The key benefits of an exchange server are:

* File sharing
-access to email from any configured computer
-access to address book or contacts from any office computer

* Shared calendar
-simply put, it means they can use any configured computer to work on his or her files, emails and calendar. The organization will often configure a laptop and enable remote access so the worker is also able to work while travelling or from home and still have complete access.

The difficulty with this kind of product in relation to a small or mid sized business, is that you will need a resource to deal with it and it’s very expensive, in terms of both purchase cost and ongoing licence fees and staffing.

So if you are starting a company and you want your employees to have a high level of flexibility – i.e. in order to work from home or while travelling, or perhaps to “hotdesk” in the office, you’ll need an exchange server alternative.

There are two other possibilities which could provide most of the gains of Microsoft Exchange without the price tag.

1. Hosted Exchange server

2. Easy-Email + file synchronization software

Using a Hosted Exchange server is an effective solution. You have most of the benefits but another, expert, company takes away all of the resource and management issues. You just pay a fee according to the number of users. This allows for quick expansion so as the organization develops you easily add on users.

Easy-Email is a great option for small firms.

It’s an email synchronization system in the form of a step by step guide that you, or an IT professional you hire, can follow. It will sync a user’s email and address book on their desktop, laptop, home computer, pda or netbook. In addition it will allow them to access their email from any other computer via Gmail.

It is very good value compared to any other alternative solutions – It’s just $67 US for the Advanced Guide to Outlook and you can set up all of your employees for this fee!

The main weakness of this system in comparison with exchange is that there is currently no shared calendar so you will need to use a Google calendar or equivalent.

And in terms of shared files and folders it’s really simple. Set up Dropbox. Dropbox gives you a system of shared folders that are all automatically sync’d via the internet but they are also stored on the user’s computer so you don’t have to have internet access to access the files. You can decide which staff or consultants get access to which folders and the first 2GB of storage space is no cost

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