Netmail Blog

The Hidden Costs of Email

Posted by Michael Osterman

Jun 19, 2014 10:02:00 AM

Osterman Research and Netmail conducted a large survey of organizations to determine the email system they have in place; the solutions they are using for anti-virus, anti-spam, data loss prevention, encryption, archiving and eDiscovery; and how much they are paying for their email infrastructure.

The median number of active mailboxes in use at the organizations surveyed was 4,650. To gain further insight into organizations’ email practices, we segmented the 365 completed surveys into small organizations (up to 500 active mailboxes), mid-sized organizations (501 to 5,000 mailboxes) and large organizations (5,001+ mailboxes).


The vast majority of the organizations (81%) have some version of Microsoft Exchange as their primary email server, while 12% have deployed Office 365 as their primary email solution, 3% have Lotus Notes Domino, 2% have Gmail, and 1% have some other solution in place. While the survey results are somewhat skewed toward Exchange, the numbers are not tremendously dissimilar to what Osterman Research has found in other surveys.

Our research also found that the majority of survey respondents that have deployed Exchange as their primary email server (58%) use Exchange 2010 as their primary email solution, followed by Exchange 2013 (33%) and Exchange 2007 (9%). This implies significant room for growth in the deployment of Exchange 2013, but also room for growth as many Exchange-enabled organizations opt to migrate some or all of their users to Office 365 – a migration path that we anticipate many organizations will take.

Not surprisingly, our research found that the small organizations were the most likely to have migrated to Exchange 2013, largely because of the relative lack of “inertia” from email-enabled applications and other factors that most large organizations experience in the context of email migrations.


The survey found a wide range of anti-virus/anti-spam solutions (AV/AS) in use, but also found some interesting, if not surprising, patterns:

  • The smaller the organization, the more likely they are to use Barracuda as their primary AV/AS solution, as well as a miscellaneous collection of lesser known solutions.
  • The larger the organization, they more likely they are to use Symantec, Cisco IronPort and Proofpoint as their primary AV/AS solution.

More importantly we found that AV/AS solutions cost an average of $6.08 per seat per year, or slightly more than 50 cents per seat per month. However, we found that small and large organizations spend the least on AV/AS ($5.42 and $5.74, respectively), while mid-sized organization spend the most at $7.12. We ascribe this to the following factors:

  • The dominance of “other” solutions in the small business market is likely in lower cost solutions that drive the average per seat cost lower, while large organizations enjoy significant economies of scale that can drive the cost of leading solutions to fairly low levels.
  • Mid-sized organizations, however, face the worst of both worlds: they need sophisticated and cutting edge AV/AS solutions, but they don’t have the large numbers of users over which to spread their infrastructure costs that can drive per-seat prices to low levels.


Similar to what we found with AV/AS solutions, the smaller the organization, the more likely they are to use Barracuda solutions for data loss prevention (DLP) and encryption; there was also a slight tendency to use McAfee more in smaller organizations, as well.

We also found that the larger the organization, the more likely they are to use Symantec, but the less likely they are to use “other” solutions.

We found a similar pattern in pricing to we found in AV/AS pricing: small organizations pay the least at only $4.87 per seat per year and large organizations pay more at $6.72, but mid-sized organizations pay the most at $7.44.


Our research found that a wide range of archiving solutions are currently in use. We also found that the larger the organization, the more that respondents were likely to use Symantec, EMC and HP Autonomy as their archiving and eDiscovery solutions.

Archiving and eDiscovery solutions are the most expensive of the three types of solutions about which we surveyed: smaller organizations pay the least at $6.55 per seat per year for archiving and eDiscovery, while mid-sized and large organizations are paying nearly $10 per seat per year for them.


One of the key findings from our research is that email management is fairly expensive. For example, across all of the organizations surveyed, a total of $21.53 per seat per year is spent on AV/AS, DLP/encryption and archive/eDiscovery. However, this accounts only for the cost of the solutions to manage just these three aspects of email management. If we assume that the typical full-time IT staffer can support 1,000 email users (which is supported by a soon-to-be-published Osterman Research report on messaging platforms), and if we further assume that this individual has a fully burdened salary of $90,000 annually, then the cost of ongoing maintenance to manage key email functionality will be $111.53 per seat per year ($90 for IT labor and $21.53 for solutions). Moreover, adding in the cost of an upgrade to a new version of Exchange, for example, can add several hundred dollars per seat to this figure in the year of the migration.

While email is an absolutely essential tool, it is a utility for which costs should be driven as low as possible. Consequently, organizations should work to minimize the costs of traditionally managed, labor-heavy, on-premises solutions by managing them in more efficient ways – perhaps using public cloud solutions or on-premises, virtualized systems. The result will be lower overall email management costs, as well as the ability to use their scarce IT personnel for activities that will provide more value to the organization.


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Topics: Email Encryption, Email Archiving, Electronic Information, anti-virus, Natmail Platform