Rackspace Hosted Exchange (which begins at $7.99 per mailbox) is Rackspace’s hosted email solution based on Microsoft’s Exchange email server platform. Combining 100-gigabyte (GB) mailboxes, a 100-percent, financially-backed uptime guarantee, top notch security, and the familiarity that Microsoft Exchange provides to IT professionals, it’s a great platform. Only some management-level difficulties keep it behind our Editors’ Choice winners Intermedia Exchange Email and Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium.
While the company is best known for its Rackspace Managed Cloud offering that delivers cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), it also offers a wide variety of other services. That includes not only a robust web hosting program, but also custom application development, business intelligence (BI), and a slew of other back-office application services. But it’s important to note that being a customer of any of these services isn’t required in order to access Rackspace Hosted Exchange.
The email service is entirely standalone. For an added $8 per user per month, you can get full Microsoft Office 2016 added for every user. For an additional $3 per user per month, you can add email archiving. The company’s 100-percent uptime guarantee isn’t overly optimistic: it’s merely based on financial backing, which means Rackspace will reimburse you a set amount for any downtime. And you’ll be able to report that downtime quickly since they also offer 24/7 phone support. You can try it out via a free 14-day trial is available on their website.
Signing up with Rackspace Hosted Exchange only takes filling out a few pages of information, and selecting the services you want to use. For those wanting Microsoft Office included, it’s important to check it here, otherwise you’ll be going back to place another order through the user interface (UI) later, as it’s not a default. If you do decide to get Microsoft Office, then you’ll be getting a separate Rackspace-branded account for Office 365 Business Premium. From there, you can assign licenses to users and enable them to log into the Office portal and download products later. Everything else is managed from the Rackspace Cloud Office portal. Adding your own domain is also a required step during sign up.
As an IT professional, I didn’t have any issues finding my way around, and the Getting Started pop-up message was helpful in directing me to the appropriate places. There are quick links along the top for managing mailboxes, distribution lists, Microsoft Skype for Business, global contacts, folders, and spam. The UI always makes a point of letting you know if you can’t add something, and you’ll find upgrade buttons handy in several places in case you need to purchase additional users.
One thing that users might miss is that, if you want to add and manage domain aliases, then you must contact the Rackspace support line. Likewise, if you find the need to change your primary domain, then this could end up being an ordeal. If you know this is going to change soon, then it might be best to hold off signing up until then or call to make those arrangements with Rackspace.
Perhaps my biggest complaint is that the layout seems to be slightly dated. The look and feel is more utilitarian rather than stylish like Google G Suite Business, and there was no task-optimized search box like you see in Intermedia Exchange Email or Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium. While you can probably get to where you want to do with a few clicks, sometimes it’s far more efficient to just type what you want. The UI also seemed to take a few seconds longer to work than it should. It could have been a temporary issue but it never went away through the entire testing period.
Email and Collaboration
Some email hosting services, such as IceWarp Cloud, elect to run back-ends that require plug-ins to integrate with Microsoft Outlook on the front end. Because Rackspace has standardized on the Microsoft Exchange email server platform, it simply offers the Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) client as its web front end. This client shares a great deal of similarity to Microsoft Office 365 but you will find that some of the newest features are left out.
Beyond that, it offers the standard and well-proven mail, calendar, tasks, and contact management sections that made the offline Microsoft Outlook application popular. You can also use the offline Microsoft Outlook client as well as any other client that supports IMAP or POP—although, if you want two-way synchronization for the Calendar, then you are basically stuck with Outlook or your mobile device. In any case, there are no surprises here as everything just works.
As mentioned earlier, Microsoft Skype for Business gets bundled with Rackspace Hosted Exchange. It’s one of the better parts of Office, so it’s good to see that you don’t have to license the rest of the Office suite to get access to this. It gives you the ability to instant message, video chat, transfer files, share meetings, and have voice calls all from the OWA UI. There is also a desktop version, which is a little more robust. For those needing a central repository for your organization’s documents, you will likely be looking at paying extra for Microsoft SharePoint Online hosting.
Security and Privacy
Unlike some of the competition (notably, Intermedia Exchange Email), Rackspace Hosted Exchange is somewhat closemouthed about its security particulars. For one thing, it doesn’t spell out which tools it uses for anti-spam and antivirus protection, though during testing it managed to perform these functions well enough. According to its advertising, it uses a combination of IP-blocking lists and blocking known attachment types that could be used to exploit devices. As a second line of defense, emails are scanned individually for structure and content, the results of which act as a signature to determine if an email is a phishing or spam message. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if there is any additional warning surrounding phishing emails that make it into the spam box. There is always the temptation to click a link to check it out and it’s nicer to get a warning for those that are suspect. On the other hand, the UI does make it easy to apply blacklisting to your anti-spam configuration.
Because it’s both mature and well-funded, Rackspace employs a sophisticated network of data centers to ensure that your data is physically protected through geo-redundancy and restriction of physical access. Beyond this, Rackspace claims no knowledge regarding the content of the data that customers store or process using the service. Rackspace Hosted Exchange also holds SOC 2 and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 certifications. This guarantees that appropriate safeguards are in place for would-be intruders and to prevent employees from snooping around your data without proper authorization.
That said, given Rackspace’s dearth of security information, you shouldn’t leave your entire security policy in their hands. To make sure you maintain data safety across both local data at rest as well as data in transit, be sure to implement both local data encryption as well as a reputable virtual private network (VPN) service, like our Editors’ Choice winner, NordVPN.
While Rackspace offers integration with Microsoft Office and related products, there is no direct path to integrating with other third-party web services, such as Dropbox Business or Slack. Those needing this kind of functionality will need to look to an actual Microsoft Office 365 subscription, which Rackspace also resells at $8 per user per month. Considering that the audience for this service is a business needing to move its Exchange server to the cloud, however, integration may not necessarily be the top priority.
Overall, Rackspace Hosted Exchange has everything going for it on the back end. It provides fast and reliable servers, a secure data center fabric, and excellent 24/7 support. If you’re using Rackspace for other hosting, then this is a good path forward if you’ve determined cloud-based email hosting is right for you. Outside of this, however, Rackspace Hosted Exchange remains plagued with a slightly clunky UI and a lack of third-party integration capability that keep it just behind the leaders in this space.