SMBs should consider axing Exchange

Microsoft is the leading messaging and collaboration vendor, which means it's leading the field in terms of new sales. And new sales are tough because most everyone already has e-mail -- and the Fortune 1000 generally has very mature and entrenched e-mail systems. Talking those customers into a new e-mail product means not only taking them away from someplace like IBM or Novell; it means talking them into an e-mail-migration process. And that's almost never pretty. But with this sales success on the enterprise side also comes a cost: a less attractive price point to the SMB (especially the SB) set. For smaller customers looking for reliable messaging and a decent set of collaboration tools, there are better deals out there than Exchange.

I had a chance to talk with Justin Graf, CIO of Empro Manufacturing. He's been managing a user network of 50 to 100 for several years and moved from Exchange to competitor Gordano about two years ago.

"We moved mainly because Exchange kept jumping in cost," Graf says. Microsoft kept adding features and raising the price, yet mostly these were features that Empro employees didn't need. "We found Gordano, which not only gave us all the e-mail functionality, but also included antivirus, antispam -- and it cost about $US3500 with an annual support fee of about $800. All the updates and tech support service is free." And, it requires no client access licences to connect to the server.

Considering that Exchange server can cost more than this entire package without even getting into CALs, the price advantage is clear.

Frankly, I've been pretty impressed with Exchange's feature set -- both in the 2003 version and the upcoming Version 12. But Graf has it right when he says many of these features are aimed at large installations; SMBs just don't need them. And although Microsoft is trying to satisfy these customers with Small Business Server, that's still an all-in-one Microsoft-only solution -- and it continues to tie you tightly to other platforms, including AD and SharePoint.

Opting to look outside the Microsoft fold is simply becoming more attractive to smaller companies looking for a breather from the constant Microsoft licence renewal pressures.

Microsoft may make its money in the Fortune 1000 set, but Redmond needs to address SMB concerns more directly than simply fleshing out Small Business Server, because there are plenty of smaller players out there doing a better e-mail job for SMBs.

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