Converting the AWS Pricing Model for Enterprises: How Business Email Breaks the Mold

Jonathan Levine, CTO, Intermedia
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Jonathan Levine, CTO, Intermedia

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure has aided over a million businesses in making the shift from hosting the services they need on-premises to using cloud-based infrastructure. It’s proven so effective in providing infrastructure for such a broad array of services that customers have been decommissioning entire data centers in favor of AWS. However, AWS pricing is not ideal for the use case of business email.   

Under the AWS pricing model, customers pay based on their utilization of the AWS infrastructure. IT is in control of a company’s usage, requiring customers to be able to predict the compute, storage and other infrastructure required for a given workload. This allows customers to finely calibrate the amount of infrastructure used to match the demand on applications. Customers even have the ability to further control costs by adjusting their infrastructure on an hour-by-hour basis, increasing and decreasing capacity to meet end-user demand. While this approach works well for many applications, it doesn’t work well for business email, especially for Microsoft Exchange, the most popular business email system.  

In the following, we’ll explain why running Microsoft Exchange in the cloud is so challenging, and then present an approach to business email for enterprises to consider as they look to eliminate their data centers.

  Email presents a need among AWS customers for a new business model 

Why the cloud?

Because AWS charges for infrastructure based on usage-per-hour, customers can reap large benefits in several areas. In traditional data centers, the many weeks that are required to select, purchase, install and configure new servers means that data center operators need to buy enough equipment to handle peak loads. Under-provisioning a data center risks system slowdowns or even system failures during the most critical, heavy-use periods. The “elastic” nature of AWS means that administrators can quickly respond to increases in customer demand by quickly adding resources without the significant capital outlays needed for traditional data centers.  

The trade-off administrators make for this flexibility increase cost in steady-state workloads.  The economics are similar to those in real-estate: renting a hotel room is quick and easy, and for a short visit, is much more economical than renting an apartment. However, for a year-long visit, renting an apartment is a much better deal. Just as you need to check out of a hotel room or return a ZipCar when you aren’t using it, in order to save money when using AWS, applications need to practice dynamic scaling to automatically release resources in off-peak periods.  

Why is Email Different?

Services like Web Sites or Video Streaming, with their near-linear scaling of resources requirements as usage increases, are ideal for AWS. Microsoft Exchange’s infrastructure requirements don’t fit in well with the AWS metered pricing model because it has not been written with dynamic scaling in mind. Exchange assumes that it “owns” its servers: it has high memory, computation and I/O requirements, improving user performance through sophisticated caching and indexing techniques, and (especially in previous versions) expecting high-performance Storage Area Networks. Most important, business email does not expect to have servers turned off when load decreases, nor does it quickly take advantage of new resources when they are added.   

Microsoft is continuously improving Exchange: Exchange 2013, and especially Exchange 2016 have lower resource requirements and are friendlier to the use of commodity servers and commodity storage. Unfortunately, managing Microsoft Exchange is still complex and still requires expertise. Especially in a public cloud environment, taking advantage of the pay-for-what-you-use model for Microsoft Exchange not only requires IT staff to carefully monitor for shifting capacity needs, but requires great skill to add or remove capacity without putting the entire installation at risk.  

So, while business users would prefer to save money on email and to pay for it on a per-user/per-month basis, moving Exchange into AWS will cost most businesses more than it would to keep it on site. This is the big reason why Amazon Web Services and Intermedia recognized the importance of offering a different usage model to AWS customers when it comes to business email.  

A new way of doing business in the AWS cloud

Email presents a need among AWS customers for a new business model. As the world’s largest independent provider of Exchange, we have addressed that need by repackaging the AWS cloud with business email on a unique per user, per month basis. Businesses can reap the benefits of Software-as-a-Service–reliable, scalable and secure service with flexible, per-user/per-month pricing, without the need to make significant capital and staff commitments.  

Additionally, enterprises can move to the cloud in days versus weeks or months. This fast deployment period is critical for many companies because very frequently, the move to the cloud is fueled by a storage emergency, or a recognized reliability failure such as an ailing on-premises Exchange server.  

Conclusion

Customers love the reliability of AWS, but know that managing Exchange is complex. A per-user, per-month business model keeps costs predictable while maintaining high performance and reliability. This unique pricing and service management approach accommodates the way AWS customers want to buy business email. It’s time for your on-premises email environment to join your other services in the AWS cloud.  

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