Should you put your emails in the cloud?

Everyone is talking about ‘the cloud’ and how ‘your business’ should be in it. We’ve already given you a brief run down on what ‘the cloud’ is in our article ‘What the hay is the cloud‘, but what cloud services are right for your business?

Cloud based email services (Google Apps for Business, Hosted Exchange and Office 365) are a hot topic with our customers at the moment so we thought we’d give you a run down on what these services can offer your business and how they compare with each other.

If your company has a server in it’s (or one of it’s) offices, chances are you’re probably using Microsoft Exchange as your email solution. Exchange is the glue that makes our emails, contacts and address book synchronise between Outlook and our mobile phones.

If you aren’t using Exchange, then you’re probably using a POP/IMAP Mailbox system that’s provided with your company’s website hosting. If this is the case, emails don’t share easily between Outlook and your mobile phone, and you can forget about calendar and address book synchronisation.

This ‘Mailbox’ based email system is old and clunky and really doesn’t meet the demands of the modern business but many businesses use it because they cannot justify the cost of buying a server to get the benefits of Microsoft Exchange.

The introduction of Google Apps for Business was a game changer for business email. Suddenly businesses of any size had access to the core features of Microsoft Exchange, without needing to spend big money on servers.

In competition, many hosting providers have introduced a ‘Hosted’ version of Exchange and most recently Microsoft has launched a direct competitor to Google Apps for Business called Office 365.

With so many options available, how do you choose the right one for your business?

Well I’m glad you asked. We’ve put together a quick comparison chart for you so you can look at what each system offers and make the choice as to which solution meets your business needs and budget.

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NOTE: In most cases these services are offered as monthly, per mailbox costs. We’ve converted them into yearly costs to make it easier to compare.

Now to explain all those asterisks (*). Please note, this list appears in order that I’ve marked with an asterisk is the table above.

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  • I’ve only listed the 5GB hosted Exchange plan. Depending on the provider these can go from 500mb all the way through to 20GB, however the pricing is very expensive.
  • Office 365 is currently only available through Telstra. $95 per year is the cost if you have 25 or fewer users. Once you have over 25 users, you jump to $302 per mailbox per year for essentially the same service!
  • Outlook will work with Google Apps but to get full functionality you need to install Google Apps Sync which is free if you are a Google Apps for Business user.
  • Office 365 is a web service. There has been a rumour in the media that the basic subscription does not allow you to connect your existing Microsoft Outlook to Office 365 and to gain this functionality you need to purchase a more advanced version. Telstra’s website says nothing about this, so I can neither confirm nor deny this fact (at this time).
  • Google Apps, like Office 365, is a web based solution. Whilst you can get synchronisation with Outlook using Google Apps Sync, you can’t share calendars, address books and mailboxes via Outlook. You must do it in the Google Apps website. Incidentally this is the same for turning on and off ‘Out of office replies’.
  • I say that “POP/IMAP Mailbox’s” can sync with iPhone’s and Blackberry’s. This is partially true. They don’t sync. There are ways to make emails appear on your computer and your mobile phone, but its klunky and problematic.
  • To get BlackBerry’s to sync with anything you need add-on software. This is one of the reasons we generally recommend our customers do not use BlackBerry’s. In the case of an in-house Exchange server, you need Blackberry Enterprise Server (or BES Express). In the case of hosted Exchange, providers generally charge extra for this service (generally $15 per device). In the case of Google Apps for Business you need to install a Blackberry application supplied by Google. Telstra rather disappointingly state that BlackBerry users can “add calendar and contacts to their BlackBerry device through a wired sync with Outlook on the PC”. This means Office 365 and your BlackBerry device will not automatically synchronise contacts and calendars unless you physically plug the Blackberry into your computer.
  • Google Apps for Business and Office 365 both include web based word processors and spreadsheet applications and both offer the ability to store and share these documents online – Google Docs and Sharepoint. Both Office 365 and Hosted Exchange service offerings bundle Sharepoint with 25mb of storage, with additional storage available for a cost.

