In the Mail

Growing complexity is straining the framework, but on-premises email remains the standard for business communication.


Email is perhaps the original “killer app,” an application so effective and easy to use that it sparked the rise of the personal computer and the spread of the Internet. Today it is de facto standard for business communication, supplanting the phone and even personal meetings in most organizations.

“Email has become critical to businesses of all sizes,” said Suaad Sait, executive vice president of software maker SolarWinds. “Just try shutting it down for 10 minutes and observe the outcry. In fact, in the business hierarchy of need, only Internet connectivity trumps email, with everything else in tow.”

Email is such a part of the basic fabric of business communications that it has become easy to take for granted. However, relentless growth combined with disruptive technologies such as mobility and “Bring Your Own Everything” (BYOx) are challenging administrators’ ability to keep this oft-neglected application up and running.

According to a recent study by the Radicati Group, there are approximately 4 billion active email accounts worldwide, with one-quarter of those identified as business accounts that generate 100 billion emails per day. Email Analytics reports that more of that email is now read on mobile devices than on desktop clients.

“Contrary to logic, as email matures it’s getting harder to manage,” said Sait. “The industry as a whole has not given email management the attention it deserves.”

Not So Easy

Because email has been around so long and is so easy to use, there is a tendency to think of it as an uncomplicated technology. In truth, it has always been a fairly complex service to deliver because it requires the integration of so many components — servers, storage, operating systems, the platform software itself, as well as other supporting elements such as directories, filters, security, backup, e-discovery and archiving solutions. According to one survey of IT professionals, a typical email architecture might involve roughly 19 platform servers, eight servers for archiving, six for antivirus and another six for mobile device management.

In a survey conducted in February and March, SolarWinds found that IT managers and directors believe the increasing adoption of BYOx and mobile technologies is making email management even more complex. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said the mass adoption of smartphones and tablets has increased the amount of email sent and received. Fifty-three percent say they now use three or more tools to manage the email environment.

This fractured management creates significant risk for organizations in light of the fact that email accounts have become increasingly important data sources. By some accounts, about 45 percent of an enterprise’s business-critical information is stored in its email system. Workers routinely rely on email as the repository for messages containing important information such as negotiation details, agreements and customer commitments. Mimecast found in a recent study that 86 percent of workers rely on email as a search tool to find documents or information from within their inbox or archive.

“The research shows that the way the average employee uses email at work has changed,” said Peter Bauer, CEO and co-founder, Mimecast. “For many people, email is no longer just a messaging system. It has become the primary tool for storing, sharing and searching for information. This is why we are seeing information workers increasingly becoming ‘inbox workers’ — they rely on email for all aspects of their job and spend, on average, 50 percent of their working day using email.”

Cloud Reluctance

Some organizations have begun to explore cloud-based hosted email platforms in order to relieve some of the management burdens. However, most IT decision-makers remain reluctant to move the responsibility for email outside the organization. In the SolarWinds survey, 74 percent reported that they maintain on-premises email systems.

There are a number of advantages to maintaining in-house email, including the ability to support a large number of operating systems and virtualized environments, greater control over targeted email broadcasts, and the ability to reuse existing servers and storage to improve TCO.

Security and regulatory compliance remain the chief reasons for maintaining in-house email. On-premises email ensures complete control over the custody of data, which is not entirely possible with a cloud provider. Cloud-based solutions don’t always include data loss prevention or encryption, which are critical for organizations with regulatory requirements.

Showing Some Backbone

Industry experts expect “next-generation” email systems will soon relieve IT staff of much of the management burden and give organizations even more compelling reasons to keep these critical systems in house. Some vendors are attacking complexity issues by adding intelligence to the email backbone, the middleware layer of an email infrastructure that handles message routing and policy management. An intelligent email backbone control point reduces complexity by managing authorizations, permissions, alerts and notifications for compliance, while also offloading much of the policy enforcement and message processing overhead from the email platform.

Some industry analysts expect on-premises solutions will eventually morph into overarching portals that allow employees to use social media, instant messaging and other communication channels from within the email client. This “frictionless” communication will better serve the “anywhere, any device” needs of the modern workforce.

Email has been a great business tool for many years because it is easy to use and it gets the job done. Even though new demands are straining the basic framework, most industry experts predict that next-generation advances will allow email to hold its title as the champion of business communications for some time to come.