First let me give you a little background info, I run a small business, only 20 employees, but we are split across 3 offices, with one member of staff on the road all the time.
The nature of our business means that communication is key to our success, everyone has a desk phone, a mobile, an email account and an IM account to keep in touch with each other and our clients, a lot of what we do is real time so the phones and IM play a big role in the way we communicate, but we are heavy users of email for sending specs and proposals around.
In 2006 when the business was first getting off the ground we were using our ISPs mail system, using POP accounts in the office, and IMAP when on the road and for the first 12 months or so this was fine, but we soon started to hit reliability and service issues. Our ISPs mail system became less than reliable and we were also finding it difficult to keep within their mailbox size limits, two accounts in particular were often becoming locked as they went over the size as PDFs came rolling in, basically it was a disaster...
Early in 2007 I decided enough was enough and that we needed to find an alternative, I briefly toyed with the idea of installing our own server, but at this point we only had 8 employees and it didn't seem worth the hassle, certainly MS Exchange was out of the question cost wise and although my Linux skills are not lacking I didn't fancy setting up and running our own box. I was also concerned about where to site the server because all the offices had issues of one sort or another making them less than ideal for housing a 24/7 service.
Eventually I settled on Gmail, it hadn't really occurred to me before this point but their service is reliable, space is a non-issue, and their domain services were getting better and better. The Google chat service also came in handy... We remained using Gmail as our primary email service right until December of 2008, by which time we had gained another 6 employees and were extremely busy.
Shortly before Christmas 2008 I took on another 3 members of staff, and at around this time we had started to find the limits of our Gmail service, one of our offices was constantly having connectivity issues and we were also desperate for a better calendaring service and some way of sharing a group contact list. One of the new starters was a techie and we again started to look at hosting our own service but were again caught between the barriers of cost of using MS Exchange, which we knew would give us exactly what we needed in terms of familiarity and features, and trying to run our own system based on open source alternatives which although good, would mean retraining some staff members and possibly a whole raft of compatibility issues we didn't have the time to sort out properly.
So...what I've been building up to over the last 4 or 5 long paragraphs is that in Feb of 2009 we started using a Hosted Exchange Server service. It has been a total revelation, we have all our employees on the same version of Outlook 2007 (license is included in the monthly fee) and we can all now share calendars, book meetings properly with visibility of what other people are doing and we have a proper company shared address book, not to mention all the other little details of Outlook that make it so much easier on everyone
Moving over to the service was relatively painless, a few MX record changes, which your host could easily do for you if you're not 100% comfortable with DNS, and then just a case of logging into our hosts admin portal and setting up new mailboxes and distribution lists.
The real beauty of it is that we are paying only per mailbox, so for a small company like ours the overhead of Exchange Licenses and buying and running our own server is totally gone. We have managed to get around the space issue too by purchasing more space only for the mailboxes that use it, and for only a few dollars a month extra.
In total our monthly fee is around $200 for the entire company mail requirements, even if we expand more over the next 12 months this is substantially lower over the financial year than the cost of buying a server (with a realistic lifespan of 2-3 years) and then licensing 20 copies of Outlook and Exchange Licensing annually, not to mention the support costs of running the server and the worry about connectivity to it.
All in all, I couldn't be happier, for any small business I would heartily recommend looking into the plans available as there is something to cater for just about everyone if you look around and the money saved can be huge!
by: Ben Hayward
About the Author:
Author: Ben Hayward, IT tech, please visit some of my other sites for more information
USB Drive Review
Hosted Exchange Server