Top ten must-haves when moving email to the cloud

Advice David Cartwright Feb 7, 2013

Email is often one of the first applications moved to the cloud - but it's not always straightforward, what should you be considering?

Email is one of the simpler moves you can make to the cloud; as a concept it's so well understood and full of both open standards and popular proprietary protocols that making the move is generally straightforward and fast.

Before you make the move, though, you need to choose a service. And to choose a service, you need to have a list of requirements so you know what to look for.

In this feature we'll run down our top ten things to look for in a cloud email service.

Malware/AV/Spam inspection
An absolute must: inbound inspection is a necessity, and outbound inspection is at the very least a "should have", but realistically you'd be silly not to insist on it. As with an in-house email system, central control of the system must be via an interface that's accessibly by support staff, with a user-facing self-service portal a very nice touch as it helps ease the load on the support team. Some systems don't have the ability to quarantine suspect messages, instead choosing either to tag them or annotate the subject line (or to reject them completely); the ability to quarantine messages pending release will always be preferable.

Directory sync/integration
It's absolutely unacceptable for your email user database not to be synchronised with your general LAN user database. Email is a key function of your organisation, and if you have separate logins for your email system you risk not only widespread user dissatisfaction but also, more importantly, users' email accounts persisting when they leave the organisation. The best approach, if it's available, is to use interactive directory synchronisation (if you're a Windows house, ADFS is the obvious choice), but at the very least you should have automated, regular updates from your internal directory service to the cloud installation via a secure data stream.

Geographic performance
If your organisation is distributed across multiple geographies, you care about how your email data is stored. Although email is not, much as many people would perceive it, a real-time technology the fact remains that users expect decent performance. Geographically distributed organisations will, therefore, want to look at services with the ability to present entry points across the globe with global load balancing and caching/replication used to ensure that users' mailboxes are reasonably close to them, electronically speaking.

Calendars and contacts
Most corporate email systems include calendar and address book functionality, and you should consider your requirements in this respect. Given that you'll want the seamless ability to send and receive meeting invitations, check the availability of invitees and meeting rooms, and accept/reject invitations with a single click it makes perfect sense to use a calendar system that's integrated with the email engine. Similarly, since you'll have to have a large chunk of your organisation’s' person data available in the email address book, it makes sense to have a cloud service that can contain and use this information (again, why not integrate it with your directory service so everything's in sync)?

Cost model
As you look at the systems you're trying to choose between, be careful to understand the cost model and what you get for your money. Don't unwittingly fall for a free/cheap service only to realise later that once you go above a modest storage limit the charges ramp up like a mountain range. Understand whether the cost is based on storage, user count or both, and be clear on termination conditions (ie if you remove a user, are you locked in for months to come via a minimum period commitment). Make sure costs are easy to monitor – many cloud service GUIs are masterpieces of cost obfuscation.

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