Microsoft Exchange is standard fare in larger enterprises. The server-based application provides e-mail, shared calendars, tasks, collaboration technology, mobile device support and Web access to company data along with support for data storage and other services.
However, small businesses that may be attracted by the features can be turned off by Microsoft's licensing fees or the cost of maintaining this rather complicated technology.
One way small businesses have been able to access these enterprise-class features without the pain and expense is to take advantage of Hosted Exchange where a third-party provider hosts and maintains the infrastructure (i.e., the servers, the cabling and so on). Small companies pay a monthly, per-person subscription fee and receive full Exchange services for a fraction of the cost.
To say there are a lot of hosted Exchange providers is a vast understatement. If you type "Hosted Exchange" into Google, you'll get more than two million hits which can make selecting a provide a bit overwhelming. It also makes it tough for a provider to stand out from the crowd.
That's why SherWeb, a global Hosted Exchange provider with headquarters in Canada, has just announced a new program designed to attract small businesses away from free e-mail accounts from companies such as Gmail and Hotmail.
The SherWeb Hosted Exchange provides each person with a 1.25GB mailbox for $8.95 a month and, according to the company's Web site, does not charge a setup fee.
Unlike other providers, SherWeb has no minimum sign-up requirement, which means that even one person can now have access to Exchange's capabilities. This can be a real advantage for sole proprietors such as consultants, lawyers or other professionals particularly if they once worked in big companies that ran Exchange and are used to synchronizing data to their Blackberry, PDA or Smartphone.
Pierre-Olivier Descoteaux, SherWeb's marketing director, says the average size of Hosted Exchange mailbox ranges from 200MB to 500MB, and most providers require a minimum sign-up of at least three people. "Hosted Exchange can benefit a lot of small companies, but they're used to plenty of free e-mail storage," he said. "We found that without the storage capacity, they weren't willing to move to business-class e-mail regardless of the other features."
Descoteaux also points out that the company offers small businesses a level of hardware and software security and management they could not otherwise afford. "We have 30 servers in a datacenter, and we handle the mailbox set up, all of the server maintenance or any hardware and software problems the customer experiences," he says. "When Exchange 2007 arrives, we'll upgrade the service transparently, but not until we've addressed all the bugs and issues common to a new software release."
SherWeb targets small business in the United States and Europe and 80 percent of its customers have between one and 50 employees, 20 percent of them have more than 50 with the largest client topping out a t 250 employees.
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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