Yesterday (April 30, 2010), I announced in my SMB Nation session entitled "Alternative Solutions in the SMB Space" that my primary company, EON Consulting, has stopped running Exchange for our corporate e-mail. Back on April 5, we migrated our e-mail data out of Exchange into a server running Kerio Connect. After the successful transition of e-mail services, we are now continuing on a path to migrate our business off of SBS 2008 onto Server 2008 R2 Standard with Kerio.
Is this a bit of hypocrisy coming from the guy who's authored two books about Small Business Server and has his MVP designation for the product? No, and I'll tell you why.
Part of my responsibility as a trusted advisor to my clients is to constantly be on the lookout for solutions that meet the needs of my customers. Sometimes this comes from a customer request, sometimes it stems from running across a new technology in research I'm doing for something else. This is how we approached dealing with the iPhone when it came out, how we approached providing two-factor authentication (using Auth Anvil, of course), and how we approached SBS 2008. My story with Kerio, however, has a bit of a different path. And, if you'll bear with me briefly, I'll share the tale.
Last fall, I presented a session titled "Alternative Solutions in the SMB Space" and focused on introducing JungleDrive, Google Apps, Snow Leopard Server, and IBM Lotus Foundation server to an audience who was primarily focused on SBS as a solution for their clients. A few days before the conference started, I got an e-mail out of the blue from someone at a company called Kerio to see if I'd include their e-mail product in my session. Not knowing who they were or anything about the product, I advised them that I'd not be able to adjust my presentation that close to the conference, but basically blew them off. E-mail wasn't something on my mental radar at that time, and I wasn't really sure how they had come across me, other than finding my info on the SMB Nation site.
After my session, the Kerio contact came up to me in the vendor area and introduced himself in person. I got a bit of Kerio swag, and then didn't think much else of it after that. I filed the interaction in the "to be thought about later if ever" pile and moved on.
Two months later, I signed on to give this presentation again at SMB Nation Spring. Originally, I wasn't that interested in doing the topic again, but several interesting events occurred in the meantime. Foremost among them was the elimination of the EBS product by Microsoft. This generated a LOT of discussion in the IT Pro community about future directions in the space, and given that the announcement of the EBS cancellation was also used as a platform for Microsoft to once again beat their collective chests about how everything is going to the cloud (specifically BPOS), there has been a lot of discussion about the future of e-mail and hosted Exchange in this space.
The second event which was just as significant for me is that my horribly underpowered server in my office that's running SBS 2008 (and never should have been running SBS 2008) really started complaining and it became really clear that replacing that box was no longer just something that was a good idea, it really needed to be done and done soon. With all the SBS 2008 deployments we've done over the last year, we've come to have a much better understanding of the hardware that's really needed to have SBS 2008 run efficiently now as well as projecting for a 4-5 year lifespan. And for our small company, bringing in a box to run SBS 2008 (and any possible next versions that have been discussed) simply didn't make financial sense. So I started really looking at what we might to.
My good friend and business associate Amy Babinchak has been advocating using Windows Foundation server (not the IBM Foundation Server product just for clarity) plus BPOS for smaller clients, and that makes some degree of financial sense. For us in my operation, having a hosted e-mail solution didn't really align with our business needs, and the recurring costs were a concern as well. And if you look through the mailing lists and the threads where people are discussing the overall costs of hosted versus on-premise Exchange, several people have presented scenarios where hosted Exchange has a higher cost than on-premise Exchange over a certain time period.
That's when I dropped an e-mail back to the gentleman from Kerio who pinged me before SMB Nation Fall and asked him for some time to discuss their mail solution with me, because I wanted to see what it was all about. And after the first 30-minute discussion we had, I was sold.
I have a long history with e-mail services, going back over 20 years. I had a significant role in bringing in an "alternate" e-mail solution to the university I was working at in the late 1980's, and then kept involved in e-mail services for students while I was still there. So when I looked at how Kerio was put together, it made a lot of sense. And given that they have close parity with Exchange services and I would notice little to no difference in Outlook and on my iPhone, I decided to give it a try.
Initially, I was just going to stand up a test server and do screenshots and Camtasia captures for my presentation, but the more time I spent evaluating Kerio, the more I knew I needed to move our production systems to it to give it a real test. So on Monday, April 5, we pulled the trigger and moved our production mail system to Kerio.
As soon as I disabled all the Exchange services on my overworked SBS 2008 box, I stopped getting most of the disk and memory usage alerts from my monitoring system. I knew at that point that I'd be able to get Kerio running along with the other technologies we need running on our internal server on a much lower-powered box than I was going to need to build to support SBS 2008. This also answered some nagging questions about some server upgrades I have in the works for some customers later this year who need to replace their hardware but the cost of moving them from SBS 2003 to SBS 2008 simply doesn't make financial sense for them. From a cost, performance, and feature standpoint, Microsoft Foundation Server (or Windows 2003 R2 Standard) plus Kerio will give them the functionality they have, plus the benefit of being able to keep certain applications (QuickBooks) on the server that would not be supported if we moved them to SBS 2008.
Don't get me wrong, I love Exchange and I love the SBS 2008 product. But where SBS 2003 was a good fit for a large number of customers, SBS 2008 realistically is not, and my business is included in that category. It makes no financial sense for my organization to run SBS 2008 just so we can say we're running SBS 2008. We are still deploying new SBS 2008 servers for customers where it makes sense, but now we have a new solution set for those customers where it doesn't. And that's why we made the move.
My announcement yesterday has generated quite a bit of buzz, which wasn't really a surprise. But I did want to explain what went into this decision for EON, and it's not the result of any vendor influence, other than Kerio reaching out to me to try to introduce me to their product. Once I looked at the product for what it was, and I think once other SMB service providers take a look at it, I realized that it made a LOT of sense not only for us, but for a significant portion of my customer base and potential new customers as well.
As was mentioned in the SMB Nation intro session yesterday, we are managers of change in this industry. And this is one change that we're very, very excited about!