Email Exchange online vs Gmail

So right now I have 85-125 users on exchange 2003 sp2.  Everything has been good for the last 5 years.  I'm to the point I need to update our email system and I'm debating moving to a hosted solution, either exchange online or gmail.  I was just wondering if anyone here has had any experience with either of these.  I was sold on gmail at first but it appears it may be limited in some aspects such as handhelds.  Plus my users are familiar with outlook.  Any thoughts?
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Frosty555Connect With a Mentor Commented:
Google apps works perfectly with the iphone for syncing calendar, contacts, mail. It uses the exchange (activesynvc) protocol so it syncs as well as exchange server.

I like google apps a lot, but google has a different mentality when it comes to email. Their "organize nothing, never delete, search everything" mentality means there are some subtle differences in the way gmail does email compared to the rest of the world (exchange, imap, pop3).  I will explain the details below.

The main thing is imap folders. Google apps IMAP server will impose some forced special imap folders that you cant get rid of all underneath an imap folder named "[gmail]". Inside there is your inbox, sent items, and "all mail". These folders reflect what you see in the gmail interface, which is fine if you are a gmail user but some of my users find it confusing that their messages appear both in their inbox AND in the "all mail" folder. I have a hard time explaining it to them that it is only one copy of their mail, not two.

Secondly, google apps does not natively support imap folders within folders. In the gmail interface folders are actually "labels", and you cant have nested labels. You will see the folders laid out and nested properly in outlook, but in the gmail interface Instead of folders you see a list of labels in one huge list, flattened. This is ugly for users who like to sort their mail into hundreds of little folders. I think these people are living in the past, treating email like physical mail that needs to be sorted, and I think it is silly to constantly shuffle around your mail when you have the searching power of google at your  fingertips, but a lot of people are stubborn and don't like this new mentality to mail folders. Of course, if your users do not use outlook and instead sort their mail exclusively using the gmailll interface, they will quickly enjoy the searching power you have in gmail and wont have these problems.

Next: while google apps supports contact and calendar sync with mobile devices, you need third party software to sync it with outlook as outlook doesn't have any native contact or calendar sharing functionality built in other than exchange. This isn't a problem on macs (ical and address book both support syncing with google nicely), but outlook users will now have a syncing layer between google and their outlook client which I promise will get messy at some point. Google apps has a sync tool that they made themselves which they claim works with outlook but it is only for the business edition of google apps and I don't have a lot of experience with it. This is not an issue if your users use the gmail web interface.

Lastly, and this is just a niggle but a real pain for me - the google migration tool for outlook tends to reset the "date received" date for the emails you import. The date received field will be set to the date that the email was imported, not the date it was actually received. This resets all the dates inside of outlook and messes up the sorting. You have to manually configure outlook to use the "date sent" field instead. I don't know if this bug is a problem in the google exchange migration tool, but it might be worth a check. Again this problem is a non issue if you use the gmail web interface.  


If you want a good google apps experience, your users have to opt into the webmail gmail interface, it is just so much more seamless and enjoyable, and fast. If they do that they will enjoy google apps. My personal opinion is that the google searching abilities and wide and very inecpensive smartphone device support makes google a winner to me.

However if your users insist on using outlook, then Google Apps will always feel like a bit of a cludge. Exchange is the real collaboration tool to use since it is designed to work with outlook.
Google Apps will end up being cheaper than a MS based hosted solution. Google Apps for business will do BlackBerry and Microsoft ActiveSync based phones: They will also work with Outlook.

You will end up paying $50/user per year for Google Apps. We are currently working on migrating some of our customers to Google Apps. My experience with Google employees so far has been poor with regard to communication and I have read that their Postini tech support is also poor but I have no 1st hand experience with that yet. I like Google, Gmail,

I have been working with Exchange since 2000 and while I see reasons to move to the cloud for some things this isn't one of them just yet. If I had to pick I would be inclined to go with a hosted Exchange solution personally if you did want to move to the cloud.
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Microsoft BPOS

Hosted Exchange Solution $5 per user, per month.
(Microsoft Exchange 2007 Hosted solution)

$60 per user, per year.

Exchange Online Deskless Worker $2 per user, per month
(500MB mailbox, Outlook Light No-Active Sync)

(similar to Google solution)

$24 per user, per year.

Google solution if $50 per year, seems expensive to me, provided you'll, have to retrain, as it's different.
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We moved from POP mail to Google Apps.. Everything works great, Contacts & Calendar syncing with iPhones & Blackberry (OS v6.0 or higher)  I believe there are tools for Google Apps to be interfaced to an Exchange server or even a BES server.
theonlyallan - I'd be interested if you could post some links to those tools (interfacing google apps with BES or exchange server). Blackberry can sync with google using the Google Blackberry App, but I didn't know there was any way to make it work with BES.
We have been using google apps for several years and we are currently looking for other options, which is how I found this thread.  Google apps, gmail specifically, has had intermittent performance problems for the last year.  We have 5 users and total mailbox size of 10GB.  We search through emails to perform customer service functions and this is where we have been having problems.  Searches used to be instantaneous but can now take up to 10-30 seconds.  I have dealt with the google's tech support on this issue and they were of no help. Their recommendation was to reduce the number of messages we have.  Which, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of having so much capacity.  Maybe they are going through growing pains, but it has left us looking for other options.  We recently setup SBS 2011 and may migrate to exchange.   I would also like to look at exchange online but so far I haven't found many reviews pertaining to performance.
@Frosty555: Here's the app that will make Google Apps work with BES.
I've never tried it, YMMV  :)

@craftedev: I'm sure this is because google needs to add capacity to their servers.  One thing I don't like about Google Apps is that there isn't a real person to talk to when you need help.  For a customer with 150 Users, there should at least be a phone number.
bergertimeAuthor Commented:
Thanks for all the input.  I've pretty much ruled out gmail, maybe in a few more years.  I think I would go with hosted exchange, but I think it may be cost prohibited.  So it looks like I may have come full circle to do I get new servers and stick with exchange 2003 for a couple of more years and tell my mac users using office for mac sorry can't use outlook or do I spend the money for exchange 2011 knowing I'll be moving to the cloud at some point.   Thanks again to everyone, I'll leave it open a little while long if anyone wants to add anything.
bergertimeAuthor Commented:
Thanks to Frosty and everyone else.
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