Moving from In-House Exchange to Hosted Exchange

In the December 13, 2007 EMO (Exchange Messaging Outlook) e-newsletter, I had an article titled "'Tis The Season To Host - Or Not?" regarding hosting your Exchange services.

You can read this article at http://www.slipstick.com/emo/index.htm.

As part of that article, I made the point that switching from in-house Exchange to hosted Exchange was a more difficult choice to make (in my opinion), than the choice of going for hosted Exchange from a non-Exchange e-mail system.

I've gotten quite used to Exchange and its tight integration to Outlook. There are other systems that provide similar services and do so quite well. But I'm partial to Exchange. Geeked

There are several reasons why a company running Exchange in-house may decide to outsource their Exchange to another company. Among these:

  • Cost - maintaining an Exchange system is not cheap; especially when you factor in the costs of expertise, training, backups, and bandwidth
  • Return on Investment - if your company was never able to use all the capabilities of Exchange before moving to hosted services (because of lack of resources, lack of expertise, lack of add-on software) then moving to hosted services may be much cheaper than bringing those other factors in-house (this is somewhat the reverse-side of cost)
  • Control - you may find it difficult to make your Exchange environment behave in the way you desire

Hosting may never make sense for businesses on the "upper side" of "small and medium business". But I would suggest that up to around 100 mailboxes, hosting is probably always the better choice. And, if your hosted provider offers dedicated servers, this probably scales well to around 250 mailboxes.

If you are within that size, why wouldn't you want to host? That's a different, but very important question. I would assert that the answer revolves around:

  • 1. Loss of control
  • 2. Loss of control
  • 3. Loss of control
  • 4. Minor loss of features

In a hosted environment, you can only do what the hosting company allows you to do. When moving from an in-house solution to a hosted solution, you may find the new restrictions onerous and not acceptable.

When evaluating hosting companies, and you are moving from an in-house solution, there are some difficult questions you should ask. Below, I list quite a number of them that you may miss, even after you've done end-user due diligence.

"The List"

1. Does the hosting environment allow multiple hosting clients to have contacts with the same e-mail address? (This question can be restated as: how does the hosting software deal with SMTP address collisions?)

2. Does the hosting environment allow you to share SMTP address space, either as a master or as a slave environment, with a hosted SMTP domain? (This question can be restated as: can you do a step-wise migration, or do you have to migrate all mailboxes at once?)

3. Does the hosting environment support Deleted Item Retention? For how long? Does their deployment environment set the DumpsterAlwaysOn registry key for Outlook? (This question can be restated as: what happens when someone deletes something they didn't mean to!)

4. Does the hosting environment support Deleted Mailbox Retention? For how long? (Restatement: can I easily restore the mailbox if my company administrator deletes a mailbox by mistake?)

5. Does the hosting company do backups? How often and how long do they retain them? Can they do single mailbox recovery? (Restatement: if the hosting company has a "disaster" can they recover my mailboxes? Also, if the timeframe for Deleted Mailbox Retention has expired, can I recover the company president's mailbox from last month?)

6. Does the hosting environment support journaling? What are the data-retention options for the journal mailbox? Can I have an external interface to a journal solution?

7. Does the hosting environment support catchall mailboxes? (This is simple a feature that some companies use. Others don't.)

8. Does the hosting environment have a decent anti-spam solution? (More than the Outlook Junk Mail Filter!) Does the anti-spam solution support individual mailbox quarantines? If there is a false-positive, how can you get your file/message delivered?

9. Does the hosting environment allow you to truly white-label their services? (Restatement: can you have a custom OWA URL? Can you have a custom RPC/HTTP URL? When you connect to an SMTP virtual server, does it say YOUR domain name?)

10. Does the hosting environment allow you to have custom OWA themes? Does it support OWA segmentation

11. Does the hosting environment support SPF and/or Sender-ID incoming? Does it require it outgoing? Can you decide or are you limited to their default?

12. Does the hosting environment support SSL for OWA? TLS for SMTP? Form-based authentication for OWA? Two-factor authentication for OWA and for Outlook?

13. Does the hosting environment allow you to specify on a per-user basis who gets EAS (ActiveSync)? Blackberry services? Goodlink services?

14. Does the hosting environment allow you to create custom address lists?

15. Does the hosting environment allow you to force an Offline Address Book (OAB) update?

16. How is disk space aggregated? Is each mailbox billed separately? Is the company/domain aggregated together? Can different mailboxes have different default allocations? Can you manage the limits? Can you get disk space reports? Can you create/manage a "Mailbox Manager" policy for your domain?

17. What are the hard limits on mailboxes sizes?

18. Does the hosting environment run a gateway anti-virus solution? An information store anti-virus solution? A file-based anti-virus solution? If there is a false-positive, how can you get your file/message delivered?

19. Does the hosting environment support "Send As" permissions and "Send On Behalf Of" permissions? Can you manage this yourself?

20. Does the hosting environment support LDAP access to your address books?

21. Do you have access to SMTP log files? Do you have access to message tracking log files?

22. What is the maximum incoming message size? The maximum outgoing message size? Can you adjust it?

23. What is the maximum number of message recipients? Can you adjust it?

24. Does the hosting environment support public folders? How many? How big? Can you mail-enable public folders?

25. Does the hosting environment support an interface to SharePoint services?

26. Does the hosting environment allow for external SMTP relays by IP address? What about by authorized users?

27. Does the hosting environment allow for POP-3 or IMAP users to access Exchange mailboxes?

28. Does the hosting company offer a network Service Level Agreement (SLA)? Does the hosting company offer an Exchange SLA? Does the SLA have any teeth?

This list is far from being all-inclusive. However, it gives you a flavor for topics that you may have missed when you did your first evaluation.

Also, make sure you know how a hosting company may meet your needs. All Exchange hosting companies should have mailbox control panels in this day and age, but many of the items in the list above may not be manageable via the control panel. If you are told that you have to open a support ticket to get things done - find out the guaranteed turn-around and the escalation policy for issues.

Good luck and happy hosting!

Published Monday, December 17, 2007 7:08 AM by michael
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