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By James Furbush

Swapping out an Exchange environment for a hosted email service not only saves money, but also offers better mobile productivity, bundled tools and less infrastructure maintenance.

It’s difficult to ballpark the total cost an organization might save by migrating to a hosted email service because every organization is unique. However, savings stem from phasing out Exchange servers and all the tasks that go along with maintaining those systems, said Allen Falcon, founder of Cumulus Global, a cloud services provider and Google Apps reseller based in Westborough, Mass. “We’ve seen companies save anywhere between 30% to 70% of their costs after making the switch,” he said.

Cloud-based productivity suites such as Google Apps are also more scalable, said Joseph Kolchinsky, founder of OneVision Resources, a technology management company based in Boston.

Google Apps costs $5 per user per month. The addition of Google Vault raises the price to $10 per user per month. It includes access to Google’s full suite of products, including 5 GB of storage in Google Drive.

HyperOffice enterprise plans start at $15 per user per month, and include a full suite of productivity tools for PCs and mobile devices.

Microsoft Office 365 plans range from $8 to $22 per user per month. The low-cost plan includes the ability to view Office documents but not edit them.

While Google Apps and Microsoft’s Office 365 are the best-known cloud productivity vendors, there are alternatives, such as HyperOffice. It bundles various collaboration and communication tools alongside a hosted email application that includes everything from document editing and file storage to social networking. It provides an affordable productivity tool that customers can use from any device or browser in lieu of a locally installed copy of Microsoft Office, Kolchinsky said.

Another benefit of switching to a hosted email service is that IT departments are better able to support bring your own device, or BYOD, and mobile productivity because they aren’t tied to specific hardware, said Tyler Coppock, senior cloud business development manager at En Pointe Technologies, an IT services provider based in Gardena, Calif. “If you’re moving from on-prem Exchange, you are changing the culture of how you get business done,” he said.

That change doesn’t come without significant planning, because Google offers a one-size-fits-all approach to hosted email service and Microsoft offers various tiered levels of licensing that can be confusing, said J. Peter Bruzzese, an Exchange MVP based in Orlando, Fla. “Email service is about more than just a lower cost,” he said. “Organizations need to understand their business and IT needs because there are a myriad ways to deliver email.”

For example, organizations might not need all the features Office 365 provides. Conversely, even though Google Apps doesn’t have the same offline capabilities or admin controls as Office 365, there are plenty of third-party plug-ins to get around those limitations, such as Google Vault for archiving and e-discovery.

It’s also possible to use Google Apps for an email server with Outlook as the access client through the use of the free Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, Bruzzese noted. “You get the cost savings of Google Apps with the email client everyone is familiar with using,” he said, thereby negating some change management issues.

It’s also possible to run an Exchange server through the use of Amazon Web Services or Rackspace. That technically counts as an on-premises Exchange environment, even though an organization would be relying on an Infrastructure-as-a-Service offering, Bruzzese noted.

The downsides to hosted productivity suites include security concerns, data ownership issues and the never-ending issue of cloud outages. In addition, IT admins don’t get as many controls and features as they would with Exchange, Bruzzese said.

Despite those limitations, managing an in-house email system makes sense for organizations with the necessary resources to provide a secure service with little downtime. Even then, they would miss out on the flexibility, agility and mobile productivity gains afforded by hosted email services, said Hovik Manucharyan, president of LinkGard Systems LLC, an IT cloud services firm based in Glendale, Calif.

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