Switching To Google Apps

About a month ago we had some staff changes at the church. The guy who was our facilities manager/ IT / wore several other hats around the church left. He’s still around the church just changed his job. Some job duties were shuffled around and I’ve become the point person for IT. We have a contract with a company for them to provide the day to day IT support when needed so I mainly just call them.

I find it funny because I’m the only mac user and I haven’t used a PC since 2001. So most request for IT go like this:
Step 1: Restart
Step 2: Call IT support guy

But I know a few things about myself. I like solving problems. Since I’ve came on staff at Lakeshore we’ve had an old Exchange server that’s needed to be replaced. In order for it to deliver emails in a timely manner most of it’s features have been turned off. It doesn’t even sync changes made in a blackberry or the web access with your Outlook/ Entourage mail box.

So we looked at several solutions:
1. New Exchange server. High upfront cost and needs care and feeding by someone who knows what they’re doing.
2. Hosted Exchange. No upfront cost but about $10/user per month
3. Google Apps. Typically $50/user/year but non profits are eligible for their free education program. In other words it’s free for churches in the US with 501(c)3 IRS status.

It didn’t take much persuasion to see the benefit of switching to Google Apps. The process went pretty smooth except for a few details that I’ll get to at the end.

Here’s the process we went through:
1. Sign up for Google Apps standard account
2. Submit an application for a non-profit/ edu account (took about 2 weeks for Google to approve us).
3. On all PCs installed Google Talk (this gave everyone intra office IM and notifies them when they have email), Google Apps Sync (This utility migrates their data from Outlook to Google and allows them to use Outlook as their front end if they want).

So we made the switch about a week ago and here’s what I’ve learned so far:
– Outlook mailing lists don’t migrate to Google Groups. We have one person who is using Outlook as a contact management solution instead of our Church Management Solution and has several thousand contacts on over one hundred mailing lists. FYI he’s still using Outlook.
– Only a few people had their old emails migrate over. This is because most people on staff had Exchange email boxes that were 500Mb+ and we have a slow internet connection. So if you do the math of pushing up the data, then pulling the data down it’s going to take several days to get their old email’s migrated. So far most people don’t need them but what I’m going to do this week is if they have old emails that need to be migrated is to have them delete what they don’t need out of their mailbox.

Most the guys on staff have blackberries. We’re using Google Sync for calendar and contact sync and the Gmail application for email. So far it seems to be working well.

A few of us have iPhones and now that Google Sync supports email on the iPhone life is great. One gotcha I had to figure out is to sync multiple calendars with my iphone I had to navigate to m.google.com, sign into my Google Apps account then I was given some preferences to adjust.

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October 7, 2009. Tags: , , , . Tech Stuff.

One Comment

  1. Mike Sessler replied:

    We went through the same transition a last year, and I thought I’d chime in with a few things. First, we ran all our Google Apps mail accounts in IMAP mode. That way, every change on any platform is synched. So if people still want to use Outlook on the desktop, it’s no problem. That also saved the upload/download problem. I used Outlook uploader to move the mail to Google, then re-synched an IMAP account. The synch didn’t take as long as re-downloading.

    The other big benefit of IMAP is it lets users use whatever mail client they want. They don’t need to use the web interface, but they can. Personally, I prefer Apple’s Mail, but I also have an iPhone. I have my Google mail set up on both, and all changes happen instantly (far faster than on our Exchange server at my current church). And if I need to web interface in from somewhere, I can.

    Given the low cost (free!) and the essentially unlimited supply of e-mail storage (I think it’s somewhere around 7 Gigs/user), Google Apps is an excellent solution for the small to mid-sized church–especially the church without a full-time IT staff. And no, I overworked Tech Director/IT guy doesn’t qualify as IT staff. I know; I was there!

    Great thoughts, Dave!

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