Can Google Apps Unseat Microsoft Office and Exchange?

The BYOD phenomenon and the need to collaborate with mobile users and international subsidiaries led New England Biolabs to weigh a switch from Microsoft Office and Exchange Server to Google Apps. The results of their proof-of-concept testing surprised many, including the CIO.

By James A. Martin
Tue, May 08, 2012

CIO — In an IT environment of MacBook laptops, Windows PCs, iPhones, iPads and Droid devices, why would any enterprise stick with Microsoft Outlook for email and collaboration?

That very question prompted a 60-day pilot test at New England Biolabs, an Ipswich, Mass.-based molecular biology company. Given the growth of Macs and mobile BYOD technology at the company, as well as the need to collaborate with mobile users and international subsidiaries, the IT team decided it was time to seriously investigate Google Apps for Business as an alternative to Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server.

"Many of us, myself included, went into the process thinking this would be a no-brainer," says Ken Grady, CIO and director of IT at New England Biolabs. "We figured we'd end up moving to Google, saving a bundle of money, and everyone would be happier."

"Boy, was I surprised," Grady added. As a result of its proof-of-concept testing, New England Biolabs decided to stick with its existing Outlook/Exchange Server set-up and plans to transition to a hybrid solution that adds the cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 for remote and international users.

Why Consider Google Apps?

Like many organizations today, New England Biolabs has a growing army of mobile users, many of whom prefer to use their favorite devices, such as iPads.

"We've given our staff a great deal of device freedom, especially the scientific researchers," Grady says. Some 50 percent of the company's employees work on Mac or Linux computers, the rest on Windows.

New England Biolabs has been an Outlook/Exchange shop for many years, and currently manages a total of about 500 mailboxes. But given the shifting dynamics of its user base and the need to collaborate with non-employees, Google Apps for Business began to appear like it could be a more suitable collaboration platform.

Launched in February 2007, Google Apps for Business costs $50 per user account per year, with no maximum number of users. The suite of SaaS collaboration and document tools currently has a user base of about 4 million customers, according to Rahul Sood, director of enterprise applications at Google. About 5,000 organizations are adopting Google Apps for Business every day, he says.

"In the public and education sectors and SMBs and enterprise, Google Apps is gaining traction, with increased growth and adoption across the board," Sood says.

For example, of Business Insider's 20 Silicon Valley Startups to Watch, 97 percent use Google Apps for Business, Sood points out.

Among the top 100 universities in the United States, 61 are running Google Apps. A number of high-profile enterprises, including Genentech, Roche, Jaguar, National Geographic, Virgin America, Casio and Salesforce, use Google Apps for Business. (Google maintains a list of Apps for Business users online.)

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