Hosted Exchange Server and the Mobile Professional

40 Comments

Big companies have an advantage over the small company or individual when it comes to email handling and information utilization. Mobile professionals that don’t happen to work for big companies with big resources have the same basic needs as those who do. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the same setup to handle your email, PIM functions, and information distribution even though you are a little guy? There’s a simple way to accomplish exactly that which I will discuss in this article. If this situation describes you then read on and see if this is a good solution for your needs.

Exchange Server BasicsAnyone working for a large company that has employees using Outlook for email and PIM functions is likely familiar with Microsoft Exchange Server, even if they are not tech oriented. Exchange Server is the software that usually runs on dedicated hardware and handles all the employees in one place, no matter where the employees physically work. The benefits that Exchange Server provides are numerous and it is no surprise why so many companies rely on it for daily operations. Exchange Server is relatively simple in concept but complex to set up and maintain because it is doing a lot of things behind the scenes.One of the primary functions of Exchange Server is to provide a single repository for all email traffic, both incoming and outgoing, for an entire organization. Each individual user is assigned an account on the server that let’s them access their information once they log in to the server. While all the email, contact, and calendar information appears to reside on the local computer, in reality it is all stored securely on the server. This is a powerful feature for companies that let’s them control access to sensitive information and keeping all of the information in one place makes it possible to keep current backups of the data.Another function of the Exchange Server is to publish public folders that can contain virtually any type of information, from company-wide contact lists to standard documents that all employees need to access frequently. The data is centrally stored, maintained, and updated with controls put in place by the administrators. This makes it easy for organizations to publish and maintain information with a convenient distribution method. The information is there whenever individuals need to access it. Clean and simple.Exchange Server and the Mobile ProfessionalSo what does this have to do with the mobile professional? That’s a fair question and one I will address in this article. If you’ve ever traveled with your laptop on a business trip the Exchange Server is the reason you can log into your email account from the hotel or other site away from your desk. Even though you are not physically tied to the Server as you might be in the office, the Server is accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection. Or maybe you use a Tablet PC in addition to your desktop computer. Keeping the Outlook information in sync is a major hassle that is also eliminated by the Exchange Server. This is the main reason an Exchange Server is a great tool for mobile professionals. But maybe you have a very small business or you are an individual that needs mobile access to your information. Having an Exchange Server of your own would provide a lot of utility. This scenario was impossible until recently for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Microsoft Exchange Server can be very expensive to license. Not very cost effective for those small businesses I mentioned. Second, the initial setup and configuration of Exchange Server is not easy by any means, and big companies often have specialists to do this for them who are certified in that very thing. The small company or individual would be confronted with enlisting the services of one of these outside specialists which is also cost prohibitive. Thirdly, a proper Exchange Server setup usually entails dedicated hardware with protection against hardware failure and power interruption. And lastly, maintaining an existing Exchange Server installation can be quite a challenge, even a small setup that an individual would use. All of these reasons has previously meant that an Exchange Server solution was out of the reach of all but the larger companies.Enter the Hosted Exchange Server ServiceFortunately for those of us who realize the benefits a Server solution would bring but don’t have the resources to provide one, a cost effective solution is now available. A number of companies have begun offering hosted Exchange Server solutions that extends these many benefits to anyone for a modest cost. These companies have dedicated servers that are maintained in their central computer location. They provide the hardware which the user never sees, the access to the Exchange Server software obviating the need for the end-user to pay for a license, and protection of the data against failures, viruses, and spam.I have been using a hosted Exchange Server service for over a year now to run my one man business and it is one of the best moves I have ever made. The company I settled on is DevStreet which provides my MailStreet 2003 service. The advantages of using a hosted service like this can’t be over-stated. The service provider did all setup in the beginning, offers continual support, and keeps my crucial data completely backed up every single day. The monthly cost is quite modest and I have all the benefits the big companies have for my little organization.How a Hosted Service Benefits the Mobile ProfessionalBefore you can determine if one of these services is cost effective for your specific needs it’s important to have a look at exactly how the mobile professional can put the hosted Server environment to best use. Consider this common scenario: you use a desktop computer in your office and take a laptop with you on trips. Anyone who’s done this without an Exchange Server in place can attest to how difficult it is to keep your Outlook data synchronized between the two computers. You get to your destination and realize you didn’t update the information on the laptop. Or maybe you forgot to copy over the important document or presentation you need for your meeting. With a hosted server solution this problem completely disappears. Every time you log in to Outlook all of your contact information, calendar items, and tasks are updated no matter which computer you are using. No muss, no fuss. If you keep important documents in public folders on the server you’ll never be missing that document again. It is there for use on any computer you might be using on the hosted server. This alone can make it worth the cost for most people. This can be significant when you get a new laptop or desktop computer and you want to get all your information onto the new machine. Simply log on to Outlook on the new computer and all your information is pulled down automatically. Sweet. If you’re worried about getting access to your data when you’re not connected to the internet you can simply configure Outlook on your local computer to use “cached offline” mode which forces Outlook to keep a copy of all data on the server on your local version of Outlook. So you can still work with the data on the server even when not connected to the internet. Any changes you make locally will be automatically synchronized with the server the next time you go online. No information is ever inaccessible or out of date.It’s also important to understand that your hosted Exchange Server is fully protected with password control. This makes it almost impossible for outside forces to break into your server. Hardware and software barriers are in place at the host to keep out anyone you don’t want to access your server. The hosts also put heavy duty spam filters in place to help aid that ever worsening problem. Most spam doesn’t even get to your local computer and even though it’s recommended that users keep local spam filters in place the amount of spam traffic I get is miniscule since going with the hosted service. The host also puts continually updated anti-virus protection on the server side so very few emails with viruses get through. Safe and convenient.PDAs and the Hosted ServiceMailStreet also offers a couple of optional services that are reasonably priced that I use every day. If you’re like me and use a Windows Mobile powered Pocket PC (there may be ways to use these with a Palm based device, too) then you may be interested in Outlook Web Access. This is a secure method to use almost any web browser on ANY computer, even computers that are not yours, to access your server just like using Outlook on your local computer. The Outlook experience is duplicated very faithfully allowing you to use “Outlook” on any computer, even public ones. No personal information is left behind on the foreign computer when you log out, making it not only convenient but very secure. I use this all the time on my Pocket PC and it’s just like using Outlook in the palm of the hand. Very nice. I also set up the Pocket PC to synchronize directly with the Exchange Server so I don’t need to synchronize the Pocket PC with any of the computers I use. All the PIM data is synchronized directly with the server via WiFi, eliminating the problem of having to synchronize with both the desktop computer and the laptop to make sure the Pocket PC is completely up to date.Owa_aniOutlook Web Access on a Pocket PC (VGA screen in landscape orientation)ConclusionThis article has described all the many benefits of the hosted Exchange Server solution. This service gives you the equivalent of having your own hardware and software solution without having to provide either. The different companies offering hosted Exchange Server solutions have varying price schemes but they are competitive and quite reasonably priced for the service received. I pay about $30 per month for the service and all the optional services I’ve added. That provides me with two mailboxes in addition to my own mailbox. I think that’s a bargain for the piece of mind of having secure information, backups that protect all my critical data, and the ability to have access to my email and documents no matter what computer I use. This has been a real boon to using the Sony U-70 ultra-portable computer and keeping it up to date with my main computer.

