February 22, 2011, 6:10 PM — In the hotel business, IT people are used to having to create standardized technology services to share with parts of the company that they don't necessarily own.
Sonesta International Hotel Co., for example, is made up of 34 hotels, resorts, casinos and cruise ships worldwide -- some of which the company owns directly, while others are managed or franchisee properties.
Each has its own infrastructure for guest services -- cable television, Internet access and the like -- separated for security reasons from room-reservation and facilities-management systems, says Carol Beggs, vice president of technology for the Boston-based company.
Tying them all together -- aside from data downloads from financial and room-reservation systems -- is e-mail. It's asynchronous and detached, but if it's reliable, it provides a high enough level of communication to coordinate even a global business, Beggs says.
One hitch for Sonesta's IT is that crunch times often conflict.
"Periods during the day where check in/check out is busy are different depending on where you are, and the seasons between facilities in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere are opposite," Beggs says. "So even when you can do a system update at the same time in two locations, we tend to work around when a particular hotel is busy."
And in the hotel business, e-mail can't go down. So with a lean IT staff, the key was to build bulletproof e-mail without the amount of work it usually takes to build a Microsoft Exchange network that's 100% reliable.
How did they do it? Beggs shared her 6 tips for building bulletproof Exchange e-mail in the cloud:
1. Define the business risk and what you're able to do to minimize it.
Without the budget or willingness to build expensive high availability/business continuity systems, Sonesta's only real choice was to have someone else handle the insurance systems.
"We realized how mission critical e-mail is and, while I had confidence in our backup routines, I still wanted an additional layer of protection," Beggs says. "If we ever had a catastrophe or had a server go down, I wanted to have some extra backup available so we wouldn't have the additional risk."
2. Define how "external" the service provider can be.
"E-mail is mission critical enough that I don't entirely trust outsourcing to someone else. I don't want to hire someone and only find out when we have an issue it's not as secure as we thought it was," Beggs says. "I still wanted to host it onsite, so we were down to having an appliance or having someone host it for us at one of our sites."
3. Define roles between you and your service provider.