Berlind goes for the easy punditry of a one- or ten-person e-mail use case and applying it to every customer...

Five years ago, comparing Lotus Notes and Exchange Server was a favorite pastime of labs, reviewers, analysts, and especially of Microsoft and IBM Lotus. Imagine. All that engineering. All those comparisons. The hard-fought e-mail turf wars. All those e-mail servers you have to run and upgrade over the years. The extra ones for the fail-over. The storage subsystems and the care and feeding they needed. The networks themselves. The upgrades. The back-up procedures. The people. The cost.  Five years ago, the cost was quite justified given the needs of enterprises.
His proposed solution?  Google's gmail and Google apps:
[C]ompared with the headaches ... OK, let's be civil and call them responsibilities....that I might normally have if I had to babysit a server (or two, for fault tolerance), manage upgrades, backups, the spam management, etc., etc., etc. (the list of etceteras is really long), the list of shortcomings associated with a cloud-based service like Gmail is short. Really short.

And then there are the benefits. Since starting with Google Apps two years ago, I've deleted thousands of e-mails. But I've never emptied my trash folder. Try doing that on your insourced corporate e-mail server and you're likely to get an e-mail from some highly paid e-mail administrator requesting that you groom your mail file ...

Today, perhaps Gmail (beta) has its faults. But I'd argue that most of them are worth the trouble for a great many organizations given the savings in money, time, and effort. For example, you'll never have to apply a security patch or an upgrade to your Gmail server. When there's a bug, it's often magically corrected (behind the scenes, Google's engineers keep vigil over many of Google's applications watching for faults and subsequently correcting the code in a way that all of Gmail's users inherit the fix the next time they press refresh on their browsers).
Let's start with some clarity -- Google's presence in the messaging market, and the hosted/cloud model generally, are both interesting and important developments that are totally on my radar.  But they are there as trends, not as solutions -- for most customers -- today.

I met with a customer earlier this week who said that their management was enamored of the idea of "just pay $50 a user a year and we get all this".  But what exactly do you get?  A service that its own vendor won't take the beta label off of, that has bugs or issues, that isn't best-in-class functionally, that has no offline provision of its own, and where more questions than answers exist.  In fact, I pushed on this precise point -- and learned that Google simply can't seem to answer the basic questions about support, compliance, security, service level, or integration (both internal and third-party)  But hey, it's $50/user/year!  And it has virtually unlimited disk space!  

This last bit, admittedly, is a huge part of the appeal in organizations that have restrictive mailbox quotas.  What do you think Google is doing differently to be able to afford offering 6-7 GB per user so cheap?

At any rate, does anyone believe that $50 is a fully-loaded cost? That an organization is simply now going to be able to get rid of their help desk and administrator staff?  That there won't be an impact to their networking bandwidth and topology, now and ongoing?  That there won't be any need for anyone internally to be looking at compliance, audit, and risk aspects (don't tell me their Postini-based spam filtering is perfect.  I hit the spam button 10+ times a day on my personal e-mail account)?  That the effort to integrate, when or if it is possible, with other in-use systems (outside of Google's cloud) will be cost-less and error-free?  That upgrades to the gmail environment will "just happen" and companies won't protest in the same way they say that they can't upgrade every release of a product now?

This is a space with more questions than answers at the moment.  Whether it is Google's offer or Microsoft's new push, hosted e-mail is one of those things that sounds at first like a great idea.  Then you have to start asking the practicality questions.  For Notes customers, the question is much more complicated, because it's not the e-mail that is driving value in the use of Notes today -- it's the applications integrated with that e-mail.  Gmail and Hosted Exchange simply don't address the entirety of the use case, so focusing on the $50 annual fee is like having a membership at a health club that is more than three miles away...that $50/year comes with a "spatial opportunity cost" that has to be supplemented by other forms of exercise (or costs of non-exercise).

It seems that Google started a concentrated effort to go after the enterprise space over the last six to twelve months.  I can say this much -- I have yet to lose to Google mail in an enterprise environment of any size.  There have been some academic institutions attracted by Google's offer in that space, which is 100% free (advertising-supported).  There are use cases like Berlinds, a very small number of users either co-located or tech-savvy. There are organizations where no e-mail had previously been deployed to segments of the population -- delivery drivers, factory line workers -- and putting in a web-based mail solution for the 5 e-mails a week they get from company HR and internal communications makes sense.  But for the general knowledge worker population?  There is a long road ahead, and the pieces are not there yet.

I also, as I have been saying often in the last few weeks, want to point out that IBM has an Applications-on-Demand service available for Lotus Domino.  No, Henry, it still isn't "have your credit card ready", but it is a pay-as-you-go per-user per-month approach to Domino messaging.  Thus, if getting away from running the environment is your goal, we have a solution.

Link: David Berlind: Yes, It's Time To Destroy Your E-Mail Servers. What App Is Next? >

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