Cloud-hosted services square up

Running your business requires choosing the right tools for you and your employees. In order to streamline work-related productivity, many organizations are migrating to cloud-based office suites—specifically, Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G Suite (formally known as Google Apps).

Both products boast a variety of helpful productivity tools and the latest remote collaboration technologies. While it’s impossible to say which one is “better,” this head-to-head comparison can help you decide which office suite is a better fit for your business.

What are G Suite & Office 365?

Office 365 and G Suite are suites, or packages, of powerful business tools that facilitate you and your employees day-to-day tasks using the cloud. They even provide business email addresses (i.e. name@yourbusiness.com), along with apps for creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, video conference calls, shared calendars and notes.  

In addition, storing information on Google or Microsoft servers, rather than your own via these suites, can also save your business a lot of money when it comes to IT costs and maintenance.  

Plans and Pricing

First, let’s look at plans and prices. It’s important to note that Microsoft requires an annual commitment, while Google offers you the option to make monthly payments if you prefer.

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Cloud packages head-to-head

Email

While both Office 365 and G Suite offer web and mobile apps (Outlook and Gmail, respectively) for email, there are some subtle differences.

One plus-side to Office 365 is the desktop version of Outlook, which is incredibly feature-rich and lets you sort and group emails with ease. Gmail, on the other hand, is widely used throughout the world. For this reason, a variety of third-party app options (like WordPress) can be linked to it to enhance its capabilities.

Cloud Data Storage

For the entry level plans, Office 365 Business Essentials wins out with 1 TB (terabyte) of storage per user, while the G Suite Basic plan only offers 30 GB. To make matters worse, G Suite includes emails in this storage limit, whereas Office 365 provides extra storage for email files and has an added archiving feature.

However, G Suite’s upgraded plans beat out most of Microsoft’s storage offerings. So long as your business has more than five employees, G Suite Business and Enterprise provides unlimited cloud storage (although, businesses with less than 5 employees on the “Business” plan are capped at 1 TB). Only Microsoft E3 plans and higher offer the same unlimited cloud storage.

Applications

Applications are the cornerstones of a suite’s functionality. G Suite and Office 365 offer you a variety of comparable apps for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, all on the cloud!

While both services offer mobile and online apps, one major benefit of Office 365 is its desktop applications.

This means every user gets a free desktop version of the Office suite (i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel) to download.

These feature-rich apps expand far beyond the capabilities of the mobile and online versions, and are available on every plan except the ‘Business Essentials’.

Collaboration

These online applications make both suites ideal for remote collaboration. Microsoft Teams lets facilitates this with tools like real-time co-authoring, mentioning users by name and chat capabilities while working on OneDrive. Microsoft now lets you collaborate using its desktop apps, too, although the updates to shared files are a bit sluggish compared to its online apps.

Similarly, G Suite offers Hangouts for chats, and Google Drive for real-time collaboration. Google’s online and mobile apps were created with cloud collaboration in mind, so some might find them a bit more user-friendly.

For remote meetings, G Suite and Office 365 both offer group video conference calls. If you plan on large-scale video conferences, then Office 365 offers far more for your money: most plans have a 250-participant limit, while the E3 plan increases to an astounding 10,000-person limit.

Meanwhile, G Suite’s Google Meet allows up to 25 participants on the “Basic” plan, 50 on the “Business” plan and 100 on the “Enterprise” plan.  

Security

Cloud services are running into a variety of security issues, and these suites are no exception.

A 2019 Barracuda Networks’ report found that a large percent of ATO (account takeover) attacks were targeted at Microsoft Office 365 accounts after businesses migrated emails to the service. These attacks prompted the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue a set of best practices to help organizations migrate their email services while avoiding risks and vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, Google recently announced that a cloud storage feature for encrypted passwords on its “Enterprise” plans was faulty. As a result, some user passwords were stored in plaintext on Google’s servers!

While cloud computing has its risks, the two suites do have impressive security features. G Suite is comparable to Google’s own level of security, and offers AI detection of suspicious activity, Two-Factor authentication and data leak protection—in which admins can block outgoing communication determined by set keywords.

On the other hand, Office 365 has the option of Multiple Factor Authentication, along with detection of malware, viruses and suspicious activities. Microsoft also provides data loss protection, and admins can restrict access to company-issued devices only.

Ease of Use

So, which is easier to use? Well, it depends on who you are, and your ability to grasp software quickly.

