Office365 Exchange Online or Google Apps Gmail?

Many organizations recognize the value that Microsoft Exchange Server has brought to their operation. Over the past couple of decades, its central store for email, calendar, and contact information have been vital to companies of all sizes. Having all of your computers, mobile devices, and easy web access to your email, calendar, and contacts has made so many of these organizations much more efficient than they otherwise would be.

Today, having an in-house Exchange server isn’t the only viable option if you want all of the functionality Microsoft Exchange brings. With the affordable hosted (“cloud”) offerings by many vendors, upgrading to the latest technology is becoming more affordable. Additionally, it’s less of a hurdle for start-ups to get robust email and collaboration software. While there are a number of hosted Exchange services available today, we’re only going to focus on Office 365’s Exchange Online service. It is the most widely used offering and we can confidently stand behind its platform. Google Apps is an alternative to Microsoft Exchange. It offers much of the same functionality, but in a significantly different way.

The functionality of Office 365’s Exchange Online is largely the same as the functionality of an in-house Microsoft Exchange server. One of the key differences it has over Google Apps is that it was made for Microsoft Outlook. You will not get a better Outlook experience than you get when using it with Microsoft Exchange. If your organization is already using Exchange, and you’re considering a hosted solution, EO is worth a look. Standard pricing is $4 per user per month for 25 GB of storage for each user.

Google Apps was designed around being web-based. You use Gmail and Google Calendar to replace the functionality you originally had in Outlook. GA works fine with Outlook, but it has some limitations. If your organization is decentralized and the users are responsible for their own devices, Google Apps might be the better solution for you. It uses exactly the same web interface as the free Gmail service, which most of your staff is already familiar with. Whether someone is using a PC or a Mac, is going to look mostly the same. Its pricing is $5 per user per month (or $50 per user per year) for 25 GB of storage per user.

So which one is right for my organization? Well, the answer could be neither. Depending on the type of information you handle, like private medical information, you may be required to have keep that information completely in-house. If you used a hosted solution, you may not be able to send internal emails regarding this information; so in this case, you’d be better served by having an in-house solution like an Exchange server. Barring that, here are the key differences in Google Apps and Office 365:

  1. Ease of Transition
    Transitioning from Microsoft Exchange to either of these solutions is a major burden on the IT service provider, but with Exchange Online, there can be minimal impact on the users. Switching to Google Apps, even when performed flawlessly, can cause major headaches following the work. If you’re coming from a simple email solution like POP mail, this doesn’t really apply.
  2. Access to Coworkers’ Mailboxes
    With Exchange Online, you can fine tune who has access to what in someone’s mailbox. This could be granting one person access to one folder in a mailbox, or granting a group access to all mailboxes, and everything in-between. Google Apps allows users to grant access to their own mailboxes, but does not allow an administrator to do it (without resetting their password.). Additionally, it’s an all or nothing situation in Google Apps, either you have full access or you have no access. If your organization has significant sharing requirements for their mailboxes, than Exchange Online would better suit you.
  3. Non-profit Pricing
    Google Apps offers its service to charitable organizations, 501(c)(3)’s, for free, for up to 3000 mailboxes. Office365 ostensibly offers non-profit pricing, but it’s not free and isn’t published from a reliable source. A non-profit organization would realize significant savings using Google Apps over any other solution. Unless there is a major reason to use another solution, small non-profits make the best use of their budget by switching to Google Apps.
  4. Mobile Device Compatibility
    Both services are well-suited for the major mobile device platforms, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, but there are some important considerations if you have a significant investment in one of those platforms. The most notable is secondary calendar access. Using ActiveSync to connect your device, iOS devices can only see your primary calendar with Google Apps. With Android devices, they can only see the primary calendar when connected to Exchange with ActiveSync. There are workarounds, but they are burdensome. If you rely on secondary calendars, you’ll need to select both the service and the devices that can provide easy access to them.
  5. Preference for Outlook
    Whether you’re already using Exchange or not, Outlook has become the most widely-used email client. If your staff has gotten used to it, as stated earlier, you will not get a better Outlook experience than with Exchange or Exchange Online. Switching to Google Apps would create a burden to train your users to either use the web interface (Gmail and Google Calendar) or put up with the limitations that using Outlook with Google Apps presents.
  6. Use of other Google Services
    If you and have a significant in other Google services like Youtube and Google+, you get more control over over accounts at your web domain ( You can easily reassign accounts that former employees used or block use of specific Google services with your domain accounts

Whichever solution you choose, you have a lot of decisions to make. If it becomes more work than you anticipated, our consulting services would be a good start. Either of these solutions give your business important resources to make it function more efficiently and are well worth the investment.

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