Business gets message about email vulnerability

Business gets message about email vulnerability By Mike Barton | 11/25/2003

Telstra’s recent email crisis has highlighted an absence of service guarantees now that business views email as mission critical.

Dennis Muscat, the managing director of Pacific Internet, a business-focused ISP, says it comes down to user expectations.

“When I send an email, I expect it to arrive in a second,” he says. “For (small and medium businesses), email’s like Australia Post.”

But it is hard to find a business ISP that will guarantee email service like a next-day Australia Post letter.

Steve Bittinger, research director with Gartner in Canberra, says it is a real problem because only big companies can afford to have 10 people overseeing the email servers. “It’s the small businesses that need to outsource their email.”

He says the “Telstra incidents” may provide the right conditions for a turning point in the ISP market. “Gee, everyone’s on email and everyone’s email is on their business cards.”

A Telstra spokeswoman, Kerrina Lawrence, says Telstra’s service level agreement covers the ADSL service but she could not say if that extended to email.

The only option for a small business to get a true service level agreement for hosted email today is to buy a premium email service such as outsourced Microsoft Exchange from an application service provider in addition to their connectivity charges.

Application service providers such as ExpressApps offers a service level agreement now and WebCentral will have an SLA in place by the end of the year. Both start at about $10 per inbox a month.

But most providers, such as ExpressApps, only provide connectivity and email as part of a larger service package. “Our value add in the whole chain is business services such as application hosting,” Mark Harrigan, director of ExpressApps, says.

He says that because SLAs only offer compensation, perhaps small business should focus on support in choosing an ISP.

Lloyd Ernst, chief executive of WebCentral, a managed services company, says of the Telstra mail crisis: “It has really heightened the awareness of providers such as us.”

Ernst says WebCentral may consider a service level agreement for standard email.

“The (ISP) industry has never thought of email as being an issue until the recent Telstra problems,” says Garry McCarten, managing director of Request Business Solutions, a business-class ISP.

McCarten says Request’s service level agreement is skewed towards giving the benefit of the doubt in any service outage. He says given that the agreement does not specifically exclude, or include, email, that “if it was email that was down, we’d say the service was down”.

But Pacific Internet’s Muscat says he has found that not many businesses appear prepared to pay more for service level agreements. He says that many small businesses are just able to justify trading-in the dial-up connection for broadband. But he admits that could change.

“With business customers, you get one, maybe two, chances, then it is over, red rover.”

Kouresh Ghassemi, a research manager with IDC Australia, says it may be too early to expect a market response because the risk of email outages is “very, very small”. But he said that if BigPond’s problems had continued for another couple of weeks, it could have been enough to see a shift.

Ghassemi suggests that perhaps a small business association could drive the issue with ISPs.

“I don’t think the Government will ever get involved.


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