If you’re accustomed to working with MS Word or Excel documents, and edit them for work on a regular basis, then Office 365 and its desktop-to-online formatting compatibility will probably be your best bet. This is especially true if your company solely computes with Windows PCs.

However, new users might find G Suite apps easier to learn, as the tools are a bit simpler and straightforward.

Which is best for you? A Summary:

Some key benefits of each suite: Firstly, Office 365 offers feature-rich apps, and most of its plans come with desktop version of MS Office applications—a definite advantage over its competitors.

Its entry level plan is far more generous in terms of data storage than G Suite’s “Basic” plan. In addition, businesses that already exclusively use Windows technology are likely to find Office 365 better-suited for their needs.

With that said, G Suite was originally designed as a cloud collaborative productivity tool. Therefore, its features might be easier for collaboration and can be used among a wider variety of Windows and Mac devices. In addition, G Suite “Business” plans and above outdoes Microsofts’ when it comes to unlimited cloud file storage.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which of the two is “best.” But, with this knowledge in mind, you can make an informed decision to choose the best cloud suite for you.

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How would you like to be served?

The thought of “servers” and “hosting” are rarely things you consider on a daily basis. If you are not an IT or a software architect, then probably not at all.

For the mentioned professionals, however, these decisions are critical to the operations of a business however large or small.

There is a fine line between how and where software systems are used. This line has become thinner because of evolving cloud technology and automation.

Sourcing and deploying the right IT architecture could therefore help your business stay afloat, or sink without.

Communication is key

The most effective mode of communication in any business (other than verbally or telephonically) is still the electronic mail or E-mail.

It is effective because it helps you to form a time-stamp and a reference point when it comes to documentation. This is an important aspect when it comes to legal obligations and commitment. Emails are, therefore, something that should not be taken for granted!

We consequently send, receive emails with attachments and receive them through various devices. All  without a second thought as to how this happens.

After all, this is the job of the IT-guys, right?

Well quite rightly so. They often must battle with their respective management and board of directors for funds to keep this going without compromising operations. And this from not only a daily functional point of view, but from a security and software compliance facet.

Defining servers

Your company’s IT infrastructure: Emails; File-servers; Databases (CRMs and ERPs) and other communications tools are commonly hosted (managed) on-site on systems referred to as ‘on-premise’ solutions.

These are managed by computer-like CPUs  that look like the standard boxes that you plug your monitor and keyboards to. They however, have a lot more processing power and storage and are called Servers.

Servers naturally must be kept cool because of the heat they generate from being on all the time. As you can imagine, built-in fans are far from being enough to cool them off!

If you didn’t know, there is likely a (highly) protected server room in your building that is kept as cold as the cold storage for meat factories.

Now there an array of servers types. Each of them is designed to run the tasks of mail exchanges, file-storage, and sharing, the storing and deploying of remote PC operating systems. Others handle databases and many more dedicated functions.

You would need to have the licensed software to operate each server providing unique services. This makes it quite an expensive outlay if you have all of the abovementioned requirements!

Servers are not irreplaceable and can overheat, get corrupted or crash like a hard-drive (or a NAS server system). They therefore need to be maintained at a cost to the company via your IT department.

Depending on the amount of data and complexity, maintenance is sometimes outsourced to specialised IT companies or the software license providers.

Cloud-computing

In the early 2000s  ‘the cloud’ or ‘cloud computing’ became a new concept. Cloud-computing is basically a very large set of high-end servers equipped with software to manage all the tasks mentioned above. It is usually offered as a service under a single (monthly or annual) subscription.

So basically, you are renting the service of a server as opposed to owning it. Renting, just like with property or cars, relieves the user of all the costs of maintaining the product in question.

This sort of rental service offered by cloud service providers is now known as Software as a Service (SaaS). This also saves you from purchasing any hardware let alone paying for the extra electricity bill to cool a server room.

According to Quora.com, the main difference between a cloud and a datacenter is that a cloud is an off-premise form of computing that stores data on the Internet.

A datacenter, on the other hand, is an on-premise set of hardware that stores data within an organization’s local network.

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As an IT professionals you would face the burning question of whether to go for a solution that will  relieve them of mundane tasks such as server maintenance. Naturally, you would also want one that facilitates the daily administering of user profiles, mail/data archiving and backups.  But to what costs then?

Deciding on which to go for

There are many pros and cons when it comes to the hosting of a company’s data on a server as opposed to having it run via the cloud.  There is also a massive array of choices and bundles between the top cloud-service providers.