40 Comments

Jim

I have an enomia account, with Blackberry sync. Great fast support. They answer the phone! I tried mailstreet, slow to respond.

Perry

I too am looking for a hosted exchange service to support a company of 6 internal employees plus contractors and affiliated organizations. Inhouse we have 4 Apple OS 10.4.4 users and 2 WinXP users. Virtually everyone in the organization uses Sprint Treo 600 and 650 smart phones… so Good Server is critical for those with heavy calendaring and heavy travel schedules.

Hosts who claim upfront to offer Good Server and to support Entourage 2004 (SP2) are:
intermedia.net
enomia.com
lanlogic.net

So far, enomia looks like a good bet, Class A facility (robust infrastructure), and they are patient with my foolish questions. Anybody have experience with these hosts or others for mixed OS X and WinXP groups with smart phones on top? Thinking WSS (Windows Sharepoint Services) would be a plus too, since we don’t have VPN to our server onsite, and we have remote workers/associates.

Apparently Good Server achieves faster push results by placing servers at the exchange host, at the wireless provider’s facility, and at their own facility… this is what permits real-time WiFi synchronization. It is not cheap, but for fast moving execs it would be worth it.

Alan

For three years, HostLabs has saved our IT budget nearly $10,000 every month with their Exchange Hosting Solution. I admit, they had some problems in 2003 but they are a good group of guys that work hard and things have been very stable ever since. I would recommend HostLabs’ Team to any large enterprise, like ours and I’d bet within a year, you’ll be writing your own testimonial, and be as pleased as I am in endorsing HostLabs. Based on my experience with HostLabs, they are eager to please and know how to run a good business. I highly recommend HostLabs to support Exchange Hosting for companies ranging in size from 1 to 100,000! Thanks again HostLabs for making us look good to corporate!

