.

"I think this is a driver for outsourcing, too. Different clients have different interpretations. We get quite involved with customers' legal people," according to Frahm.

Loss of control?
Despite these advantages some organizations are seeing, others continue to resist managed messaging.

"In some instances, the loss of control can be frustrating for clients. So we try to stay in line with them, rather than being just an extension on the other side of a wall," Frahm acknowledges.

While conceding that other factors can be barriers, vendors tend to argue that security and privacy shouldn't be one of them. For one thing, organizations can encrypt their e-mail, according to Mi8's Castellani.

Moreover, organizations outsource other functions, without worrying that the outsourcer will commit abuse. "Most companies outsource their payroll, for instance. And actually, e-mail is far more interesting for people that work inside a company, anyway," Castellani contends.

Organizations should, however, check out the viability of the outsourcing firm, and to make sure the SLAs being offered are realistic.

"Companies should look for an outsourcer that has financial wherewithal, and for one that is also willing and able to live up to its SLAs," cautions Frahm.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

This article was originally published on Wednesday Aug 28th 2002