SaaS Doubts Boost Remote Infrastructure Services

Chiquita Brands, a SaaS believer, taps remote management services provider for e-mail chores.

CIO Singh's in control of e-mail and not beholden

When Chiquita Brands International decided to move its 4,000 Novell GroupWise e-mail users to Microsoft Exchange two years ago, it wanted to avoid hiring new staff to handle the increased complexity of Microsoft's e-mail software. So it looked to remote e-mail management services from Azaleos, which moved Chiquita to an on-premises deployment of Exchange that Azaleos oversees from its headquarters in Seattle.

Remote management services are gaining acceptance as a stepping-stone to software as a service, or as an alternative when there are economic, legal, or security concerns about SaaS, according to Gartner research VP Matt Cain.

And while Chiquita is a SaaS believer--the company uses HR SaaS services from Workday to manage 26,000 employees--hosted e-mail providers can't yet guarantee CIO Manjit Singh the uptime he desires, he says. Also, he's not convinced they'll be able to help him resolve increasingly common e-discovery requests without added cost, he doesn't want sensitive e-mails residing outside his data center, and he wants control over the version of the software he runs and when and whether patches are applied (multitenant SaaS architectures typically keep every customer on the same up-to-date version of software; Chiquita has deployed Exchange 2003 rather than the current version).

Azaleos, run largely by ex-Microsoft employees, handles most of Chiquita's e-mail chores, such as troubleshooting, performing backups, and applying patches and fixes. It manages and monitors Chiquita's e-mail storage capacity and uptime (Azaleos claims 99.99% uptime in some situations) and can even do Exchange-specific things such as detect and fix a delay in the feature that checks whether an employee's schedule is free or busy when setting up a meeting. Azaleos services Chiquita isn't using include archiving, disaster recovery, mobile device management, and anti-spam/antivirus; Chiquita does those in-house or, as with anti-spam, uses another outside service.

Chiquita bought Dell PowerEdge 1950 servers to run Exchange, as well as associated NetApp storage. Azaleos installed on the Exchange servers an agent that gives its administrators access and visibility into the performance of related storage and identity services, but they can't see e-mail contents and they leave a full audit trail for Chiquita to follow anytime they log in. Tasks such as policy setting and adding or deleting employees are left up to Chiquita.

Having the e-mail hardware and software on premises gives Singh a sense of confidence. He doesn't have to be "beholden to the vendor," Singh says, "because it's my systems in my data center."

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It's not just in e-mail that remote management services have found traction. Engine manufacturer Cummins, for example, contracts with HCL to manage four of its data centers remotely. According to a 2007 McKinsey survey, CIOs estimate 27% of their infrastructure roles could be outsourced.

Singh predicts he'll one day move much of Chiquita's IT infrastructure to third-party service providers and cloud computing. But that day remains far away for most, especially when it comes to e-mail. Gartner estimates only 20% of Exchange e-mail boxes will be hosted by 2012, which gives remote management services a chance to thrive in the interim.