Other enterprise e-mail cloud options

Cisco, IBM/Lotus and Zoho also play in this space

Microsoft and Google aren't the only cloud e-mail providers setting their sights on the enterprise. Here's a look at some others.

IBM LotusLive iNotes

Panasonic Corp., the Osaka, Japan-based consumer electronics giant, has moved all of its 250,000 employees worldwide to IBM's LotusLive iNotes e-mail in the cloud and is moving employees at Sanyo (a company it owns) as well. It's a rather dramatic move to cloud computing, especially since it includes applications beyond e-mail.

"If it makes sense financially," Panasonic will move it to the cloud, says Cassio De Oliveira, the CIO and vice president of IT for Panasonic in North America. "We looked at everything out there, and LotusLive made sense as a global solution." Functionality and cost set iNotes apart from the competition.

Of course, he adds, "there are challenges with any move to the cloud, and this is one of the largest transitions in the world."

De Oliveira says he typically chooses IT services and partners based on how well the vendor supports its product, and not purely on features and functions. Pressed to pick one main reason for the move to an e-mail server in the cloud, he named cost as the main incentive, followed by the functionality iNotes provides.

Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., says security is LotusLive iNotes' biggest strength, specifically when it comes to role-based policy management.

Brendan Crotty, IBM's program director for Lotus Online Collaboration, explains more about the security features: "SSL encryption is enforced for all connections," he says. "And we use extended validation certificates to provide better server authentication to resist phishing."

Cisco WebEx e-mail

Cisco System's Inc.'s WebEx e-mail is the only e-mail server in the cloud that provides native support for MAPI protocols in Outlook, as opposed to requiring customers to buy a separate plug-in. This is an advantage for companies that want to keep using Outlook with minimal interruption. WebEx also sports a base price of about $5 per user per month, comparable to both Gmail for Business and to Exchange Online, and Cisco charges $1 per user per month for BlackBerry access.

Cisco houses its servers in multiple geographic locations and has a "hard delete" for e-mails, meaning it ensures that deleted messages are not cached. The company says it provides a "restore time objective" for lost e-mails of about four hours instead of the typical 12 hours common with some other cloud e-mail servers.

WebEx E-mail does not support widgets for adding new services such as quick access to Twitter feeds from the administrator's panel or user views. Cisco says it left out widget support on purpose because it wants to minimize IT involvement where possible, and systems with widgets require more maintenance than those without.

Zoho Mail

Zoho e-mail is part of a large suite of cloud-based tools ranging from word processing and spreadsheet apps to CRM, job applicant tracking and project management systems. One of its biggest selling points is the wide range of business tools available on Zoho Corp.'s cloud, and Raju Vegesna, an "evangelist" who works at Zoho, says tighter integration of the various pieces is on the agenda for the coming year.

That means users of the Zoho Business e-mail and office productivity suite have the ability to, for example, save e-mail attachments directly into Zoho Docs (a cloud-based word processor) or send a document directly from Zoho Docs -- or Google Docs. Zoho Chat, a multiprotocol instant messaging service, is available within the mail app. Zoho Mail also supports the use of both folders and labels, and users can view mail either as individual message or as conversation threads, Vegesna noted, whereas some other cloud-based options only offer one default option.

Zoho is also opening up its Mail API so third parties can integrate its mail system into other applications.

Zoho Business is free to try for up to three users; additional users are $5 per month or $50 per year.

John Brandon is a veteran of the computing industry, having worked as an IT manager for 10 years and as a tech journalist for another 10. He has written more than 2,500 feature articles and is a regular contributor to Computerworld.

Computerworld's Online Managing Editor, Sharon Machlis, contributed to this story.

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