cloud email

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How agencies can improve the reliability of cloud-based email

The Air Force recently awarded a $1 billion cloud migration contract -- not for an aircraft-related system, but for email. Not to be outdone, the Office of Management and Budget is forming an interagency taskforce to standardize email requirements based on the recommendation of the American Technology Council, a White House panel that is helping set deadlines for updating federal agency IT infrastructures.

These initiatives show how eager the federal government is to fully migrate to a cloud-based email system, and for good reasons. Cloud-based email offers huge operational benefits, especially considering the sheer number of users and the broad geographical footprint of the federal government. It is also much simpler and cheaper to secure and manage than on-premises email servers.

While cloud email offers a number of advantages, it also poses some unique challenges. IT managers must carefully track their email applications -- much as they do other applications -- to ensure cloud-based email platforms remain reliable, accessible and responsive. They must also continuously monitor for threats and vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, even the major cloud-based email providers have had performance problems. Last year, Google suffered a massive and systemic issue across multiple platforms that impacted all of its applications, including Gmail. This past February, a Yahoo Mail outage affected customers around the world for days. And the solution that many agencies rely on, Office 365, has been subject to service outages in Europe and in the United States.

While it’s difficult to measure the cost of all that downtime, the fact is that any amount of downtime or lost productivity is too much for federal agencies. Government employees rely on instantaneous communication to make decisions that can impact the course of the country. Though not typically considered a mission-critical application, email is a technology that most federal organizations cannot live without.

Fortunately, many agencies are already actively monitoring their cloud environments. They simply need to apply similar practices, with some email-specific strategies, to help ensure a high level of performance and reliability.

Gain visibility into email performance

Email servers can fall victim to many of the same hiccups that affect the performance of other applications. Sporadic issues, which can include network latency and bandwidth constraints, for example, can directly influence the speed at which email is sent and delivered. Much like everyday problems, these can take root and be hard to identify without the proper tools and processes in place.

Administrators must have clear visibility into everyday key performance metrics on the operations of their cloud-based email platforms. They must proactively monitor email usage throughout the agency, including the number of users on the systems, users who are running over their respective email quotas, archived and inactive mailboxes and more. The cloud and cloud-based email systems can fall victim to many of the same threats that cause cybersecurity problems in a traditional environment.

Ideally, administrators should set up an environment that allows them to get a complete picture of their cloud-based email platform as it relates to whatever on-premises server they may be using. For example, administrators whose agencies use Office 365 in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange should be able to monitor both simultaneously, allowing them to more easily identify and fix issues as they arise.

Monitor mail paths

When email performance falters, it can be difficult to tell whether the fault lies in the application or the network. This challenge is often exacerbated when the application resides in the cloud, which can limit an administrator’s view of issues that might be impacting the application.

Application path monitoring can be crucial in gaining visibility into the performance of email applications, especially those that reside in a hosted environment. Administrators must be able to monitor the “hops” that requests take to and from their email servers to better understand service quality and identify any factors that may be inhibiting email performance. This visibility can help them troubleshoot problems without spending time trying to determine if the application or network is the source of the problem.

While administrators have little control over when a server goes down at an email host location, they do have many options to manage and optimize their cloud-based email platforms on a daily basis. By applying their standard network monitoring solutions and strategies to their email platforms, they can gain better insight into the performance of cloud email servers and help keep communications up and running smoothly.

About the Author

Paul Parker is chief technologist – Federal and National Government, SolarWinds.

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