Faceoff: Office 365 vs. Google Apps -- the tale of two nonprofits

Microsoft and Google don’t like to admit it, but Office 365 and Google Apps are in fact competing technologies. These two non-profits weighed both and came out with different decisions.

Most IT professionals and decision makers agree that the primary benefit of moving to hosted services is cost savings. However, one thing most can’t agree on is that Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps are direct competitors in the hosted email market.

Nowhere in the business world is financial decision making more important than for nonprofit organizations. Consequently, nonprofits that rely on Exchange Server for email need to take a hard look at their hosted email options. Here’s some insight into two organizations that were using Exchange Server on-premises for email, how they ultimately decided which hosted product would best suit their needs and the benefits they’re currently enjoying.

The American Heart Association chooses Office 365

The American Heart Association (AHA) made it an organization-wide goal to implement a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) strategy, and a move to hosted services for email was at the top of their list. Not surprisingly, AHA wanted to move to a hosted service primarily for the money it could save. “Because we’re a nonprofit, we need to use our donations in the most cost-effective manner possible,” said Michael Wilson, executive vice president of technology and customer strategies at AHA.

Lync [Online] has been a great surprise for everyone.
Michael WilsonEVP, American Heart Association

AHA previously relied on Exchange Server 2007 on-premises for email and was considering Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Google Apps and other third-party hosted Exchange solutions.

“We passed on Google because we didn’t think it was feature-rich enough. Also, our staff has been on Outlook for a long time,” said Wilson.

During its evaluation process, AHA was approached by Microsoft to get its feet wet with Office 365 and encouraged the company to be part of its beta testing program.

AHA discovered it could greatly benefit from the storage increase in each user’s mailbox from 4 GB to Office 365’s standard 25 GB. The company also now takes full advantage of Microsoft's Lync Online and plans to eventually move to SharePoint Online. “Lync [Online] has been a great surprise for everyone,” Wilson said. “The adoption rate has been great and everything is fully enabled from day one."

While AHA is generally pleased with its Office 365 implementation, there were a few pain points. Because it had a hybrid environment, AHA needed a coexistence setup, along with a third-party vendor to help with the migration. Wilson also pointed to a slight dissatisfaction with the subscription and billing processes. “It’s not quite mature yet, though Microsoft is committed to working through this with us,” he said.

For those who remember last year’s Office 365 outages, AHA was affected, but received the 25% credit immediately. “Anytime you have your mail system taken offline it’s a pain. But the service level is much improved from what we had previously,” Wilson said.

Philadelphia’s Jenkins Law Library chooses Google Apps

The Jenkins Law Library in Philadelphia was using Exchange Server 2003 and VMware vSphere when its IT staff realized it was going to need more licenses. Faced with this predicament, they considered three solutions: migrating to Exchange Server 2010, moving to a wholly virtualized environment and, of course, the cloud.

In the course of his research, Andrew Sather, assistant director for technology services at Jenkins, determined that Google Apps was the right move for the independent law library. “I played with Office 365 a little bit in beta but didn’t feel it was ready,” he said. After more research, Sather and the management team decided that a move to Google Apps was a “no brainer.”

As a non-profit organization with under 3,000 seats that holds 501(c)(3) status, it qualifies for the free version of Google Apps for Nonprofits.

Pricing aside, Sather pointed to the benefits of Google Docs for collaboration. “We do a lot of custom development in-house. The ability to create a document or spreadsheet and then share it with your team has led to awesome results and ideas,” he said. Jenkins Law Library also takes full advantage of Google Calendar, Google Analytics and Google Moderator.

Google has also experienced outages, but Sather noted it didn’t really affect the library because no data was lost.

Sather and his team completed the move from Exchange to Google Apps in-house, which also saved money on conducting an expensive migration from a third-party vendor.

Matt Gervais is the site editor for SearchExchange.com. If you have a comment on this story, please email him at [email protected].

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