Urbanmedia outsources e-mail

In its mere year and a half of existence, UrbanMedia Communications has taken off like a rocket. Founded in Palo Alto in June 1999 with a tiny start-up team, UrbanMedia now has 525 employees working to provide e-business infrastructure for commercial real estate tenants. The company has partnerships with real estate companies covering 15% of the multitenant office space in the United States.

But moving fast requires intense focus. "Our core expertise is building the infrastructure for voice and data," says Elise Gerich, director of network planning for UrbanMedia. When the company decided last spring to add e-mail and Web hosting capabilities to the services it offers clients, there was no question of building this functionality in-house.

The company decided to focus its resources on wiring the buildings instead, Gerich says. UrbanMedia put out a request for proposal last March. Gerich soon narrowed the short list to two companies, Commtouch and a competitor she declined to name. Gerich was looking for a provider that offered the Post Office Protocol 3 mail client, support for Secure Sockets Layer encryption, and at least a plan to offer support for the wireless application protocol and unified messaging. Both companies met these requirements.

The decision came down to reliability. Gerich was impressed by Commtouch's highly fault-tolerant architecture with no single points of failure between its systems and its clients, along with seamless failover in case of server failure. Commtouch uses multiple hosting centers across the U.S., making systemwide disaster less likely. On a visit to Commtouch's operations center, Gerich liked the processes that were in place. "Twice daily they do a full-image backup of all user data," she says.

Commtouch's solid operational support was also important. Its personnel would never speak directly to an UrbanMedia client. "We own our customers," Gerich says. However, Commtouch would serve as critical second-tier backup for UrbanMedia's support staff.

The key element that swung Gerich in favor of Commtouch was its service-level agreements (SLA). "They promised 99.95% mailbox availability, with penalties built in if they don't meet that performance level," she says. Gerich and product marketing manager Sue Duris were confident in Commtouch's SLA that they felt comfortable passing along the guarantee to their own clients. The first UrbanMedia tenants came online last July with UrbanMail, the self-branded version of Commtouch's mail service.

What's more, UrbanMedia was a beta-test version user of Commtouch's online customer management center feature. When some internal programming work is complete, UrbanMedia will have a single system for entering customer information and managing the servicess they receive. UrbanMedia's developers are creating the necessary APIs and XML interfaces to link Commtouch and UrbanMedia's back-office systems.

"Now, when a customer signs up for e-mail, we have to create the mailbox for the account and then correlate that information with our back-office system by hand," Gerich says. She expects the link between the internal systems and the application service provider's systems to be complete by the end of this quarter.

So far, Gerich is satisfied with her relationship with Commtouch. "We just did a survey of our clients and we heard nothing but compliments on the e-mail system," he says.

This story, "Urbanmedia outsources e-mail" was originally published by Network World.

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