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An MSPs Deep Dive into Email Pt II: To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

By: Ben Birnstein

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The growing prevalence of the cloud in modern computing has led many businesses to evaluate whether to leverage cloud-based email systems in place of legacy on-premises infrastructure. Let us help you navigate your IT decision-making as we examine many of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to host your email infrastructure on-premises or in the cloud.


As with many business decisions, the primary factor to consider when moving to the cloud is usually cost. Moving to the cloud removes the high capital expenses and unpredictable product lifecycles associated with on-premises solutions, providing a consistent, predictable, and easily scalable recurring monthly cost instead. Cloud-hosted models also typically include the costs of maintenance, power, cooling, and updates in your monthly bill, which all represent unknowns with an on-premises model. However, the costs of an on-premises solution can be reduced if the infrastructure can be maintained with little to no overhead costs.

The real-world implication of this predictable and scalable operational cost model is that almost any organization can successfully stand up an appropriate cloud-hosted infrastructure solution for their needs. The high capital expenses associated with setting up and maintaining on-premises email infrastructure can present a challenge to many small businesses and even mid-market businesses without a large budget set aside for IT. Cloud models eliminate this challenge by enabling businesses of all sizes to easily set up high-quality infrastructure solutions at a relatively inexpensive up-front cost.


Another factor to consider when choosing between cloud and on-premises models is the level of control you need to have over your infrastructure. The major public cloud players (as well as many private cloud options) all implement stringent security measures which comply with most industry standards, but by entrusting another organization with your infrastructure, you relinquish a significant degree of control. Organizations with specific security concerns or strict compliance requirements must therefore be careful to ensure that their cloud partner meets these needs or keep their infrastructure on-premises to maintain complete control.

Outages and Downtime

With cloud-hosted solutions, the onus falls to the provider to ensure uptime requirements are met. To this end, many of these service providers quote uptime service level agreements which reduce downtime to a fraction of a percent. For example, Microsoft provides a 99.9% uptime guarantee for its Office 365 service, allowing only 8.77 hours of downtime per year.

Since all cloud services are provided over an internet connection, the reliability of the client-side internet is equally important to ensuring your cloud infrastructure platform functions properly. If your internet connectivity is unreliable, you may often be unable to access your cloud solution, making high-quality internet connectivity a must-have for all cloud-first organizations.

Each individual business needs to decide on its own uptime thresholds and needs. Determining the historical uptime of your on-premises services over previous years may help your business to determine what this threshold will be. The following reliability and performance considerations must also be considered when deciding between on-premises and cloud-hosted models:

  • How robust is your power delivery to your datacenter?
  • Will your existing electrical capacity overhead allow for new equipment as needed in a growing on-premises environment?
  • Will your existing network capacity support current and future requirements for on-premises hosted hardware?
  • Is your existing physical security sufficient to meet compliance requirements?


Backup strategy and disaster recovery requirements are huge considerations for any organization considering moving to the cloud. Broadly speaking, cloud solutions tend to provide integrated backups with various levels of fault tolerance available depending on your needs. This does not mean cloud-first organizations can simply ignore their backup and disaster recovery needs, but it may mean that meeting those needs is as simple as selecting and paying for the right plan for your business. 

When planning your backup strategy, the “three-two-one rule” provides a great place to start. This rule sets out basic backup best practices for organizations of all sizes, requiring organizations to keep at least three copies of their data, two of which should be backup copies stored on different storage media, with one backup copy located offsite. The three-two-one rule presents inversed challenges depending on whether you choose to host your infrastructure on-premises or in the cloud; on-premises solutions must provide a way to replicate and store data offsite, while cloud-first solutions must include a way to keep an updated onsite copy.

Using Office 365 as an example, Microsoft provides some level of data protection through geo-redundancy and retention policies, as well as a sort of “emergency” recovery available through their ticket system. While these solutions are much better than nothing, they do not comprise a comprehensive backup strategy. Instead, industry standards dictate that organizations should maintain a third-party backup solution even for cloud-hosted infrastructure, rather than entrusting full control over your backups to the cloud vendor.

The benefits of using a third-party backup solution include:

  • Granular Restoration – Most modern third-party backup solutions allow organization to search and restore mail items granularly without interaction with the hosted mail vendor. Many cloud hosting vendors do not offer this capability.
  • Maintain Data Ownership – With an independent, third-party solution, mail items remain available to the organization even if subscription to the cloud solution is halted or ended.
  • Flexibility to Meet Legal Requirements – Legal retention requirements may necessitate access to mail data with granularity or over a period that might not be possible without a third-party solution.

Making the right choice

Whether to host on-premises or in the cloud is not a simple decision, and requires serious discussion and consideration based on the needs of the individual organization.

In today’s IT climate, email solutions run the gamut; from fully on-premises, to hybrid, to fully cloud-hosted solutions. They also vary widely in terms of cost, security, reliability, and backups, meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to recommend for everyone.

Unsure of which hosting option might be right for you, or need a partner to help you put an effective backup strategy in place? Dataprise offers resources to help your organization accurately assess your current environment and decide the best solution to move your business forward. Contact our marketing team to learn more.


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