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Exchange Server

Should You Migrate from Exchange Server to Google Apps?

The following article is reprinted with full permission by Paul Cunningham from ExchangeServerPro.com.  Be sure to check out Paul’s excellent, free Exchange 2007 transition guide.

There is some recent buzz (no pun intended) around Google’s release of their Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange tool.  The tool does what you would assume from its name, or as Google puts it:

Now you can migrate email, contacts and calendar data from on-premise and hosted Microsoft® Exchange to Google Apps, whether you have just a few users or tens of thousands.

Feature Overview

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  • Perform a centrally managed bulk migration of users
  • Selectively migrate email, calendar or contacts (or any combination thereof)
  • Migrate in phases for very large migrations

Businesses of all sizes are migrating their email systems to Google Apps (though many are moving from Lotus Notes or Novell Groupwise, not Microsoft Exchange).  You can see some of the case studies and stories on this Google page.  Google Apps is clearly a good fit for these businesses or they would not have made the move, but I’ll be honest, every time the idea has been floated for a customer I’ve talked to there has been some requirement that makes it impractical or impossible to move to Google.

Among Google Apps’ benefits are cost reductions for some customers and better support than their in-house staff can provide.  Feature-wise Google Apps certainly does provide a basic email, calendar, and contacts experience.  In some areas it is lagging behind though, such as this recently announced Google Labs (ie, experimental) Smart Scheduler for Google Calendar which provides similar “Autopick” functionality for scheduling meeting times to what has been in Exchange and Outlook since the 2003 editions.

Features Google Left Out

I was curious enough to read the Administration Guide for Google’s new migration tool.  The migration process is interesting enough, but even more interesting are the features that are not migrated to Google Apps.  These include:

  • Public Folders
  • Inbox Rules (have to recreate as Filters)
  • Importance Levels (not available at all in Google Mail)
  • Signatures (available in Google Mail but you can’t have multiple signatures that you manually insert as required)
  • Shared Mailboxes
  • Categories for mail, calendar, or contact items
  • Out of Office status
  • Calendar attachments
  • “Rich” content in calendar items (eg hperlinks, text formatting)
  • Flags and follow up reminders on Contacts
  • Notes
  • Tasks
  • Journal Entries
  • RSS Feeds

Some of those are mild inconveniences at the small end of the scale, but become massive inconveniences when you scale it up to thousands of users when you consider the time and effort required to educate your user base about these kinds of impacts prior to the migration, and field the inevitable support requests that come up afterwards.

Some of these are total showstoppers, for example if your business makes use of SharePoint workflows that assign Tasks.  Public Folders, though deprecated in recent Exchange Server versions, are still critical to many organizations as well, and Google offers no direct substitute that I can see.

Some features appear on par with Exchange, such as the archiving and discovery capabilities.  Google Apps includes Postini for email spam and virus filtering, which is well regarded in the industry and performs well in my experience with good self service controls for end users to manage their own quarantines and rules.

Postini also has content based policies that are similar to Exchange Transport Rules though they appear less flexible than what is available in Exchange Server 2007/2010.

Additional Considerations

In other areas that are quickly becoming important to businesses, such as Rights Management integration and Unified Communications, the Microsoft offering seems to be well in front (particular Microsoft’s tightly integrated UC experience across its many Office application and server products).

For Google Apps I can’t find any information on what customers should do about their non-Exchange mail requirements, such as mail-enabled scanner/printer devices or LoB applications that use SMTP for routing messages to internal and external recipients.  If the solution is to keep an on-site SMTP server available that somewhat undermines the Google “Manage your business, not your mail server” marketing.

Exchange Server 2010 is an outstanding product that delivers real benefits to businesses of all sizes, and has amazing integration across the Microsoft product line for collaboration and communications.  I work with customers to implement and support Exchange Server every day.

At home I’m a Google Apps user myself.  I use the free edition to host email for some of my domains because I’m a one-man business and it makes little sense to run an Exchange Server all to myself, not to mention the hardware costs which I’d rather keep invested in my Exchange labs instead.  But for customers who have taken even just a few steps away from the basic email, calendar and contacts usage of Exchange I struggle to see the benefits of moving to Google Apps.

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