June 12, 2018

Should You Build or Buy Your Email Platform?

If you have a team of talented developers, you can pretty much build anything, especially if you use open source software as your base. Open source software (OSS) enables developers to access the source code for computer software and have the right “to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose”.

But just because you can build something, it doesn’t mean that you should. It takes time and resources to learn the nuances of a new discipline when it’s not your core area of technical expertise. It also distracts key resources from your primary business purpose, with no guarantees that you’ll be able to master the intricacies of the new product you hope to build.

And when we’re talking about building an email platform, we need to remember that email plays such a vital role in your customers’ daily lives that if you get it wrong, you could be putting your customers’ security, privacy and efficiency at risk.

Are you sure your business can afford to take a chance on building something new, even if you do tap into the power of open source software?


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Building with Open Source

Here at atmail, we love open source. Some of our products are based on open source software and we (many moons ago) released the code for (an old version of) atmail’s email product into the free open source community.

But it is a myth that open source is completely free. You cannot just pick up the free source code for an email platform and assume you will have an ongoing, secure, reliable and stable email system. Open source is just the building block. It takes many, many talented developer hours to maintain, improve and build on those building blocks. So much so, that a “free” open source solution may end up costing more in the long run, compared with a managed environment provided by an established vendor.

Raj Sabhlok, President of software development company, Zoho Corporation, aptly describes in Forbes the dilemma faced by those making this decision:

“Think of commercial software as a house and open source software as everything you need to build a house — raw lumber, nails, sheet rock, windows, plumbing fixtures and the rest. You can spend your money and buy the house, or you can spend your time and build the house. Either way, you pay for your house.

Like a do-it-yourself house, you are on your own if something goes wrong with your homegrown, open source application. Yes, you’ll find plenty of free help online. Too much help, perhaps, and that may lead to one or more wild goose chases as you hunt down and fix the problem yourself (think many, many trips to the Home Depot). But that’s a key dividing line between buying commercial software and building your open source solution.

Free, open source software may be a cost-effective alternative on the front end of an application development project, but you’ve got to factor in the costs of the ongoing maintenance and support as well as the up-front development to get the project’s true cost — not to mention business risk.”


Building an Email Platform

Can you build your own email platform?

Well, email is complicated. To do it well requires specialist expertise and years of experience to effectively manage a healthy and robust email environment.

Why? Generally, everyone has their own understanding of what different protocols should do and some providers meet all email-related RFCs, while others only meet subsets. Ensuring interoperability between all the different implementations is challenging. There is a lot to consider – and even more to test – to successfully render email with different headers, mime-types, character sets and languages in the one message list. Proactive, daily management is required to detect and prevent inbound and outbound spam, to protect the reputation of your IP range, to block malware and phishing attacks, to enforce strong passwords, to comply with GDPR and to walk the tightrope balance of legislative requirements between data retention and user privacy; and still provide a highly-available environment with a desirable user experience that supports all of the modern, ever-changing devices (namely the ever-increasing capabilities of iOS and Android), operating systems (such as Microsoft, Apple, and IBM) and browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Opera and more).

atmail has been building and supporting email platforms for 20 years and we can tell you that it is a full-time gig and it is not for the faint-hearted.


Buying an Email Platform

The alternative to building an email platform is to buy one – or at least to buy (or subscribe to) a licence to use one.

If you have your own technical team, you need to keep your data on-site and you’re willing to (buy and) maintain your own servers, you’ll be looking to ‘buy’ an on-premises email platform.

If you’d prefer to outsource your email administration and spam management and/or you’d like to avoid the high cost of buying servers, you’ll be looking to ‘buy’ a hosted cloud email solution, where someone else manages everything for you.

If you choose cloud, you then need to choose whether you’d like a public cloud email solution or you’re willing to pay extra for the dedicated private cloud option. Plus, whether you need to be in a GDPR compliant data centre and/or a data centre close to your headquarters or customers.

Then you need to decide if you are happy to run your email with another company’s brand on it, or if you’d prefer to white label your email to boost your customer engagement and brand revenue.

But, all of these choices are made so much easier because the email platforms are already built. You don’t have to build them. You don’t have to gamble your money, time and resources on something that’s foreign to your primary skill set and has no certainty of returns.

That’s why we always recommend outsourcing to a trusted email service provider. That’s what we’re here for. You’re still tapping into the collective power of open source, but with the dependability of a supported product that undergoes ongoing product development (think: someone else is worrying about email bugs and feature requests). This ensures a high-quality solution, combined with the community intelligence that ties the technology together, plus all the benefits and assurances of business-level support.


Build vs Buy?

The number one rule is: Build what you are an expert in, buy everything else.

That said, when it comes to email, the reality is that the “build vs buy” debate is actually yesterday’s discussion.

The decision you should be evaluating today is when you will switch to hosted email to let email experts manage everything for you.


Written by Daniel Viney and Andrea Martins



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