Software

Can you really dump Exchange for Google Apps Synchronization with Outlook?

Derek Schauland breaks down the costs of Exchange vs. Google Apps in light of its new Outlook synchronization app? Would the savings be enough to make anyone trust the cloud with their server data?

Microsoft has been doing e-mail for businesses for quite a long time. The implementation of Outlook, Exchange, and usually both, has been a good strategy for Microsoft. And then, a few years ago, Google entered into this space in both the consumer and business markets with Gmail and Google Apps, which have proven to be very popular. Bringing Google search to mail was a huge positive for me, anyway.

Now that Google Apps Synchronization for Outlook has been released, organizations have the option of using the Outlook interface but leaving mail storage to the Google cloud. In this scenario, companies could ditch Microsoft Exchange and potentially save on Exchange licensing and server maintenance costs. Of course, there's the issue of how willing you are to trust Google with your Exchange server data, as Jason Hiner pointed out in a poll question last week (so far, a resounding NO).

But what costs are there?

Google has bundled the Google Apps Synchronization product with Google Apps in the premier and educational editions. The cost for businesses is $50 per user, per year. With Microsoft Exchange, many organizations would need to have either a consulting firm provide support or a full-time IT staff on hand to administer the server, not to mention the cost of mailbox licenses.

Overall the per-user cost is pretty reasonable, but it is ongoing. Once you get a user set up in Exchange and have purchased the appropriate licenses, most of the fees are taken care of. There are also ongoing costs for Exchange for things like Software Assurance to keep maintenance up to date and provide upgrades, but these are optional.

How about the other cloud?

Microsoft also offers hosted Exchange services, which move the Exchange environment from an organization's data center to Microsoft's cloud. There are also a number of hosting providers that provide Exchange as an online service. Pricing and mileage may vary. Are you any more likely to trust Microsoft's cloud with your data?

Overall, I like the idea of synchronization with Outlook. Since I work for an organization that uses Exchange and Outlook every day, I see the user interface as an important component for people who are used to working in Outlook. As a Google Apps user for personal e-mail, some of the features and global availability of the Webmail service are also very attractive. It may be a worthwhile investigation for your organization to see if Google Apps Synchronization is a good fit, especially if you are considering virtualization. Removing the mail portion from your infrastructure could reduce costs and allow the resources to be used elsewhere, while not sacrificing availability.

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

41 comments
raoullux
raoullux

It also depends on the legal aspects of the country your company is located in. Can my mail server be located anywhere in the world or has it to be in the country I am based in? Are google's servers based in the US or India or elsewhere?

TBBrick
TBBrick

If you have a small NFP (like the one I used to work for) it can be a good, low-cost solution. But if you have 100+ users, stick with an in-house solution. If you do go to Google Apps, really bump up you Internet data pipe. Even tho it isn't a workstation resource hog like Outlook-Xchg, it will bring a network to it's knees if you aren't prepared for it.

devesh
devesh

We are very happy with our shift from MSES to Google apps service. No more infrastructure expenditure, and let us face the fact that Exchange is one of the most resource hungry applications of all time. We are phasing out the use Outlook, with the exception of those users who use certain smart phones, but with the increasing use of Blackberry in our organisation for which OTA Google sync is available, that usage of Outlook too is decreasing and we expect to be Outlook free in the next 6 months. Best of all we moved when the service was free, so we have 500 users all free. A small secret for TR readers. The service is free for 10 users though the link is tucked away in one of the pages in the corner. A little looking can save small businesses big bucks. Friends have told me that once they get the 10 user free version of Google apps, they can apply for an increase to 50 users and normally Google approves these requests. I cannot think of a better messaging solution, and a threat to Microsoft. Talking about on-going costs, most replies till now have overlooked the Spam/AV filter costs which are annual. With Postini and other AV solutions bundled in the paid version of Google Apps, it would help to do a more accurate comparison of total costs which would also include the hardware, backups, staff, and energy to the annual AS/AV products and may be the annual Exchange / Windows Servers support contracts. With our savings we have invested in a second link with an alternate ISP to provide load balancing and redundancy, and still save over 63% over our Exchange server costs.

wtotten1
wtotten1

I want my data in-house, not tied to the Internet. It's really that simple, especially when considering the ongoing cost of Google. If the cost was (MUCH) less, I would consider the exposure to having my data outside the LAN.

malbert75
malbert75

I gave up on outlook years ago and the equally slow exchange server. Google Mail is just better in so many ways and this sync tool allows for those not inclined to change to stay with something they now. At the very least it is worth a look, I mean it can also save you good dollars in this down economy. http://pressplaysolutions.com

