If you believe the hype (as many people do), all software and tech infrastructure will migrate to the cloud. While it’s partially true, many companies (including telco’s and service providers) have yet to take full advantage of the capabilities of the cloud. They may be limited to a simple SaaS (Software as a Service) or IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) solution, but still host a bulk of their infrastructure or software in-house.
In most cases, companies are just testing the waters before fully committing more resources. The next logical step may be to begin hosting their email on the cloud using an Email-as-a-Service solution (EaaS).
Again, these are uncharted waters for most, and you don’t want to find yourself lost in the Bermuda Triangle of cloud-based email services. In the following guide, we’ll answer this question and delve deep into the technical aspects of a great cloud email solution.
How to pick the best cloud email solution
Let’s cut through all the noise and get down to the brass tacks. When most administrators think about email services, they have two main concerns from a technical standpoint:
- They need an email service they can easily administer, that is available to users exactly when users want it, and it has to be delivered as cleanly and efficiently as possible. In this case, email has to function as a utility.
- They need to be able to secure and be run efficiently, after all emails acts as a digital filing system.
On a cosmetic level, most email services satisfy these needs – at least temporarily. However, to determine which cloud-based email solution is the best, we must analyze how each service addresses these needs.
When people discuss the advantages of cloud services, scalability is often the first topic they discuss. In the simplest of terms, scalability describes a resource’s ability to expand or shrink to meet demand. Using an in-house email server solution requires businesses to scale manually. As businesses or services grow, they tend to onboard more users who need their own unique email addresses.
Cloud-based email services scale automatically. This means companies and service providers aren’t required to supply new licenses or upgrade their equipment once their user-base increases, it is a simply incremental addition of a user.
We all know how expensive this can be. However, these expenses aren’t just limited to hardware. More often than not, companies are required to hire new staff to handle upgrades when they scale up or scale out.
For instance, if you’re running a software development house that produces software with an email feature, you’ll need to update the backend to accommodate new hardware and software. You can expect to pay $100 to $200 an hour for an experienced engineer to help you update the backend.
This is why when picking a cloud-server or cloud-based email service, it’s important to enquire or research how cost-effective, optimal and versatile the elasticity of the service is.
2. Multiple Availability Zones (AZs)
Most on-premises mail solutions are restricted to a single data centre, as maintaining a replicated environment comes with its own set of nightmares and typically over twice the price to do so. Whilst it doesn’t occur often, when a data centre becomes unavailable, it is basically an organisational meltdown – being in the cloud, well the Atmail Cloud, data centre failures are transparent to you, it just works. Each region in the Atmail cloud has a set of availability zones where we host our service.
If your company has branches and employees in different parts of the world or your service is global, you need to be able to confirm that users will be able to access and use the email service with as little latency as possible regardless of where they are. That’s why we at Atmail offer you the choice of public clouds – if you want a private instance close to you, we can do that too!
Thus, when picking your cloud-based mail service, you need to ensure that it has sufficient AZs for your business’s demands.
Older email messaging protocols such as IMAP function on a stateful principle, while newer protocols such as JMAP work on, and even assume, statelessness. In essence, stateful services use a persistent connection to a single server or service. Many mail services store messages in a single location in a single data centre, and some times even on a single disk.
This server is often responsible for handling all requests for that mailbox. On the other hand, stateless services aren’t as closely married to a single connection, service, or server. Multiple services can handle a request.
Bottom line, statelessness gives the services added scalability and provides an auto-failover mechanism. If this is not on your shopping list, it should be.
4. How Is Email Stored, Archived, And Encapsulated?
This is another important question you need to ask when researching your prospective cloud-based email service. Consequently, it ties into availability zones and general cloud security. Many well-established vendors employ a storage class paradigm where data is stored and divided into a storage class.
Each class has a unique storage duration and region availability. Furthermore, each class may also have multi-region redundancy where the data (email and user data) is stored and can be accessed across multiple servers.
It’s a bit similar to how your standard email client encapsulates mail messages into different folders. Mail that has just arrived in your inbox may be put in a common storage class then moved to a cold-line or archive storage class after a year or a specified amount of time has passed.
Other questions you should consider asking include:
- Does the cloud-based email service have efficient automatic retrieval and storage across all classes? Is it transparent to me as the user of the service? Do I realise savings because my provider can utilise storage classes?
- Does it scan mail for dangerous attachments while ensuring PCI compliance, Lawful Interception (LI), and General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)?
- If the service creates automatic back-ups, how easy is it to access them? Do I even need to access them?
- Can you access redundant or backed-up data without any downtime?
Workers often have to take their work home with them, and they’re not always on work premises to read and answer email messages – they access them from trains, planes and automobiles… While it may raise some security concerns for some, others may deem it beneficial for their users to access their inboxes from multiple devices from multiple locations simultaneously.
You need to investigate how your prospective EaaS vendor facilitates this feature. Do they have their own proprietary mobile and desktop applications that help you access your email? If they have an application, does it save your email messages on your device for offline viewing?
Do you have to set up a third-party email client such as Microsoft Outlook while the vendor provides you with a barebones elastic server? Or do you have to access your mail through an online web portal?
How and when your users can access their mailboxes is important. Additionally, how much you (as the administrator) can control should be taken into consideration.
While all cloud-based email services are innately more secure than on-premise solutions, few vendors provide the same security. Some questions you need to ask when searching for the right email-as-a-service vendor include:
- Does the service come bundled with zero-access encryption for message archives?
- Does the service feature end-to-end encryption for transmitted messages?
- What type of encryption does the service use?
- Can you choose the security layers you want to be added or removed from your service?
- Does the vendor implement secure and privacy-focussed work practices and operations?
The ideal cloud-based email service should take the bulk of your security concerns off your hands. All you should worry about is how you manage user accounts and profiles.
Mistakes that should be avoided when picking a cloud-based solution
While assessing a cloud service provider’s merits using their reputation or list of features, there are a few pitfalls you should look out for when making your final decision. Some may seem obvious. Here’s a quick run-down:
- Picking a service solely based on cost: Avoid choosing a solution based exclusively on the total package cost. Instead, study which features benefit your business the most and the value that each service brings to the table.
- Forgoing encryption: Many people feel that encrypting the volumes or email messages isn’t all that important. However, malicious cybercriminals can use your companies’ email messages to infiltrate your company and steal precious data. Ensuring that your prospective email service vendor provides exhaustive encryption is one of the first steps in preparing your business against cybersecurity threats
- Picking a vendor based on their brand or commercial reputation: The most popular cloud or email service vendor isn’t necessarily the best. You need to be pragmatic as you weigh your options. However, reading a review or two before settling on a vendor isn’t a bad idea either. Your assessment needs to be balanced.
- Forgoing customer support: Some services charge an additional fee for comprehensive 24/7 customer support. While it may seem like a great place to cut costs, forgoing customer support may leave you exposed if anything goes wrong, especially in the early stages of using a new email service.
Migrating to an EaaS solution can save you time and money. However, with many new cloud service vendors popping up almost every day, carefully assessing and choosing the best one is crucial. In most cases, committing to a cloud-based email service provider is a long-term marriage that will affect the trajectory of your business.