PrefaceIt's 2012, and the term "Gone Google" as applied to businesses, universities and individuals has made its way into the daily conversation of tech enthusiasts around the world. Specifically in the use of Google Apps to bring a higher level of communication and collaboration within an organization.
However, back in 2008, Google Apps was "new" (read about it here) to most of us and the concept sounded great, but there was no track record to speak of which caused much hesitation in users and administrators alike.
I had a problem. I had inherited a Hodge-Podge of technology practices and policies that were sewn together over the years by many different techs when I assumed the role of the sole IT Person/Administrator for this company.
After only about a year at my posting (still trying to make sense of it all) the company email system went down! Let me also mention that along with the email the company's website was also offline... Come to find out the website and email were being hosted together as a package plan on a popular hosting site.
NOTE: To this day website hosting companies offer email@yourdomain services, but I don't recommend it...keep reading.
Here's the RUB, hosted email is Good, being hosted on a single physical server (probably along with other accounts) is BAD. At this point you techie readers might be forming your opinions and hypothesis-es of what happens next, but wait, it get's worse.
Not only were we screwed out of email and our company website, but come to find out, the hosting company didn't really have any sort of redundancy or fail-over structure at the time. Consequently, any kind of "backup" was left to chance.
So here we are NO email and NO Website for what would turn out to be almost 72 hours during the business week. I don't think I have to tell you the number of fervent calls I received about this in its duration. Thankfully, I had management that understood that we were ALL victims of the previous administrations. That said, being that this is a non-profit organization having little capital to spend on IT infrastructure, they did the best they could with the resources available to them. Their "understanding" had really shown through given this intolerable situation.
Like the Matrix, Bullet Dodged
As it turned out, said hosting company had "by chance" made a recent backup of our server out of what could only be described as divine providence. I think in the end people may have lost a day of email after the restore, and since the website didn't change too much at the time there was no loss there.
Now, having lived through this experience, it was time to shake things up and make sure we would never fall prey to this failing system again.
Viva la Revolucion!
Following the aforementioned events, one thing was clear...Change was necessary and required.
- Secure hosted email solution AWAY from current hosting provider
- Upon completion of Step 1 FIRE CURRENT WEB HOSTING Company and switch to one that has stated redundancy and backup policies.
Two steps, but lots of very time consuming tasks. In my first major foray into reforming the status quo, it took me about 2 solid weeks to line everything up and pull the trigger. There would be no going back.
Something Different, Something New
I don't remember how I came upon Google Apps as a solution to my problem, other than to say I must have found it on "Google". I vaguely recall trying to find hosted email solutions to continue the practice of low maintenance and web access for our multiple locations, but with added security and peace of mind. It seemed fruitless as most of the options out there were VERY expensive per mailbox. I think I found something as low as $13 per month, per user and well multiply that by 130 and it becomes cost prohibitive. (Especially to a non-profit)
Anyway, I landed on and sunk my teeth into using Google Apps for Email. This involved migrating email from the existing 130 users to their corresponding Gapps account. It's not the evolved process that we know today, but was still ahead of its time. No matter how easy the process is, when you have to do it 130 times there is no way it's easy. It's not just accounts, there are actual people to coordinate with as well. With a lot of effort and time and minimal casualties we were on GApps!
NOTE: 80% of our users do not have their own workstations and thus having a well developed webmail interface was an added bonus! Not to mention IMAP ability to Outlook (2003 and above) so that users email would no longer be held hostage on their workstations. It just plain works!
It's been 4+ years since making the transition to Google Apps. In that time, we've experienced one or two minor outages, but haven't lost a thing. Google's near constant state of improvement has only made this suite of products better and easier for admins. The Outlook Sync app which handles your email, calendar and contacts was a great addition. It allowed all the executives to have a more seamless feel in the Outlook client and again preserves their data in the cloud for access among their mobile devices and home computers or wherever. I'm very happy with the switch and I now do this for all my business and non-profit clients.
If some of you are wondering about some of the specific details of this operation, I would be glad to field your questions. Ping me on G+, Facebook, or in the comments below