When considering a move to hosted Microsoft Exchange based e-mail services, there are a few routes you can take. We’ve recently provided consultancy for a number of clients to advise them on the options, and thought we’d briefly share those thoughts with you here!
Option 1: Use Microsoft Exchange Online (Office 365)
Exchange Online Plan 1 is a fantastic option for businesses looking to move their e-mail to the cloud. £2.60 per month, per mailbox and available from 1 user upwards – this offering from Microsoft has been pitched to steer people away from wanting to use Exchange in-house and also to steer them away from the competition too!
For £2.60, you get a fully functional Exchange service running on your domain name (e.g. 1-fix.com) and you also get 50GB of e-mail storage (just increased from 25GB). You also get free Blackberry Cloud integration thanks to a tie-up between RIM and Microsoft, so your Blackberry users will also get synchronised calendars and contacts ‘over the air’.
Pros: Low cost of entry. Usable from 1 user upwards. Backed by Microsoft.
Cons: Can get expensive when looking at hundreds of users. Less secure than a private cloud solution due to hosted data concerns.
Verdict: We think Office 365 Exchange Online is the best way for a small business to experience hosted Exchange, and the price is unbeatable.
Option 2: Use one of the many Exchange hosting providers
There are many companies out in the market who provide hosted Exchange services for their clients. To name a few examples, I can think of Fasthosts, Intermedia and Cobweb just off the top of my head.
These firms all offer their end users the use of Exchange on a shared hosting platform, managed by the hosting company, and they all give you some degree of control over adding/removing users and performing admin tasks.
Price wise, they usually can’t compete with Microsoft’s own offering. For example, a hosted Exchange mailbox with Fasthosts costs £6.99 per month. The difference however, is that they bundle in a licence for Outlook on the desktop for clients who don’t have a copy at the moment. (However, if you’re using an office suite without Outlook included, for commercial purposes, you’re in breach of the licence terms as it will be a home/student version!)
Unfortunately, my experience with these different firms is that their control panels provide you with less administration ability than the Microsoft Office 365 admin area (although they are simpler for less technical users) and they feel much more restricted.
Pros: Free Outlook licence with some hosts. It’s not hosted by Microsoft (some would see this as a pro)
Cons: Price can’t compete with Microsoft’s own offering. Locked down administration. Shared Exchange environment may be a security concern.
Verdict: Unless you already have a hosting package with one of these firms and really don’t want to move around, we think you’re better with Microsoft’s Exchange Online Plan 1
Option 3: Private Cloud
The final option we’re looking at is the option of having your own private cloud hosting environment. This is effectively your own Exchange server, on your own (virtual) hardware, which is accessible only by your company via a secure route such as a VPN tunnel.
From a data security point of view, or at least a data ‘peace of mind’ view, this option allows you to be quite sure that you’re data is being stored on-shore, on a server that you know about, with a company you trust to host it, and that you’ll be able to access it when required.
However, this security comes at a price. A virtual server isn’t cheap – it has a monthly running cost for hardware and bandwidth – and then you have some expensive Microsoft licence fees on top. Where it does start to equalise on pricing is when you have 50+ users, as the monthly fees to Microsoft will be in the ballpark of the pricing for your own private Exchange server.
The downsides of this route are that, as you’re effectively hosting your own server, you need someone to look after it and monitor it. We can assist with this, but you have to factor this into your price comparison. Microsoft’s solution (and also other hosted Exchange pricing) has the maintenance and support included as they are responsible for the server and services.
Pros: Data security. Scalable to your business.
Cons: Initial high costs of entry. Server & services need to be maintained.
Verdict: Ideal for those who are security paranoid, or have large numbers of users.