Is Webmail or MS Exchange the Right Answer for Your Small Business?
How Do Email Servers Work?
Like with every business decision, making an informed choice about your email is paramount. Webmail does what it says on the tin: it provides an email service over the web. Anywhere you can get online you should be able to visit the web page of your email provider, sign in and check your mail.
Webmail is also very popular: if you’ve got a Gmail or Hotmail account you use webmail, and billions of us do. Last years’ stats showed that in 2014 after just a decade in business, Gmail, Google’s webmail system, had at least 500 million users. In comparison, an email client, for example MS Outlook, is simply a piece of software on your machine that handles messages. Both use servers – remote storage machines - to send and receive messages. In the case of webmail like Gmail you use Google’s servers. With a simple email client like MS Outlook you also use a remote server, though more of the operations are installed on your machine and you’ll have some access to email even if your internet connection goes down.For personal use, either one usually works well, and both will offer lots of extras like calendars, and syncing, as well as organizational tools like folders and contact features. For business use however, you might want to think more closely about what each offers and your specific needs as a company.
What Does Hosted Email Mean for You?
Having your own domain name – your web address – should already mean that you have an email address that reflects it, for example [email protected]
Nowadays, you have a number of options for using your business email address. If you want to use webmail you can, as providers will often work with domain addresses. You can also use forwarding via your website, though there may be costs associated with this and there are technical limitations to consider. Or you can decide to host your own email. And the most popular means of doing so is with MS Exchange. Adding email hosting will cost more, but it comes with some great benefits, including lots of storage: While Gmail gives you 15GB for free, a typical MS Exchange package will give you 100GB for each mailbox. You’re also outsourcing a lot of potential problems. Spam and virus scanning will keep your inbox clean; encryption will protect the mail you send; Data Loss Prevention features help your business keep in line with data protection laws. There are also a number of other features like calendars and address lists that can be easily shared among users if you opt for a hosted solution.
Where Webmail Wins
While this sounds like a no-brainer, the truth is, you can do a lot now with webmail. For the purposes of this article we will focus on Gmail. Google Apps Premier is the means by which Google are offering webmail that hopes to challenge the primacy of hosted mail solutions for bigger businesses. The first thing to note in its favor is that it’s much cheaper - $50 per user per year against MS Exchange’s around $141. Google are also kings at change - that’s why they’re the number one site on the web – and the webmail model allows these changes to filter through quickly as they happen. New features are being added all the time, and you’ll be able to use them immediately. In contrast, MS Exchange is currently on its 2012 edition, with a new iteration out next year If you’re using the services of a hosting company you’ll need to wait for them to sign up for the new edition and give it to you. Google have worked hard to make their products mobile friendly, vital in today’s business world, and they integrate perfectly with the company’s own Android mobile operating system, but also with most others.
MS Exchange Responds to the Cloud
While Google has worked to challenge the dominance of hosted mail in the business world, Microsoft has also been changing MS Exchange to give it a fighting chance in the areas which webmail currently dominate. Outlook – the front end most people will use with MS Exchange – will now work very like a webmail box. If you can get online, you can read your mail, though you will need to go through a set-up process or get your hosting provider to go through it for you.
Where MS Exchange Wins
Despite the massive leaps forward webmail has taken in recent years, Hosted Exchange still defeats webmail in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s been around for quite a while. It was first developed as Microsoft’s own internal mail system, before being launched to the public in 1996. That means 20 years of one of the most powerful corporations on earth pushing it to partners, who’ve invested heavily in supplying it to customers. A lot of people are extremely adept at using this system, and you can benefit from that expertise simply by signing up with a hosting company offering hosted Exchange, many of whom will be working as partners of Microsoft. This means great support, usually certified by Microsoft (always look out for this when you sign up for hosted email). Webmail providers don’t yet offer this kind of support, and certainly seem to suffer more problems, such as this recent faux pas from Yahoo, who lost many users last year due to a shocking eleven days worth of downtime. Hosted Exchange in comparison is supremely reliable. MS Exchange has a very good reputation, perhaps because it’s an in-house product. MS Exchange also comes with a fantastic front end. As Google entered the business email market it made sure that it offered compatibility with Outlook, Microsoft’s own email client. That’s because a generation has grown up using Outlook and they love it and the features it offers. MS Exchange is designed specifically to work with Outlook, you won’t get a better fit. The same cross-compatibility applies across programs like Office, which are becoming more integrated with online and email applications. Google has its Docs, but it’s yet to really compete with Microsoft in this area.
Where are you Starting From?
There is also the question of the effort it takes to migrate. It’s sad but true, but we all might make an entirely different decision about our email if we were starting from scratch today. Migration as swapping to a new hosting system is called, is not necessarily a simple push-button matter. If you’ve got a history of using Outlook – whether with Exchange or not – you’ve got a lot of information to switch over to your new system. Doing so while remaining within the Microsoft family is simply easier, it’s a process that’s designed into the new software.
While your individual starting point and financial limitations are always going to be considerations, the answer to Webmail vs Exchange will be different for each business. Webmail is a more competitively priced, flexible option, while Exchange in turn offers guaranteed support and reliability.