Molly

Hi, I’m looking into a hosted exchange server for a small firm of 8 people. I’ve looked into Mailstreet and MI8. MI8 said that Mailstreet was affected by the hurricane and unable to support their customers. I was just wondering if anyone can confirm that, or if anyone has any advice or recommendations?

Harry

Hello, i’m facing a major problem here, i’m doing an sms system. My boss wants me to setup the sms system in such that sms will go through the exchange server for recording purpose. So I went for research and found out that actually outlook does have the sms-plugin. Of course our office outlook is already intergrated with ms exchange server. If i put the gsm modem at the exchange server, will the sms send through the exchange server? Or i will stuck at the computer because the computer did not have a gsm modem. If the sms can be sent through the exchange server, i will not have to buy a gsm modem for every computer. Sorry for my english. =/ Thanks in advanced for helping.

Gregory

I have 2 ipaqs and all my work based in Outlook 2003 in contacts and squduel.
Can you sinhronize contacts and squduel in Outlook 2003 on my computer with this Nokia 770?
You mentioned outlook web axess? is it the same like Outlook 2003?
I am in New York.

Johannes

JK, thanks for the update, sounds very encouraging. Over the holidays I signed up for their 30 day free trial and it worked great so far. One problem I encountered was that the initial password I chose contained a “&”. It worked everywhere, except for the provisioning console. When I filed a ticket they resolved the problem on Christmas day. Excellent service. I think I’ll stick with them.

jk

Johannes, I am still happily using MailStreet as my Hosted Exchange Server provider. They are more expensive than some of the other providers but in almost 4 years I have not had a SINGLE problem. Nuff said. :)

Johannes

JK: Are you still using Mailstreet? Could you post a quick update of your experience with them this year? I am thinking about signing up and would be interested in your opinion. Thanks!

Thao Nguyen

I was looking to sign up last week with Mailstreet but wanted to wait and see how they weather through hurricane Wilma since they are located in Florida. I noticed this week that their website states they have a reduction in their support staff due to the hurricane. Can any of the Mailstreet users out let me know if they are having any problems with their e-mail and/or support service this week? Or has the company planned well for events such as these? Would love to try intermedia since they have a new option of fax via e-mail but I’m only a single user and they require the purchase of at least 3 mailboxes.

Simeon Povey

I’ve been using Intermedia.net with a dedicated server for Exchange hosting for over a year now, and it’s been great. Prices pretty reasonable and no downtime to speak of. The couple of times I had questions, the tech support guys got back to me almost straight away — one time at 2 in the morning.

Experience so far has been excellent, so I’d definitely recommend it.

David L. West

For Andrew: DeskOptional supports Entourage. The latest version of Entourage has more complete Exchange support than earlier ones, but you can use IMAP if you don’t want to upgrade.

We do Hosted Exchange and GoodLink. We provide the usual complement of antispam/antivirus mentioned in the article.

Erick is correct about our focus: it’s all about customer service. There are plenty of options out there. The DeskOptional option is for those who demand a company that NEVER says “it’s not my problem”. If you’ve heard that line from another vendor, contact DeskOptional. You won’t hear it again.

Erick Brownstein

For Andrew & Manel re GoodLink.

MailStreet isn’t the only exchange ASP offering GoodLink. There’s a small company called Deskoptional which solely offers GoodLink. I’ve spoken with the owner and their main focus in customer support. Not cheap…about $60/month, but with MailStreet, you need the mailbox, a set up fee and the yearly fee…and it comes out to about the same. They’re at http://www.deskoptional.com

BB

Frank,

You said you got Entourage 2004 working with 1and1 Exchange.

I’ve been unsuccessful in getting that to work

What settings did you use for the server, domain etc.

Any advice you could give me would be great.

Thank you.

Manel Sweetmore

Andrew:

Your answer for the Treo is to find an ASP that uses GoodLink (www.goodlink.com). It basically turns the Treo into a blackberry like device with syncing of all items.

I have spent the afternoon looking at the different Exchange ASPs, and the only one that I found provides GoodLink is http://www.mailstreet.com however MI8 says they will offer it Q1 2005

Frank:

Have your problems with 1and1 been resolved? One of my main needs is also ActiveSync and I like their price and amount of storage.

Thanks Manel

Jonathan Bello

I would not recommend hostlabs, their VPN client works terriable. They don’t support http either. Their server seems to be down a fair amount too.

