A recent comment here described running an in house mail server as "antiquated".
As people certainly have been running such servers for more than 25 years, I guess "antique" isn't inaccurate, but I do take some issue with the implication that the "modern" ways (hosted or "cloud") are automatically better.
There are advantages and disadvantages, of course. There is also plenty of room for confusion:
- You could push everything off to someone else (Google Apps, for example) and have no idea (and not care) where the servers are or what specific technology is behind any of it.
- You could pay a specific hosting provider to provide a specific app like Exchange or Kerio.
- You could put Exchange or Kerio or whatever in an Amazon EC2 server or at a site like Linode.com (that's where my mail server is) and manage only the app itself.
- You could put a physical server in a co-location facility and manage the server and the app. The app might be the only app on the server or it might be one of many running in virtual machines.
- You could have the server in your own server room. Again, the server may be dedicated to that app or it might be the home of several VM's.
While I'm specifically talking about mail servers here, these comments really apply to any business application.
You can even mix and match more: you could have an in-house server in one location and a cloud based server in another. Because there are so many options, it's almost pointless to talk about advantages of one approach over another. Almost anything I or anyone else could say for or against any scenario can be countered or offset easily. There simply is no absolute answer that fits every circumstance and need.
The "antique" solution has advantages of locality and security: email between users at the same physical location as the server never has to leave the subnet. That can provide significant performance advantages for some, but not necessarily for all.
Cloud provisioning can offer easier scalability, but for small business, modern hardware is often gross overkill anyway. Even inexpensive hardware often has far more power than will ever be needed by a small business.
Arguments against owning your own server are often based on inflated cost projections. I've seen some pretty silly estimates for hardware costs and support. One site I visited counted the cost of an Internet connection against this - like you wouldn't need that to access the hosted server?
In fact, for many small businesses, the cost of running an in-house server is negligible. Support issues are far less than those for a typical desktop and the reliability of modern hardware is incredibly high. While those who only offer competing products would like to paint in-house as the more expensive option, in fact it may not be at all.
On the other side, those who object to anything in the cloud tend to over stress the disadvantage of Internet interruptions. While an in-house mail server can continue to process in-house email with the Internet down, that is really small comfort for most businesses today who really can't function without Internet connectivity.
More legitimate concerns are security, but even that isn't absolute. No, you can't see who is accessing your data when it is out somewhere in Internet Land, but local servers sometimes get compromised too and the culprit is very likely to be an employee or trusted contractor in either case. Security is an issue, but it's an issue everywhere.
Some other claims against in-house that I have seen:
The cloud has more data storage than private computer systems.. That's not absolutely true, but when it is, it's not necessarily applicable to you and your specific storage needs. Also consider that you'd be smart to have local backup, so you'll need local storage also. Storage is cheap anyway - it almost always costs more to rent it than to buy, and reliability is very high.
No concern about software updates. That's not necessarily true. You might have to beg and plead for updates if someone else is in charge of your server and its apps. Your needs may be subservient to theirs - staying current isn't guaranteed at all.
On the other side of that, you may be forced into updates you are not ready for yet.
Now let's look at some arguments against the cloud and hosting:
Your data can be held hostage. Sure it can, but you ARE making local backups, aren't you? And surely you are not using some app that is so proprietary that only one outfit provides it?
App integration is more difficult. That might be true in a specific case, but it's not a general argument against hosting or cloud provisioning. Integrating with other in house apps might be easier with another in house app, but there is nothing absolute about that.
Lesser performance. Obviously performance over an Internet link is likely to be slower than wihin your LAN. However, if your workforce is mobile or working from home or branch offices, they are seeing that anyway.
Overall, I don't see any absolute truths here. Running your own in house apps isn't antiquated and running hosted or cloud services isn't new fangled craziness. What's best for you isn't always easy to discern, but you shouldn't be influenced by nonsense from either side.
I admit to leaning toward in-house myself. I tend to prefer to have as much control as I can. On the other hand, I run my own Kerio mail server on a virtiual Linux machine hosted by Linode.com - I'd rather have it fully in house, but the reality of home Internet connections (I work from a home office) make running it out there more sensible.
I hope this helps and please do add your own thoughts in the comments.
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© 2012-05-21 Anthony Lawrence