We have spent the last two days working to set up the technology infrastructure for our 2010 Annual Conference. After this initial work is complete I spend the rest of the week sitting in the back waiting for something to break. I also help manage the live video stream and any miscellaneous work that needs to be done on our coverage page. It’s enough to keep me busy while still being able to pay attention to most of what goes on out in the big meeting.
Multiple routers providing internet access.
We run a pretty wide range of hardware in the News Room. You can see anything from Linux netbooks to Mac and Windows laptops. We also support an e-mail station of several Ubuntu 10.04 workstations. Throw in about 15-20 employees, several wireless networks, 2,000 attendees and one large facility and you have a complex project!
George Speake and Derek Leek work together on a project.
This year the set-up time took about as long as I expected it would. The nice thing we have this year that we have not had in previous years is an extra day to prepare. Now that I have most of the major work finished tomorrow should be a fairly light day. I’m hoping to catch up on some e-mail and continue coordinating vendors for the building move in two weeks. We’ll see how it goes though. As of right now all systems are green!
Today people from all over our conference met to dedicate our new facility. It was good to see some old friends and faces that I don’t usually get to see. I will probably see all of these people again next week at our annual conference but it was good for now to catch up.
We gathered today to dedicate the entire building as well as the Sam Dixon Meeting Room and Chapel. Our main meeting room serves a dual purpose and it was named after one of our clergy members who perished in the Haiti earthquake. Unfortunately I missed most of the actual ceremony itself. We had a power blink in the building during the service that disturbed our alarm system. I spent a good bit of time straightening that out. Everything new is bound to have a few kinks, right? After spending a great deal of the last six months working on this building today it finally felt like it was finished. It’s good to get to this point. No time to rest on our accomplishments though, annual conference is next week and the building move is in two weeks!
Cross and flame over building entrance
We have been working over the last few months to set up and deploy Google Apps to all of our various e-mail users at work. In case you have never heard it before Google has bundled many of their online offerings (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Sites) into a company branded version that can be aliased with a custom domain name. Since we are a non-profit organization Google has given us 3,000 accounts for free!
Gmail interface - Work e-mail address!
Who could say no to an offer like that? We are looking at the collaborative possibilities of having over 2,000 active accounts in one Google Apps system. Our current e-mail infrastructure is a mixture of Microsoft and open source products. We started off with a small Windows e-mail server and have grown over the years to support over 2,000 mailboxes. We decided to go with a few different solutions for different segments of this user base over time as needed. In the end we have five servers all working together to run and manage our communications infrastructure. It’s a mess. It’s also rather burdensome to administer. Enter Google Apps with its unified management system, familiar end user facing interface, compelling and easy to use overall setup and the choice to switch is fairly easy. We started off with about 10 beta users and then migrated the entire Communications and Information Technology offices. Once we were convinced that the system was working well we began the roll out process to internal staff. We are up to about 150 active accounts now but we have a long way to go.
What are some of the major benefits of switching to this system?
- We reduce our support surface from five different servers, operating systems and mailbox formats down to one integrated interface.
- We will have access to an whole host of collaborative tools that was not previously possible.
- Our end users will have reduced confusion. Many times they call us and have forgotten which server they are hosted on (so do we!).
- We don’t have to write documentation anymore. We just link from Google’s support website!
- We no longer have to constantly maintain our e-mail gateway anti-virus and anti-spam scanners.
- Microsoft Outlook integrates into the Google Apps system. We have a good number of users that wish to continue using Microsoft Outlook instead of the web interface.
Google Apps allows a custom logo for each organization.
What kind of things can we do with this new system? Here’s a few ideas:
- Easily share user calendars so that co-workers may know when they are available for meetings.
- Set up shared documents, spreadsheets and presentations for collaborative work within offices. These documents can also be shared with the entire Conference or with all visitors to our website.
- Set up Google Sites for project based collaboration (rather than just individual documents).
- Easily manage e-mail and make use of the labeling system for filing away old messages for later retrieval.
- Easily set up a system group that I can use to communicate with all of my end users simultaneously.
What other ways can we use this? We are concentrating on the migration from our existing systems now and will move on to feature implementation later. I’m curious to hear other ideas as to what we can actually do with this system once we have everything in place. I’ll post updates as we move along in the implementation process. We are very excited about all that we can do with this new system!