Some large enterprises are seriously considering jumping from Exchange to Gmail, or already have. Here's why.
There are a few differences between Gmail for Business and Exchange's features, however.
For example, voice and video chat are integrated into the mail view.
Google's core suite also promises easy ad-hoc collaboration between its Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Groups, Sites and Video applications.
"There's lots more to come in 2010," says Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps.
"We're hardening the services by increasing reliability from 99.9 percent to 99.99 percent availability, and providing more tools for administrators to manage their information in the cloud. We're making the platform more flexible, and helping third parties build powerful applications on top of our own."
Most large businesses have yet to take email into the cloud, but interest is rising, says Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research.
The nascent trend has the full attention of Microsoft, which has been rapidly evolving its own service, Exchange Online
The Google proposition
Moving from an on-premises model to a cloud-based model presents its own concerns; moving at the same time to a new email platform with an entirely different user interface and feature set is an even bigger step.
Still, from Patel's perspective, it made good sense to migrate from an enterprise-class on-premises email system such as Exchange on to the cloud-based Gmail architecture, despite Gmail's roots as a free, consumer-based application.
Not only does Google Apps for Business cost less than an on-premises Exchange Server system, but it has a "high level of functionality - 90 to 95 percent of what we were looking for", Patel says.
Generally speaking, moving to the cloud relieves IT of the responsibility of maintaining and operating an email infrastructure.
And it allows for more rapid innovation by developers, who can roll out new features as soon as they're ready.
Users don't have to wait for the next service pack to see updates and they don't have to wait three years for major new features to appear in the next release.
"When you look at the pace of innovation, this is where the cloud really starts to shine," says Forrester's Schadler.
But some IT executives who have explored using Google Apps say the cost savings can disappear if you run an extremely efficient on-premises Exchange environment. Others point out that cost isn't everything.
"It's a huge effort to ask people to learn something different - even if it's for a better price point," says Ce Cole Dillon, CIO at Chicago State University, which recently moved everyone to Google Apps but then decided to move some staffers back on to Exchange.
Finally, some users report that certain features in Google Apps aren't as sophisticated as those offered in Outlook and Exchange, particularly when it comes to calendaring - an assertion that Google vigorously disputes.
NEXT PAGE: A quick rollout