CG IT
CG IT

The model is similar, if not the same as Antivirus and spyware products which have a yearly fee. Most try to get around paying it by using free versions like AVG Free. The business model of "cloud computing" is great for cash flow. Software companies like Microsoft won't have to rely upon new interations of their operating system every year or so to generate cash. They provide it for a yearly fee which is far less than buying a new one. Except that if you buy new every three years and the cost is $150.00 each. It's a wash [simplistic example There are businesses that still run W2K servers and desktops and haven't had a capital outlay in years]. Since businesses and even consumers are all complaining about the almost yearly obsolesence of their operating system, office applications and hardware, cloud computing gives them that break. But will users and companies long for the days where they buy the licenses once and they are good almost forever or until upgrades because the yearly, per user fees are killing them on cash flow.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

With the option to use Outlook and Google Apps, would you consider moving to the web for email and calendaring solutions?

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

like Microsoft or Google, replication between data centers likely moves pieces of all data around the world. Sure for some dedicated solutions for some companies there might be a guarantee of hosting in one country, but generally I would imagine both companies use all of their data centers to handle these hosted applications. Seems feasible to think that wherever your connection is originating when accessing the app would be a factor in getting you to the nearest data center to where you're located

dduffy
dduffy

Before one calculates the cost of using Google, it is important to look at how it will satisfy the legal requirments for reporting (SOX is but one of these). Then you have securing PII and then HIPAA regulations. Additionally you have the issue of securing intelectural property. Not doing the research, I would shy away from moving from Exchange.

Nubber99
Nubber99

I can't find the link for this - could you post it?

gstrickland
gstrickland

Many of my clients are now run VPOP3 (from PSCS - www.pscs.co.uk) because of problems they have had with Exchange and with the maintenance. VPOP3 is far easier to install, maintain and more more reliable too! And No, I do not work for PSCS nor do I have any link to them either.

blarman
blarman

We're currently looking at a hosted solution right now. We currently use Outlook (Ms Office Standard) but connect to a 3rd-party host running sendmail. The primary desire of the execs is calendar-sharing, but the only way to get that is to go with Exchange Server. We've looked for 3rd party hosts, but the cheapest thing we could find was a package that cost nearly $100 annually (200 GB space, AV, Calendaring) per user. Even the no-calendar option is $60/year - right on par with Google. Having personally worked with Google's calendar and Gmail for several years, it is an attractive offering for the price, although I do agree that a few more features (like folders) would be nice. The best feature is by far the conversation threads - no more re-reading the emails and searching for originals! We are a small IT shop - 2 people to support nearly 2000 employees and neither of us has any training in Exchange. We can't host it ourselves, and from what I see, Google's offering is very compelling. Any other options?

millsy17
millsy17

While Exchange licenses don't need to be purchased every year any on premises solution has many ongoing costs. Owning/patching/administering servers (production and fail-over). Google Apps includes AS/AV so that doesn't need to be considered. No planned outages so no more telling the email admin he/she has to work over the weekend to do server maintenance. And when email does go down (it will sometimes with in house or any hosted provider), you don't have to stop your work and fight fires with the email server, Google is on it. Managing email is a necessary evil for most companies - its not just the license cost but the overall burden of trying to manage a datacenter. There's no way the average company can keep up with the likes of Google in that area.

CathyCLR
CathyCLR

We recently switched a small client with 14 users to Google Business' free service from their local ISP's hosted service. Something we hadn't counted on was Gmail's limitation of outgoing messages per user. This client does frequent large mailings to their constituency and users were being suspended the very first day when their limits were surpassed. We eventually switched to SMTP on their server for outgoing mail, after having to add back their ISP's account to choose when sending bulk mail. SPF record was critical to ironing out some other bugs. We then had some problems with messages from one internal user being sent to another and holding in the queue. Turned out the user (a newer one) needed [username]@xxx.local added as an SMTP address (she had [username]@[domainname]. One user has used up 11% of available space in just two months, so we're probably going to have to switch to Premier service at some point. Several people with PDAs were receiving messages on their PDAs which weren't arriving in their Outlook Inbox. One was remedied by adding 'recent:' before the user name in the email account setup. However, all messages received over the prior 30 days poured in after doing this. Fortunately, Outlook's Unread messages made it fairly easy to find the missing ones and delete the rest. Seems to be working OK now. We also had some problems with emails between users and certain correspondents going through one minute and not the next. Some adjustments had to be made on the recipients' spam filter settings. A failed delivery error message from Gmail made it appear that the failure pertained to the entire list of recipients, when in fact it was just one or two bad addresses. No help with which ones. All in all, I wish we had gone with Exchange Server instead. Many of the users don't like the online conversation style of arranging the messages. My biggest complaint about the Standard service is no easy access to support. I had to spend hours Googling for help and searching their forums.

