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By Ramon Ray

When people think about e-mail solutions for business, they generally think two words: Microsoft Exchange. However, as with all software solutions, no one option is the right choice for everyone. In fact, for smaller businesses, a more customized solution can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first year alone.

According to Info Tech Research, server-based Exchange implementation will cost a company more than $200,000 in the first year alone. This includes the cost of software and hardware, as well as I.T. staff to support it. Since many small businesses are unable to afford a full-time I.T. staff, server-based Exchange can often seem far more than they can handle. For smaller businesses, here are a few options that might be better suited to your needs.

IceWarp offers messaging, e-mail, texting, chat, and voice–all in one piece of software. What really sets Ice Warp apart from Exchange is its ease of deployment. Businesses report the software installs easily and quickly, getting a small business up and running with minimal downtime. “IceWarp was very easy to deploy,” says networking professional James Steubing, who underwent a trial to determine if Ice Warp was a good solution for several businesses in which he had a stake. “We just got the connectivity and started adding domain users. The deployment took an hour.” Pricing plans for IceWarp are customized to your individual business needs, but plans start at $63 per user.

SmarterMail is an Exchange-level server application that is priced lower than many competitors. SmarterMail has slightly less advanced features than IceWarp, but for small businesses, SmarterMail’s offerings may provide all the punch they need. Both solutions provide web-based mail, allowing you to access work e-mails from any device, and both solutions offer instant messaging, synchronization, and easy installation. Plans start at $299 for 250 mailboxes or domains for the professional edition and for the enterprise edition, up to 10 mailboxes and one domain are free.

Online Microsoft Exchange is available for $4 a month per user for its most basic Cloud-based e-mail plan. However, even this version of Exchange is not a login-and-go solution. You will need some expertise to set it up and administer your accounts through the provided console. Each user will get 25GB of mailbox storage, integration with the Outlook client, calendar sharing, and security policies.

HyperOffice bills itself as a less expensive alternative to Exchange. Since it is Cloud-based, it is quicker and less expensive to implement, plus without a need for I.T. staff to support it,  you’ll save money on an ongoing basis. Updates are implemented on the server, eliminating the excessive downtime that can result with server-based e-mail systems. Plus, with no software to install, your office can be up and running immediately, without having to hire staff to support it. Plans start as low as $3 per month per employee, but to get a good bundle of services, expect to pay at least $15 per month per user.

Google Apps for Business is yet another of Google’s many Cloud-based offerings. Emphasizing collaboration and customization, Google apps provides e-mail, calendar access, document sharing and storage, and website design templates for only $5 per month per person. While Google Apps might be a bit clunky for those who like to keep control over their e-mail solution, it is an inexpensive solution for small businesses. It also comes with a 30-day free trial.

Whether your small business prefers a Cloud-based solution to an in-house server-based solution, several great options are available. Don’t assume Microsoft Exchange is the only solution. Check around and find a software solution that will work for you!

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