Collaboration suites are now being widely used by many businesses around the world to provide their employees with a more feature-rich communication experience that will allow them to host all of the important data that they require on a central platform.

The two most popular collaboration platforms in use today are Microsoft Exchange Server and Zimbra, two applications that provide you with similar features based around the same principles – just in two very different ways. Depending on the nature of your business and the number of employees you have, your configuration requirements and expectations of any collaboration system are going to be different from another business; for example, large businesses are going to require storage clusters to handle their email throughput whilst a smaller business may be able to get away with a single server configuration or even a hosted service.

Choosing between Zimbra and Microsoft Exchange Server can be hard and in most situations is considered to be a very important decision as the choice could affect a business’s overall performance – it is important to review the features of each solution individually and to mark them against your requirements as this will provide you with a more accurate choice as to which will suit your needs best.

Cost is probably the first factor that you are going to consider because you want a system that will bring benefits to your business but at the same time will not undermine your profits to any massive extent. Microsoft Exchange Server is the most expensive solution of the two, which is why it is generally the choice of publicly listed businesses. Zimbra on the other hand is much cheaper and there is even an open source version available for those who wish to play with it prior to committing any money. The main consideration that you will need to make is whether you think Zimbra or Microsoft Exchange Server will be able to provide you with benefits that make the cost worth it.

Hosted Zimbra and Microsoft Exchange Server solutions are available for businesses that have the need for a collaboration platform but at the same time aren’t able to justify the cost of using such a service for one reason or another. Hosted solutions can provide you with a higher level of security and can provide you with the assurance that your collaboration system will be professionally managed, although on the other hand you will lose the right of having full control.

Using Zimbra in a shared environment may not be the best move because the application can be very resource intensive and when being used by a large number of users, this may not prove to be very effective. As Microsoft Exchange Server isn’t such a resource intensive application you can get away with experiencing a much richer setup in a shared environment.

The methods of accessing the information stored is another consideration that you will want to make because your employees are likely to be in touch with their accounting in more than one way. Both Microsoft Exchange and Zimbra can be integrated with the iPhone and Blackberry email, calendar and contact applications which will provide you with seamless synchronization; however, the iPhone may be able to offer a better level of support for Exchange Server as the support is native to the operating system.

An AJAX web interface is also a feature common to both applications, although Microsoft Outlook Web Access (the name given to Exchange Server’s web application) only functions fully when used in Internet Explorer which is going to be an issue when using a desktop operating system other than Microsoft Windows; a web application will provide you with an access point when you are away from a computer on which you utilize is a desktop email client or your mobile phone as they can be accessed through a web browser.

Zimbra and Microsoft Exchange Server can guarantee a high level of security for the data that your employees are storing under their user account whilst at the same time promoting a high level of information sharing between your staff. All of the information stored by both systems will be encrypted, but your employees will still be able to share important information about contacts and calendar items between one another without any restrictions. The open information sharing promoted by most collaboration systems is the main reason that businesses are going to consider Microsoft Exchange Server or Zimbra since they will provide you with a more streamlined way of managing communications.

The compatibility of Zimbra and Microsoft Exchange Server with your existing IT infrastructure is an important factor to look at because you want to be sure that your existing systems will be able to function with your collaboration platform and at the same time it will allow you to review costs. Zimbra will work on servers using Windows or Linux meaning that if your entire infrastructure is based around Windows servers then Zimbra will slot in nicely, but at the same time if you would prefer to save money by using Linux servers then this won’t have any negative impact on the usability of the platform. Microsoft Exchange Server on the other hand will only work on Windows servers and although it will provide better integration with Windows based services such as Active Directory, you will need to pay out more for Windows servers.

In conclusion, both Zimbra and Microsoft Exchange Server have advantages and disadvantages that will affect you depending on which system you use and how you choose to deploy it. Although both systems will cost you money, Zimbra is the cheapest meaning that for the most part it can offer you better value for money than Microsoft Exchange Server as both are very similar in their offerings. Your chosen platform is an important consideration because Microsoft Exchange Server will only function correctly on Windows servers whereas Zimbra is a much more multi-platform solution capable of delivering the same as Microsoft Exchange Server on Linux servers.