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Getting Startup IT Started

After reading this post from GigaOm on collaboration tools, I thought it would be worth sharing some of what our new firm, Sempre Management, has done to get our own IT infrastructure off the ground.

We have four people working in our firm, with a shared office that we use part of the time.  We also all currently work part time from home or elsewhere.  We are still funding this out of our own pockets, so we are sensitive to fixed expenses.  Of the four of us, I have taken on the role of interim IT Manager.

In our little group of four, we have 2 PC guys, one Mac guy, and one guy who has both.  We also have a mixture of Blackberry and Windows Mobile PDAs that need to get their Sempre email and their personal email.  All of us also have personal email addresses where we get the bulk of our email as the sempremanagement.com email is new.  We also all have some existing email, calendar, and contact data that needs to get integrated into whatever new system we pick.  Lastly, we wanted to pick something that would be easy to migrate away from if we ended up going in a different direction later.

We decided to go with a hosted Microsoft Exchange service.  I checked out a few providers, but decided to buy the service from SherWeb.  After using this type of service for a while now, I can't imagine why any small company would buy and host their own Exchange server for email.  SherWeb has lots of features and is very flexible:

  • Only $8.95 per month per user, with a month to month contract.  No minimum commitment, other than they will want to make the first charge to your credit card $50.
  • 3 GB of Exchange 2007 storage per user
  • Free Windows Moble synchronization, free anti-virus and anti-spam, free public folders, free SharePoint, free Outlook Web Access, and one free copy of Outlook 2007 or Entourage for each user.
  • Optional Blackberry synchronization for an extra $9.99 per user per month (expensive compared to the rest of this service)
  • No initial set-up fee.
  • Very detailed FAQs on how to get everything set up.
  • Support so far has been good, by both email and phone (rarely).

After we bought our domain, we redirected the mail to SherWeb (as they described) and got everything setup.  The SherWeb admin web application is pretty basic, but covers everything you need.  I would definitely recommend this hosted service.

In addition to giving each other access to each of our Outlook Calendar and Contacts, we set up some common Exchange public folders for some shared contacts and a shared calendar.  I also set up SharePoint as a way to organize and manage shared documents.  I had never used SharePoint before, but it is pretty full featured as a collaboration tool -- shared documents, discussion groups, shared calendar, task assignment and tracking, synchronization with Outlook, etc.  We don't use much of this yet.

It took some tweaking to get everyone's data from their stand-alone setups to the Exchange server.  We had several bouts of data duplication when we made mistakes, but there are some nice free tools to fix this.

Overall, it feels like we have an enterprise-class Exchange infrastructure, with minimal management and a low, variable cost.  One more reason why start-ups today need less money to get going without having to sacrifice functionality.

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