Monday, 8 February 2010

Considering a move to hosted email services ? READ THIS FIRST

Cloud based email services are mature, flexible and cost effective. So why do so many small businesses try to recreate what they've been using (and paying through the nose for..) for years ?

In my last start-up, I wanted to ensure the business had a robust, flexible and cost effective email solution but did not want to invest in servers, licensing and in-house support for a Microsoft Exchange solution. As it happened, we shared an office with a Microsoft Hosted Exchange provider so the obvious route was to utilize their service which cost circa £12 ($19) per seat per month. The solution worked, was familiar to the staff and provided web based access (via Outlook Web Access) as well and calendaring and SharePoint for document management. For the first 18 months, I was happy, the staff were happy and the guys who supported the network we happy.

However, as the business grew, the cost of the solution began to outweigh the benefits and developments we were seeing from the system. The truth was (and still is I am sure) it became very costly and time consuming for the Microsoft provider to deploy new features, releases and additional services. The end game was that 18 months on, we'd still got what we had at day one. Old technology made for servers on the LAN and not suited to Cloud based deployment, development and scale.

More recently, I set about building Cloud Distribution, my new business which is focused (as you may have guessed) on Cloud Computing solutions. I took a look around the market and as expected, the same Microsoft based providers were there en-mass with little or no differentiation other than price which still came it at around £12 ($19) per seat per month. That's £180 ($288) a month for 15 mailboxes which we needed from day one. Now, in start-up land every pound counts and I simply was not prepared to splash out on old technology no matter how familiar it was to my staff so I looked around and found (not that easily I have to tell you) Google Apps Standard Edition. What an eye opener !

Up to 50 seats, 7gb mail box for every user, Web access via Gmail, Desktop access via any IMAP or POP client such as Outlook, Thunderbird etc. etc. Full group calendaring, Google Docs document management (recently extended to a full storage solution where any type of document can be uploaded and accessed), iPhone push email, calendar and contact sync and a whole host of other great small business features for NOTHING. Yes, that's right, nada, zilch, zero per seat per month. For up to 50 seats. Where's the catch ?
Believe me, from a small business perspective, there simply isn't one. Google Apps rocks. Period.

Now, I can hear the masses saying "yes but it does not do this, that and the other" but the truth is I can live without the bits it does not do, saving £180 ($288) a month for all of the other bits it does do that Microsoft's solutions will never do like deliver new features on a weekly basis, smart integration with (our CRM cloud based platform) an lots of other elements which work for any business who wants to do business not support email systems.

Why am I selling Google Apps ? It's certainly not to make money for Cloud Distribution. As I said it's free and any IT savvy person who knows how to configure a domain via their ISP can get it up and running in a day max. I am outlining this proposition because it is typical of the way Cloud solutions can change the dynamics of a traditionally LAN based application or service so think about other services a small business could use Cloud IT for ?

•    Clean Email (already widely used)
•    Firewalling (currently at the router or behind it)
•    Wi-Fi (Controller in the Cloud not on the LAN)
•    VPN (Push it up to the ISP)
•    Unified Threat Management (again, push it up to the ISP)
•    Telephony (Hosted IP Centrex and SIP Trunking)
•    Device Management
•    Security Assessments

All of these can be set up to the cloud and delivered with many additional benefits at a fraction of the cost of LAN based services. So, look for the Google Apps of your next application or service requirement, save your business money, make your life easier and help you users do more with less.

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