Cloud services are all the rage at the moment, but it’s not necessarily true that every cloud has a silver lining. When choosing which services are right for your business, you need to consider all the pros and cons of the different options available. And while some services are being heavily hyped and marketed as the way forward, it must be remembered that all marketing has an agenda, and that agenda does not necessarily fit hand in hand with your own.
What is necessary is to strip away all the bias and hype, and look carefully at each factor which would affect your decision. Only in this way can an objective view be created. That’s the purpose of this article, and hopefully by the end of it we’ll have an answer to the title question.
1. Access and Storage
These two items need to be considered together at the same time because they’re linked too closely for it to be worth separating them. When your email communications are hosted traditionally, messages take up space on your web server until they’re downloaded or deleted.
Once messages are downloaded, they are only available from the place they are downloaded to, and any devices that are able to access that location. With a cloud-based solution, the messages are stored on a 3rd party server, and there’s no need for you to worry about how much space they are taking up unless you’re close to the limit offered by the provider.
• Messages won’t affect the performance, storage quota, or bandwidth quota of your website
• Messages won’t normally take up space on your own devices, except temporarily
• Cloud-based solutions often have great management and curation features
• May make it easier to share emails among work teams
• May (sometimes) protect against malicious payloads
• Can be accessed from anywhere that you can connect to the Internet
• Messages can only be viewed if you have a working Internet connection
• Many cloud-based services do not allow messages to be downloaded
• You can’t be certain whether deleted messages are really deleted
• Most free (and some paid) services discourage or disallow encryption
• Can be very difficult to obtain and preserve true anonymity with cloud-based services
• You may need to frequently delete messages if you have a storage limit
• International travel can be a problem, as some services may deny you access when you log in from another country.
Depending on the nature of your business, this could be a major concern for you. It can be especially important for people dealing with matters related to national security, law enforcement, crime, health services, and financial services. Some of the key points were already mentioned in the previous section.
• No known privacy or security advantages. You are trusting a 3rd party with your confidential information, with absolutely no control over how that 3rd party might access or use that information. Even if you trust an organization to do the right thing, you may not know if you can trust each individual employee, because even the organization does not know if they can be trusted.
• No control over the storage, copying, and archiving of your messages
• Encryption may not be supported, and in some cases may be against the terms and conditions
• Messages are stored online, not locally, so if the provider is hacked, you could be compromised
• When messages are stored online, vulnerability from staff being socially engineered is increased
• Many services provide unwanted protections that may cause more problems than they solve
• Almost every cloud-based service states they will release your information to government officials if asked (not ordered by a court, just asked). There are a few exceptions to this. Most of them also say they will not inform you if they do hand over your information to government officials.
In general, cloud-based services offer better preservation of your communications compared with traditional hosting where messages are downloaded to a local device.
• Messages are often stored indefinitely and may be automatically backed up to multiple locations.
• You are protected from data loss due to local device hardware malfunction
• No certainty that deleted messages will be deleted
• Losing your password may deny you access to your own account
• Service provider may decide to deny access to you at any time and for any reason
With traditional hosting, you are free to define whatever email management policies you like. When you use cloud-based services, the provider may impose their own policies over the top of yours, or at least in addition to yours.
• May help reduce the amount of spam you receive
• May provide more advanced management options than your regular email software provides
• Messages may be incorrectly flagged as spam, often for ridiculous reasons
• Messages may be denied from certain senders just because of the IP address their host uses
• When messages are denied, you may not even be aware that it has happened
In general, most cloud-based services do provide good support (though some provide almost no support). Ordinary hosting doesn’t usually provide great email support unless you have a problem of a technical nature. The quality of the support you receive depends entirely on what the service provider is prepared to offer, and the combined skills and experience of the support staff in dealing with technical problems.
• Some cloud-based email services have excellent support available
• Support is usually available 24/7
• Many services outsource their support (normally negative)
• Support staff may not have proper technical training and solutions may be prepared from scripts
While there are many positive aspects to cloud-based email services, there seems to be more negatives. The biggest problem is in the matter of security, because messages are stored online indefinitely, and normally in plain text (unencrypted), so if the provider is compromised, then so are you. There is also the possibility of employees of the provider to read the communications, either due to boredom or with criminal intent.
For these reasons, the majority of businesses would actually be better off not using cloud-based email services and sticking with traditional hosting for email services, downloading their communications to local devices, and following a sensible backup and security plan. The convenience of being able to access your communications from anywhere on any device is also a vulnerability.
Plus of course, any important internal communications should be properly encrypted (there is no good reason not to do this), and that’s not always possible with cloud-based services.