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Hands on with Hosted Exchange

Price isn’t everything

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One was in some of the more advanced aspects of collaborative and group functionality such as public folders, group administration, aliases, directory management and so on. Everything was very obvious with the premium service and seemed to just work, whereas we struggled a bit with the economy alternative and even at the end of the evaluation period, still didn’t achieve quite what we wanted in terms of public folders, group setup, etc.

This brings us to the second major difference, which we noticed when looking for help – the level and style of technical support. The best way of summing this up is to say that working with the premium provider was just like having our own experienced IT department, except perhaps that being more focused on email and collaboration rather than being pulled in many directions, they always seemed to be immediately tuned in to the problem at hand. W

ith the economy service, however, it was very obvious that we were dealing with relatively inexperienced agents sitting thousands of miles away in an offshore call centre working from scripts over dodgy long distance telephone connections.

So, having tried out both types of service, which one did we go with?

Well, we opted for the premium service, primarily because we wanted the ability for non-technical users to feel comfortable calling the service provider’s help desk directly – i.e. we were not just interested in outsourcing management of the physical servers, we wanted to offload the support burden as well. We didn’t feel this would be possible with the economy alternative.

There were also a couple of secondary reasons for going down the premium route. The first is that the service provider concerned offered Blackberry access, which was important to one of our users and worked very well (if you like that sort of thing), with full enterprise (rather than consumer) level functionality.

The other main benefit we considered was the clear backup, recovery and resilience policies of the premium provider. Even though we had measures in place to back up mailboxes from the client side, we felt the additional security of the service provider’s policies would be useful.

These points highlight something very important about the benefits of hosted offerings for small businesses in particular – you get to take advantage of the provider’s economy of scale. It would never, for example, have been possible to justify the expense and overhead of a Blackberry infrastructure for one, or even a handful of users. With the best will in the world, it would also be difficult for a small business to achieve the same level of resilience as someone with a properly manned data centre.

Following this experience, the advice we would give to anyone investigating hosted Exchange offerings is to look behind the headline specs and prices and actually trial the service before you commit.

Those with an Exchange-savvy IT department might then find that the lower cost services are perfectly adequate, and why pay more for premium support when you will be directing users through your own internal helpdesk in the first instance anyway? Those looking to just get shot of the whole problem completely, however, will undoubtedly find premium services more attractive, as will those who see a benefit in some of the more advanced features and functions.

We realise that Microsoft Exchange is not everyone’s cup of tea and that some advocate avoiding complications in the first place by using other commercial or open source solutions. It is pretty functional, though, and the hosted approach provides a possible way for users to benefit from this without the traditional hassle. ®

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