The post-PC era is unfolding right as you read this, and these are times when accessing your email is no longer limited to a terminal fixed to your desk in office or at home. You want email access on your smartphone, tablet and laptop at different points in time on any given day. Your employees will have similar needs and habits, wanting to bring devices they’re comfortable using, and which boost productivity, to work.
It’s the reality, and it’s happening all around us.
Deploying a Microsoft Exchange Server is too cumbersome, especially if you don’t have enough people in your organization—for a SoHo set-up, an exchange server is overkill anyway. And relying on free email services like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or Rediffmail doesn’t bode well as far as brand impression goes—imagine trying to send a mail to a prospective client through Gmail, trying to convince them to take you seriously as a business outfit? It’s a losing battle.
First things first, you need to buy a domain and fire your own email solution on it.
Everyone’s favourite free email and collaboration suite just became paid—yes, Google Apps for Business is no longer available as a free service. What’s more, its paid avatar is quite expensive—$50 (around Rs.2,730) per user per year or $5 per user per month.
If yours is a small business set-up, or you work out of your home, Google Apps may no longer be an economical option. It’s time to look for other options.
Large-scale domain registrars like Go Daddy and BigRock offer a certain number of free email addresses when you sign up for a Web hosting plan. While they may look very attractive on the surface, most of them have a catch. Email addresses promised while buying server space are often using a shared pool of storage space, meaning that if you’re getting 10 free email addresses on your hosting plan, chances are that they will all have to share a storage space of 100 MB to 1 GB—not individually, but as a group. With just a few megabytes for each account, you’ll be frustrated and pulling your hair out in no time—not a good situation to be in if you’re running an online business.
What you should explore are dedicated email solutions that these companies offer. BigRock, especially, lets you fire up an online email account for a custom domain of your choice for as little as Rs.59 per month if you sign up for 10 years at a go. For that you get 10 email accounts with 2 GB of storage space for each account, and features like POP3 and IMAP, besides the ability to log in and check your email through a Web browser. You can configure the email on Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, be assured that spam and virus filtering is in place, and basically enjoy the benefits of a full-fledged modern email and messaging system that is accessible on mobile devices like the BlackBerry and iPhone.
You will enjoy similar benefits on a Go Daddy email plan, but it will cost a lot more—Rs.56.39 per month for five email addresses with 2 GB storage each. Another difference we found between the two email solution providers is that Go Daddy offers added features like text mail support, 256-bit encryption for emails, and a desktop notifier—features that BigRock doesn’t highlight on its website.
So Go Daddy, in a way, tries to justify its cost by giving you bonus features, but how important these may be to your business environment is something only you can decide and act upon. A typical process for signing up with them involves choosing an email plan, entering your domain name, creating an account and checking out. You will have to go through some domain verification step and further tweak your domain’s MX records (under DNS management) to start using the brand new email account.
If you are the tinkerer and tweaker type, and get your kick out of deploying software solutions your way, then the Zimbra Collaboration Server (ZCS) Open Source Edition is just what the doctor ordered. It offers an email solution with rich interface and contact management. It also lets you access IMAP email through a mobile Web browser, irrespective of the device. There’s group calendar management, an administration console which is easy to navigate and understand, and the choice of a dedicated desktop client to pull your emails.
Zimbra is quite a popular email solution among IT administrators who have to manage resources and scale. It is known to be reliably configured, deployed and works smoothly on a low-powered server with average traffic load—so if you’re wondering which email server to deploy on a five-year-old PC (used as a server) to cover your small office of around 5-20 people, Zimbra is a good option. Another thing network administrators like about the ZCS is that it has a free edition (open source) which can be downloaded and installed without spending a rupee. All you need is a copy of Linux (CentOS is a favourite for servers) and ZCS downloaded from the Web, and you’re good to go.
Another feature of Zimbra’s email solution is that you can opt for either a local deployment of the email server—a scenario where you manage IT, control costs, features and scale of deployment—or use a hosted email option (similar to BigRock and Go Daddy’s service). In the hosted email option (which is generally for larger companies), Zimbra lets you partner with a solution provider who lets you procure online space and deploy the email system in a cloud set-up. Obviously, in a hosted email scenario for Zimbra, all you have to do is loosen your purse, while the IT headache is outsourced to someone else. Its cloud deployment also lets the ZCS access features like advanced apps and unified communications features like voice mail and chat-out-of-the box from Cisco, etc., but all these features are too advanced for a small business set-up, we feel.
After being acquired by VMware, the Zimbra email suite recently had an update, adding new features to its ever-growing repertoire. Zimbra’s spokesperson confirmed that among its several happy clients are the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) which use and deploy the ZCS on their premises. Not too bad if you needed to hear a vote of confidence, eh? Zimbra also has a free cross-platform desktop email client to access emails on a PC called Zimbra Desktop, and it’s packed with features to rival those offered by the likes of Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. Not only does it work in offline mode, it also lets you access your tweets, Facebook timeline and other social media feeds directly inside its window.
How cool is that? Obviously, the Zimbra Desktop works like a charm with the ZCS and we recommend using it if you’re looking for a fresh, new desktop email client.
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