I saw a great discussion thread on LinkedIn today (view the thread here) – about whether a consultant”s client should move to Hosted Exchange or Google Apps.

The replies leaned a bit more toward Google Apps than Exchange. Many good points about how much IT help is available/budgeted, “getting what you pay for,” simplicity of Google, familiarity of Exchange/Outlook, etc.

You'd think I would weigh in on the side of Hosted Exchange. It is one of our services (and a very popular one at that), but even we recognize that at times something simpler, like Google Apps, makes for a better solution.

See, when we get a client who wants to move to hosted services, there's a lot of factors to consider. Many of them are addressed in the thread: mobile users, growth potential, available budget,available IT expertise/extra support hours needed,and the client's needs for the service.

We weigh these between two prime factors: The size of the business, and what their day-to-day practices are surrounding email.

Can A Business Outgrow Google?

Let's divide up some factors between size and daily practice here. Under size, we can list things like:

  • How many mobile users a company has – iPhones, Blackberries, Android, etc.
  • How many Outlook users there are (and how often they use it).
  • What amount of on-site IT is in place, or do they rely on contracted IT support?

Both systems – Google Apps and Hosted Exchange – can sync with iPhones and Blackberries. (Androids MIGHT prefer Google, but I can't imagine why.) Outlook however leads more people to Exchange than away from it. One big intangible with email is how many users “live in” Outlook. True, Google Apps Premier Edition will sync with Outlook, but the difference is that those Apps accounts are on Google's servers, not hosted servers you contract. Which leads to the question of IT support. Who do you want to support your email? How fast of a response time do you need?

Under day-to-day email practices, we'll put these factors:

  • What are users' preferred communication methods?
  • How much email storage is needed?
  • How often do users share calendars?
  • Who's administering?

If email is the big communication tool (and it is for most businesses), then even a smidge of downtime is potentially catastrophic. We admit it, Exchange isn't perfect here…but then, nobody is. Google Apps does beat Exchange on default account space (25GB against 5GB). But shared calendaring brings us back to Outlook and its rich invite features.

We're back at the administration question. Many LinkedIn posters recommended contract IT support, especially if you're a smaller company. Of course Google provides support for Apps…but interfacing with other systems? Not so much.

What's the Verdict?

So where did we end up? When is Hosted Exchange a good choice, and when is Google Apps better? I'll give my answers in terms of the two prime factors I mentioned.

IN TERMS OF BUSINESS SIZE: For startup-level businesses, Google Apps makes more sense. Little infrastructure is needed, and it”s easier for a few people to adapt (they probably use Google already). Generally, the larger the business, the more likely Exchange will better suit them.

IN TERMS OF DAY-TO-DAY EMAIL PRACTICES: If a company already uses Outlook, we recommend they go Hosted Exchange. If they have an IT department already, so much the better. If not, and they don't want to spend much, then go Google Apps and get some local support in case integration hits a snag.

Of course, this is just one blog post. Do your research before contacting suppliers.

Which do you use, Google Apps or Hosted Exchange? Let me know in the comments.

Hosted Exchange VS. Google Apps: Which Works Better for Small Business?

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