This is the final part of my previous postings and I would like to conclude this series by mentioning some nitty-gritty facts before choosing your preferred hosting company. If you have missed reading my previous posts on this series, do visit them at the below URLs:
- Are You A Growing Small Business? Exchange Hosting will bring peace of mind! (Part I)
- Exchange Hosting: Factors which can bring peace of mind to your growing small business (Part II)
After all the initial studies, now you are considering the hosting company to outsource your e-mail infrastructure. Wait! Aska few more questions... Dave Grantz recently published a nice article where he advises customers to ask some essential questions. Why would some of the hosting companies rush with an attractive deal while compromising reliability and customer support? Customers should realize that not all the hosting companies offer redundant infrastructure, stable backups and efficient support. While offering down to earth lower price per mailbox, they might be eyeing on various extra fees for services. Who knows, there might be some hidden clause where customer will be stuck with the hosting providers for a certain period once signed up.
Know the difference: Managed Hosting & Non-managed Hosting
Managed Hosting – In a managed environment, the following tasks should be performed by the hoster:
- Server maintenance, related facilitation in the datacenter & physical security of the whole infrastructure.
- Data backups, patch management, support related issues & escalation which occurs from time to time.
- Related software license management and further procurement of hardware/software, if any.
In a Non-Managed Hosting environment, you can rent a server in its datacenter rack space. The way servers are being managed and maintained is not the hoster's headache. If something happens to these servers, you literally have to worry about how to bring this back online not the hosters. In other words, you crush your business continuity by outsourcing the server.
Is Data protection guaranteed?
Here belief comes first. Secondly, how credible your Hosting Company is. If you are not getting a firm answer on this, the hosting company may not have established enough security standards. Go to the next level of checking; do they have a very good protection from spam and virus? Though most of the hosting companies provide anti spam and anti virus protection, some of them are not and some of them offer a very basic one. Many offer the standard one which cannot cope with the daily innovative spammers, however the advanced solution of anti spam and antivirus can offer the customer some desired level of guaranteed protection. (Of course, with additional fees)
Look at their Spam filtering policies no matter standard or advanced. Most of the filtering is done at the server level, there are situations where you need user control to further refinement/validation purpose. The reason for doing this end user level is because of accidental filtering of legitimate mails at the server level. I remember, in my previous company we used to have web access (accessible even from the internet) where we log in to the Inbox in an Anti Spam appliance to retrieve messages those being filtered accidentally.
Data Recovery from the Exchange Mailbox.
This is most demanding in some companies where end users casually deletes and expect the support people to recover whenever they demand. Its productivity killing and sensitive task. Again, depends of company's retention policy. So this is even worse when you outsource your email to a hosting company if you do not have a proper data recovery policy. I know good hosting companies do provide clear retention policies and backup tape rotation method. On top of it, with an archival system users don't need to manage their PST for past years and they can access it using the web from anywhere. Statistics from various research firms shows that employees waste their time in managing PST, worst case when the valuable PSTs crash and are irrecoverable (because these ignorant users store beyond 2GB). What if a mailbox of an old employee needs to be recovered for legal purposes? In a nutshell, it is very essential to understand and ensure how fast this can be recovered.
All these come at an additional cost! Usually mailbox retention policies starts from 14-30 days. But retention of backup tapes is not longer, therefore you must have an idea if any long term archival is done and also, how much it costs.
How is the pricing done?
Most of the hosting companies charge per mailbox that is being hosted (e.g. $7 per month). This doesn't mean that you are going to get all the features you need. So get down to granular details.
For example, Mailbox size - Managing mailbox quota is always challenging for the support team, especially users keep demanding an increase as they reach the quota (some users who do not want to learn the simple techniques of controlling the mailbox).
Eventually if you decide to increase the mailbox size for the users, be prepared for additional costs. Likewise, there are additional charges for more functionality (e.g. Mobility, Archival etc.)
Before I conclude, there are many other areas you can check to analyze the performance a hosting company that you are considering. Check their server availability/downtime status in the previous years. Do a detailed reading of various clauses in its Service Level Agreement, What if you want to migrate to a new Exchange version etc...