philefluxx
philefluxx

I am curious if Google offers any services to sync current data held on the Exchange server to their servers. In other words, if my company was interested in this solution would we have to use both platforms and slowly move things over? Or is their a way of moving all the current mailboxes and data to Google? Edit: I found their migration information. For anyone curious they have several solutions for moving existing data to Google.

fandrasco
fandrasco

Users of the exchange server I manage rely on their email box for their primary filing system. This means they have 6-8GB mailboxes. Mailboxes of this size are problematic in Exchange. Search features are sorely lacking (and outlook add-ins bring their own issues). Google's offering is very appealing since gmail scales well to very large mailboxes. The only recent improvement is the ease with which you can use Outlook as a client. I find Outlook generally a weak email client so this is not desirable in my opinion. That said, I recently aborted an attempt to migrate my group to Google Apps because I was unable to find a way to reproduce the public folder functionality we use on Exchange to provide a shared contact database. Ironic to me that the all-powerful Google doesn't have this (simple) functionality.

vashiyusuf
vashiyusuf

We have gone through a total face-lift, abandoning Exchange and Outlook almost entirely after having used outsourced exchange for a number of years. I'd say whether leaving exchange/outlook or concluding some mid-range solution like using Outlook with Gmail, really "depends". Factors you should investigate "objectively" -- remember this isn't just about technical preferences -- it's about what is MOST appropriate to the organization in it's business context:: * enterprise size/user count * security/group configurations * logging requirements * literacy and attitude to change within your user community * the budget/cost imperative * turnover/scalability requirements * storage requirements * conversion/timing needs A premier account also brings you google apps, the ability to use Postini's archival (ediscovery), and easy introduction of new features through labs and Google's ongoing product evolution. (Adventurous users can enable labs features, conservative users can stick with vanilla) Here are a few potential gotchas I've seen: * email box management beyond a certain point gets very difficult as Google doesn't offer enterprise class tools yet for managing things like google sites, email accounts, etc. I'd say if you have more than 200-300 users think twice and investigate three times. * authentication: depending on your setup and solutions already in place, SSO might be possible, there might be other methods, or you could end up giving each user their own NEW password. * password security: a few more tools for forcing scheduled password resets and complexity requirements would be helpful * user deprovisioning: always a tricky issue with any solution, but using contact export, and IMAP connectivity and an email client package - it's likely possible and easy to meet your organization's archival needs. * Google Apps/Sites: for some these can be a "poor man's" collaboration tool kit. they offer the ability to provide external access to information. But CAUTION - the overview/oversight/management tools are very weak - giving IT/Security folks nightmares about just what employees could be exposing to the world, customers, or competitors. (My advice - take the use of these services slowly - look for changes and new products for the google dashboard). At the end of the day, would we do this conversion again? I'd say probably yes. *we've saved a bundle *increased flexibility *increased access *provided some nifty tools *enabled users to more easily manage email *avoided IT admin time, training, etc. *enabled us to do a bit more with less But we're small. Our needs are simple. Our employees are flexible and quick adopters. We already have a heterogeneous network. And we had no applications tied to and intertwined with Exchange.

drn
drn

Outlook sync is just for converting the fuddy-duddy employees who complain about any change, such as adapting to a web interface. Most young/new employees prefer the web and don't want to use Outlook. If you are a small company of less than 25 employees, sign up for the free Google Apps service -- it's impossible to beat the TCO on free. BTW, TCO costs of Outlook/Exchange isn't just licensing. As noted in the article, it's also paying an IT consultant for ongoing upgrades & patches, or hiring your own IT staffer. And I can't count how many small businesses I've been to that don't do basic backups. When we're talking commodity IT services like email and calendaring and web sites, it no longer makes sense to DIY in-house -- pick some cloud solution, be it Google Apps or Yahoo or whatever. Unfortunately, some of us sysadmins have an emotional tie to these now-commodity apps, which is leading to irrational pushback. As IT people, the best way to help our company is when we concentrate on technology that lets our company differentiate itself from its competitors, and email just doesn't do that anymore.

eyeontech
eyeontech

I use google apps for my small business, and I feel it is a great solution as there is no need to buy a server and maintain the security, hardware, software, backups, etc. The only problem is that it has gone down on me before, but then if you think about it, If the mail server goes down, its taking your email with it and that is just the same as the cloud. If your internet connection goes down you cant access the new email either way. As long as you are not relying on browser based email access and your still downloading email to the local computer I believe you are in the same boat. As for security of data and privacy, once and email has been sent... its out there. unless you use encryption for emails. then again... why wouldn't you? All in all. I feel its a great solution for small businesses, cost wise especially.

