This is the fourth installment in our series on Small Business Technology. If you missed the first three posts please use the following links to go back and read them to see what this series is about as well as learn about JJ Insurance, our fictitious small business that has asked for our assistance in re-designing their technology landscape.
In the last post we introduced some of the new solutions available to small businesses in the area of communications, most notably Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Business. We created a table to compare the different options and whether they fulfilled JJ Insurance’s goals.
Let’s look at each option and then decide on a recommendation.
Hosted POP3 – It is clear that a hosted POP3 solution does not meet our goals. Though many providers offer larger mailboxes so that mail can be left on the server, in most scenarios the email is downloaded to a computer, which makes it inaccessible from anywhere and more susceptible to data loss from failing hardware. Other weaknesses of hosted POP3 are that it typically does not offer any collaborative, IM, or telephony capabilities. And lastly, larger POP3 providers usually have mail servers spread out across multiple locations but many smaller providers have a single server in a single location with no disaster fail-over capabilities.
Internal Exchange – Where POP3 falls flat in collaborative capabilities an internal Exchange server excels. Microsoft Exchange provides robust email, shared calendaring, and resource scheduling. In the past, Microsoft offered a version of its server product called Small Business Server. This version included Microsoft Exchange and a fairly intuitive administrative interface. But, with the release of Windows Server 2012 Microsoft decided to discontinue Small Business Server. Instead, Microsoft is pushing small businesses to use Office 365 for Exchange. In general, running an internal Exchange is overkill for small businesses in both cost and effort. Having a single Exchange server also falls short in the areas of disaster preparedness, telephony, and IM connectivity.
Office 365 – As discussed in part three, Office 365 is Microsoft’s software as a service offering that includes Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office Pro Plus (on certain plans). Office 365 does a very good job of fulfilling all of JJ Insurance’s goals with the exception of providing a full VoIP telephony solution.
Google Apps for Business – Also discussed in part three, Google Apps for Business is a strong offering that includes Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar, Google Drive, Hangouts, Sites, Vault, and more. All of JJ Insurance’s goals are met with the exception of full telephony. Though Google does not offer a full telephony solution several third party companies have developed VoIP solutions that integrate nicely with Google Apps.
Recommendation – The choice really boils down to either Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google Apps for Business. Both are strong contenders but in this case we will recommend Office 365 with Office 365 Pro Plus.
Beyond the solutions meeting JJ Insurance’s goals there is one very important ingredient in making this recommendation…the users. Knowing the users and what applications they are familiar with and their technical acumen is of vital importance to any recommendation. In part 2 we discussed JJ Insurance’s current environment and a key piece of information is that the users currently use Outlook for email, calendaring, tasks, etc. and Office products such as Word and Excel. To switch to Google Apps and get the most out of its collaborative functionality it is best to utilize the web versions of Gmail, Docs, etc. This would mean a pretty steep shift in what and how JJ Insurance’s users work. So, in this particular case, with this particular set of users, Office 365 is our recommendation.
In the next post we will discuss how Microsoft’s Office 365 fulfills some of JJ Insurance’s other goals.
What do you think about this recommendation? Let us know in the comment section.