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!
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.
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!