This makes the decision-making process a little harder for directors – who often don’t have the time for such tasks.

Cloud service providers for starters, have several data centers used as backups. So a service like email hosting, will have several servers in different locations to serve that function alone.  This curbs the risk of your data getting lost, unavailable or even hacked.

Naturally, Datacenters are kept highly secure  in undisclosed locations globally. Google is known to have one of its datacenters floating on a massive container ship somewhere over the Atlantic ocean.

Maintenance

Maintaining a server is expensive as they (as mentioned) require massive cooling systems. Some smarter companies like Microsoft, are now taking to the deep oceans for that function.

When it comes to email hosting or the storage of files in the cloud nowadays only five large multinational corporations’ names come to mind: Microsoft, Oracle, Google, IBM and Amazon.

These companies however bear the burden of maintenance, while providing just the service you require on a subscription basis.

Setting up an on-premise solution, in contrast, can be a tedious exercise and an expensive one. This especially for individual companies who do not have large IT budgets.

In addition, the argument of “once-off” payment to own the server is rendered obsolete. This is because the actual hardware and license models change very quickly nowadays.

Licensing a server is no child’s play either. Having to decide on costs and functionality will determine how to license. This would be either per server, per virtual machine needed, or per processor core and then you need CALs).

If you don’t believe it, just have a look at this licensing guide!

An example

To illustrate the difference, an outlay of a hundred thousand dollars just for the software licenses for three years. This compared to a cloud-hosted solution/package that performs the same function over the same timeframe.

You can literally piggy-back off companies like Amazon and Microsoft’s security services, which then costs 8 thousand dollars monthly (96k annually).

So, within three years of using the cloud, you would have reached the $100K cap that would be spent only for licenses. You would have also saved with an extra $188K in additional services.

This is a portion of what would have been spent on maintenance, technical support, security, upgrades and updates.

These figures are rudimentary, but the long-term savings are noticeable as cloud service providers tend to provide value-add solutions when pricing their bundles.

Microsoft has for one, recently launched its Microsoft 365 package which includes an upgrade to the latest operating system (Windows 10 Professional or Enterprise). This is something IT professionals would have had to source separately.

Stress relievers

Software deployment and the administration of user accounts is cloud-based. This means you now be perform this conveniently and remotely from a PC, Laptop, Tablet or even Smartphone!

This means as an IT professional, you will now have more time to oversee more important issues like data security and overall IT policies. Better yet, you can now look into ways to automate and improve systems further.

This is possible without the inconvenience of running from PC-to-PC to install operating systems, Office software or manage mailboxes.

The remote desktop services of an on-premise server were a step in this direction but are a pain to set up. So, you can view the cloud as an evolution of remote-desktop services.

Infrastructural setbacks

The only (and potential) hindrance to using cloud services naturally would be the availability of good and cheap broadband (Internet connectivity).

Without both, the justification for running your business fully on the cloud would not stick. Some businesses, especially in developing countries, are, in a desperate attempt to adopt the cloud in the future. They use what is known as hybrid-systems: a combination of cloud and on-premise solutions.

120x600If you operate in a country without forward-thinking government officials that facilitate broadband availability, you will suffer the most.

Like an old, car, outdated hardware and software can lead to costly services (especially for out-of-date and warranty solutions). This means heftier maintenance fees and support costs from third-party IT professionals who bill you by the hour.

The common old rhetoric of not trusting the cloud is also one of the past. Cloud services often outperform on-premise solutions when it comes to high-end security software and data protection. This is because of the obvious economies of scale involved setting up expensive security software.

The level of security would naturally have to be the digital equivalent of Fort Knox. This has to be the case especially if you are dealing with sensitive data such as financial, legal services, healthcare and educational institutions.

Your company would need a system that will keep such data secure and compliant.

So, rest assured the cloud-providers go all out to keep the trust of their clients though highly stringent and compliant online security systems.

With data now being treated as a commodity and the subsequent need to trade and value it, we now have Blockchain and digital currencies like IOTA and Dogecoin being used to facilitate payments. This while keeping data encrypted, decentralized and safe.

Lastly, in the advent of the new GDPR laws, some companies will still opt to keep and maintain their servers internally.  By doing this however, they might lack transparency and tools needed to show their consumers how their data is being handled.

Such companies must source out third-party solutions to keep their data management systems compliant. This adds further costs to a problem that could easily address by subscribing to a SaaS solution.