Also commonly known as Hosted Exchange, Virtual Exchange refers to a service whereby an IT provider creates e-mail boxes and space available on a server so its clients can host their data there. The provider then manages that client’s data and routes traffic from the server to various devices such as desktops, laptops, or mobile (smart) phones using “push” technology. Clients can then access their email, address book, calendar, tasks and documents remotely at any time from any (web-enabled) location. Virtual Exchange is usually looked upon as a contrasting solution to a traditional physical Exchange server being set up and configured on-premise - within a company’s walls and (typically) managed in-house by internal IT personnel.
Many businesses tend to believe that an internally managed Exchange deployment is less expensive to deploy and operate than Virtual Exchange. That perception may have been accurate at some point but today it is most often not. While cost is a major consideration in most IT planning, the other big consideration is the time and effort it takes to install, configure, update and maintain an internal server. With a Virtual Exchange solution your remote IT provider (or host) should supply all the hardware and software necessary to meet your organization’s messaging needs, then operate and maintain it for you in a Class “A” datacenter. You simply pay a monthly fee per number of users and can then access your email using Outlook® or Entourage® on your desktop, Outlook Web Access in any web browser, or wirelessly from your mobile devices like the BlackBerry®, iPhone®, or tablet PC. Under this scenario you have no servers to purchase, maintain, repair or upgrade - just the latest and greatest communication tools at your disposal - all deployed automatically. Upgrades become simple migrations, often invisibly to end-users, rather than wholescale “shut down the system and reinstall”.
What are the main benefits to going virtual?
There are a number of important benefits to moving your communications tools into ‘The Cloud’. Both from a corporate (with or without an IT department) and from an end-user perspective, including:
- Lower costs - the direct cost savings of going virtual can be substantial. Licensing costs are often included in the hosted pricing as part of the service, further reducing the cost of Virtual compared to on-premise Exchange.
- Regular, predictable costs - with a Virtual solution, you know what your set costs are per user month and these vary only if you add or remove users. Disasters, power outages, etc. do not cause disarray or additional time and money spent.
- Opportunity costs - if you have internal IT personnel, you want to use their time to maximize your corporate benefit. Freeing them from having to constantly monitoring servers to ensure uptime allows them to concentrate on more (personally and corporate) fulfilling assignments.
- Expertise - speaking of your internal IT staff, Exchange is not a simple beast to tame - especially when a new version of the system is deployed. The cost to employ and retain competent technical support staff can be prohibitive, especially for smaller organizations.
- Seamless Backup & Disaster Recovery - prevent downtime & ensure availability for your critical business communications even in the face of a physical disaster or outage. Also, by moving to a secure 3rd party hosted service your communications data will meet SAS 70 compliance standards.
- Quick deployment and adding new users easily - it is relatively simple for your host to configure and implement an infrastructure to meet immediate requirements, yet it can easily scale to grow along with your business.
- Upgrades are not frightening - with a hosted service, new Exchange versions are a migration, not a complex, fingers-crossed, upgrade.
Benefits for End Users:
Your company and IT department can benefit significantly from Virtual Exchange deployment as can your employees.
- Accessibility - your email account can can be accessed via Microsoft Outlook on Windows, Microsoft Entourage on the Mac, and from any leading Web browser (Outlook Web Access) giving you access to your email, calendar, tasks, address lists, public folders and other content from virtually any desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet, etc.
- Mobile Access - BlackBerry, iPhone and Android-powered devices all can be configured to become mobile email platforms for employees to remain in touch whenever, wherever.
- Synchronization across platforms - emails sent from your Outlook Web Access naturally appear in your regular Outlook “Sent” folder & appointments sync between all linked devices.
When should you make a move to Virtual Exchange?
A move to a virtual solution should be done when appropriate based on an organization’s hardware/software cycle. At The Utility Company we maintain that our customers should first utilize their existing technology as best they can, but from a total cost of ownership (TCO) basis the argument to move to Virtual Exchange can be made at almost any time. Unless you JUST spent thousands of dollars installing the latest and greatest physical server, and have an internal IT department well-versed in its intricacies, an argument can be made at almost any point to move to the convenience of a virtual solution.
Virtual Exchange is often looked upon as a solution usually reserved for new or smaller organizations. However, a move to a virtual solution provides many benefits to even large organizations and those with existing internal IT support. In terms of specifics, for a 100 employee company, moving to hosted exchange solution results in over 60% cost savings (based on a typical three year costing) as the cost of the labour to maintain a physical solution can range from 55-70% of the total cost.
Next month we will discuss the business benefits of moving to a virtual desktop delivered in the cloud computing model over the Internet…
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