Microsoft's hosted Exchange offering is easy to configure, maintain and use, but it's tied too tightly into Windows.
In one of the most substantial incarnations of its
software-plus-services model to date, Microsoft is preparing to throw
its hat into an already-crowded ring of hosted Exchange providers.
In fact, Microsoft's Web site lists more than 30 hosted Exchange
providers operating in the United States. Perhaps the most significant
thing about the company's Exchange Online offering is that it stands as
sort of an "all clear" bulletin for organizations either unaware of the
Exchange-in-a-cloud option or reticent about introducing a separate
vendor between themselves and Microsoft.
Of course, the business of hosting large, multitenant software
services is significantly different than that of building on-premises
software, so time will tell how well Microsoft adapts to this role.
But, based on eWEEK Labs' tests so far of Microsoft's Exchange Online,
the service has performed as it should-that is, uneventfully.
I put the beta version of Microsoft Exchange Online through its
paces and found the service easy to configure, maintain and use. Beyond
a handful of bugs set for squashing before the end of 2008, when the
service is set to go gold, my only significant qualm with Exchange
Online is its excessive-and, to my mind, un-cloud-like-Windows-centrism.
Where on-premises (and most third-party-hosted) Exchange
implementations allow for broad client support via POP3, IMAP and LDAP
protocols, Exchange Online mandates Outlook 2007 and the proprietary
MAPI (Messaging API) protocol. The service is accessible through the
Web with Outlook Web Access, but the full-featured version of OWA
requires Internet Explorer 7.
Along similar lines, Exchange Online boasts excellent support for
mobile devices running Windows Mobile 6 and good support for the
ActiveSync-enabled iPhone 2.0, but organizations running a more diverse
set of mobile devices might be better served turning to one of the many
third-party Exchange providers out there.
Microsoft's hosted Exchange service consists of a Web-based
management console for configuring the service and managing user
accounts, a .Net 3.0-based single sign-on application for handling
authentication of Exchange and services such as SharePoint, and a set
of utilities for Active Directory synchronization and for migrating
mailboxes onto Microsoft's service.
Pricing for the service starts at $10 per user, per month for a
typical account or $2 per user, per month for a Deskless Worker account
that's only accessible through OWA. Both account types come with a 1GB
mailbox size. The $10 per month account does not include an Outlook
Alongside Exchange Online, Microsoft is launching hosted versions of
its SharePoint, Office Communications and Office Live Meeting services,
each available with its own per-user, per-month pricing or bundled with
Exchange for $15 per user, per month. Diskless, read-only access to
SharePoint can be had along with Deskless Exchange for $3 per month.