Replacing Microsoft Exchange with Live@Edu.... NOT SO FAST!!
by, 8th December 2010 at 05:52 PM (11395 Views)
OK, so I heard a great quote on twitter a while back:
"In 5 years time, running an exchange server will be like running your own nuclear power plant to heat your home"
This sounds like a sensible statement to me and since we have an aging Exchange 2003 server I thought I would look into being an early adopter of their "Live@EDU" cloud based email system.
The benefits are clear:
- Virtually unlimited email storage (10gb or something ridiculous like that)
- Outsourced email - No more calls when I'm on holiday saying the exchange server switched off mysteriously while the workmen were in
- Spam protection and someone else cares about the mail delivery
- Its Free!
- Skydrive online storage and Office apps
I registered a new domain name and set up live@edu in a couple of hours. All it needed was a few MX records changing and I was logged into a fully functional webmail system with my new email address. It soon became apparent however that I was jumping the gun and we may need to keep our "nuclear power plant" going a little while longer.
The Live@Edu website is slow..... there's no getting away from it. I've browsed the outlook.com and its certainly useable but the difference is huge compared to our current locally hosted exchange server. I reckon its about 5 times slower from my limited testing. Not a good start! The data center is also based in Dublin which no doubt has an effect on the response times. Why not have a UK data center?
Active Directory Sync
Now maybe I was expecting a little much but it would be nice to have an easy way to synchronize Live@edu with active directory. Both Microsoft products - its surely not that much to ask. But no, sadly you need extra bloated software (Lifecycle manager 2007 Feature release 1) which comes at a cost. A quick browse of the instructions says you have to install software on all domain controllers and reboot each of them, who in their right mind would want to reboot DCs!! Even when I wanted to go ahead with buying the software it seems that a new 2010 version has been released with absolutely no online instructions on how to use it.
So I'm resigned to using CSV exports and manual test accounts for now.
Single Sign on
This is probably the biggest challenge and eventual deal breaker for me. Currently our students log onto our system and the first thing they see when they launch internet explorer is their webmail. No logins, Quick, easy and functional. Unfortunately the live@edu currently has no easy way to provide a single sign on feature even with Microsofts own software portals. Now it is certainly possible to do but after reading all the extra software you need and programming skills its virtually impossible for the normal school network manager to achieve until someone writes a good bit of middle-ware. Microsoft currently provide an "SDK" kit for developers but no actual working systems. Maybe this will change in the future but for now its a lot of work to do even the simplest of tasks like log on with Sharepoint 2010.
Lack of support
Thinking this was a popular product I would expect there to be a nice forum or blog for Live@edu. I thought I found a great one here but sadly the last post was "a fond farewell". The guy who had made some really good posts has been moved onto another part of Microsoft with no clear successor (or at least one that can blog).
I can think of situations where having our own exchange server has been a great help. One time we had a student send out an email to the entire school with some very confidential information. It was easy enough to delete using EXMerge and was completely removed before anyone actually knew that it had happened. I imagine this type of thing would be a lot harder on a cloud based system.
Backups and Service outages
This has yet to be proved but I'm a little worried about who exactly is responsible when the service goes wrong. I know everyone jumps up and down when Google has a 1hr outage but this 1hr could be the difference between someone getting their exam results or not. Also I don't see any guarantees about data retention. What happens if my Principles mailbox gets accidentally deleted? Who do I call?
Cloud email systems are the future for sure, but maybe we will have to wait those 5 years for it to become a reality in secondary schools.
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