Why your business email should live in the cloud

It's time to ditch that old email server you've got sitting under a desk in your office.

Is your business still running its own email server? If so, it might be time to stop. Ten years ago, the email server was one of the cornerstones of any company's IT strategy, taking incoming email from the Web and serving it up to mailboxes for every user, while taking the emails being sent from across the business and sending them out to recipients around the world.

Now, however, there's a smarter way to handle it, using cloud-based email services to store and manage your mail. Instead of running your own email server, you let the likes of Microsoft and Google do it for you, much like they do if you use their Outlook.com or Gmail email services. Rather than have an Outlook or Gmail address, however, you can still use a company domain name. You still have a professional point of contact, but one with fewer downsides than conventional email and a whole load of upsides.

Why move to the cloud?

There are plenty of good reasons to move to cloud-based email, but the big drivers for most small businesses will be:

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  • Lower costs: Perhaps you think the old server sitting in the corner doesn't cost you anything, but it will cost you money to maintain and money to replace, with further costs for software updates or client access licences, not to mention network infrastructure. Then there's the cost of powering it, which can mount up with an older, less-efficient box. With cloud-based email, those ongoing costs and any upfront capital expenditure in new hardware can be replaced by predictable operating costs, with a simple monthly fee per user. In the vast majority of cases this results in lower costs overall.
  • Improved reliability, less hassle: Email servers are, to put it mildly, not always reliable. When they fall over, they hit productivity hard. Even when they are reliable, they still require a lot of time to manage, patch and secure, and in small businesses with no permanent IT staff, that time is hard to come by. With cloud-based email, most of this burden simply goes away. You might have to spend some time and effort adding or managing mailboxes and users, but thanks to streamlined Web-based control panels even this is easier than you'd think. What's more, go with a provider like O2 and you get initialisation and support as part of the package in most cases. That has to be easier than running your old server.
  • Accessibility: Generally speaking, on-premises email servers are designed to work with an email client on a single PC, and getting them to do more takes a certain amount of work. What's more, as the mail in each mailbox is either stored on the server or passed on to PC clients, it may only be available where and when the server can be accessed, which might not be everywhere or at every time. Cloud-based email services are designed to work across a wide range of devices. Desktops, laptops, tablets and phones will all connect, and you can often use practically anything that will run a browser to view and send mail. And while 100% uptime can't be guaranteed, the best cloud email services come incredibly close.
  • Security: Provided your users follow good basic security practice, looking after their devices and using strong passwords for access, cloud-based email services are impressively secure. In fact, it's fair to say that Microsoft or Google's servers have better physical security, run on more secure networks and are updated more frequently than the mail servers you'd find in most corporate environments, let alone small businesses. With data encrypted while in transit between you and them, you couldn't ask for more secure email.
  • Backup and disaster recovery: Most of us have some experience of an email we didn't want deleted getting sent to the recycle bin, while the loss of email due to hardware failure, fire, flood or theft can be disastrous. With a good cloud-based service, your mailboxes will be backed up across multiple physical servers and locations, while even deleted emails aren't junked from the servers straight away. Combine this with the accessibility of cloud-based services, and a problem with your email no longer means a larger problem for your business.
  • Scalability: In-house email servers can scale upwards as your company grows, provided you've built them with the overhead to do so. If not, or if they reach their limits, you could be looking at expensive new investments. With cloud-based services, however, your email provision can grow as the company grows; all it takes is adding another user. This isn't just good news when a business is growing, but also when it needs to be flexible. If you take on staff temporarily or need to make cuts later, you will only pay for what you use.

Why Office 365?

Microsoft isn't the only big name in cloud-based email, but it's arguably the best. Office 365 gives you a market-leading 50GB of email, calendar and contacts storage per user, with prices from 3.10 per user per month. You can configure it to work with your own domain name, and Microsoft's Web-based management panels make it easier to add users, manage mailboxes and keep a watchful eye on your company email. And while Office 365 works brilliantly with Windows 10 PCs, laptops and tablets, plus Windows 10 Mobile phones, it'll also work hand-in-hand with Mac OS computers, iPhones, iPads and Android mobile devices, with next to no configuration required.

Yet the best part of using Office 365 is that you're investing in a superb value all-round package. With a choice of online or full desktop Office apps, 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage and Skype for Business and Yammer communication tools, you can start with email and steadily move towards a more cloud-based approach to IT. Moving to Office 365 could change the way you handle email, but that's just the start of how it might transform your business.

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