When it comes to hosting your business email, one size does not fit all. What may be right for another business may not be right for yours. To help you find the right fit for your company, we’re going to give you a semi-technical overview of how conventional and cloud-based email systems work. Then we’ll discuss some of the most popular email hosting options, effective ways to use email for marketing, and some pro-tips for increasing email protection and email productivity.
In the business world, we use email for many reasons.
- Basic messaging
- Information distribution
- Meeting and event invites
- Digital signature requests
- Reminders and status updates
- Collaborative exchange and inquiries
- Client and vendor correspondences
- Product or service advertisements
- And much more
It’s a gateway to your sphere of influence—an archived log of your most important written dialogues and a collection of valuable ideas. In short, it’s how we convey our thoughts to others and keep track of our digital world.
WHAT WE SEE
While many complicated elements go into sending and receiving emails, understanding the basics will help you make a more informed hosting decision. To do that, let’s take a 50,000-foot look at how the entire process works, starting with the front end.
Email systems have two main components; what we see on our computers and what’s happening behind the scenes. Both sides require hardware and software to make this happen with lots of tech in between. On the computer side, an Email Client application is configured to manage all emails for a specific account. It can be connected to an on-site server or one hosted elsewhere.
In most business cases, the Email Client is typically just a viewer. The messages don’t exist on the computer but can be managed simultaneously from any device(s) set up for that specific account. If one fails or is inaccessible, all emails are still safely stored on the server. Any other computer, tablet, or smartphone can be configured to manage them. Let’s take a look at how this happens.
HOW CONVENTIONAL EMAIL WORKS
What’s most important to note about a conventional email system is that it is fully managed “in-house”. Whoever maintains the business’s network, servers, and computers is usually also the email administrator.
The email admin can be on-site technicians or a third-party IT service company, like Consul-vation. The email server (system) is just another machine or multiple machines on the office network. But the hardware isn’t what makes an email server special; it’s the application running on it, which is called the MTA (Mail Transport Agent). The MTA turns a server into a digital post office and manages every aspect of storing and routing email for every user who has an account.
Essentially, a person composes a message from within their Email Client. They then enter the recipient’s email address or look it up in the company directory (address book), which lists all the email accounts managed by the server. Some techie things happen between clicking the send button and the server receiving the message, then it gets processed for distribution. Finally, the email server contacts the recipient’s email server and passes the message along.
Email servers can be premise-based or hosted; existing inside your office LAN, or an off-site location like a data center. The decisions for where to house or host your email server, how it should be managed, and by whom should not be made without an adequate understanding of your options and how each could positively or negatively impact your business.
HOW CLOUD EMAIL WORKS
Cloud-based email systems work differently than conventional email systems in a variety of ways. The most notable is removing the MTA (postmaster) role and that the email client can be both an installed application and a web portal. But beyond the particulars of how messages are sent or received, the most important difference between a cloud-based or conventional email system is how it is administered.
Because their respective providers maintain the infrastructure and manage the cloud-based email systems like Google Mail, Zoho Mail, or Microsoft Outlook, the detailed root-level access is replaced with a more generic administrative interface. Each solution comes with its own admin panel, which determines how much access your email administrators have to your data.
More access gives them more control over how your emails are backed up, how your contact directory is set up, how secure your side of the correspondence is, and many other considerations like virus protection, IP management, and so on. But, the big named companies, like those listed above, also have a ton of money and expertise invested in handling that for you, so the risk assessment is pretty balanced.
PROS AND CONS TO BOTH EMAIL SOLUTIONS
Now that you have a basic grasp of how the two technologies work let’s break down the pros and cons to help you decide where to host your business’s email.
CONVENTIONAL EMAIL SYSTEMS
- More control over physical backups, virus protection, and access to critical data.
- Manage every aspect of email send/receive configurations.
- Integrability with in-house tools, software, and marketing data sources.
- Less API or webhook restrictions.
- Not easy to scale
- Equipment and labor costs can be expensive to set up and maintain.
- Scheduled downtime due to system maintenance or software upgrades.
- Risk prevention is only as good as the team managing it.
- Space and proper environmental controls to accommodate the hardware or cost to host off-premise.
- More susceptible to data loss during disasters or hardware failures unless proper redundancies are in place.
CLOUD-BASED EMAIL SYSTEMS
- No need for hardware or capital expense.
- Storage can scale on-demand.
- Anywhere access to cloud-based backups and restore capabilities.
- Many cross-platform integrations with other cloud-based services.
- You don’t need a dedicated IT staff to manage.
- Always up-to-date with the latest version.
- Subscription-based per-user fees can be costly over time.
