Should you run your own email server?

A common misconception amongst small-business owners is that you need your own email server. For most companies I’ve encountered, this is just not necessary.

Before continuing, it may help if I explain some basics. There are essentially two ways to have email:

  • Hosted email. This is when someone else manages the email server. If you have a personal Gmail or Yahoo email, it is ‘hosted’ by another company, in this case Google or Yahoo. The same is true if you use the email address provided by your internet service provider or website hosting company.
  • You run your own email server. Many medium-sized and large organisations take this route. They have a server room or data centre space, and an I.T. department who takes care of the servers.

Small-business owners sometimes feel that they need to emulate bigger companies by installing their own email server, perhaps assuming that it’s the way things are ‘supposed to be’. This is unsurprising since founders often come from a corporate environment where this set-up is normal. Furthermore, computer services companies love suggesting this route because it’s a great source of income: not only do they supply you with the hardware and software, they also get continued work through ongoing support.

Nevertheless, while email is critical for most companies, having an in-house mail server is a distraction from running the business. Do you have the resources to keep yours running reliably? Here are some examples of the many worries you’ll have if you take care of your own email server:

  • What happens to your messages if you lose power, say, from a blown fuse or road works?
  • Will the new cleaner unplug the cable to use for the vacuum cleaner?
  • What if the server is stolen during a break-in?
  • Do you have spare parts in case a component fails?
  • Can you keep the server virus-free?
  • Are you running regular backups?
  • Which software updates can you apply without causing problems?
  • Will the server overheat in the summer?

Compare this with a hosted service. Reputable providers house the servers in a data centre with backup power generators, building security, air conditioners and a round-the-clock technical team. The chances are that your email service will be more robust with them than in a computer sitting in the corner of your office.

If you think you genuinely need your own server, make sure that you’re aware of the implications. Don’t let your technology advisor push you towards this direction without a clear explanation.

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