Free email accounts are provided by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and a numerous smaller providers. Since the domain belongs to the provider, and minimal support (if any) is provided, free accounts are not appropriate for business use. Registering a domain usually costs less than $20 per year, ensures that the business owns their email address, and avoids being locked in (or out) by an ISP or email provider.
Installing and maintaining a secure and reliable email server is not for the faint of heart and requires considerable IT expertise. Small businesses contemplating an email server in their office should carefully consider bandwidth requirements, the potential for Denial of Service attacks, and the consequences of a power failure or natural disaster. The ability to access cloud-based email services from almost anywhere simplifies some aspects of Business Continuity Planning.
Many open source and proprietary on-premise email solutions are available, but the business standard remains Microsoft Exchange. Over the years, Exchange has become significantly easier to administer, but it remains a relatively complex product to address enterprise scalability requirements. While it is possible to build a functional Exchange server on a single virtual or physical computer, mailboxes, client access, and edge connector components are usually deployed on separate servers to address security, performance, and availability requirements. Exchange is dependent on Active Directory, and as a general rule Exchange should not be installed on a Domain Controller.
Taking hardware, software, labour, and backup costs into account, operating an on-premises email system might make sense to large enterprises with an established IT infrastructure. It may also be the right choice for governments and organizations such as law firms and journalists who wish to maintain physical possession of their email system. However, the vast majority of Canadian business should consider a reliable cloud-based option.
Many providers offer cloud-based email services, ranging from proprietary solutions to hosted Microsoft Exchange. This market is dominated by Google and Microsoft; both provide a broad suite of productivity applications in addition to email.
Google G Suite (formerly Google Apps) includes email, calendar, contact, chat, document, spreadsheet, presentation, and cloud file storage functionality. Desktop users access the applications using a web browser, and several iOS and Android apps are available. The primary strengths of G Suite are strong cross-platform compatibility and a highly collaborative multi-user environment. Linux, Mac, Windows, and Chromebook users share the same experience without installing any applications.
At approximately CDN $65 per user per year, G Suite is extremely popular in the startup and small business community. However, G Suite suffers from two major limitations: Offline access is possible, but limited since the service is designed primarily for online use. Writing and accessing documents offline can be problematic, especially for those who prefer a browser other than Chrome. Google also does not have a Canadian data centre, thereby creating data sovereignty concerns for some customers.
Microsoft services range from CDN $73 per user per year for Office 365 Business Essentials package to $182 for Office 365 Business Premium. Essentials competes more directly with G Suite, offering email, cloud data storage, and access to the browser-based online version of Microsoft Office including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Premium package adds fully installed Office 2016 Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Skype for Business (formerly Lync), Publisher, and OneNote on up to 5 PCs or Macs per user, as well as apps on up to 5 tablets and 5 phones per user. However, Publisher is not available for Mac or online, and no installable software is available for Linux users.
Premium is particularly attractive to businesses that use Microsoft Office. OneDrive file synchronization and integration with Microsoft desktop applications allows offline use with familiar applications, automatic backup to the cloud, and access from any browser. According to Microsoft, data pertaining to customers that sign up with a Canadian address is automatically stored in a Canadian data centre. While the service is more expensive than G Suite, Office 365 Business Premium suits those who desire the installable Microsoft Office package. There is no minimum number of seats, making it particularly attractive to individual consultants who need to share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents with clients.
Google and Microsoft both support multiple domains, aliases, and the ability to share various resources, making them suitable for businesses of all sizes. They also include anti-spam protection. Many third-party hosted Exchange providers do not, forcing customers to incur additional expenses.
All major providers offer free trials to help businesses make the best email service decision.
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