The “Any Benefit” Approach to the Cloud

2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant - Email Security and EncryptionI have been reading a couple of Cal Newport’s books recently, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. These have been very popular in the self-improvement and productivity space over the past few years and I can definitely see why as there are many good concepts that can be used to sharpen the ax. Of particular interest to me is the “Any Benefit” approach.

The “Any Benefit” approach is a mindset that considers tools that have any benefit and bringing them into our toolbox for use. To be clear, this is a bad method of assessing the use and incorporation of tools. But why? This tool provides a benefit, why should it not be used?

It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, just like anything else. Tools are not free, even if there is no acquisition cost for the tool. You have to develop the understanding and skills necessary to use and maintain the tool. Also, there are some costs to having the tool around. Then, there are tools that do indeed have a direct monetary cost.

In “Deep Work,” Newport discusses a conversation that he had with a farmer named Pritchett. Newport, a computer science professor, wanted to take a non-digital craft and understand the methods used to determine which tools to be used: enter Pritchett.

Pritchett inherited his family farm in a valley out East. He decided to move the production from monoculture crops to livestock. Raising livestock out East requires lots of hay to be used in the Wintertime. The consideration? Should Pritchett use his available land to grow and harvest his own hay, or should he buy it? Pritchett decided to buy the hay. The first considerations were direct costs, buying and maintaining a hay bailer:

  1. Cost to buy
  2. Cost to maintain
  3. Cost to store (the required barn and its maintenance)

Given these considerations, the costs were nearly a wash. However, Pritchett was able to make a clear case for buying hay based on many of the indirect costs.

  1. Time spent tending to and harvesting the hay
  2. The damage that driving a heavy hay bailer over his land does (it compacts the soils, which restricts growth)
  3. Bringing new nutrients to the land as made possible through the manure created from the acquired hay

This time and improved soil composition can be used to raise additional and healthier livestock. Pritchett valued this.

I was listening to the “sales pitch” from Proofpoint, a security-focused service that is centered primarily on email. They make a case for acquiring a solution like theirs. And to be fair, they have a very solid product; this isn’t just my opinion, but they are in the “Leaders” Magic Quadrant for 2017. Their pitch is why organizations should use Proofpoint rather than using just what customers get with Office 365 Exchange Online Protection (EOP). Based on the same Magic Quadrant, Microsoft is just to the left of the “Leaders” quadrant, but it is missing significant information. I agree with the premise that Proofpoint offers very compelling benefits over EOP. However, I would use the same arguments to use Proofpoint to convince an organization to upgrade from relying on just EOP to Advanced Email Threat Protection, which appears to be ignored by Gartner and Proofpoint. The placement of Microsoft in the Magic Quadrant appears to be based solely on EOP and does not consider Advanced Email Threat Protection. The upgrade provides many of the same capabilities that Proofpoint offers:

  • Zero-day protection: taking unknown attachments and evaluating their behavior before delivering to mailboxes
  • Smart links: real-time evaluation of website links and policy-based controls

In addition, Office 365 Message Encryption offers an escrowed encryption capability similar to offerings from Proofpoint.

So, the question is not whether Proofpoint has any benefit. Even if Proofpoint is better than Advanced Email Threat Protection, that does not mean it should be used. Is it good enough that there is overwhelming benefit? I would say that for most customers, probably not. Advanced Email Threat Protection is fully integrated into Office 365 Exchange Online and works with the existing policies. It also requires less from end users as it sits on top of EOP that can work very well without the uses ever having to use it directly. In addition, rather than buying standalone licensing for Advanced Email Threat Protection, an organization should consider acquiring it by purchasing the Office 365 Enterprise E5 license as the bundling provides significantly more value, including Audio Conferencing, Phone System, and PowerBI Pro.

This same concept holds true for thoughts like using multiple compute capabilities. For instance, why not use both Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware? Why not use Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google Compute? They all have different pros and cons, why not use each for their strengths? Not only are you spreading out your spend which likely reduces the pricing advantages, but you now need the capabilities to integrate and use each of these diverse offerings. Any benefit is not good enough. So, evaluate if there is enough of a compelling benefit. For instance, Proofpoint offers DMARC as a managed service and some email deliverability reports that could be compelling if those are key business requirements.

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