Google continues its aggressive strategy to poach Exchange customers with the launch on Thursday of a Gmail-based disaster recovery and business continuity service for organisations running the Microsoft e-mail server on premises.
Google Message Continuity, developed and provided by the Postini division, replicates all e-mail activity on the customers' Exchange servers with cloud-based Gmail.
Thus, when the Exchange server goes down unexpectedly or for planned maintenance, end users can log into Gmail with their Exchange credentials and continue accessing their e-mail, contacts and calendar via the Gmail Web front end interface.
When the Exchange server is back up, they can switch back to it and to the client application they use to access it, and all the actions taken while on Gmail will be reflected back to their Exchange accounts, including read, sent, deleted and foldered messages.
In addition to serving as a cloud-based backup option, Google Message Continuity gives Google a chance to expose Exchange users to Gmail and increase the chances the organization will make a full move to Google Apps, said Adam Swidler, a Postini product marketing manager.
"This provides a path to the cloud," he said.
This service is "a clever move" for attracting Exchange customers, who make up the vast majority of enterprise e-mail users, said Gartner analyst Matthew Cain. "Google must attract a large number of Exchange users to substantially grow its enterprise Gmail base," he said via e-mail.
Google Message Continuity is a low-cost, redundant e-mail service that offers Exchange customers a relatively low-risk, easy way to try out Gmail, according to Cain.
"Over time, if Gmail proves mature and functional, it may tempt Exchange organizations to abandon Exchange entirely," he said.
Hosted e-mail availability and disaster recovery services have existed for years, including Dell's MessageOne, which has been around for about a decade, and services from Mimesoft and Symantec, Cain said.
At a relatively low cost, Google Message Continuity would allow CIOs and IT managers to ensure that their organizations have a 99.9 percent uptime and recovery time objective of eight hours or less, which should be the goal of enterprises for their e-mail system performance, he said.
Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research, calls this "a good effort" to get more exposure with enterprise customers, but wonders how many takers Google will actually find in this mature segment of the market.
"Companies with significant e-mail downtime warranting such a service have likely already explored other options given how critical and visible e- mail downtime is," she said via e-mail. "Google will have to compete on price for this business and also on trust."
Meanwhile, Microsoft found the Google announcement to be underwhelming, and expressed little concern about possible customer defections.
"Businesses rely on Exchange more than any other messaging solution because of its enterprise grade management and security," Microsoft said in a statement.
There are hundreds of third-party services and tools for extending and complementing Exchange, Microsoft said. "With their announcement, Google joins an existing list of email continuity providers for Exchange," the statement reads.
Google Message Continuity costs US$25 per user, per year, for new customers and $13 per user, per year, for existing Postini customers.
Currently, the service works with Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007. Google is looking at adding Exchange 2010 in a future release.
Once signed up, Exchange administrators need to reconfigure their domain's mail exchanger record, most commonly known as MX record, so that it points to the Postini system. That way, Postini delivers incoming messages both to the on-premise Exchange server and to the Gmail cloud. A Google sync server provides continuous, bi-directional replication between Exchange and Gmail.
Postini provides several other e-mail services, such as spam and virus detection and filtering, message archiving, e-mail encryption and Web traffic security. Its system processes 3 billion e-mails every day for 21 million end users.
Google provides several tools for helping organizations move from Exchange and Outlook to the Google Apps hosted communication and collaboration suite, including Apps Migration for Exchange and Apps Migration for Outlook.
Apps competes directly against Microsoft's cloud-based Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which includes hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Communications Server and Live Meeting.
In its upcoming upgrade, due next year, BPOS will be renamed Office 365 and also include Office Web Apps and, in its top tier option, also the full featured Office 2010 Professional Plus.