Matt SharptonMatthew Sharpton, Managed Services Engineer | Safe Systems

Cost and efficiency are the two aspects of a product or process that any business must balance as it strives to find that middle ground to satisfy the needs of all stakeholders without breaking the budget. Email is no exception to this rule. But we believe the answer to be easy for many of our clients who currently face decisions that will shape the future of their email system. This article aims to outline the benefits a hosted Exchange solution has over an in-house email solution.

One of the most important factors in any technology change is cost. For an in-house Exchange solution, the up-front costs just to get the server hardware, Operating System licensing, and Exchange software licensing quickly add up. An average initial investment can easily exceed $5,000. Beyond the up-front cost, there are a number of other easily overlooked factors to consider:

  • How will you provide spam filtering?
  • Will you need an additional layer of protection for email, such as encryption?
  • Will you need to archive all of your email activity?
  • How will you backup data? Will you be ready in the event of a disaster? How long – if at all – can you go without email?
  • How will you respond to phishing or social engineering attempts?

These are all important questions to ask prior to implementing any new email solution and the answers often lead to additional implementation or recurring costs. Cumulatively, these costs can be overwhelming if not properly identified and addressed during initial planning.

Costs aside, another important aspect to consider is whether or not you will have the expertise and availability to set up and maintain your email solution. By their nature, email systems are complex entities that are interdependent upon other network components. When implementing a new or replacement system, all of these supporting factors must be properly configured in order for mail to flow. This requires a solid understanding of the network as a whole. Once all of the surrounding systems are configured, the messaging system itself must be properly installed and configured. All of these configurations can represent a steep learning curve, even for experienced IT professionals, and take precious time away from day-to-day network administration tasks.

One of the largest configuration and setup concerns is proper email security. It is absolutely vital to have a measure of protection against spam, malicious attachments and phishing/social engineering attempts. Most spam filters provide at minimum workable filtration, but there is an increasing and valid concern over phishing/social engineering attacks. Such attacks are designed to imitate a legitimate vendor or target to a specific institution with the intent of getting the institution to perform an action or disclose information without verifying the user. When coupled with the ability to “spoof” the sending email address to appear as a trusted correspondent, well-crafted attacks can trip up even well-trained employees or customers; therefore, it is important to be able to recognize and effectively respond to these attacks.

Separate from securing the network against attack, administrators must also consider how to secure messages containing sensitive data while in transit. This is accomplished through email encryption. Safe Systems’ hosted email solution encrypts emails with sensitive data automatically, via a customizable rule set. Users can trigger encryption themselves for any documents that they deem sensitive. Furthermore, if a message is sent to a user that wasn’t supposed to receive the email, then Safe Systems can verify if the email was read. If the message remains unread, then Safe Systems personnel can “expire” the message instantly to prevent a breach of non-public information. For management oversight and compliance tracking, reporting is available to track the use of encryption.

If any of the costs, security, or administrative aspects of an in-house email system seem daunting, then a hosted Exchange solution may be the best solution for your network. A myriad of third parties offer some level of hosted Exchange services. Safe Systems offers a service as well, called SafeSysMail, which is designed specifically for institutions in the financial services sector. The service was built with regulatory compliance in mind and includes key components such as email encryption to keep auditors smiling. Here are a few things banks and credit unions should look for in a hosted email solution:

  • Flat cost per user
  • No additional cost for maintenance/upgrades
  • Backed up to geographically distributed locations, accessible anywhere even if the east or west coast suffers disaster
  • Archival available to log all email activity
  • Encryption to secure inbound and outbound email
  • Powerful spam heuristics engine/AV scanning
  • Ability to respond to phishing/social engineering attacks quickly

As the costs and complexity of technology increases, so too must your ability to manage it. Many administrators and ISOs have found that it is simply more cost effective and more efficient to outsource certain aspects of the business to a trusted third party that already has the necessary infrastructure and support.

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