lgarfield
lgarfield

According to their web site, they've recently passed a SAS 70 Type II audit. Though I'm not 100% sure, I'd say that could be leveraged to simplify your compliance requirements. But I suppose that depends on your auditors - (In my last experience with SOX financial auditors, I practically had to train them on AD and SQL security!) I couldn't say whether HIPAA compliance would be satisfied.....

russgalleywood
russgalleywood

Hi, I also like VPOP3 and used it for many years. Nice and cheap and easy to implement. But then wanted a little more User interaction and moved to OpenXchange and finally Zimbra where we have been for the last few years and are very happy with it. I would like to add that I have nothing to do with the Zimbra company but just wanted to mention it as it's a great product! :)

vashiyusuf
vashiyusuf

Initially we had great fear about losing folders. Going into a folderless world can be incredibly scary! Gmail labels helped ease the transition because it offered a rickety bridge between folder oriented and folder-less. Although I'm sure we still have some folks who long for their foldered world...most have found that with a few labels and the incredibly easy to use gmail search tool and the huge increase in space - they are actually able to find things faster. Hey - if you are getting 200 GB per user for online mailbox storage for $100 year per user, plus exchange and you already have the outlook licenses - it's a still - take it. Other thing to consider is you can often now get Sharepoint hosting with exchange hosting bundled -- that might be of value to you too and impact your decision. 2000 users is a huge number. You really want to focus on an "enterprise solution"...based on what little I know about gmail premier accounts they don't have the enterprise management tools in place yet...but I could be wrong ... that many potential users represents leverage that small companies like mine just don't have. use it.

Tony K
Tony K

We host Exchange for our 15,000 users and have significantly less downtime than Google Mail has had. You just need to build your environment properly (which most don't, despite how easy it is). Beyond that, the costs listed above would be a lot higher than our Exchange costs. We paid $60/CAL for Exchange in bulk, and we expect to not move to 2007 until 4 years after our 2003 migration (which was two years ago). Google's sync tool would've cost us $200 for the same time frame. Even if you include in the $15/year/desktop for AV (the AV protects more than just their e-mail, but we'll apply the full price), Google ends up costing us almost twice as much as Exchange. We could add in the cost of our two Exchange admins, and that would get us a lot closer ($20/user/year or $80/user/4 years). That gets us right to the $200 for Google, but we lose a ton of functionality (especially in comparison to E2K7). Oh, and let's not forget: in order to use the Outlook sync, you have to purchase Outlook, too. The Exchange CAL includes a license for Outlook. When you look at the costs, Google just doesn't provide the value.

johnb
johnb

"Edit: I found their migration information. For anyone curious they have several solutions for moving existing data to Google." I am curious. Please post links. Thanks. JB

aricbandy
aricbandy

I've been performing Exchange / Public Folders administration and doing a lot of workflow consulting for many years now. I have yet to see a public folder workflow that really does what it was supposed to do. Usually it ends up being a dumping ground for files, email, tasks or contacts. For MS-centric clients I usually recommend Sharepoint instead of Public Folders. Google Apps is handy because you accomplish all the same workflow with Google Sites but its much more straightforward for users than Sharepoint.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

for providing all of those details. The considerations for migrating to any service other than what is in use today seem very high, but for a small number of users it may be worth the cost and additional things for the features in the Google suite. Certainly there are many things to consider

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

While I agree with you from a small business standpoint, I can?t endorse it for corporate or enterprise level use. There is a lack of back, restoral and retrieval options with Google. I can?t customize my security settings to become compliant with special requirements such as HIPAA. Then there is the issue that sometimes I need to shut off contact to the outside yet still remain functional inside our wan. In those cases if I were using web based apps I?m kind of dead in the water. But yeah, for SMB I agree that it could be useful, but not great. To me it is a temporary solution until a more professional solution can be put into place.

