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Understanding Cloud-Based Email

Understanding Cloud-Based Email

The “cloud” is a massive buzzword nowadays. You’re always hearing about “it’s in the cloud”, or “we offer cloud-based security” or the latest, “our gaming platform will harness the limitless power of the cloud”. These are all proper uses of the term and the idea, but man, we hate buzzwords in general.

Still, the proliferation and ubiquity of cloud technologies is mostly a good thing – the more it’s adopted, the more money there is in this service, which will drive its improvement and further adoption in the future. Unfortunately, with nascent technologies like this, sometimes certain sectors try to use it when it’s not really ready, or when the infrastructure isn’t.

Cloud computing on a consumer use level, especially for gaming, is a prime example of the cloud not really being ready yet. However, there are practical applications for cloud services right now. They have their pros and cons – make no mistake, it’s not a perfect, infallible technology. Then again, what technology ever really is?

Email is one of the services that benefits immediately from our existing cloud technology and our existing infrastructure. Unlike real-time cloud computing or other high-demand services, email is only accessed in bursts where some latency and routing isn’t a big problem. Email already takes around seven seconds, famously, to go from peer to peer (and it’s usually longer actually), so the current infrastructure can handle this just fine.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To appreciate and understand cloud-based email, we need to first really understand what the cloud is. So, let’s tackle that first.

Understanding the Cloud

Exactly what is the cloud? The buzzword nature of the term is such a problem because people rarely explain what it actually means. It’s been proven to be a technology and not just buzz, so people just take it for face value, which leads to misunderstanding and expectations that aren’t at all realistic.

To really understand the cloud, we need to first understand how networking and hosting worked traditionally (this is still how many things work, in fact). Traditionally, things were hosted on a specific server or set of them at a fixed location – this would either be onsite at a business location, or at a dedicated data center somewhere. A specific set of IP addresses (with DNS registry) would point to these specific physical servers, making it a very centralized thing.

This was the only way to do it in the early days, but it has some serious disadvantages. For example, should something go wrong between your workstation and this stationary, central email server at some unnamed data center, you’re suddenly unable to talk to it. You cannot send nor receive email.

If something goes wrong at the data center (a power outage, equipment failures, or just annoying scheduled maintenance), you’re once again incommunicado until this is resolved.

If you’re hosting onsite, should a fire or natural disaster occur, well, you’re up the proverbial creek in a similar way. Onsite like this is actually even more susceptible, with the rotating door that is most IT departments, common user errors, burglaries, you name it.

On a user experience level, traditional setups like this were also more rigid with access, often requiring you to sign out of your inbox with one machine, before accessing another. Multi-session technologies came along after the turn of the century to alleviate that within reason, but it never really made this go perfectly smoothly. All of this had to give, eventually.

This is where the cloud comes in. Cloud hosting for websites, data storage, and email removes a lot of these bottlenecks and risks. With cloud, hosting is distributed across a virtual network of interlinked servers in multiple different data centers, sometimes spanning continents or even the whole globe. Duplicates of everything are kept in parallel, and no single location has the entirety of a given copy of the data set.

Thus, if one component fails, or the connection to it fails, you can simply be routed to an alternative source for that part of the data. This duality also allows for proper multi-session access from a host of devices (just in time for the mobile revolution to really get off the ground). For the most part, barring a global disaster (at which point, you have bigger problems), your data is pretty safe from loss and should always be accessible as long as your internet is working.

This type of infrastructure is only possible due to improved broadband backbones in the developed world that allow intercontinental virtual networks to be responsive and properly parallel – this is why it wasn’t a thing in the 1990s. They had the idea even further back than that, the internet itself intended to be a similarly decentralized communications platform that would survive a nuclear war.

So, basically, cloud-based email means you have a virtual, modular hosting platform that for the most part, is indestructible and secure. But is it perfect? No. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of this idea. Everything is always a trade-off.

The Pros of Cloud-Based Email

  • Affordability – At the end of the day, this is a much cheaper approach to corporate email, with no dedicated data center services or expensive hosting equipment needing to be dealt with. Cloud email services lease bits and pieces of hosting across multiple sources, which is cheaper for them, and the savings are passed on.
  • More Uptime – It’s pretty obvious that consistent uptime, with multiple parallel sources of data, is a big goal of cloud hosting systems, and yes, that works out to about 99.9 most of the time (the best anyone could ever guarantee).
  • Flexibility – In the old days, you had an allocation of space, addresses and bandwidth available for your email platform. If you needed more, you either had to get more equipment and more bandwidth from your ISP, or you had to upgrade your account (very expensively) with your host provider. Cloud is naturally dynamic and flexible, and while it may cost a tiny bit more, growing with your business is pretty painless.
  • Simplicity – This virtual layer allows for much simpler administration, simply managing addresses and roles, with little of the traditional IT complexity when dealing with servers and the like. Your IT staff would thank you.
  • Remoting and Security – This simplicity and parallelism also allows for improved security, backup provision and remote access without the risks that once prevailed. How this is achieved is a bit too technical for this piece, but we’d like to talk about this in depth some other time.

The Cons of Cloud-Based Email

  • Ongoing Costs – Traditionally, if you hosted onsite, you bought your equipment, but didn’t have ongoing costs for email itself beyond the general overhead of any IT service. With cloud, being a service, you’ll be consistently paying, and it can add up.
  • Trust is Needed – Simpler administration means you have to put yourselves in the hands of a 3rd party more readily, which can bring problems. You have less control as well, which may also be a problem with in-house applications you may have which need to work with email, among other things.

The Bottom Line

Cloud-based email can add up in expense, but usually still is less than constant upgrading or traditional hosting services. It also requires some trust in a third party, but we’re all about earning your trust around here. If you’re ready for a more reliable, more secure and much simpler way to do corporate email, fill out our contact form today. We’re here to help!