Are you ready to turn over your Exchange Server deployment to an ISP? Many ISPs and application service providers (ASPs) are providing or are gearing up to provide outsourced messaging services to corporations. What would it take for your company to relinquish its Exchange Server deployment to a third party? I realize that I might be talking about a taboo subject with an audience who makes a living based on the belief that outsourced messaging won’t cut it for your company. However, I think discussing this topic is important in light of recent developments around Exchange Server outsourcing and the groundswell of companies rushing into the hosted-messaging business.

The idea behind hosted-messaging services is that companies will choose to let an ISP or ASP manage their email systems by hosting the applications at the ISP or ASP site. The ISP or ASP would commit to service level agreements (SLAs) that meet the organization’s business needs. In return, the organization would pay a monthly per-seat or per-mailbox charge (usually from $15 to $50 per month) for the service. The benefit is reduced cost of ownership for an organization's messaging infrastructure. Many big names are already in the hosted-messaging business, and many others are preparing to join them. For ISPs and ASPs, this opportunity is a must win if they are to survive and offer services beyond the traditional consumer Internet accounts at $19.95 a month.

I see several barriers in most organizations that will dampen the excitement for outsourced messaging. The first barrier is obvious: Can an organization trust a third party with such a mission-critical piece of its IT infrastructure? Many messaging system managers are also concerned that an ISP or ASP can't provide the same level of service and functionality that a company-owned system can. Security is another big concern. Most organizations aren't comfortable with the idea of putting company-sensitive data into the hands of My Favorite ISP, Inc. The final concern is cost. Although $15 per mailbox per month might sound attractive, many messaging systems' costs are buried deep within the company and might be more in the form of soft costs; forking over $15 per seat for a company of 100,000 people might not be a bill anyone wants to pay.

Now that many of these outsourced messaging providers are offering their services based on Exchange Server, it might be worth a look—especially if you're a small- or medium-sized business. With Exchange 2000 Server on the horizon, I think that outsourced messaging based on Exchange Server will be a compelling story. Put some thought into how this approach would fit into your organization. What are the barriers that would prevent outsourcing your Exchange deployment? The exercise is worth the effort, even if it only prepares you better to justify the reasons not to outsource when your CIO asks.