Nubber99
Nubber99

It has to be the easiest Linux based email/groupware app I have tried. With the right addons to Thunderbird, you have IMAP email, shared calendars and tasks, or use the web based interface instead.

adebolao
adebolao

we are setting up a small branch office maximum 12 personnel. i am confused about buying a server and setting up exchange considering the ongoing maintainance cost. i really need advise. we love to use outlook - meeting notice, task assignment etc which are not available in google apps can someone advise

aricbandy
aricbandy

Microsoft removed the Outlook CAL with Exchange 2007. When you upgrade you won't be able to keep those Outlook CALS so no matter what you do you'll incur that end-user licensing. The other issue is that you're just looking at licensing vs. licensing and hardware. In the effort of full disclosure, what did you spend on hardware and a 4yr warranty? What does your network and server clustering look like to guarantee 3-9 or greater up-time? Do you have any internal SLA's that you've designed and built to support? As an analyst, I've found that Google Apps is cheaper when you build out a similar premise Exchange environment.

millsy17
millsy17

you could very well have a point...I'm more familiar with companies with 1000 or fewer users. In your post you didn't include the cost of hardware, redundancy, increased storage, backups etc. As you get to something of the 15,000 seat size I can imagine you've built out datacenters that can handle this in a cost effective manner but our needs just keep growing. And when does it end? Once you're on Apps you never need to upgrade again. Since I've started using it they've added Video, Video Chat, and Sites. I didn't have to do anything other than tick a box to enable any of these features. When I was considering the upgrade from 2003 to 2007 I was thinking weeks, and then I'd have to do it all over again 2010, then 2014... Also, while it is in NO WAY a complete Office replacement, there are many users that are satisfied with Google Docs and Spreadsheets so when looking to upgrade from Office 2000 I limited it to people who really needed the additional functionality that Office has beyond Google. Many of our users have never used anything but the base features - why pay for full Office licenses for them? If someone can justify why they need it, fine but to get a full Office license for anyone who may need to open a spreadsheet at some point? If nothing else, I'm glad this market is finally getting a bit of a shake up. Keeps everyone on their toes and with the rapid progress Google is making, they're starting to become a viable option for more and more companies. (BTW, don't get me started on the 'I won't host my data externally' bit - we've been using hosted providers for payroll and benefits for years and no one blinks at that, if I'm ok with a 3rd party having access to my CEO's social security number, I think I can live with a 3rd party hosting his email)

CG IT
CG IT

For larger deployments, Exchange makes sense simply from a cost point of view. Right now, I'm working on a project for a small company that uses Exchange 2003 to fix all the problems that simple neglect and some suspect configurations have caused. The small business didn't want to pay for a part time admin or a consultant, so simply left Exchange configured [without documentation] from the last consultant they had come in. Google mail is a viable choice. Even though, personally, I wouldn't want to move from something I had control over to something I don't have control over, Google mail for small businesses does have merits. However, I still see this avenue as simply making public email that normally is free to consumers, available businesses and charging them for it and creating this huge yearly cash cow. I see this as the whole reasoning behind cloud computing. Move away from the hardware and software based planned upgrade model to generate revenue, to the provide a service paid for yearly model. Many businesses are going to go for it because they don't want to have the cost of an IT department and the people who maintain it. But will Google start sticking ads in there? Google's biggest source of income draw was advertising and that was because of the volume of people who used google.

devesh
devesh

Tony, great calculation. Fully agree with you that MSES will be a better choice for a large deployment where you will get great prices. I am doubtful, if you deployment 100~250 mailboxes you will get the same cost benefits. Google apps makes very good sense for the SMB segment which would be in this size band.

rdubois
rdubois

I will agree to the value of Google Apps for some organizations. At this point the cloud can't compete effectively once you inject customizations into your technologies, whether they are a Document Management Solution, Custome templates or document building apps.

charlene.dennis
charlene.dennis

Yes, we're working with Google now and part of our requirement was to do be able to do restores in case of user-deletes & other such. It seems as though we have a lot of your requirements in our packae. This is handled with the Postini product which is owned by Google.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I'll still have to pass. I have several cases where I need to shut off contact to the outside yet still remain as functional as possible internally. But that is handy info to know.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Now I may be totally wrong. But part of my compliance requirement are to retrieve individual mailboxes to a certain date. So with google/postini I can retrieve deleted email from an account that has been deleted, and all of this from 3 weeks ago? Does google/postini do granular restores in case a user accidentally deletes his entire mailbox and empties the recycle bin in an effort to cover his tracks?

aricbandy
aricbandy

Postini and Google gets you greater compliance for way cheaper than you could ever implement within an existing environment. Let's just pick on eDiscovery for a moment - I just sold a $19K premise-based email archive solution for a 120-user business. The client insisted on a premise-based solution. At $19k I could have purchased 10.56 years of Postini's services. They won't get more than 5yrs lifecycle out of the solution. I actually feel a little bad deploying it...

SCarmel
SCarmel

Actually, Google apps supports all of the settings you mentioned. See the Postini features in the Google apps for enterprise offering :)

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