Google Apps

This weekend, I converted all of Axeva’s email over to Google Apps.  After years of running our own Exchange Server, the time had come to throw in the towel and move to the cloud.

So what is Google Apps?

In a nutshell, Google Apps is Gmail for your business.  It’s a way to host your corporate email in the cloud without all the mess of running your own servers.  Google provides everything a small business needs: giant 7 Gb email accounts, shared calendars and even basic document collaboration.   The best part?  It’s free.

Google does offer a Premier Edition, which offers a few more services.  For $50 per year, they’ll increase your email storage up to 25 Gb, let you hold video chats and provide 24/7 support.  In reality, however, the Standard Edition is more than enough for most small companies.

As with Gmail, one of the big advantages of Google Apps is that you’ll have full access to your email from the web, your desktop email client of choice (Outlook, Mail.app, Thunderbird, etc.) and your smart phone.  In other words, your email goes where you go — home, the office, the airport — everywhere.

A Few Tips to Ease the Transition

To their credit, Google makes it very simple to get started with Google Apps.  I had our account setup in a matter of minutes.  Creating your email accounts is dead simple, and you can even create alias accounts that redirect to your main email address.  For example, you could create bill@yourcompany.com as your mail email, then create an alias for william@yourcompany.com that dumps the email it receives into your bill@ account.

The difficult part is migrating your existing email over to the new system.  As you might expect, Google makes this fairly simple for their paying customers (those with Premier Edition accounts).  For those of us with Standard Edition accounts, you have to jump through a few hoops.

Google Email Uploader

If your employees are using desktop email programs today, the first thing you should try is the Google Email Uploader utility.  This tool, created by Google, will look at the email on your computer and assist you in sending it to your new Google Apps account.

In my experience, the tool works pretty well if you’re using Outlook on Windows.  On the Mac side, we saw mixed results.  For normal POP or IMAP accounts under Mail.app, the Google Email Uploader worked like a charm.  When we tried to upload email that was stored on the Exchange server, however, the utility didn’t even recognize the account.  On both Mac and Windows, you’re limited in the size of the upload however.  No individual email can be larger than 16 Mb.  If you’ve got a few messages with large attachments, for example, they won’t be uploaded.

These hiccups aside, I would strongly recommend you use the Google Email Uploader if possible.  When it worked, the tool was fantastic.  It wasn’t lightning fast, but it produced great results.  Your mileage may vary, however.

The Google Email Uploader is available for Mac or PC, and it works with most major email clients.

The Hard Way

If you can’t get the Google Email Uploader to work, there is another trick you can try to migrate that old email.  Nearly all major desktop email clients allow you to configure more than one email address.  They also allow you to drag and drop an email from one account to another.  Simply open your inbox in the old email account, select all the messages, and drag them over to the inbox in your new Google Apps email address.

It’s not pretty, but it works.  No one ever said that it has to be elegant to be effective.

And Away We Go…

We’re about 24 hours in to the brave new world of Google Apps.  I’m sure there will be a few more ups and downs along the way, but right now I’m happy with the results.

If you have questions about Google Apps, or have a few tips of your own about how to get the most out of system, please leave your comments below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

UPDATED:  3/2/2010

Joe Kissell has written a fantastic article explaining how to get the best results when using Apple Mail with Google Apps.  I highly recommend that all Mac users read this:

Achieving Email Bliss with IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail, by Joe Kissell

Posted in Tips & Tricks