Everyone in the pool

A few weeks ago, managed hosting provider Rackspace bolstered its cloud hosting division with a pair of major new acquisitions—cloud storage vendor JungleDisk and virtual server provider Slicehost.

I was struck by the announcements Rackspace made that day, but the part of the event that stuck most stubbornly in my head was the old news about the company’s messaging service offerings.

The messaging services arm of Rackspace, called Mailtrust, serves up e-mail, contacts and calendar hosting via the familiar Microsoft Exchange platform, as well as through a less-well-known messaging option, called Noteworthy. This second option is based on the IMAP protocol, and works with Outlook and other IMAP-savvy mail clients.

According to Rackspace officials, the company’s Exchange and Noteworthy services are integrated with each other well enough so that customers can deploy a mixture of the two solutions for users with relative seamlessness—while saving about 60 percent on the mailboxes they shift from Exchange to Noteworthy.

Rackspace Chief Strategy Officer Lew Moorman summed up the arrangement with the an ear-catching handle: The Exchange tax loophole.

Under this scheme, a company can deploy mailboxes on Exchange for users who require Exchange-only features, such as the product’s mobile device synchronization support. For users who don’t require this functionality, a company can issue lower-cost mailboxes that still work with existing desktop clients.

Now, I can’t tell you just how easy Rackspace makes it to flip from mailboxes hosted on one service to the other, nor can I tell you just how well the two services’ calendar, contacts and mail facilities actually mesh, because eWEEK Labs hasn’t tested these scenarios.

However, Rackspace’s tax loophole concept illustrates how open standards and cloud hosting can converge to enable companies to cut costs without sacrificing the functionality that matters to users.

I see opportunities for departments to cut back on their software licensing costs in a similar way—by using application, desktop and presentation virtualization technologies to make available pools of apps for workers to consume.

For example, if a user can get his or her job done by using OpenOffice.org Writer rather than by tying up an available Microsoft Word 2007 license, that chargeback can be saved for another departmental project. Similarly, if a user is going to be working with an application served over XenApp or Terminal Services, then why not stream down a free Linux client to host the RDP viewer instead of tying up a full-blown Windows license for the job?

Of course, deployment-lubricating technologies such as virtualization aren’t enough to realize these sorts of scenarios. Open standards—IMAP, in the Rackspace case—are absolutely vital to enabling these models.

So you can throw license loophole-enabling onto the pile of reasons to demand open standards in every product or service you select.