Gartner recently studied the email routing records of 40,000 public companies to determine if they used cloud email services from Microsoft or Google. The analyst firm discovered that 8.5 percent used Microsoft Office 365, beating Google Apps for Work at 4.7 percent.
"Microsoft is more popular with larger organizations and has more than an 80 percent share of companies using cloud email with revenue above $10 billion," observed Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, in a media advisory. Google is more popular with smaller companies, nearing a 50 percent share of organizations with less than $50 million in sales.
eWEEK asked Gartner Research Vice President Nikos Drakos why large businesses seem to prefer Microsoft. Google had the "first-mover advantage," he said, but the search giant's popular, Gmail-based cloud email service hasn't gained as much traction in corporate circles partly due to inertia.
Essentially, businesses that have already invested in the Microsoft Office ecosystem over the years—or decades, in some cases—are reluctant to make the switch.
"You have stuff from Microsoft anyway," Drakos said. "It's an undeniable advantage for Microsoft." It also helps that most large businesses already have a cozy relationship with the Redmond, Wash., software giant in the form of enterprise contracts that offer migration and support services.
"Going to Google involves a bigger change," said Drakos. Although IT departments can opt to use the familiar Outlook email client software with Google's email services, they soon find that both platforms are far from 100 percent compatible, creating gaps in functionality. "Some things don't work as well," he added.
On the flip side, some organizations view the switch to Google, disruptive as it may be, as a clean break toward a more cloud-enabled work style and other, more profound changes to their company cultures. "They use the wholesale move to effect other changes as well," said Drakos.
Outside of the United States, businesses are likelier to pick Microsoft because of its stance on data sovereignty.
Security- and privacy-minded companies are avoiding major cloud providers over concerns that their information may end up in foreign data centers, beyond the reach of their local privacy regulations. "Microsoft will tell their customers, 'You can choose to host your data in a regional data center,'" Drakos said.
Last June, Microsoft announced it was opening two data centers in Canada, one in Toronto and another in Quebec City, to help assuage the data privacy, sovereignty and compliance concerns of Canadian firms looking to use the company's cloud services. In November, promising local companies control over their data, the software giant announced an expansion of its Azure cloud services into Germany in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Systems.
Over at Google Apps, data sovereignty is a big question mark. "Google will say, 'Our security is stronger, but we cannot tell you where your data is [located],'" Drakos said.
In terms of growing their cloud email businesses, both tech giants have their work cut out for them. Gartner found that nearly 87 percent of the companies studied in its analysis are relying on on-premises email servers or using email services (hosted, hybrid or private cloud) supervised by smaller vendors.