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Gmail Vs. An In-house Mail Server

A.P. Lawrence
Expert Author
Published: 2007-10-09

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I suppose I need a disclaimer here: I sell mail servers. Specifically I sell Kerio Mailserver and that represents a good chunk of income for me. Therefore, you wouldn't expect that I'd be recommending Gmail as a corporate mail solution.

Well, in fact I can recommend this for some cases. It may not be for everyone - there are some disadvantages - but it can make a lot of sense and the price is reasonable, especially for very small organizations.

Let's look at the cost first, because that's particularly important to the kind of small businesses who might consider this. Gmail is $50 per user per year. That includes at least 10 GB of storage (with more coming according to their feature comparison page, virus and spam scanning, policy management (message rules) and deleted message recovery, mobile email tols and more. As it happens, the feature set compares faiirly well with what Kerio offers: there are a few differences here and there, things Kerio has that Gmail doesn't and vice versa, but overall the solutions are very similar. What does Kerio cost per year?

Well, because Kerio has a higher first year price than for subsequent renewals, and has a base 10 user license with addons for more, we need to look at this over a period of time. Let's pick 5 years as a start, and we'll look at it for varying users. Here's the breakdown:

 Users Gmail Kerio
 5 $1,250.00 $1,124.00
 10 $2,500.00 $1,124.00
 20 $5,000.00 $1,497.00
 50 $12,500.00 $3,245.00
 100 $25,000.00 $4,750.00


Kerio is list price with McAfee virus scanning. In the 100 user slot, Kerio license is 110 users.

That's a clear win for Kerio, but we forgot something: we need to operate our own equipment in house. For this kind of load (50 users or less) we don't really need to dedicate anything expensive to the task, but there is operational expense and depreciation. Let's say that a machine suitable for this costs $1,000.00 and that we have to replace it after five years. Let's add another $20.00 a month on for operational expense and call the five year cost $2,200.00. Let's round up to $2,500.00 Our chart now shows:

 Users Gmail Kerio
 5 $1,250.00 $3,624.00
 10 $2,500.00 $3,624.00
 20 $5,000.00 $3,997.00
 50 $12,500.00 $5,745.00
 100 $25,000.00 $7,250.00


It looks like Gmail wins at 10 users or less.

Now let's look at features. As I said, Gmail and Kerio have similar feature sets: virus and spam scanning, rule sets, deleted message recovery, archival retention and so on. But there are areas where they do not match. One is local message delivery, that is, when you send email to someone else within your organization. With Gmail, the message has to go out on the internet to Google's servers - it is not instantly available. Most of the time this is nearly instant, but not always. With an in-house server, that message never leaves your building - it's instantly available. That's an advantage for in-house.

However, Google has something that can sometimes be even better: Gmail chat. Of course you can easily set up a chat service within your own organizatiuon, but Google integrates this with Gmail and its Calendar application, which gives it a lot of power. Google ties this all together in a "Start Page" which can use Google Apps just like iGoogle. This also ties in Google Docs, so email attachments can be directly opened with that rather than Microsoft Office.

I don't think those features necessarily overpower the cost factor for 20 users and up, but they are attractive.

In most other areas, the two are very similar. I will say that Google's help pages are difficult to navigate because they bundle all of it under Google Apps and it's sometimes hard to tell what you are reading about. For example, I can't imagine that Gmail doesn't support groups (that is, a mail name that delivers to multiple people in the domain), but I can't find it in the documentation. I did ask Google directly; they unhelpfully referred me to the documentation where I had already failed to find it..

For both Kerio and Gmail, you can get free trials. This is really the best way to evaluate how either would work in your organization. However, when I asked Google how I could set up a free trial of this, again I got no answer.. pretty unhelpful all around, though I would at least hope it would be better if I were actually paying money.

I do suspect Enterprise Gmail could be a good solution for small businesses and perhaps even for some a little larger - though it does get fairly expensive compared to other solutions (like Kerio).

*Originally published at APLawrence.com

View All Articles by A.P. Lawrence



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About the Author:
A.P. Lawrence provides SCO Unix and Linux consulting services http://www.pcunix.com

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