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Office 365 vs Exchange Server for email: What’s the difference?

Robin Mayo Jun 4, 2021 10:28:00 AM
Businesswoman typing corporate e-mail using laptop at office desk.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, Netitude has been migrating clients email platforms to Office 365 since its release in 2011. A lot has changed during the 10 years it has been in operation, with new features being added every month. The question this blog aims to answer is this, is there still a place for on-premises Exchange Server in 2021?

As early adopters, we have been exposed to the development of the platform from both an administrative and end-user perspective. It’s a topic I have a keen personal passion for, having been involved in commercial IT for 15 years, business email is the cornerstone of our productivity suite. An effective email platform can make the difference between a productive day and a bad day for most of us. Choosing the right platform is vital. We could list all the differences in a big table, there are a few, notably scalability, availability, pricing model, the complexity of management and control. We will focus here on the two big ones, from both an end-user and system administrator’s perspective.

We’ve all been there; first thing Monday morning, and there are no new emails coming in. Panic sets in, what’s happened? Could it really be this quiet? Then the phone rings, “are you getting any emails?!”. Your IT send an alert out saying email is down. How are you going to start your day now?

What's the difference between Exchange and Office 365?

The biggest differentiator between Office 365 vs on-premise Exchange, is that Office 365 is a centralised Software as a Service offering; it’s managed and owned by Microsoft, rather than your IT department. If Office 365 is down for one company, the likelihood is that it is down for everyone in that region, unless the issue has been caused by a change made by your organisation. An example of this type of change is an adjustment to domain name associations. This means that it is less likely to go down in the first place (no offence IT bods, Microsoft have strict service levels and a reputation to uphold), but also if everybody else is expecting email issues that day, we are all in the same boat. Nobody will be asking your IT team questions, and Microsoft will be immediately working on the problem. We can all go about communicating using alternative methods until it's fixed.

Office 365 vs Exchange server

For those system admins, IT managers, office managers, and financial directors who are currently managing their on-premise Exchange environment; you may well have a good reason to keep your mailbox and calendar server on-premises. You may have a line of business application that hasn’t reached a point in its development lifecycle to work with Office 365 or work in an industry that requires certain mailboxes to be secured with special levels of protection. In some of these scenarios, the level of customisation required can only be achieved with the on-premise version of the platform, it may be unavoidable to fork out the additional licensing cost of an on-premise Exchange Server to facilitate these requirements. The great news is that you can run both on-premise and Office 365 in a “hybrid” environment, which affords you the advantages of both systems. In a hybrid environment, you can choose which elements of your email and calendar reside in Office 365 or on-premise, you can even choose which groups of people, geographically or by department. This way you can have a select group of users who need on-premise for the applications they work with, without sacrificing the availability of Office 365 for the rest of the business.

So, is there still a place for on-premises Exchange Server in 2021? The answer is yes, but the even better answer is yes, and you can have both. Have your cake and eat it you say? Well, of course, it comes at a price, but for the discerning email and calendar platform connoisseur (or cake for that matter), and after all these years, Microsoft’s cake is still the best around.

To see how easy it is to administer Office 365, take a look at this Microsoft 365 video which introduces the platform and gives you an idea of how a centralised platform can help you enable change quickly. Take a look at the info here, to see how Netitude can help your business migrate from Exchange Server to Microsoft 365.

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