I feel like I just dumped a girlfriend of 15 years. I’ve preferred MS Exchange since it was initially released. I used other platforms in the past (including MS Mail in the 1990’s and Lotus Notes in several revisions). I was always convinced that MS Exchange was the best of all the corporate email solutions. I also used web mail solutions, POP and IMAP servers, Hotmail, Gmail, etc. but they never came close to becoming a corporate solution.
Over the last quarter, I’ve been researching what to do about our old Exchange server. I decided to take a look at all our available solutions, regardless of my personal biases. When we first started the process we had several different options available to us:
- Upgrade MS Exchange, which required purchasing new hardware.
- Moving to a hosted MS Exchange solution. Eliminating the cost of hardware, but with the same risks if it ever went down due to hardware failure.
- Moving to some sort of “cloud services” solution. We narrowed it down to Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google Apps.
- Downsizing to a “hosted email” type of solution. Also narrowed down to a single vendor with whom I have done business in the past and with my personal websites and email accounts. Lowest cost solution, but would require us to keep user-level backups of emails… a true operations nightmare.
Right after we had reached a conclusion on what to move into… our MS Exchange server died with 3 drives in the RAID array non-responsive, what made it unable to hot swap and rebuild. Three more drives died upon replacement, and the inability to restore from the available tape because it was corrupted. Finally we came back temporarily from a different tape set. Like I mentioned, we had already decided to move into a “cloud services” type of solution, where we would not be held hostages by the hardware nor would we be dependent on software requirements of ever-expanding bloatware with features we were never going to use.
In any case, even though I do consider myself a true Microsoftie, I had to give into the idea of using Google Apps. This solution was not even more cost effective (Google Apps is $25 to $75 annual per user cheaper than MS Office 365) but it simplifies administration and setup. At the same time, we get a foot into the possibility of using other applications (word processing, spreadsheet, etc) from Google (included in the $45 – $50 annual per user fee). Finally we are using an email and application system that already is SAS-70 Type II audited for compliance (which MS Office 365 is not).
I know that Microsoft is not there yet with Office 365, and in a few years if they happen to be better than Google Apps, I will have no trouble moving back into that solution provided they are the most convenient and cost effective solution for the company. In the mean time, I have to admit that Google Apps is a great working environment.
So, how did we do with our migration?
It turned out to be much simpler than expected, and yes, we did great! We ended up migrating all our data into Google Apps Premium along with the Postini service (now called Google Message Discovery) for some of our key users. GMD is a service that gives you data retention of up to 10 years with no storage space allocation limits.
Server data gets moved by running an application on the server and user information that happens to be needed and is not on the server (some of our users had huge archives in PSTs) get moved into Google Apps with a client application. Overall the process varies depending on how much uploading bandwidth the company has but it has been pretty simple and seamless for the users. Now as for the users, we are allowing them to continue to use MS Outlook so that the transition is not painful for them. If they want, they can move on and start using the Google Apps interface which is the same as Gmail in principle, but it happens to give you access to all of its 25 Gigabytes, along with Google Talk, Google Video, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Contacts, Google sites (an application similar in principle to MS SharePoint in its early stages) and other tools like Spam and malware filtering, Archiving (GMD). Users who want to use MS Outlook can still make use of all the connected apps where Outlook acts as a client for them or they can use the corresponding website for each of them.
I will describe what happened with each of the mobile platforms in an article in the near future, but suffice it to say that it was mostly painless… except some BlackBerry devices that were refusing to disconnect from the BES firewall and the surprising fact that Android was one OS that was tough to connect to Google Apps.