Andrew Christensen

I have been fighting with getting an exchange host set up that will do all of the following:

1. Use Outlook 2003 with the Exchange host.

2. Use Entourage 2003 to interface with the Exchange host. (Currently using 1and1, whose support is a joke.)

3. Will “push” to the Palm Treo phones we have and the blackberry phone we have. (I don’t care for the SMS method on the Treo’s, but will use it if I have to.)

Also needed, if anyone has any suggestions, is a way to get the calendar and tasks to sync at the same time as the email on the Treo (Palm) WITHOUT using Versamail, which is a big pile of poo.

Any suggestions would be spectacular!!

Thanks!

Steve Cianciolo

I’ve had a terrible experience with Mailstreet. Check out the reviews for all the Exchange hosting companies at: http://www.msexchange.org/services – Mailstreet has one of the worst ratings on there. I’ve been using 123Together.com (they’re the highest rated) for almost a year and have been delighted – no downtime yet! (keep my fingers crossed).

Frank McPherson

Some time real soon now I’ll gather much of what I’ve posted here into post on my own blog.

Tonight I installed Microsoft’s Office 2004 for Mac test drive to see if I can get Entourage 2004 working with my Exchange account on 1and1.com. For some reason I have not been able to get Entourage V.x working with it.

Well, even though during installation it could not verify connection with the Exchange server, I went ahead and finished the installation. Shortly thereafter it began synchronizing data down to my Mac. Now I have my Calendar, Contacts, and Email synchronizing between my Mac and the Exchange server.

So here is what I think will be a perfect scenario for me. Access to my Inbox, Calendar and Contacts hosted on the Exchange server from my Mac, Pocket PC, and Windows-based PC, plus Outlook Web Access from anywhere, and Outlook Mobile Access from any WAP phone. Very cool.

Frank McPherson

There is a 90 day money back guarantee with 1and1 so if I can’t get it working the way I like it should be easy enough to drop them. I also bought the frankmcpherson.com domain from them at the time that I ordered their Exchange hosting. They charge $5 per year for domain registrations for .coms. You will notice it just autoforwards to my weblog.

The main reason why I signed up for this service was for server synchronization, so if that doesn’t work right then I will probably drop. The Outlook 2003 issue is workable on my side.

However, I did have one hope, which is that I could get Entourage working with the Exchange account. This would be another added benefit of going with Exchange hosting in that it makes Inbox, Contacts, and Calendar accessible to a broad range of platforms. Alas, right now I can’t get the version of Entourage that I am using to do anything more than access Exchange via IMAP. I may try Entourage 2004 to see if that has full support.

jk

Frank and Perry, When I first signed up with MailStreet there weren’t very many options. A good friend of mine was using them and highly recommended them so I jumped in with both feet. I think they are slightly more expensive than others I’ve seen but I literally have not had to worry about anything with their service at all. It’s even better than a corporate server setup as there is no IT dept. to deal with. :)

Perry

We’ve been using eOutlook for our hosted Exchange for some time now and absolutely love it! I’ll never go back to plain POP3 email. Unfortunately, eOutlook has announced a new minimum three-mailbox rule which is one more mailbox than my wife and I need, so we’re looking for a new service. The one you mentioned, MailStreet, looks pretty good. I’ve also been looking at eNomia, which seems to have a very similar plan.

Frank McPherson

I just signed up with the Exchange hosting service from http://www.1and1.com, but I am beginning to think I might have made a mistake.

First off, it appears that 1and1 only supports the new MAPI over HTTP protocol, which means you have to use Outlook 2003 + Windows XP or Outlook Web Access. My desktop PC is running W2K and Outlook 2002 right now. I can’t just upgrade to Outlook 2003, which is a bummer. However, I have meaning to upgrade this desktop to Windows XP real soon now, and this might push me over the edge.

However, the main reason why I got this was server synchronization with my Pocket PC. Right now I am not able to synchronize all of my appointments. I get alternating error codes of 0x800700e and SYNC_5. I’ve searched the Microsoft KB for SYNC_5 and it says there is a hotfix or Exchange 2003 SP1 fixes the problem. I’ve got an email in the the 1and1 support people to see how they resolve the problem.

I think the moral of my story so far is that not all Exchange hosting is the same. I honestly picked 1and1 because they were the cheapest, but in the end I may be getting what I paid for. :(

Josh Bancroft

Any other listings/recommendations for hosted Exchange providers? I’m interested in getting this set up for a company I support, and for my own use, and I’d like to compare other options that are available ($30/month seems a little steep for just email).

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