- Higher-capacity usage fees
- Dependency on integrations supported by the SMTP relay service
- Lack of control
While this list may look a little one-sided, each factor should be weighed separately. But the key takeaway is cost vs. control. Conventional email systems give you more control over every aspect of the data. Still, the equipment procurement cost, maintenance labor cost, and overall disaster preparedness costs may outweigh the need for the control you would be giving up with a cloud-based solution. On the other hand, while cloud solutions are easier to scale and the subscription fees may be less than the cost of ownership of a conventional email system, what critical features might you have to sacrifice? Talking this through with an IT service provider like Consul-vation to discuss which options are best for your specific needs is the right way to go.
HYBRID EMAIL SOLUTIONS
There is also a third option that may give you the best of both worlds. A hybrid email solution will allow you to connect a premised-based (onsite) mail server to a cloud-based (online) counterpart. In this scenario, your email administrator can choose which controls should remain in-house and which cloud resources would best provide specific features or functions. The possibilities are endless, but control vs. cost is what should drive these decisions.
Here are some questions to consider.
- Which email system controls are essential to support your business model?
- Which platform (onsite or online) will adequately handle those responsibilities?
- What are the core messaging functions your business will require?
- What features from either system would improve the productivity of your operation?
Then compare against the associated costs.
- Space – Where the email system(s) will physically exist.
- Bandwidth – The Internet speed and capacity necessary to support your messaging goals.
- Utilities – The environmental controls, electricity, and backup generators.
- Labor – Skillset dependant salaries, outsourced support, or both.
- Equipment – Primary, backups, failover, and maintenance.
- Down-time – Measured effect a disaster or resource failure can have on your business.
- Subscription Fees – Per user, per capability, per month/year
- An IT service provider, like Consul-vation can help you discern.
The term hybrid can mean many things, and it also goes back to our recommendation to segment the functions to improve email efficacy. Think about the purpose for each type of messaging your business needs and match that with the best platform specifically designed to perform the role.
While it’s not a sound strategy to base the deployment of your core email system on specific external messaging functions your business may want to integrate with (like e-signatures, CRM, project management, marketing, lead generation, etc.), it is a good idea to research your options and compare which locally installed software or cloud platforms are compatible with whichever email system you’re most in favor of using. Most of the mainstream function-specific solutions are compatible with most email systems; however, there are exceptions, and knowing them in advance will help you make a more informed decision.
Email is a gateway into your network. Your files, contacts, locations, schedules, confidential information, and essentially your entire digital ecosystem can be accessible to the wrong person through your email. This is why so many viruses, phishing attacks, and deceptive malware links purposely target email. These are more than nuisance messages using up real estate in your inbox. All it takes is a curious click or an accidental act by one person to infect your network. In some cases, no human interaction is necessary, and the cleverly written code can just work its way in the back door, or an “easy to remember” password can be hacked. There are numerous pathways to your data, and each one must be adequately protected.
If your business has already implemented a strong security solution then that makes it easier to consider hosting email on-premise. But if your security presence is light, it would be wise to move the email servers to a data center or third-party host provider with a stronger posture.
It is imperative to ensure the right level of email security is built-in to your overall business communications plan. Which software will you use? Which firewalls? How often will you threat test your system to tweak the break-points? Cloud-based email platforms use some of the most comprehensive security practices in the industry but don’t just make your decision on that assumption. Be sure to know what their security guarantees are and what to expect in the case of a breach in their network. Nothing is infallible, and assessing the risks in advance is how you stay ahead of them as best you can.
Where should you host your business email? Look closer at what specifically you expect to do with it. Also, consider how many people will be using it. Smaller businesses may benefit from a cloud-only solution, whereas larger firms may want to go with the hybrid approach or even keep everything in-house. Control vs. cost is your metric, and everything else is a balancing act. Weigh the pros and cons, research compatible integration solutions, and contemplate your cybersecurity requirements.
Deciding where to host your business email can be a daunting task because there are many options to choose from and so many elements to think about. But there is an easier way to focus the discovery effort on your company’s needs and not just on each platform’s capabilities. Consult with a full-service IT company like Consul-vation to get expert, unbiased advice on achieving each of your immediate and long-term email goals. Write them down in advance so that you can have a productive discussion. Take your time to mull over all the information and then prepare for implementation.
Choosing the right email system and hosting solution is a critical step toward enabling and securing your business’s messaging objectives. You can notably improve mission clarity and simplify your technical direction by maintaining a relationship with a trusted IT advisor, like Consul-vation, who has ample experience in email system deployment, implementations, and third-party integrations.
Further, instead of looking at email as a single resource for all messaging, it may be beneficial to consider alternative solutions for each specific function.
- Use signature management applications like e-Sign or SignNow for maintaining contracts and agreements.
- Project management tools like Asana may do a better job keeping teams on the same page.
- Contact management platforms like SugarCRM or Salesforce are great ways to leverage communications for improving customer relationships.
- Email marketing sites like Constant Contact or Active Campaign are great mediums for scheduled email blasts that comply with all federal regulations.
While you will still need a central repository for general communications, by segmenting your email needs, you’ll supercharge your messaging capabilities to do exactly what you wanted them to do but in the most effective way possible.