Hosted services trump in-house deployments

No matter how well you plan, breakages are always unexpected

It's 8 a.m. last Friday. Yours geekily is tilting forward to pluck the milk from the fridge, the better to coat my breakfast withal, and TING! My lower back pops a spring, my mouth leaks a whimper, and I wind up lying flat, staring at my bedroom ceiling with the cloying scent of Bengay wafting through the room. This is how I spent the entirety of what U.S. folks tell me was the first beautiful weekend of spring in this otherwise aesthetically challenged state we call New Jersey. And, yeah, I wasn't just grumpy; I was also unpleasantly surprised. Undoubtedly a similar reaction to what BlackBerry users suffered earlier last week when their service went the way of my lumbar elasticity.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop pouring milk on my breakfast cereal. Dry cereal sucks. As does life without a BlackBerry for those poor addicted souls I see on the train or on the street, their thumbs flashing madly over tiny keyboards as they barely avoid oncoming buses while stepping off the sidewalk without looking. What right-thinking modern yupp-nerd could live without that?

And yet that's always the question after one of these outages. "How can our business rely on hosted services, Oliver? They could disappear anytime!" I get that from consulting customers as well as potential FB2 clients. And then I see similar sentiments trickling across the Internet. It's happening now, it happened when Gmail took a hit, when Windows Live Spaces dropped, and all the other services that temporarily evaporated on the digital front lines over the last couple of years. It might happen with your hosted Exchange provider. It may happen with Microsoft's hosted Exchange security services. I'm even hearing folks lump Vonage into this category, simply because that's VoIP and anything with an "IP" in it has to be related to sudden computer outages.

To me, however, that's like driving cross-country because you're afraid to fly. Sure you can "drive" all your IT services in-house and never board the hosted jetliner -- and thereby avoid the possibility of a fiery crash into a mountainside. But when you look at the numbers, it's obvious that flying is far safer than driving.

I know some of your lips are curling into cynical smirks because you know I help run a software company that operates in the hosted model. But there's a reason we went that way. A company that hosts e-mail for hundreds of corporate customers and thousands of users is devoted to one thing: managing e-mail. They're experts. At the servers, at backup niceties, at archiving, at security -- at all the things that can trip you up day to day and specifically how those pertain to e-mail. Statistically they're going to drop far less than an e-mail service you run in-house, staffed by generalist IT guys who have a dozen other things on their minds each given day. And when they do drop, they're going to recover faster, too -- if for no other reason than lost revenue.

Potential FB2 customers sometimes counter that with the fact that running their CRM operation through our software means not just relying on us, but on the local ISPs. Now their trust is in two hosted services, giving them the double-jeopardy heebie-jeebies. I typically counter with something eloquent, such as "So @#$%ing what?" I can remember a few Verizon Internet service outages up here in the Big Apple fruit farm. A very few. They were short and they were local and they usually happened to Verizon's lower-priority Internet customers.

If anyone is running a mission-critical hosted app over some residential-class DSL line they snuck into a commercial office then, frankly, they deserve what happens to them. If it's important to your business, treat it that way. Use T1-plus service. Get a real router and pay someone to set it up properly if your guys can't do it. Finally, think "backup." If you're paying $US400 to $US800 a month for multiple Ts, then what's another $US50 or even $US100 for a backup DSL or cable connection?

Outages will still happen. But they'll happen whether you're running your stuff in-house or out. And when they happen, I'd much rather have a staff of targeted experts working on a problem that could lose them a whole bunch of customers than a few overworked IT guys playing knowledge catch-up with some support guys guzzling coffee in Malaysia. But that's just me.

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Oliver Rist

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