Can You Really Replace Microsoft Exchange with Google Apps Premier?

Using the Google Interfaces is Not an Easy Adjustment

At first I wanted to use the Gmail interface, figuring I'd make a clean break with Outlook, but using it wasn't so easy. I missed features in Outlook that are weak or absent in Google Apps, such as Outlook's powerful rules. And the fact that GASMO was working so well for my wife led me to give it a shot; I'm still with it. The Gmail interface can be tolerable for short periods of time when I need it, such as on my Droid smartphone, but it is a chore.

Google Calendar is Less Capable than Exchange

I had also heard of problems with using the Google Calendar interface when compared with Exchange's and Outlook's. No question about it, Google Calendar is no match for the Microsoft product, but it has been good enough for me so far.

Google Calendar in Google Apps Premier is strong in many areas. It supports resource calendars, such as for conference rooms, but GAMME doesn't migrate them from Exchange. Making multiple calendars and checking them is easy, but Google Calendar lacks many of the complex features for meeting setup, such as optional versus required meeting invites.

One of the biggest Exchange features not supported by Google Apps is Public Folders. As a replacement, you could create a Google Group (basically a Usenet-like newsgroup). They are archived and searchable, but not as well integrated as public folders, especially if you're using Outlook. As an alternative, you can also share any file on Google Docs.

Bear in mind that Google is creating APIs for all its features, so you can write your own apps. And you may be able to find third-party modules for a missing feature in the Google Apps Marketplace.

Google Apps Can Work Differently as Time Passes

Unlike typical Exchange hosting, Google Apps is a dynamic environment. Don't be too surprised if you wake up one morning and some feature operates differently. At one point during my brief test period, the online documentation changed in a way that affected my tests, but it's not clear if the product itself changed.

There are good aspects to this dynamism, but if you treasure stability and being able to test changes before implementing them, Google Apps may be a problem.

Google Apps Doesn't Play With Other Google Apps

I was surprised to discover that you cannot use your Google Apps login to access Google services not provided in Google Apps, such as Google Reader. The work-around -- to use a regular Google account to access those services -- is not at all satisfying, because you can't log in to more than one Google account at a time in the browser. You realistically have to use one browser for Google Apps and another for other Google services. (Google says it will fix this issue later this year.)

Your Compliance Needs May or May Not be Met

As with any hosted service, you may be concerned about the fact that you no longer directly manage potentially sensitive data. Google Apps Premier's Terms of Service agreement (section 1.2) essentially says that Google will guard your data with the same measures and vigilance with which it guards its own. I find this reassuring.

But you or your lawyers may have a problem with the terms' statement: "Google may store and process customer data in the United States or any other country in which Google or its agents maintain facilities." Welcome to the cloud.

Google Apps Premier Can Replace Exchange, But It's No Given

There's no way around the fact that by migrating from a mature, stable, and well-understood platform like Outlook and Exchange to an evolving newbie like Google Apps, you're a pioneer. You may discover gold in California or ruination in Death Valley based on your combination of needed capabilities, users' adaptability, compliance requirements, and degree of cost savings needed to justify the disruption.

It'll work for me, but I have a really small office. But don't forget if you're tired of managing Exchange yourself, you have the option of hosted Exchange. It will cost more than Google Premier Apps, but it also will maintain familiarity and be less disruptive.

This article, "Can you really replace Microsoft Exchange with Google Apps Premier?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Get the latest insights on Windows Server and Microsoft Exchange in J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog. Follow the latest developments in business applications and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

Read more about applications in InfoWorld's Applications Channel.

Larry Seltzer is an independent analyst focusing on security issues and a founder of OpenGov Solutions.

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