Explosive growth in the Hosted exchange industry shows the strong demand and trend among customers (including enterprise and large corporations) for Hosted Exchange services. The challenge here for the organization is in choosing the right partner for their Hosted Exchange Service needs. Sometimes it’s confusing as there are many web hosting companies, data center firms and sometimes telecom vendors beginning to offer Microsoft hosted exchange services. I am in the initial stage of preparing a guide to help you get clarity in this field. These are the basic issues you must take into account when choosing your service provider in Hosted exchange. I will keep working on this topic to come up with a complete guide.
Let’s start with company Information check:
What is your core business?
This can be one of the first questions in the list to your potential hosting service providers, since this gives more clarity during your initial phase of short listing the Hosting Vendors. My suggestion is to look for companies who are solely operating and managing Microsoft Exchange and related technologies – I mean “A core Hosted Exchange Provider”, here is the list of Microsoft listed Hosted Exchange providers.
How many years of experience do you have in Hosted Exchange services?
If they say "10 years or so in the business", then your very next question can be "Was it specifically in 'Exchange Hosted environments'?". Keep asking this until you get clear answer. The reason for emphasizing this question is due to many factors, such as that Microsoft Exchange server is a sophisticated & mission critical email application. If technical issues occur which are unique to Hosted environments the provider should be capable of resolving it within the SLA. Exchange infrastructure in Hosted environments is always complex because there are hundreds of other tenants (customers) in the network using the hosted exchange services.
You need to analyze their historical data when it comes to Exchange upgrades (for example, upgrade from Exchange 5.5 to 2000 to 2003, and the plans for the Exchange 2007 transition) and several other related architecture upgrades. They must have a mechanism to test the Microsoft patches before applying them in production, the right parameters must be configured in the monitoring systems (e.g. MOM, NetIQ etc) in order to be proactive, and last but not least, experience of the support personnel.
How are you getting along with Microsoft in the Hosting Business? What kind of signed partner license do you have?
As you check the Microsoft site, only a few groups are certified and licensed to run the Hosted Exchange service, because they must acquire SPLA (Service Provider Licensing Agreement) before they can legally provide the hosting services to customers. Even before getting SPLA, they must send their systems engineers for training on Hosted exchange environments. If they are a 'Gold Certified" partner, you must ask them in which specific area they received this "Gold Certification" as this covers many other areas.
What other certifications & partnership credibility’s your company hold?
Look for the different type of certifications which are very specific to Exchange Hosting and recognized in the industry. Some of them are below:
Microsoft Exchange Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA)
Microsoft Gold Certification
Microsoft Certified Partner
"Microsoft Certified Partners have a broad-range of experience. Microsoft Certified Partners typically offer several areas of technical expertise including infrastructure, networking, office automation, e-commerce, collaboration, business intelligence, and other leading edge disciplines. Microsoft Certified Partner services include consulting, training, implementation, maintenance/support, and hosting services."
OK, I will continue this topic as my research goes on. You can expect the next part of this topic in the same blog section in near future - I will cover more on the Infrastructure side.