Over the last few years we have seen the computer industry in parts moving back towards the mainframe and client infrastructure. This has many benefits including but not limited to data access, backups, single point of maintenance, etc, but one of the most limiting factors in the past was decent internet access and the hosted infrastructure that could provide a feature rich and responsive user experience to compete against locally installed applications. Data access with the growth of ADSL in the UK has reasonable coverage, I believe in most cities you will be provided with connectivity to the internet at a reasonable speed and more recently
we have started seeing hosted services that can compete with traditionally locally placed systems in regards to cost and features.
One hosted service I’m referring to here is email. If a new business was to be setup tomorrow and I was requested to advice on their email infrastructure there would be no hesitation at recommending for small to medium sized businesses to use the services of Google Apps or Microsoft BPOS. Email is already in a good position to be moved to a fully hosted system as traditionally accessing mail remotely say by a browser (Web Mail, OWA) or local client connecting to a remote server (POP, IMAP) has been provided for many years. I have been a user of Google Apps for 4 years now and the availability of access from anywhere with a net connection that provides the same interface and features is a delight. My mail storage, indexing, backups and SPAM filtering is now not a worry and I’m happy to offload such responsibilities. This provides me with peace of mind and frees up my time for other tasks, same benefits I expected my clients to receive.
But by moving this responsibility out of my hands also has its negative points. Getting access to the backend of the system is removed so troubleshooting issues are the responsibility of the over stretched support staff of the provider; backups are maintained by the provider but what happens if data is lost? What happens if you’re not happy and you wish to move? How easy is it to get all of your data out of the service providers systems? 25GB maybe a lot of space, but once you hit that limit with Google good luck on indentifying and deleting large emails, looks like it’s back to local clients for that then.
I believe that the mainframe and dumb (dumber is maybe better description) clients are the future, but with any solution you close some doors (issues) and many more will open. My personal opinion is that hosted services in the "cloud" are at their infancy, only just crossing the line where their benefits outweigh their downfalls, but at times still crossing to the wrong side of that line.
Would I recommend hosted email solutions - yes, but I’m not saying it will be easy.