Could your business survive without e-mail? Even for one day? Probably not, which is why it's important to keep your e-mail functioning. So as an entrepreneur, is it better to host your e-mail externally or internally? Well, that depends on your size and needs.
Many studies are coming out about how expensive it is to maintain your e-mail in-house. Hosting e-mail internally does have significant costs associated with maintaining the e-mail servers, either with internal technical staff or a support vendor. You need to constantly install patches and maintain backups, as well as plan for disaster recovery. A small business with a limited to non-existent IT department often would have to rely on one internal person--who could get sick, quit or take a vacation--or an offsite consultant. At the same time, hosting internally does allow you to have more control.
On the other hand, hosting e-mail or applications externally allows you to offload many of these costs and maintenance problems to a hosting vendor. However, you then have to do your due diligence on that hosting firm. When you use hosted e-mail, you're dependent on both your vendor and your network connection. You also have to be comfortable having your data stored on someone else's hardware. So if you have strict data security requirements, hosting your e-mail externally won't work for you. One other issue with e-mail and applications hosting companies is that they have many restrictions on attachment sizes and storage space.
If you do decide to host your e-mail externally, the newly enhanced Google Apps is an option to consider. Google pioneered the 1GB free consumer e-mail system a few years ago. Everyone knows you can use Google to search, but did you know Google Apps not only provides your own branded domain e-mail--at 2GBs to 10GBs--but also other hosted applications? This Google service provides applications such as a free web-based word processor and spreadsheet, as well as collaboration features related to calendaring and portals.
Below are some of the main features of the Google Apps Premier Edition, which costs $50 per account per year.
- 10GB e-mail storage per account with 99.9 percent uptime guarantee for e-mail
- Conference room and resource scheduling, which is useful for growing companies
- 24/7 assistance, including phone support
- Mobile access
- Administrator control panel
- APIs to integrate with your existing infrastructure
- E-mail migration tools
- Google Docs & Spreadsheets--a web-based word processor and spreadsheet program
- Google Calendar
For the very early starter who wants to spend as little money as possible, the free standard edition provides less e-mail storage and doesn't include any of the features you need for a more established business, such as 99.9 percent uptime guarantee for e-mail, 24/7 assistance with phone support and resource scheduling.
This improved Google Apps hosted service comes on the heels of the recent launch of Microsoft's Windows Vista and Office 2007. While Google Apps doesn't have all the features of Microsoft Office, its price point of free or $50 per account per year for the premier version is significantly lower than Microsoft Office's. (Standard Edition retail price is $399; Small Business Edition is $449; Professional Edition is $499; and Office Ultimate Edition is $679). This price comparison, of course, doesn't even take into account the stress and cost involved with licensing, setting up and maintaining an internal mail server and applications for a small business.
Even without the word processor and spreadsheet applications, Google Apps is a pretty powerful service for small businesses when you consider the features you can get for free. Within a few hours of configuration you can setup e-mail, calendaring and a small company portal for free without having to have deep technical knowledge. It sure is a lot easier than just a few years ago.
Frank Bell is Entrepreneur.com's "Web 2.0" columnist and a principal at IT Strategists, a leading business and technology consulting firm in Southern California. He has consulted with many internet startups, as well as companies such as Yahoo!, Vivendi Universal, Disney, Toyota, Nissan, Deluxe Digital Studios, AEG, Sony and Ticketmaster.