Microsoft Exchange as a Hosted Service

February 3, 2007 by Alon Cohen

What is Microsoft Exchange?

In its simplest terms, Microsoft Exchange is POP3 mail on super steroids. Differing from regular email, Exchange has a host of additional features that make it a very powerful productivity tool. For me one of its biggest advantages is the synchronization. All folders, contacts, tasks and calendar items are saved on the server, not the client.

Email Syncronization

I always end up working on multiple computers at multiple locations. Before I began working with Exchange every time I wanted to save a copy of an email I sent I had to BCC myself so that it would be on my other computers as well. Exchange does this for me. For example,  when you send an email from your Blackberry or other email enabled phone, it will also show up in your PC`s sent items folder. The same is true if you send from another PC with Outlook or even with the web based mail provided called Outlook Web Access (OWA). When I set up a new computer and Outlook, Exchange synchronizes all the folders to the new computer as well. No need to copy the PST files from one computer to another (or those Outlook Express files that I can never find).

Sharing`s Public Folders & Sharepoint

Integrated with Exchange are its public folders. These are Outlook type folders where you can share documents based on permissions. This is great for company info and client data across a company. These can include files like PDF`s, Word documents, regular emails, images, tasks, calendars and more. One thing to note is that public folders are not visible through OWA in Exchange 2007, in this case you would need to use Outlook.

The best way to describe Sharepoint is a hybrid of public folders and a Wiki. These are full web pages accesses though a web browser. You can add files with a version history, lists such a s vacation days and more. Microsoft also has more then 60 application templates available from Sharepoint v2 (v3.0 was just recently released). Some of these include campaign tracking, vacation schedule and approval, Competitive Analysis, Request for Proposal, Timecard Management and much more.

Drawbacks

With all these advantages, Exchange does have some drawbacks. If you are setting up Exchange in-house there are 2 main issues to deal with. The first is the licensing costs. Exchange 2007 starts at $700 and goes up from there. In addition it can be a real beast to set up if you do not know what you are doing. Now I am by no means and Exchange expert or system admin. I`m just a power user. At my previous job we needed to get Exchange set up. It took several weeks, 4 consultants and several thousand dollars in consulting fees before it was up and running. Even then we had down times that sometimes lasted a few days. No business can afford to let that happen when there is an inexpensive alternative. 

Exchange as a Hosted Service

While the initial versions of Exchange required you to set them up in house, as of Exchange 2003 you can have your Exchange hosted remotely. Exchange hosting companies manage the setup and maintenance of Exchange for you. They even handle the licensing with Microsoft. As the number of mailboxes these company handle are much greater then just your company, they can get much better prices and deals from Microsoft for these fees. All you have to do is manage your users/mailboxes and of course pay your bill to them, often ate rates of around $10 per month per user. Compared to the $1000 it costs to set up and maintain internally this is a steal.

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