Rather than dealing with the headache of managing their own e-mail system, small and mid-sized businesses are moving to managed hosting services mainly because of lower cost and increased reliability. Managed service vendors, such as USA.NET, Apptix and Intermedia.net, allow remote workers to stay connected via BlackBerry services and also offer several layers of technical support, so businesses won't lose any daily efficiency.

Using managed e-mail services is part of the larger software-as-a-service (SaaS) business trend, in which vendors provide software applications to clients on a per user/ 'pay as you go' plan. The alternative is operating your own e-mail servers in-house and dealing with the multiple security patches, upgrades, and other compatibility issues.

Steve O'Brien, senior director of service development for USA.NET, says small and mid-sized businesses turn to hosted e-mail services because they want to reduce their capital expenditures, they don't have a large IT staff, and they want to keep up with evolving security threats -- such as viruses. In addition, he adds, IT departments are overwhelmed and hosted services allow the business to get the benefits of a network infrastructure without the headaches.

Reasons for using managed hosting services

There are many reasons why small and mid-sized businesses decide to outsource their e-mail to a managed service. Here are seven of the most popular drivers:

  1. Reliability -- With a hosted e-mail server, companies don't have to worry about lost productivity when the system goes down. For instance, USA.NET guarantees 99.9 percent performance reliability.
  2. Affordability -- Hosted e-mail services provide tiered solutions for their clients, so companies can tailor a per-user price point. These solutions also help companies stay within their technology budgets since they know what they'll spend quarter to quarter, depending upon their service plan.
  3. Security -- Clearing spam, phishing schemes, and viruses are all part of the cost of doing business these days. Using hosted e-mail makes daily e-mail hygiene more convenient by providing tiered, multi-layer protection while offering all customers firewalls and 24/7 monitoring.
  4. Support -- Like many of its competitors, USA.NET offers tiered support levels and monitors its clients to let them know about any issues through automatic server checks and up-to-date reporting if anything is amiss. USA.NET also offers dedicated account managers so companies have a point person if there's a problem.
  5. Mobility -- Mobile workers can check their BlackBerry or PDAs and have the same stored folders on these devices as they do on their desktops. Their mobile devices are also updated when the rest of the 'home' e-mail system is.
  6. Collaboration -- With a hosted solution, small and mid-sized businesses can link, send, and store folders and can work with other users while still keeping their distribution list, calendars, and work groups even when they switch devices.
  7. Compliance -- Hosted solutions ensure that complex upgrades, patches, and virus protection are in place so that clients get their business done and don't worry about their e-mail integrity. Compliance is extremely important in the financial service industry which must ensure the safety of all its customers' financial information.


According to Matthew Cain, analyst for the Gartner Research Group, based in Stamford, Conn., the trend for 2008-2012 will be more competition among the e-mail hosting companies as businesses decide to use hosted e-mail services. Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo, and Google will join the current hosting players and will try to gain market share since they have built-in economies of scale and can offer more services and collaboration solutions. Cain says that the current crop of hosted e-mail vendors will have to differentiate themselves to remain competitive. One thing remains certain: businesses that outsource their e-mail and instant messaging services can concentrate on servicing their clients, building their products, and keeping their workforce efficient.

SIDEBAR: E-mail Hosting Services for Small Business

USA.NET Hosted Microsoft Exchange works with companies from 5 to 60,000 users who can benefit from USA.NET's tiered approach to e-mail and e-messaging services.  Offers a scalable solution that fits your business and it is the only hosted e-mail provider that is Microsoft Gold Certified and SAS 70 Type II Audited.

Apptix with over 178,000 subscribers, Apptix differentiates itself through its messaging, voice, and collaboration solutions. It sells add-on services such as Hosted Exchange, Hosted SharePoint, Hosted IP-PBX, and also offers hosted VoIP solutions.

Intermedia.net offers Microsoft exchange hosting, SharePoint hosting and e-mail archiving and compliance in three web hosting tiers for ColdFusion, Linux, and Windows users. Also offers two control panels: HostPilot and MyMailboxManager for greater mobile access and shared calendars to increase productivity and collaboration.