For many, the decision will hinge on the features and functions. Heavy BlackBerry and Microsoft Outlook users, for instance, may default to the safety of hosted Exchange providers and their proven ability to effectively support both tools. And while Exchange is perfect for these and other customers, it's important to look beyond features and functions, to consider the total experience the providers wrap around their hosted services.
Hosted Exchange services are available from a mature ecosystem of partners delivering the service direct from their own data centers and, alternatively, directly from Microsoft. To be sure, there are substantial differences between the companies, but generally they have loads of experience.
Here are the major evaluation criteria to keep in mind when comparing hosted Exchange with Google Apps and why Exchange – particularly with hosted Exchange 2010 available – comes out on top:
* Ease of migrating your existing e-mail data, users, contacts and more. This is the biggest stumbling block for most organizations when evaluating hosted services. It's easier to stand pat than transition to a new service. A sophisticated hosted Exchange provider has been dealing with these issues for years. They will have a heavily automated (ideally free) migration process that ports all that you've invested in your existing e-mail set-up to the new environment. Take a minute to walk through Google's online sign up process, and it is clear the company's preferred mode of operation is "self serve".
* Certified 24x7 support for the tools your organization relies on – BlackBerry and Microsoft software. If your company organization relies heavily on Outlook and BlackBerry, and plans to continue doing so, good hosted Exchange providers can offer you the confidence that their support staff is Microsoft and RIM certified. Likewise, Outlook was designed to run over Exchange, not Google Apps.
* Business-Class Reliability. Solid hosted Exchange providers operate multiple data centers with redundancy and multiple Tier-1 Internet connections. They guarantee and deliver on 99.999% availability. That translates into less than six minutes of downtime per year. Google does not have that history with business users. With hosted Exchange 2010's architectural improvements, a good provider can also guarantee 100% data protection – never lose your e-mail – at no additional cost.
* Control over the environment. Many organizations considering migration to hosted communications tools will likely continue to use other Microsoft applications on-premise. Sophisticated hosted Exchange providers can offer single sign-on experience across these applications and other benefits that come by integrating with Exchange's Active Directory.
While some will argue that Google Apps is more cost effective, hosted options from either camp will result in massive cost savings vs. use of an on-premise server.
Considering the criteria outlined above, the most important question boils down to which service, in the larger picture, adds the right value to your business. For most businesses – particularly firms with knowledge workers and others heavily dependent on cutting-edge communications software – hosted Exchange is the right answer.
McCormick is chief operating officer at Intermedia.