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So which option is best for your business?

Firstly I must say that Office 365 has only recently entered the Australian market, so we are yet to fully experience the platform, the migration path and the user experience. I never recommend that a customer becomes an ‘early adopter’ of any new software or technology – their businesses just can’t afford to be guinea pigs.

That being said, many of our customers who have previously had in-house Microsoft Exchange servers are very interested in hosted Exchange. Inversely, customers who have been using a POP3/IMAP Mailbox services are extremely happy with the additional features that Google Apps for Business offers them, combined with the reduced cost.

The number one reason that some of our customers do not want to go to Google Apps for Business is often tied to what they could do with their in-house Exchange server and their familiarity with how to do it in Microsoft Outlook. Google Apps Sync does a great job of linking to Microsoft Outlook, but there are some things it cannot do. The truth is if you want to use Google Apps for Business and use it properly, you are best to ditch Outlook and use the Google Apps web interface.

There are a number of things you can’t do in Outlook with Google Apps for Business, however that level of detail is beyond the scope of this article. If you’d like to read the full chart there is a link to the PDF at the bottom of this article.

Good reasons to jump to the cloud?

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  • You don’t currently have an in-house Exchange server.
  • You are looking to purchase a new server and don’t want to spend money purchasing Exchange licenses.
  • You don’t want the added overhead of managing an in-house Exchange server.
  • You have staff working outside your office and want to reduce email outages caused by your office internet connection going down or problems with your server.

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Things you need to be aware of before jumping to the cloud?

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  • If your office internet connection goes down, you will not be able to send emails to other people in your office.
  • You may need to pay an additional fee for virus and spam filtering.
  • Some services will offer mail archiving, which allows you to archive your emails onto the cloud for later retrieval from any device, rather than just your desktop. The added advantage of this service for some businesses is with compliance – you can archive staff emails so that should they leave and you need access to their emails for litigation purposes, you have an archived copy of all their emails.
  • Before you migrate to the cloud, archive your email mailbox down to 500mb or less. When you migrate to a cloud provider you must upload your entire mailbox to them. If you have 10 or more staff with an average mailbox size of 2gb it will take a very long time to upload and this will affect the migration turnaround. Archive old mail locally. Try to take as little as possible.
  • Whilst most cloud based email services are backed up by the provider in case of a major catastrophe, most will not allow you to restore an individual mailbox. If you accidentally delete an account, it’s gone. Some providers will offer this, but most don’t.

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Here are a few other things to consider before you make your choice:

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  • Can your plans to move to the cloud also help your business save money by not needing to purchase Microsoft Office?
  • Google Apps for Business includes Google Docs, which is a web based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation suite. Certain versions of Office 365 include web based versions of Microsoft Office.
  • Certain versions of Office 365 can also be licensed to provide you with a license for the desktop version of Office, meaning you can standardise your Office software and pay on a per month basis.
  • For many businesses, Google Docs provide all the features they need, however if you use software which in some way interfaces with Word, Excel or Outlook to perform mail merges, data lookups or generate reports – you may be locked into the desktop version of Office until those applications change (or you find alternatives).
  • Both Google Apps and Sharepoint (usually included in a hosted Exchange and Office 365 service) can be used to provide your business with an external ‘intranet’ (aka ‘extranet’)  web site which you can use to securely share documents, templates and information with staff operating outside the office – rather than needing to provide them with VPN or Terminal Server/Remote Desktop services. This is a particularly big selling point for many of our customers who have multiple offices or remote staff and is something you can take advantage of very easy.

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Interested in cloud based email and collaboration services?

We have migrated a number of customers to Google Apps for Business as well as hosted Exchange services, with company sizes ranging from 5 staff to over 100 and would love to help you.

We can also assist you in setting up a Sharepoint website so that you can share documents, information, templates and more with your team – both inside the office, and externally.

To organise a free consultation to assess your business needs, please contact our office on (07) 5539 6116 or shoot us a quick email to [email protected].

Reference material

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