The Cloud War: Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps for Small Businesses

Cloud computing consultants at Innovative Architects discuss the battle between two titans, and what that means for your company

Microsoft and Google have been rubbing elbows in the tech industry for years now, both jostling to become the undisputed leader in computer software innovations. Each has made extraordinary contributions to everyday computing, and they continue to change how the corporate sector manages, exchanges, and secures information. Cloud computing is yet another chapter in the epic confrontation between these two titans of technology.

It wasn’t long ago that all software had to be purchased in a box or through a download, and sharing files essentially meant sending documents through email or even worse - the postal service. These inefficient methods cost small businesses valuable time, and thus money.

Enter the cloud...

Cloud technology developed out of a desire to provide businesses with the ability to access their digital assets—documents, statistics, records, communication, etc.—on demand from off-premises servers.

The idea behind cloud computing is simple: if you are connected to the Internet, you can access all your files and applications that are stored “in the cloud.” This reduces a business’s technology costs dramtically, as multiple employees can share servers and computer resources instantly, and even separate companies can split the expense of one server.

Even though the concept is straightforward, the debate over which cloud service to choose remains a heated issue.

It is hardly surprising that the two strong-arm contenders in the war over cloud computing are Microsoft and Google. Microsoft is undoubtedly the veteran of the industry. Untold numbers of businesses since the early 90s have invested in Microsoft’s products—Windows Operating System, Office Suite, and Windows Server to name a few.

Then came Google in the early 2000s, who launched its widely successful Gmail, followed shortly after by Google Apps, which provided users with a suite of Web-based applications that rivaled Microsoft’s non Web-based services. After struggling to stay in the game for years, Microsoft finally released its Office 365 alongside its cloud platform Windows Azure in 2011, replacing its previous cloud service software Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

The battle lines were drawn.

The Debate

Picking a side in the cloud war is no easy task. While the overwhelming majority of people have chosen Office 365—some estimates put the total number of Microsoft users at 750 million—there are still 5 million companies using Google Apps for Business. Ultimately, deciding which cloud service is best suited for your needs depends on what applications are important to your business.

Unique Features: One of the most important considerations businesses should keep in mind when choosing between Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps is looking at licensing features. For instance, a big advantage of Office 365 is that it merges effortlessly with on-premises versions of Microsoft Office. Many companies must create and edit complex documents using Word, Excel, Access, and others - Office 365 allows users to move these files from the cloud to the desktop without losing formatting, which can be extremely valuable.

On the flipside, Microsoft users must pay for a traditional license or the Office Professional Plus option to be able to edit document off-line. Whereas, Google Apps is said to be a “true” cloud-based solution because it is designed to provide functional service experiences on any device or operating system, not just PCs.

However, there is no guarantee document formats will be consistent.

Collaboration: Being able to effectively collaborate on business documents is one of the cloud’s strengths. But which one does it better: Office 365 or Google Apps? Google Docs is a key component in Google’s cloud service, allowing multiple users to edit the same file at the same time, while seeing the edits other users are making in real time.

However, Office 365 utilizes SharePoint and Lync to offer users critical features like secure access, instant messaging, web conferencing, and a check in/check out approach to collaborating on documents. In a Network World article comparing the two cloud servers, Ellen Jennings, CEO of Business Engineering, says: “SharePoint is complex at the high end, but for small companies looking to store files, collaborate in teams and institute work flow processes it is very intuitive.”

Uptime: Both Office 365 and Google Apps appear to be fairly even when it comes to the rare outages they have suffered. Both services guarantee an uptime of 99.9%, but when outages do occur, Microsoft gives money back to users as credit, whereas Google extends the service term.

Pricing: The publicized cost of Office 365 ranges anywhere from $5 to $20 per month depending on the plan you choose. Office Professional Plus runs an extra $12 to $15 per month of you decide to add that to your package. Google Apps costs $5 monthly for basic features, or $10 per month for advanced security features.

While Google Apps tends to run slightly less in price than Office 365, ultimately it comes down to choosing a service that offers features more suited for your business. Jennings’ outlook on the situation is that Office 365 is “business-class” and Google Apps is “consumer-class.”

Picking a Cloud Solution

There is no black and white when it comes to choosing a side in the Microsoft vs. Google cloud war. Both Office 365 and Google Apps have their pros and cons, so what might be best for another company may not be the right move for you and your business. What is true across the board however is that transitioning to the cloud requires the expertise of a software solutions that can leverage IT and cloud computing to move your business forward.

Take advantage of our cloud consulting services today by requesting a free technology expense analysis.