Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services: What are the real benefits?

This topic was one of the key sessions in the last TechEd SEA 2007 at KL, Malaysia. Exchange Hosted Service is getting hotter in the market due to various challenges in Messaging & Collaboration infrastructure, some of them are below:

  1. Exchange Server downtime is not acceptable these days due to productivity lost and revenue loss.
  2. Spam is more dangerous and profit is behind this motivation.
  3. Hard to manage the complex infrastructure and its integration due to time & cost limitation.

What is Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services?

People get confused easily by this name. I too had a wrong impression about Exchange Hosted Services (EHS) initially when it launched. Exchange Hosted Services comprises the following offerings:

  1. Exchange Hosted Filtering: This is anti-spam/anti-virus filtering service.
  2. Exchange Hosted Archive: Outsourced mail archiving service for message retention.
  3. Exchange Hosted Continuity: allows users to access their last 30 days’ email over the web and send/receive new mail to reduce impact of a mail server outage on users.
  4. Exchange Hosted Encryption: offers policy-based message encryption.

Exchange Hosted Service is an SaaS model. in other words, Exchange Hosted services are deployed over the Internet. This will eventually reduce additional capital investment, eliminate the need of having IT pro resources and minimize messaging risks before they reach your corporate network/firewall.

Why do you go for Exchange Hosted Services?

Organizations choose Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services mainly because of three reasons:

  1. Reliable & Enterprise class: This is essential when it comes to disaster recovery and in worst case scenarios, a catastrophic failure where your organization needs a mechanism of email continuity.
  2. Real time active protection: Of course from spam and malicious viruses. It can help in eliminating the threats even before they reach your organization.
  3. Email management is simplified: dramatic cost savings in IT operations since you do not engage an Exchange administrator to do this job. Overall capital investment is reduced by a great deal.

How does Exchange Hosted Services (EHS) work? What are the efforts required?

Activating Exchange Hosted Services is as simple as changing the MX record configuration so that mail send/receive are redirected through Microsoft Exchange Hosted Service infrastructure. Customers do not buy, install or configure any hardware/software nor engage your IT staff, because Microsoft is providing support for EHS. So save $$$!

What are the real benefits?

Exchange Hosted filtering service – it cleans up spam and viruses coming to your organization. See Figure 1 below (Picture Source: Microsoft). Also, it provides the following key benefits:

  1. Filtering starts working as soon as you change the simple MX record in your Messaging infrastructure
  2. Multiple anti virus engines bring the extra layer of protection.
  3. Emails will not be lost as they begin to queue if something happens to the Exchange server or network on the customer side.

Exchange Hosted Filtering

Figure 1

The below email security magic quadrant from Gartner is one year old now. Microsoft is placed as “Leaders” in this quadrant in terms of its Email Security offering. As per Gartner, “Leaders have clear vision of Market direction” and so Microsoft does. Exchange Hosted Services have been taken to the next level by integrating Forefront products.

Gartner Email Security Magic Quadrant

Exchange Hosted Continuity Service
– This is an active repository for email retention. By doing this, you can have strong disaster protection. Messages are captured in real time. This allows you to seamlessly do email restoration during outages/catastrophe. I heard from Microsoft that the current retention period is 30 days for Exchange Hosted Continuity Service and have no plan to increase at this point in time. See Figure 2 below (Picture Source: Microsoft)

Exchange Hosted Continuity
Figure 2

Exchange hosted archive service – Your organization can comply to regulatory retention requirements by activating this service. It also provides an active repository for email storage which is free from Spam and Virus attack. This is going to be full text indexing of email with attachments and also includes instant messaging. With the help of web based compliance tools, your organization can supervise, escalate, track messages so on and so forth. Users can access the archive through web interface if any real-time email functionalities need to be carried out. See Figure 3 below (Picture Source: Microsoft)

Exchange Hosted Archiving

Figure 3

Exchange hosted encryption service – This service incorporates identity-based encryption technology and uses common key for public key. This can encrypt any email or attachments. Messages between the servers are secured with TLS. If you are using Web based email client, the Zero Download manager (ZDM) module enables security. See Figure 4 below for the model infrastructure of hosted encryption (Picture Source: Microsoft)

Exchange Hosted Encryption

Figure 4

In summary, the Exchange Hosted Service complements your Messaging infrastructure whether its in-house or hosted with Exchange Hosting Providers. So it brings substantial cost savings in network, hardware & software!

With Exchange Hosted Service, you are absolutely saving the network bandwidth, because all the spam filtering and virus blocking are done at Microsoft EHS facilities. So you can better utilize your bandwidth for the organization’s value added services and save a huge amount every year. Microsoft has a highly available network across their data centers worldwide which ensure on time message traffic delivery. See Figure 5 below for Microsoft Datacenter locations (Picture source: Microsoft)

Microsoft Datacenters worldwide

Figure 5

Spam and Viruses are eliminated before they reach your corporate network. The cost of buying software is absolutely zero on various email management services (such as spam, virus, archiving & email encryption). With robust email backup, customers will benefit from the rapid disaster recovery. Last but not the least it lowers the cost of ownership because of zero upfront capital investment in hardware, software, network bandwidth and IT resources.

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