Emails are a powerful tool for businesses of all kind -Freelancers, Small and Medium Businesses and Big Corporates- to manage it in an efficient manner. In this article we will analyze email services offered by the main providers.

Emails are one of the main vectors of communication in the business world: they’re used for internal, informal, official and even international communications. Its use has, in several cases, ditched verbal communication and, because of that, each user expects this service to be quick, easy and -most of all- reliable. Beside sending and receiving messages, there’s a number of other activities that have merged together with them: calendars, address books, mobile synchronization, and so forth.

New services, the same old names
The implementation of email services and their use have evolved through time: from 100% on-premises infrastructures (up to a decade ago) with an almost all-internal utilization and realization, to 100% Cloud solutions with BYOD (actual and future trend). In the middle, an hybrid period where these two fashions alternated, came together and finally settled.

Today, the points of reference of the sector are Google (G Suite) and Microsoft (Office 365). Specifically, Microsoft, who was already an absolute leader with Exchange Server, managed to re-invent its product so to offer it in a Cloud-based mode, even with accessible prices (in most cases).
Both solutions are offered with different service levels and costs: Google prefers a simple approach with 3 plans, while Microsoft opts for a wider choice: 8 plans.

Besides those two giants, we can find a number of providers with business plans that occupy a very minor quote of the market: 1&1, Rackspace, Yahoo Mail for Business and Zoho Mail. Such services usually have a very aggressive pricing model (1&1 prices from 1 to 5 €/user/month, Zoho Mail has a free plan for up to 25 users) and limited characteristics in terms of mailbox space and features.

Main characteristics and additional features
As stated before, emails are part of a wider ecosystem: calendars, productivity software, shared resources and so on. One of the main differences between Microsoft, Google and other providers is indeed the “other parts” of the offering: G Suite and some versions of Office 365 include productivity software, such as Google Docs (the former) and the Office suite (the latter). In particular, the purchase of certain Microsoft plans include the access to versions of the Office package, so that you can save by not purchasing stand-alone licences of Word, Excel, Outlook, etc..

mail 2016 office

The main characteristic of these account is about adding your own company domain. Unlike free services, mailboxes and additional services can be brandized and reached with an account like “This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.”. Some of the other features include: high storage space, shared calendars and address books, mobile ActiveSync service, email archiving space and Cloud storage space and, of course, an high level of reliability. Speaking about Microsoft’s world, the access can be integrated natively with your company’s Active Directory setup (if any) and, in most cases, you can provide custom graphics to the Web portal of mailboxes and other Web-based services.

We have compiled a comparative table: products are grouped by service typology, software and included services, and of course the price per user (vat excluded):

Smartermail CoretechKerio Connect CoretechExchange onlineOffice 365EnterpriseGoogle G Suite Zoho Mail
BaseActive SyncPlan 1Plan 2B. EssentialsBusinessB. PremiumProPlus (sw only)E1E3BasicBusinessEnterpriseStandardProEnterprise
Price user/year (€)12203540.880.450.4105.6126154.880.4236.44096276246096
Mailbox Size (Gbyte)551050100505050-505030unlimited*unlimited*301001TB
Email Archiving----unlimited-----unlimited------
Sofware and Services Included
Outlook------yesyesyes-yes------
Word, Excel, Powe Point, One Note, Access------yesyesyesyes------
OneDrive 4B, Skype 4B, SharePoint, Teams, Yammer-----yesYes (no Teams and Yammer)yes-Yes (no Teams and Yammer)Yes (no Teams and Yammer)------
Kerio Email Client + App--yes--------------
Shared Calendars-1yesyes + MRyes + MRyes + MRyes + MRyes + MRnoyes + MRyes + MRyesyesyesyesyesyes
G Talk-----------yesyesyes---
G Docs-----------yesyesyes---
ActiveSync-yesyesyesyesyesyesyes-yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes
5 Devices/User------yesyesyes-yes------
Zoho Docs--------------yesyesyes
MR = meeting room
* if < 5 users, only 1TB

Let’s dig deeper into the table.

Prices
The price of these services is counted on a per user or per mailbox basis with a monthly or annual invoice (vat excluded, prices are for the Italian market and may vary for foreign markets). Microsoft’s advanced annual pricing is more advantageous than the monthly invoice: for instance Office 365 Business is 8.80 €/user/month if paid in the first case, 10.70 €/user/month in the second case. Google has a different approach and doesn’t differentiate the two invoicing modes: 8 €/user/month or 96 €/user/year for the Business plan.

An interesting option is the free 14 or 30 days trial period offered by Microsoft and Google where you can test a full working service with no limitation in terms of features. At the end of the period you can confirm or not the activation.

Email Archiving
This one can be deceptive, as the term is often used improperly to describe a generic archiving space, and a real email archiving feature. As the table clearly states, the real email archiviation is provided only by the most prestigious (and pricey) services by Microsoft (Exchange P2 and 365 E3), while the other services offer a “generic” storage space which is also shared by other available products. For instance, Google’s suite has unlimited space, but it’s shared among Gmail, Drive and Docs.

Meeting Rooms and Shared Resources
Those are two features tied with the Office suite. Meeting rooms are, as the name hints, virtual meeting rooms which be used straight from the Outlook calendar and can be assigned (as well as making reservations) to different users of the company, according to their permissions. The Google suite has group video-calls in HD quality too, albeit with a less advanced ‘organization’ than Office’s MR and with a lower number of max participants (25 vs 250). Solutions of other products like Zoho are more oriented towards file (and text) sharing, rather than being real “live” channels. Still, with Zoho Connect you can create channels, groups and chats grouped according to the user level and project, with events and polls to ask the collaboration network.

Microsoft’s specific services are a category apart:Yammer, Teams and SharePoint offer more advanced plans. Yammer is a business collaboration platform that enables (similarly to Zoho Connect) developing, sharing, commenting and interacting with projects. Teams is by all means an evoluted chat with chronology, search, file sharing and audio and video access capabilities.

Lastly, SharePoint belongs to the documenta management software category and is available in the basic plans of the 365 suite.

ActiveSync
ActiveSync is Microsoft’s protocol for the synchronization of email, contacts and calendar on mobile devices. Most of the services we’ve covered in this article, being corporate-grade oriented, feature it. Despite being conceived for a mobile use, EAS can be configured on desktops/notebooks with Outlook, or another product that supports it.

Devices per user
WIth certain plans, Microsoft allows the installation of the Office suite on 5 devices (including mobile devices) per licence/user purchased. It may seem a contradiction as Office mobile apps are free to install, yet you should note that such apps are free for personal use only. As they are used for working purposes, they add to the licences count.

Other platforms don’t have this nuance, as both G Docs and Zoho are Web-based and don’t have a client app. The user must authenticate in order to use them.

A few remarks
Generally speaking, it’s easy to understand why Microsoft’s offering, also considering their prices, are the most complete for an advanced use and when needing a single shared working environment that can also be managed in a centralized manner. However, other solutions are more suitable when additional services are not needed and using less complete products is not a limit. Another factor to consider is the price per number of mailboxes: in a relatively small situation (5-15 users), the price of a service like Office 365 can be sustained, but when the number grows, it’s easy to realize how big figures can be easily reached.

About the Author

Lorenzo Bedin

Lorenzo graduated in Telecommunication Engineering and works as freelance IT consultant, after a period of training as systems analyst. Currently he provides hardware solutions, virtualized infrastructures and websites.

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