Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hallelujah!! Successful Google Apps Migration



Today we went live with Google Apps! The transition went very smoothly, the MX records propagated instantly and there were no bounces.

I have been using Google Apps and I believe this is a good move for the Church. It's not only free, but it will allow us to have access to all our information from any computer at any time. I'm not certain how much everyone will use Google Docs, but Gmail, Calendar, and Sites will be used quite a bit.

And we get the high end Educational Package for free because we're a non-profit.

And I love 'Remember the Milk' and the Firefox plug-in that integrates the task list with Gmail! It's very useful. Combined that with the fact that you can call Jott to send messages to your task list, and also have your task list send text messages to your phone and you have a very versatile package.

The legacy system that was in place at the Church when I arrived was an internal MS Exchange server that housed all the internal mailing lists AND an external mail system with our domain name. There were plenty of problems with people in-house sending email via the exchange server,which the Pastors with Laptops could not receive until they physically plugged into our network, because VPN was disabled, and the Firewall Appliance was inadequate for our needs in general.

We're going to replace MS Office 2003 with open source OpenOffice on all our work stations. We were using 2003 on machines that don't have nearly enough Oomph for Office 2007, and we were running into compatibility issues already. We certainly could not afford to upgrade all the boxes. Even MS's non-profit pricing is high in my mind, especially when compared to FREE software. OpenOffice runs fine on our machines, and again, it's free, and totally compatible with just about everything, as long as you set the default save to .rtf.

I was very pleased with the way the change was received. The Lead Pastor had suggested it to me at the same time I was emailing him about the same subject, and I'm lucky that there are plenty of folks at the Church that are very tech savvy so I didn't have to 'sell' it.

The downside is that what is free today may not be free tomorrow and that putting all your data eggs in one Googley basket may not be wise. And I do wonder about the level of future support. But even if things go sour two years down the line we've still saved a bundle, still have OpenOffice, and we just jump back with another email provider like we did before. And I love Thunderbird.

Considering the ease of use, and the fact that Google Apps is very user friendly I'm positive that everyone will love it.

I'm just happy that the MX propagation went well!!!

8 comments:

Stuart said...

Couple of questions come from your posting.

1. You say high end apps - perhaps I'm not looking hard enough but what are these or where is the list?

2. With your eMail migration you've literally pointed the MX record at some google box(es) and that now handles it all?

Just thinking through options for our place - fortunately we are still small enough that we don't need an Exchange box (or similar) and setting up new accounts with the web hoster is easy enough. Users can always forward to a.n.other webmail account such as gmail but get webmail built in with the domain as is.

Cheers Stuart

CindyK said...

Hi Stuart!

Answer 1:

I just meant that we get the 'educational' package for free which offers a bit more than the regular free Google Apps for organizations because we're a non-profit.

Answer 2:

Yep. Google gives you the instructions, and it points at the google servers.

If you manage your own Domain name you can do it yourself, if not you have to get your current provider to do it.

Now we have no need at all to have the exchange server, and I'm thrilled with that!

It's very easy, if you follow their suggestions for a smooth roll out.

Mark said...

Couple questions:
1. How many users do you have using Google Apps?
2. What version of Exchange were you using?
3. Did you have to switch all your users from Outlook to Thunderbird?
4. Are there any features you miss from Exchange?
5. Have you had a problem with emails from your google apps being rejected by spam filters? I've had a few recently and I was wondering if it was just me.

I'd like to do the same thing at our church/school, but i'm having trouble convincing the decision makers. Thanks for your post.

CindyK said...

Hi Mark!

Here are the answers to the questions that you asked above:

1) We have 56 users of Google Apps. Most are only using the Email and Calendar. They are slowly becoming adept with Google Docs.

2) Our Exchange Server was version 6.5.7638.1

3) Currently there is only one person that's not using the web version entirely, and yes they are on thunderbird.

4) I do not miss the exchange server at all. Now I don't have to manage email at all, other than handle bounces and do occasional administrative work. Our little server is very happy not to have to carry that burden both RAM and HD wise.

What /is/ missed is the Task List from Outlook 2003. There is nothing that matches it. Remember the Milk is spotty. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.

Google calender, however is better than that in Outlook.

Another downside is the Syncing of Cell phones and PDA's, but there is software out there that will do it, both free versions and not so free.

4) Oh wow! Yes! Just recently. Early last year we were blacklisted because of the Email Blasts that my pastors send out via Constant Contact BUT all persons receiving the emails had signed up for them. I got that toned down to 'gray lists' and I was afraid that's what was happening.

But now that you mention it, yes, we have had periodic bounces to varying isp's, nothing that fit a pattern that I could discern.

If you'd like I can ask my boss, the facilities pastor if he would talk to your folks, or if you'd like I can as well. There were some snags, don't get me wrong, but over all it's been a blessing.

What really convinced the team here was the overall cost savings without having to purchase MS Office 2007. We're using Open Office now too. So Google Apps + Open Office = a huge savings.

Good luck, let me know if there is anything I can do to help!

Mark said...

Thanks so much for your response. We recently had a some internet and router problems that left us without email for days while we waited for Qwest to come fix it. I think now might be the time to push for a switch. I appreciate your help and I may have my boss give you a call. Thanks again.

Mark said...

Also, for the cell phone/PDA sync, I see Calgoo is now free and I've been testing it. It seems to work great. Some of our staff have blackberries without a data plan so they sync to Outlook. I plan to use IMAP and Calgoo to connect Outlook to Google and then they can sync their devices through outlook. What solutions have you looked into for the sync issue?

CindyK said...

I have only one person with an old Blackberry that can't sync directly to Google Apps, and I'm using a cludge - he syncs his Blackberry to Outlook, then I just use Google Calender Sync for him:

(https://www.google.com/support/calendar/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=89955)

Everyone else is syncing directly to Google using some of the apps that I outline at this ridiculously long URL:

https://sites.google.com/a/allisonparkchurch.com/apc-tech-info/Home/google-apps--deployment-schedule/phone-syncing

Usually with the apps listed above Calender syncing is free - contact syncing usually costs a fee, some higher than others.

However if you are still going to use Outlook (We don't I'm trying to get away from MS applications and have everyone using the web interface) then as you suggested you can just have they sync to Outlook, then up to Google.

I'm just trying to utilize the web interface because then you can achieve a great deal of freedom in that they can access their email and calendar anywhere at all that has an internet connection.

We use our startpage that has this horrendous URL:

http://partnerpage.google.com/allisonparkchurch.com

Now of course we can shorten this but I've not gotten around to that yet. But as the administrator you can customize this page any way you like. If you look at ours above you can see the custom colors and applications that we start out with. Once they sign in and take control of their page, they can customize it further with applications.

I REALLY like the freedom of not having to utilize our exchange server any more, and we no longer have to purchase MS Office, we use OpenOffice.org on our machines, and also Google Apps for sharing online. We've no need for Outlook at all for the most part.

God Bless Mark, and I hope this stuff helps, I'm happy to share anything I've learned with this move.

Mark said...

Thanks for the info. I appreciate your input on this. I may have my boss get in contact with you to answer some questions he may have.
Also, I agree the start page URL is a bit unwieldy. I was able to change ours to start.sspatriots.org on the test domain simply by adding a CNAME to my domain and adding the domain in the Google administration.
I also like OpenOffice. I am hoping to get more Open Source apps integrated into our organization here. Thanks for your example.