E-mail storage outsourcing gets mixed reaction

Some users think it might be cumbersome to have a separate vendor manage just one part of their environment, while others jump at the idea of off-loading e-mail management.

There's a new player in the storage space and it's thanks to e-mail.

Azaleos, a startup formed in 2004, had previously been busy managing the Exchange environment for customers in every way but in backup and message archiving. Azaleos' OneServer, installed at the customer site, monitors e-mail data, and manages patch updates and other aspects of Exchange e-mail. According to the company, the idea of managing Exchange storage for its customers is relatively new -- but the need was evident.

"Our customers have also been asking for us to add disaster recovery (DR) and backup to our services" said Keith McCall, chief technology officer of Azaleos, who previously spent four and a half years as the director and product unit manager for Exchange at Microsoft

"We are absolutely thrilled to hear about this," said Rich DeBrino, CIO of Compass Health. The company had been using OneServer to manage some 980 mailboxes in its Exchange environment.

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"And we've been waiting for them to take the rest off our hands," DeBrino said. "Exchange is one of the most critical business applications, right up there in importance with ERP [enterprise resource planning, CRM [customer relationship management] and SAP systems -- but it's more of a commodity. Our application management team has to do a lot of customization on our other production databases, but Exchange is Exchange."

"I was using a full-time person and a couple of part-time people to manage Exchange before we outsourced it to Azaleos," DeBrino continued. "I'm still using a part-time person to manage the backups, and I'd much rather have him be working on the other things in our department that aren't getting done."

It may seem as though paying for outsourcing instead of a worker's salary is six of one and a half dozen of another, but DeBrino said that in his environment, it isn't.

"When all is said and done, if you include benefits for employees, I save about $65,000 a year by using Azaleos," he said. "And bigger organizations might save even more than that, because they usually need to have more people dedicated to Exchange."

Aside from personnel management headaches, DeBrino said using Azaleos' service for storage will help him with another critical aspect of his IT environment: Health Insurance Protability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance.

"Azaleos can give us specific service level agreements (SLA) and metrics about our messages that helps us conform to HIPAA guidelines, and more importantly, we can demonstrate on paper exactly how we're conforming," he said.

Another Azaleos user, Lee Hudson of Zumiez Inc., said he hadn't yet decided whether to use the new storage services.

"We definitely haven't had a lot of time to test it, but we are interested," Hudson said. But he said he was concerned that "It might be cumbersome to let one company manage just part of our environment when we've grown used to managing all of our production data ourselves."

DeBrino said he had his own concerns. "The drawback as I can see it is that if they [Azaleos] go away, I might have to take it back on," he said. "And I don't want to do that -- I've gotten used to not having to worry about Exchange."

Analysts weigh in

"Exchange has been so painful," said Arun Taneja, founder and senior analyst for the Taneja Group. "Restoring the database to look for just one message can be like re-creating the universe just to look for a blade of grass."

In response, Taneja said, some companies cropped up to address the need for e-mail management, but most addressed archiving first.

"But as e-mail has become the main vehicle of communication, mailboxes have gotten large," he said. "It's getting harder to manage across the board."

Normally, people are on the cusp of outsourcing when they find they have to hire more IT people to manage e-mail, according to Brian Babineau, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. "And Exchange requires more than just your average IT person -- there has to be expertise. And there isn't a lot of expertise out there, particularly for mid- and low-market companies," he said.

Taneja believes that outsourcing will probably always have a place in the market, especially in the midrange, where companies are big enough to need an Exchange server but small enough not to want the headache of having to add IT staff.

Further details on new releases

Azaleos' newly announced DR service will allow customers to connect a OneServer in their environment to a server at Azaleos' off-site facility. The customer then receives an SLA from Azaleos that sets a recovery time objective and recovery point objective for its e-mail data.

Also part of Azaleos' new product release is a backup service in which Azaleos will perform Exchange backups and guarantee that the user's Exchange storage environment is maintained in case of system failure. Lastly, the company has rolled out a new high-availability agreement, a more expensive services contract that will guarantee 99.999% availability for Exchange across any of the Azaleos products, the company claims.

Basic pricing of an additional OneServer appliance for the DR offering is offered at a fixed price pf $30,000. The cost per user per seat is flexible, depending on the level of DR capabilities that the customer is seeking and on how closely connected the regular server will be to the secondary server. This price varies upon the customer agreement but will be more than the present price of $7 to $9 per user per seat.

Competition

Azaleos identifies its primary competitor as Microsoft's own Frontbridge service. It also compete indirectly with appliance vendors, including Teneros and Mimosa Systems Inc.

Zantaz Inc., which preceded Azaleos in the e-mail outsourcing business, says it has over 700 customers relying on it for e-mail backups and archiving. Last week, Zantaz announced an upgrade to its flagship First Archive OnDemand product. Previously, the product was deployable as either an on-site appliance or a hosted service -- the current product allows users to pick and choose whether or not to manage their own data depending on retention periods and other policies.

"So, for example, if you want to do your own backups but have us manage storage for anything older than a year, you can now do that," said Joe Romanowski, vice president of product strategy for Zantaz.

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