Imagine this hypothetical scenario: You go into work one morning and immediately try to log in to your email. You are alarmed to discover that nothing works. You can't send messages, receive messages, or access any of the messages you have stored. Email, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists for your company. What would you do?
We used this example to illustrate how much today's businesses rely on email. Realistically, could you go without it and make do with only phones, faxes, and snail mail? Before you write this scenario off as far-fetched, consider the situation that Intermedia faced in September of 2013.
The Intermedia Catastrophe
Intermedia is a one of the world's largest cloud services providers. The company specializes in VOIP service, data backups, and email. Many businesses rely on the kinds of hosted email servers that Intermedia provides because in-house email servers are costly and often vulnerable. Hosted servers, by contrast, are typically able to limit outages to a few minutes or seconds, and have vast technical support networks to get problems fixed fast. One of their major selling points is their reliability.
When a bad piece of code caused Intermedia's network routers to fail, the problem should have been minor. Unfortunately, Intermedia had made the mistake of tying all of its services to the same network. That meant that when a relatively small problem occured, the entire network collapsed.
For upwards of 12 hours, every one of Intermedia's email clients was unable to access their accounts. Since everything was interconnected, Intermedia's own phone service also went down. Panicked and furious customers could not reach customer service, so they took to the public forum of Twitter to vent their frustrations. When they discovered how hard it is to run a business without email, they had a lot to complain about.
Eventually, Intermedia was able to restore service, but not until after serious damage had been done. Scores of angry customers canceled their contracts, and Intermeida's reputation was forever tarnished in the tech community. Many wondered how such a colossal oversight could have been allowed to happen in the first place.
This recent example is proof that email can simply vanish. Would your company have been able to operate without email for 12 hours or more? How would your own reputation have been damaged? Any business that relies on hosted email servers (a popular choice for small and new businesses) needs to understand how well they are being protected.
Find out what kinds of measures your hosted email provider has in place before you sign a contract. If they are not able to give you detailed reassurances, consider other options. There is no reason to continue a business relationship with a partner that puts you at risk.
In order to ensure that you have access to email all day, every day, no matter what, consider using an email continuity service. This is essentially a backup that can scan incoming messages and route them to an alternate email server if your primary server ever goes down. When looking for a backup service, make sure to ask them where their physical servers are located. If they are housed in the same town, you're not protecting yourself from local complications, like extended power outages. Geographical diversity is key. Having this protection is an important way to prepare for the unexpected.
If having continuous, reliable email service is a major concern for your business, contact your IT service provider. They can use their industry knowledge to evaluate your current provider and help you set up continuity protections. Don't let your most important communication tool fail because of the mistakes of others. To learn more about protecting your business with the right mix of IT, read our free white paper “The Ultimate Small Business Guide to IT Outsourcing.”