When global staffing firm Adecco Group began an effort\n one year ago to consolidate and outsource its five data centers\n into one, Dave Bossi came to the realization that moving the\n data center would also move three separately managed Microsoft\n Exchange e-mail servers of different versions and a fourth\n legacy e-mail technology\u2014with potentially huge disruption\n to 10,000 e-mail users. Bossi, the North American vice\n president of IT, thought this might be an opportunity to\n rethink the company\u2019s e-mail strategy. \u201cE-mail\n tends to get lost in the mix. It becomes an\n afterthought,\u201d Bossi says. Unless, of course, something\n goes wrong.Bossi\u2019s case for outsourcing broke down like this: If\n Adecco moved the e-mail servers to a separate outsourced\n provider, the e-mail systems would be unaffected in the event\n of any trouble (like network overloads) at Adecco\u2019s data\n center. Having a dedicated e-mail provider also makes\n administering e-mail accounts, managing servers and handling\n frequent software patches more efficient and less dependent on\n other data center resources. It shifts the responsibility for\n malware protection to a specialist\u2014and eliminates the\n need to manage anti-malware appliances. CIO Alwin Brunner liked\n Bossi\u2019s logic. Adecco is consolidating its four e-mail\n platforms into one, which is hosted by USA.net (separate from\n Adecco\u2019s outsourced data center that IBM manages).\n MORE ON CIO.COM\n \n An Introduction to Outsourcing\n \n How One CIO Escaped E-Mail Attachment Hell\n Today, Bossi and Brunner say they\u2019re very happy with\n the performance and lower cost of e-mail outsourcing. For\n example, Adecco cut its e-mail administrator staff in half to\n three people and repurposed much of the physical infrastructure\n to other projects, saving thousands of dollars and eliminating\n the need for future equipment purchases.Like Adecco, an increasing number of large enterprises are\n deciding that e-mail is mission-critical but is plain-vanilla\n enough to be outsourced, says Mark Levitt, vice president of\n collaborative computing at IDC, (a sister company to\n CIO\u2019s publisher). The proliferation of malware is also\n pushing the trend, says Don DePalma, president of consultancy\n Common Sense Advisory. Now that spam accounts for more than\n half of all e-mail messages, many businesses are looking to\n outsource message filtering because the internal burden has\n gotten too great. This is often the first step a company takes\n toward eventually outsourcing the entire e-mail burden.\n\n Smaller Firms Lead the Way\n Small companies\u2014those with fewer than 100\n employees\u2014have gotten the jump on outsourcing e-mail,\n IDC\u2019s Levitt notes. More than half of all small-business\n e-mail accounts are now outsourced or under consideration for\n outsourcing, according to a recent IDC survey. Lack of IT\n resources tends to drive small companies toward outsourcing\n much of their IT operations, and e-mail has gone along for that\n ride.The Arthritis Foundation is a case in point. Four years ago,\n \u201cwe were spending all of our time keeping the systems\n running, not bettering the foundation\u2019s goals,\u201d\n recalls VP of Strategy Management and CIO Marla Davidson.\n \u201cWe realized we could get a lot more depth from our staff\n by using a managed service provider for those\n operations,\u201d she says. Outsourcing also reduced the risk\n of failure: \u201cWe had just one e-mail admin, so if that\n person was on vacation or got sick, we would just hold our\n breath,\u201d she says. Now, the foundation gets 24\/7 coverage\n it didn\u2019t have before.\u201cOur costs declined and our service levels improved.\n Plus we get more disciplined management and better\n security,\u201d Davidson says, letting the foundation now\n support some Sarbanes-Oxley rules that it couldn\u2019t afford\n before. (While not obligated to follow them, executive\n management saw several as beneficial governance approaches, she\n says.)Originally, Davidson outsourced all IT operations to one\n vendor. But after several years of seeing the systems actually\n outsourced, it became clear that some, such as e-mail, could\n easily be handled separately. \u201cWe now view Exchange as a\n commodity service. It\u2019s OK to be separate,\u201d\n Davidson says. So when the foundation asked for bids to take on\n the outsourcing as part of its contract renewal two years ago,\n she separated e-mail into its own RFP to open up more\n competition.\n Examples of E-Mail Outsourcers\n Among the vendors offering e-mail outsourcing, many\n are local or regional providers serving the\n small-business market, which led the adoption of this\n approach. However, a growing number of firms also serve\n midsize and large enterprises. Those that deliver\n Microsoft Exchange hosting include 123Together.com, Apptix, AT&T\u2019s\n USi division, Connectria, Intermedia.net, Orange Business Services,\n Rackspace, USA.net and Verizon Business.Providers of IBM Lotus Notes hosting include\n Connectria, Prominic.net and Riverwatch. For enterprises that\n are willing to move away from the established e-mail\n applications (Exchange, Notes and Novell GroupWise),\n Google recently began providing a business-class\n version of its Gmail service.Many providers also offer remote monitoring and\n management of internal e-mail servers, for enterprises\n that want to keep ownership of e-mail systems onsite.\n Examples of those supporting midsize and large\n enterprises include AT&T USi, Azaleos, Cognizant, Connectria, Dimension Data, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.For CIOs looking to outsource just e-mail spam and\n threat management, options include MessageLabs, MX Logic, Postini (acquired by Google on\n July 9) and Sophos.