When it comes to enterprise systems, many organizations are mired in complexity. A large number of systems managed by a large number of people very often end up solving very simple enterprise problems. This happens in every enterprise system, and particularly in computer systems. We see this in CRM systems, too, where they are tied to email marketing, dashboarding, financial systems, visual mapping, interactive web-site... and more. It also happens to communications systems. A good example of that is the dear-to-my-heart email system. Email systems have become octopuses with tens of other systems graphed on to them, each solving an important enterprise problem such as security or compliance.
The question is why did these system become so complex? Why do we need so many people to manage them? Why do we interact with so many suppliers for something that was meant to be just an email & collaboration system. It’s not because the system itself was complex from the get-go. It is still possible to build an email system on a small Unix box that would provide all of the basic functions required. I even run a highly secure one on my RaspberryPI (kudo’s to Drew - http://sealedabstract.com/code/nsa-proof-your-e-mail-in-2-hours/). It’s not because the enterprise suppliers are trying to make email systems more complex - although sometimes one can debate that.
In general, with each of release of Exchange, Microsoft reduces the number of server roles and functions to make it simpler to deploy and configure as explained in this article from MSExchangeGuru.com. Maybe it’s because the problems we are trying to solve are too complex to be resolved simply, but I doubt that because there are plenty of ware companies pushing solutions to all of the large and small problems that plague our email systems. They all claim their solution is simple and can resolve the issues at hand.
I believe it is because of how our engineering minds are built. We are trained to solve problems and move on. So from a current state of affairs, we look at a new problem and figure out how to optimally solve the problem at the lowest cost, in the shortest amount of time, and with the lowest impact to the organization.
Need secure communication? We pick the best and cheapest ware to meet the need and put it in, adding another arm to the Octopus. Need to exchange large files with customers? Add another ware. It goes on and on like this for years until we have a system that is expensive to manage, requires a large team, working numerous of hours every day, is flaky and stressful to operate. It’s not that we want to make things complicated, it’s that with time, and our busy schedules, we have solved a bunch of small problems very efficiently without considering the impact to the overall system.
Once in while, it is important to take a larger view, look at certain systems and see if we cannot simplify. This is simply good management and competent engineering. It requires a bit more effort and time, but it is worth it in the end.
The Info-Tech Research Group provides important insights on email system management in a new white paper they have produced. In the paper, they compare various options in the market and what your should consider as you review your email system. If you're considering making a change in how you manage email, you should definitely check out their report.