If you’ve ever been working in an office when e-mail suddenly goes down, you know what a frustrating situation this can be. Workers who are waiting on e-mailed documents from clients or colleagues start to get jumpy, and the technical staff can feel hounded with questions about when the system will be restored.
This scenario is an uncomfortable one for many business owners, but it’s something to keep in mind when deciding whether you are going to host your e-mail in-house or outsource it to a third-party hosting company. The choice ultimately comes down to responsibility and control, so it’s worth reviewing the pros and cons of each setup.
Outside E-mail Hosting Providers
Many small and midsize companies don’t want to deal with the hassle of setting up and managing their own e-mail server so they look to e-mail hosting providers to handle it for them. E-mail hosting providers offer premium e-mail services on custom platforms. For a fee they will configure your e-mail, give your company its own domain name, and provide you with a large number of accounts. Some popular providers include Mailtrust, Simplicato, and Network Solutions.
This is quite different from online e-mail services that provide you with free e-mail in exchange for advertising. These services make you sign up for each account separately and you cannot use your own domain name. This is not the best choice for a business because you are not working under a branded domain and there is advertising linked to your e-mail, but there are some micro-organizations that go this route.
Pros and Cons of Third-Party Hosting
The most common choice is to contract with an e-mail hosting provider, and companies can reap benefits from this setup for a relatively small monthly fee. Most hosting providers offer 24-hour maintenance and redundant backup. It’s to your advantage to have your e-mail backed up in multiple locations because if one server goes down, you won’t lose your information and your business can continue to operate.
Since they are competing with hundreds of other companies for your business, hosting providers also offer spam and virus protection and are usually good at keeping their security software up-to-date.
So what are the disadvantages? Like with everything else, the quality of your hosting service will depend on the provider. If your e-mail goes down, you will have to rely on the hosting company to restore it, and if it happens in the middle of the night or on a weekend, response times can be slower. Security is another concern. Whenever you have your critical business data stored by a third-party provider you lose control over how that data is being protected.
Many companies find that the benefits of outsourcing their e-mail service outweigh these risks, but some prefer to host their e-mail in-house. If you have a tech-savvy firm, you may decide to choose this option.
In-House E-mail Hosting
Hosting in-house requires that you set up and mange your own e-mail server, which gives you a little more flexibility and control. Since you are not paying for storage, you can make e-mail accounts as large as you want, add accounts easily, or host multiple domains. Since you are maintaining the server, you can control what kind of spam and virus protection you are running and make sure that the software stays up-to-date.
You may find, however, that the cost of updating security software eats up some of the money you are saving by hosting in-house. You are also left with the responsibility of backing up the e-mail and making sure that you store the backed-up data in a separate, safe location.
Given the importance e-mail plays in modern business, it’s critical to think through how you want your e-mail managed and by whom. You probably won’t be able to avoid the disappointment that comes if and when the office e-mail goes down, but you will at least know you selected a trusted party to fix it.