Can you replace Microsoft Exchange with Google Apps Premier?

An admin makes the switch to see how it really works -- with mixed results

The come-on is enticing: Replace that expensive, high-maintenance [Microsoft Exchange] platform -- and maybe some of your other Microsoft software -- with Google's Apps Premier service for a low, low price of $50 per user per year.

Google will host your email, calendars, documents, and more in their cloud. You can get at everything through a Web browser using the well-regarded Gmail interface, and you may be able to keep using your own client software, even Outlook. Google promises 99.9 percent uptime, and its support includes telephone access to real people. SSL encryption is required to be on, and Google uses the services of its Postini unit to provide malware protection. [Google Apps] Premier also supports shared contact lists and more sophisticated contact migration, such as LDAP synchronization.

[ The InfoWorld Test Center reveals [whether Microsoft's Office for Web apps has what it takes]. | Discover J. Peter Bruzzese's [8 key tips for moving to Exchange 2010]. ]

Sounds good, but can Google Apps Premier really deliver on what businesses need?

Whatever you're paying for Exchange and other Microsoft servers, I guarantee it's more than what Google Apps Premier costs, but that's not the only issue. A major platform change is disruptive, and you may have come to rely on Exchange features that either have no equivalent in Google Apps or will require some conversion work.

This was the quandary I faced for my own small business and personal domain. Only a few people use it, but we all love Outlook and the power we get from our hosted Exchange server at AppRiver. Although I'm very happy with AppRiver and I'm paying a fair price, I need to save some money -- just like a lot of larger companies.

So I gave it a shot. Here's what I found and what you need to know before you make your decision.

Mobile support is equivalent

Google has a plug-in for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, but it doesn't run [BlackBerry Enterprise Server]. You'll need to run BES yourself or find a provider that will host it with the plug-in.

Google does offer Microsoft ActiveSync support, which [iPhones, Palm Pres, Windows Mobile, and some Android smartphones use] to enforce security and access policies. It worked well on my Droid device.

When it comes to mobile, you won't save any effort with Google Apps, though you get the same capabilities as you would with Exchange -- including the burden of dealing with BES yourself.

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Lachlan Wilson

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