Feb 20, 2008

When will they learn?

I recently finished reading "Where Have All the EMails Gone?" by David Gewirtz, Editor-in-Chief at Zatz Publishing. Like Pete Seeger, who asked a bunch (pun intended) of questions about missing flowers, Mr. Gewirtz asks a lot of questions about missing White House e-mails; a fact that was brought to the national attention in April 2007 during the Supreme Court justice firing inquiries. In his book, Mr. Gewirtz doesn't ask his questions to promote a political platform, rather he asks the questions as an information technologist, wondering what actually happened. He plays Internet domain sleuth and explains how he uncovered information about the Republican National Committee (RNC.org) and GWB34.com e-mail accounts that were used in lieu of White House (EOP.gov) e-mail. He also explores the policies that directed White House staffers to use non-White House communication channels for certain types of activity. Using publicly available testimony and press conference transcripts, he investigates how e-mail from the White House may have disappeared. Mr. Gewirtz also speculates on the potential dangers of these policies and practices which, at times, may seem borderline hysterical unless you've had to deal with securing e-mail content and seen some of shenanigans that go on.

Politics aside, "Where Have All the EMails Gone?" is an good case study of what not to do if you want to keep e-mail secure, auditable, and recoverable. The book is an easy read and is peppered with repeated disclaimers of political bias by proving that this problem is non-partisan having started in a Democratic White House and has come to our attention in a Republican White House.

The most important lesson is detailed in Chapter 13 - that a sound e-mail system is about technology and policies:

There are, however, technical issues and concerns, plus security issues and concerns that blast through the political rhetoric and even party affiliation.

Many of the questions posed in this chapter could be asked about any e-mail environment and is not exclusive to the White House or its policies. If you're in charge of managing an e-mail platform, I recommend that you read this book. Mr. Gewirtz adds value to his book by offering additional material (e.g., interviews, article links, and resource links) where readers can go to find out more about e-mail technology, practices, and policies.

By the way, this is an ongoing story, and you can keep up with the latest installments via a RSS feed link on the "Where Have All the EMails Gone?" web site.

Feb 8, 2008

E-mail is getting cheaper

I am struck by the price points that enterprise e-mail are coming to. Just goes to show you how a consumer-based SaaS solution getting into the enterprise market can drive the prices down.

Now any business, regardless if they subscribe to Google Apps, can take advantage of these powerful features. How much does it cost though? It’s a lot cheaper than the equivalent Microsoft service. For the most basic package (simple message filtering), Microsoft is charging $21/user/year. Google’s equivalent package is $3/user/year. The most expensive package from Microsoft (that includes only 3.6GB/user archiving) costs $103/user/year, and only $25 from Google.

Of course it's easy for a vendor like Google (who has been giving away consumer e-mail for a long time now) to force the price issue and differentiate itself from the hosted enterprise solutions. Although price drops for delivering e-mail to the enterprise are drivers for choosing an e-mail platform, at the end of the day CIOs are concerned about much more than the price of e-mail. Despite predictions that e-mail is dead it's still one of the most mission critical applications in the enterprise and there are many considerations that CIOs face when deploying e-mail systems. Security, compliance, back-up and recovery, system integrity, anti-virus/spam, and (most importantly) user happiness with the e-mail client and support. These are areas where hosted enterprise systems - such as Hosted Exchange with Outlook or Outlook Web Access - differentiate themselves from consumer-based tools. Here's a sad Tech News World story on what can happen with hosted e-mail: Using Email as Storage: A Cautionary Tale

Still having Google push the price issue is good news for enterprises. It forces the competition's hand, specifically when it comes to Microsoft. ISPs (such as 01, Mindcentric, or Perceiva) who offer more enterprise focused Zimbra-based e-mail and collaboration tools are already competing at price points comparable with Google's. While Google may have the media mind share, there are comparably priced alternatives available that offer enterprise-friendly options on the market today. Organizations need to keep this in mind as they consider a jump to another e-mail platform.

The largest hurdle Google needs to mount is the perception that Google is a consumer company that sells on-line advertising and should not be entrusted with important corporate information. It's good to see that Google is leveraging it's Postini assets in this case. Postini addresses many of these concerns very well - including a good reputation with hosted enterprise e-mail management and security tools that are SAS 70 Type II complaint ensuring data center activity logging and auditability. Technologically Google still needs to add more enterprise-like functionality to it's interfaces and continue to integrate with common desktop applications that information workers deal with every day in order to really catch enterprise business.

» Google launches new service for enterprise email | Googling Google | ZDNet.com

Feb 1, 2008

MSFT + YHOO - What's next?

Many of my colleagues (links below) have commented on the news that Microsoft has made a bid for Yahoo. So here's a bit of what I think...

For now, this is a battle in the consumer area more than the enterprise (for now). When I was researching a report on next generation e-mail last fall I was impressed by a November 20, 2007 Reuters article regarding the "10, 20, 30, 40" plan that Kevin Johnson, VP of Microsoft's platforms and services division, laid out at a UBS investors convention last November.

The plan, which represents Microsoft's aspirations over the next three to five years, calls on Microsoft to increase the company's share in Web search, page views, percentage of time on the Internet and percentage of advertising dollars.

The current market is The plan would execute as follows:

Microsoft wants its Web sites like MSN.com and Windows Live e-mail to comprise 10 percent of all Internet page views from about 6 percent now...

...Microsoft also wants to boost the percentage of minutes spent at company Web sites, out of total time spent on the Internet, to 20 percent from about 17 percent...

...Microsoft's plan is to raise its share in online search to 30 percent. Research firm comScore said Microsoft's search market share was about 10 percent in September.

Microsoft aims to capture 40 percent of all dollars coming through digital advertising platforms compared with around 6 percent now.

The current global online advertising market, estimated at $40 billion, is held by Google and Yahoo. Consider this, Microsoft acquired digital advertising firm aQuantive for $6 billion (85% price premium) last August. They also announced plans to acquire FAST in January 2008 for approximately $1.2 billion. Add $44.6 billion for Yahoo (a 62% price premium). It's a lot of money but combined Microsoft has a tidy package that puts it on the path to "10, 20, 30, 40." With such ambitious plans Microsoft will need all the other benefits that it gets from Yahoo, including data centers, a robust web services infrastructure, social software, and more.

What struck me is the article only mentions Microsoft's consumer online offerings, MSN and Windows Live e-mail. There is a distinction when it comes to consumer vs enterprise markets, but the lines are beginning to blur. The challenge for Microsoft is leverage its assets so it consistently supports both markets.

As far as the future of Yahoo this is still a bid - a good one - but a bid no less. I am not expecting to hear anything about who's leaving or what might happen to the brand until the deal is in place. That may take some thrashing and I expect some scrutiny before we know what will happen. So stay tuned.

For additional reading take a look at some of what my coworkers have to say:

Mike Gotta - Peter O'Kelly - Craig Roth - Guy Creese