Microsoft Exchange is an industry-leading mail and calendaring server that runs exclusively on Windows Server operating systems. Available as both an on-premises installation as well being the backbone of Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), Exchange is the platform of choice for businesses of all sizes.
While Exchange is the "800 Pound Gorilla" when it comes to mail servers for businesses, with each iteration of Exchange, features seem to go missing. For example, Microsoft removed Unified Messaging from Exchange Server 2019. Meanwhile, SmarterMail keeps adding features such as Team Workspaces and Group Chat, both of which offer audio/video as well as text chat, and Workspaces offers screen sharing.
In addition to standard email protocols, both support Outlook via the Microsoft MAPI protocol. SmarterMail is, in fact, the only other email and collaboration server outside of Exchange that offers this level of integration between Outlook and a mail server. It goes beyond color Category synchronization and offers features such as distribution lists, sending “On Behalf of” and other enterprise-level features users rely on when using Outlook with Exchange. MAPI is also licensed on a per-server basis and can be managed by system or domain administrators.
Both products also support the Microsoft Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol. This is the protocol used by Mac clients such as Apple Mail and Outlook for Mac, as well as eM Client for Windows. EWS brings a very high level of integration between SmarterMail and these clients and provides users with increased functionality compared to connecting via more traditional methods, such as via IMAP.
Both products also support standard email protocols such as IMAP and POP3. These protocols work in any email client available, though without some of the more functional components like sharing of collaboration items. (E.g., sharing calendars.) Both also support CardDAV and CalDAV for synchronizing contacts and calendars (respectively), which are also supported by most standard desktop clients, as well as standalone calendar and contact apps, scheduling services (e.g., Calend.ly), etc.
Alongside IMAP, POP3, CalDAV and CardDAV -- all of which can work with mobile email clients, calendar apps, etc. -- both Exchange and SmarterMail support EAS, which is the best mobile synchronization method available for mobile. Using EAS, users can get virtually the same experience on their mobile devices they do with desktop clients. EAS is also used by the standard Windows Mail client, as well as the Windows Calendar and People apps.
With Exchange, the pricing pain point is in the need for Client Access Licensing (CAL). While the Exchange cost itself isn't unreasonable, the fact that access license are required per user drives the cost of an Exchange installation up dramatically. Then, there are the additional costs for hardware: the machine running an Exchange installation itself needs to be rather substantial, but other servers may also be required, such as separate Active Directory servers (as Exchange requires AD), Domain Controllers, and Transport servers. Each of these have their own cost.
SmarerMail, on the other hand, has relatively minimal hardware requirements, and does NOT require CALs or additional servers. (Thought Active Directory IS supported in SmarterMail, it's not required.)
It's worth noting, as well, that Microsoft is changing the licensing for Exchange in the relatively near future. Microsoft is in the process of changing all of their licensing models for server software to a subscription model. They've already moved things like Sharepoint Server and Teams Server to subscription models, and will be doing the same with Exchange. What that means is that while you may still be able to have an on-premises installation of Exchange, instead of paying a one-time cost for the license, you'll end up paying a monthly or yearly subscription fee to Microsoft for use of Exchange. The cost of this is still unknown (as of March 2022), as is the timeline for the change. Regardless, it makes one wonder the purpose of having an on-premises installation.
Anyone who has tried to get support from Microsoft knows it can be difficult, and costly. Microsoft generally charges per-incident and their fee can make the need to submit tickets to them cost prohibitive. Support options are available if you are a Microsoft Partner, but these programs have their own instrinic and extrinsic costs, based on the partner level. In addition, the turnaround for getting responses, much less resolutions, can be measured in days rather than hours.
As for SmarterTools, any customer with active Maintenance and Support receives FREE technical support, and you only interact with “SmarterTools engineers”. That is, the people in our support department are all highly skilled and extremely knowledgeable network and server administrators who know the ins-and-outs of the Windows environment, not to mention the how’s and why’s of SmarterMail. Our SLA for technical support is 4 hours, and we consistently beat that metric. We also offer paid support options, such as installation and upgrade tickets, training, and 24/7 emergency support. Our SLA for emergency support is 1 hour, which is also a metric that is consistently surpassed.
In addition, SmarterTools has an extensive knowledgebase for all products and an extremely active customer Community where customers work together to solve issues alongside SmarterTools employees.
Generally, the hardware requirements for a mail server will focus on using enterprise-level SSDs as mail servers are dependent on input/output (i/o) and are extremely write-intensive. Therefore, having fast, sturdy drives is strongly recommended by any mail server vendor. CPU and RAM requirements are dependent on the number of mailboxes and the types of mail services being offered, as well as the amount of traffic the mail server receives.
Much has been written about the moves Microsoft is making with Exchange, as well as with Outlook. We have our own blog post on the future of Outlook, Exchange and Microsoft, and what the future actually holds. Between the changes Microsoft is making to how email flows, not just through Exchange but potentially for anyone using the Outlook client, and their licensing changes, Exchange users could be receiving quite a wake up call. The potential for all emial to route through Microsoft servers is very real. One need only review the Client Access services section of the Exchange documentation to get an idea of where Microsoft is going.
SmarterTools has released 4 versions of SmarterMail in 2022 alone. We strive for at least one release per month, regardless of the number of changes, fixes, and updates available. Some releases are larger than others, but one release per month is our goal.
*As of March 2022