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.
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.