Some large enterprises are seriously considering jumping from Exchange to Gmail, or already have. Here's why.
Group calendars weren't the only roadblock for Wright.
He says Google's tools for integrating with Exchange and Active Directory weren't fully mature during the pilot last summer.
"They were very touchy and created some really ugly complexities that damped the spirits of some of the users," he says.
(Patel, who also integrated with Active Directory, says Sanmina-SCI's transition went fine.)
But the bigger issue - the one that stopped the plan to migrate Jacobs' 35,000 Outlook users in its tracks - was that the move wouldn't have saved any money.
In fact, he says, migrating probably would have cost several million dollars more over a three- or four-year period.
"We are far more cost effective at managing our own infrastructure than what Google could bring to the table... when focused purely on email and calendaring. That surprised us," he says.
It shouldn't have; Jacobs has an engineering culture that is laser-focused on managing infrastructure as efficiently as possible.
"We probably lead in that area," he admits. Nonetheless, he suggests that every organisation do its own detailed cost analysis.
Wright plans to conduct a second pilot test that will focus on collaboration and the full suite of Google Apps, and he thinks that may yield a different result, particularly because the company has yet to broadly embrace tools for document sharing and group collaboration.
"We can do that with Microsoft. It's just more expensive," he says.
Google Apps, he notes, could be "an opportunistic play to change the habits and user environment of the company."
Another potential sticking point is the user interface. "The challenge Google faces is really about Outlook," the preferred email client for many business users, says Schadler.
"It's not about email."
While Gmail will work with the Outlook client, it doesn't support all of the features Outlook offers with Exchange, such as task lists or drag-and-drop, for example.
Likewise, Outlook doesn't provide access to the full range of unique features within Gmail, such as applying labels to messages and integration with other documents in the Google Apps suite.
That's why Patel decided to bite the bullet and transition users to a browser, instead of a dedicated client to access Gmail, right away.
That has taken some getting used to, but for the most part it's working out quite well, he says.
Business services company Rentokil Initial has transitioned approximately 10,000 email users to Google Apps from a mix of systems, including Exchange.
The Google interface is a different paradigm, says Martyn Howe, director of IT services, but he doesn't think that's a deal-breaker for users.
"Once you get used to it, it has many advantages over the systems we were using," he says.
Among the pluses to Gmail, Howe says, is that "relying less on folders and more on search means you can spend less time trying to organise your emails in folders, knowing you can always find that email" via Google's search tools.
Another is that using and sharing calendars "has proven to be remarkably powerful and helps you manage your schedule with colleagues, family and friends, beyond a corporate world".
Finally, Google Apps works with mobile technology in a way that "has been difficult to achieve with a closed internal e-mail system," he says, specifically noting how well the apps work with devices based on Google's Android operating system.
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