\n\n \n \n \n\n Making Your Case\n The case for outsourcing e-mail has been harder for enterprise\n IT to make, IDC analyst Levitt notes. \u201cIt\u2019s not\n easy to hand off; it\u2019s as core to IT as you can\n imagine,\u201d he says, with a lot of resources and expertise\n already invested. That investment acts as an anchor that keeps\n the e-mail servers and administration in-house. However, as\n large enterprises consider consolidation, system upgrades or\n large outsourcing efforts, it makes sense to consider an e-mail\n outsourcing strategy at the same time, Levitt says.\u201cWe wonder why we didn\u2019t do it sooner,\u201d\n says Tom Roets, vice president of IT at Sonic Automotive, a\n national retailer. A year ago, the company had two e-mail\n systems: Microsoft Exchange at its corporate headquarters and\n Ipswitch IMail for its national sales and dealer offices. For\n years, managing those systems had been a growing burden.\n \u201cWe spent a lot of time on patches and monitoring the\n platforms. We spent seven days a week keeping up the mail\n systems,\u201d says Chris Maritato, the national director of\n IT. But there were many fears to overcome. \u201cWe have to be\n compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley and have disaster\n recovery,\u201d he notes. Then there was the fear of such\n fundamental change, Roets says: \u201cWhen you\u2019re faced\n with 11,000 people in the field, that\u2019s a lot of angry\n people if there\u2019s a hiccup.\u201dBut by last year, another pressure was bearing down on Roets\n and Maritato. \u201cWe could not reliably support 11,000\n people the way we were doing it. The user satisfaction scores\n were going in the tank,\u201d Roets says.So the company decided to both consolidate its two e-mail\n platforms into one (Exchange) and outsource e-mail, to Verizon\n Business. \u201cWe did a pilot for 30 days,\u201d Roets\n recalls, before committing to the switch. To be safe, \u201cwe\n also put the most mission-critical people at the end of the\n transition,\u201d he adds. Within four months, the transition\n was complete.Not only did the management headache disappear while costs\n stayed about the same, but also, e-mail service actually\n improved, Roets notes. Rather than rely on one e-mail\n administrator to manage user accounts, Sonic could now rely on\n its whole help desk staff to do so, using a management portal\n provided by Verizon that didn\u2019t require the expertise\n that the previous setup did. This let Sonic redirect a staff\n member to other IT needs to meet strategic business objectives,\n Maritato says.Although there were some fears about having e-mail data\n hosted outside the company, Sonic performed a security\n assessment on Verizon that showed \u201cthere was no\n additional risk to outsourcing,\u201d Roets says.Adecco\u2019s Bossi and the Arthritis Foundation\u2019s\n Davidson came to the same conclusion. If anything, Davidson\n believes security is higher when outsourced, because an\n outsourcer can leverage its knowledge across all clients, which\n means it can be more capable and efficient than any individual\n client could. \u201cThey do security monitoring that we could\n never do,\u201d she says.\n\n A Few Caveats\n Outsourcing e-mail at large companies can work, as the\n experiences at Sonic and Adecco show. But it does require\n careful strategic planning because of the integration between\n e-mail and other applications that may exist, notes IDC\u2019s\n Levitt.\u201cYou need to understand how your e-mail system is\n being used before you do a consolidation or migration,\u201d\n echoes Bossi. When consolidating his four e-mail platforms,\n Bossi found real differences among user groups. Some frequently\n use features like public folders, for example. \u201cYou need\n to understand all of that to transmit the right requirements to\n the outsourcer,\u201d he says.You may also have some custom integration with other\n enterprise systems, such as order-taking systems, which get\n their input from e-mail, Bossi notes. For organizations that\n aren\u2019t ready to make the leap to complete outsourcing,\n there\u2019s an interim step: Have a managed service provider\n remotely monitor and control the e-mail servers in-house, says\n IDC\u2019s Levitt. IBM, Hewlett-Packard and other\n consultancies have long offered this service.Still, outsourcing e-mail will not work for everyone. The\n city of Seattle\u2019s CISO, Michael Hamilton, has\n contemplated migrating his e-mail to an outside provider, but\n decided against it due to several challenges. The toughest one\n is the city\u2019s use of Novell\u2019s GroupWise e-mail\n server, which very few outsourcers support, he says. Another\n challenge is the high level of heterogeneity among city\n agencies, many of which have very specialized requirements. The\n police, for example, don\u2019t want their data stored\n offsite, for security and privacy reasons.But Hamilton did outsource his e-mail anti-malware\n operations to Postini to get that burden off his plate.\n\n Plan Ahead\n Enterprises considering e-mail outsourcing should think\n expansively, recommends Wu Zhou, a senior research analyst for\n network lifecycle services at IDC. As voice and data\n technologies merge, e-mail will morph into or become part of a\n unified messaging platform, she says. \u201cFind the partner\n that can not only provide cost-effective outsourcing of e-mail\n but also work with you to grow the functionality.\u201dIt makes sense to anticipate other e-mail needs when you\n outsource, agrees Adecco\u2019s Bossi. For example, mobile\n messaging at Adecco is today split between Palm Treo and\n Research in Motion BlackBerry devices. But his outsourcer\n supports Microsoft gadgets too. So if and when his users want\n those devices, he\u2019ll be covered. And he can let someone\n else handle the details.Galen Gruman\n is a frequent contributor to CIO.