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Hosted vs. Cloud vs. In House Applications


2012/05/01

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.

Proximity

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.

Scalability

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.

Cost savings

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.

Internet down?

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.

Security

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.

Other issues

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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4 comments



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© Anthony Lawrence







Tue May 1 16:44:48 2012: 10912   anonymous

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Since I was the one that made the comment... :)

The biggest issues with in-house servers for email (not for applications, just email) that we ran into were Backups (since both Kerio and MDaemon use the same file structure vs Exchange) backups on a file by file basis are tedious at best for heavy users, managing blacklists which took a considerable amount of time and resources and the usual "why didn't my email get delivered" searching through log files.

When we moved to GAPPS, all of those issues were instantly eliminated. So you need to weigh your support costs that you either re-bill or not vs just having a solution that "works".

In terms of speed, aside from data migration (which Google Apps does throttle, my biggest compliant about migration) never had an issue of speed either via Outlook or the Web. Most people accept Internet latency and do not think twice about it. Personally for me, who is on the road every day, I have never noticed.

There are also plenty of third party backup and archive tools which can be bolted on to cloud emails, so you can manage backups without having to think about it.

It comes down to this, we wanted a solution which was zero maintenance for everyone. If they have a new computer, it is simple as going to the website, or download Google Apps Plugin for Outlook, which does all of the heavy lifting for you (and auto-updates even for non-admin windows accounts).

There are no OS upgrades, software upgrades to worry about.



Tue May 1 17:25:30 2012: 10913   TonyLawrence

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Yes, I understand : you think this was the best solution for you

That doesn't mean it is the best for everyone and doesn't make in house mail "antiquated".



Wed May 2 13:28:34 2012: 10914   BigDumbDinosaur

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That and he's using proprietary technology to manage his mail: Outlook and Google. I won't even comment about the former and its uncanny ability to infest the average Windows box with viruses.

I'm not sold on the cloud concept at all. Concerns such as "what if the Internet goes down...how will mail come to us" apply regardless of where the server is located. It's all connected through the 'Net, y'know. Besides, as Tony pointed out, your needs may (most likely will) be subservient to those of the hosting company.

Repeat after me: new technology isn't necessarily better technology. Consider Windows 7...



Mon May 21 22:15:29 2012: 10980   NickBarron

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Different strokes. Different folks.

I use a good few of these methods. In house, co hosted, dedicated hosting. They all offer something slightly different.

From experience though, cloud hosting email can be a real real pita.

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