How to choose a hosted Exchange provider

Microsoft BPOS isn't the only game in town for hosted Exchange: the 6 key factors for choosing a provider

You've heard the pitch time and time again for online, cloud-based hosted Exchange. It's cost-effective and keeps you focused on your business's core competency, right? Maybe. There are good reasons to consider moving to hosted Exchange, but be careful. Not all providers deliver, as InfoWorld's parent company found when it switched a couple years ago, only to bring it back in-house after many reliability and service issues.

But new providers continue to spring up and gain the experience to deliver reliable service. Microsoft has also gotten in the game, with its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and plans to integrate its Office Web Apps into it next year in the planned Office 365 service. Still, keep in mind these six key factors before you jump into bed with a hosted provider.

[ InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese makes the case for hosted Exchange in "Is it time to move Exchange to the cloud?" | Keep up on the latest Microsoft and Windows developments in the Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

1. The price: You're looking at $5 to $10 per user per month. That is what Microsoft and many other vendors are charging for BPOS. For $5, you get a 25GB mailbox from Microsoft. For $10, you get the mailbox and a suite of additional features, including a SharePoint portal. Some providers charge less but ultimately also provide less (such as skipping malware protection in the base version), so you end up adding features to get what their competitors offer up front. Figure out what services you require and make sure the price estimates include them. Also, if you most or all of your users connect through Outlook Web Access (OWA), check to see if your vendor has a special OWA-only access price. (Microsoft charges $3 per user for OWA-only with the 25GB mailbox size.)

2. Mailbox size: All the key vendors put limits on mailbox sizes in the hopes that you will pay more to increase the size. On the surface, that looks like a smart move because even if it saves you $1 per user and you have thousands of users (typical for companies managing Exchange in-house), you can save quite a bit. When price and functionality are equivalent, start looking for who provides larger mailbox sizes. Some providers even offer unlimited mailbox storage, which is worth your consideration if it falls within your price range.

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