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Migrating to Google Apps (part 1)

Why I made the decision

Google Apps is Google’s response to Microsoft Exchange environments. Each have their pros and cons, and honestly, in the workplace Google Apps is still playing catch-up to Exchange but I was looking for something I could use for my personal email account. Having access to all your emails, calendars and contacts in the cloud is almost a necessity, especially since we are constantly on the move and are utilizing our mobile devices more than ever before. If you are daring enough you can keep your documents online as well. If you spring out the $50/yr per user for Google Apps Premier you are additionally provided with additional services like [SSO to] Google Chat, Google Video, Postini, Google Sites and mobile device access for your Blackberry in addition to the iPhone and a few other platforms that Google’s Sync software supports. There are also other perks like Single Sign-On (SSO), forced SSL (configurable), your mailbox size is bumped up to 25GB per user, and they claim “Blackberry Support” which I can only assume includes Push email support since Google Sync only provides Contact and Calendar sync at the time of writing.

Everything I’d heard before about Google Apps while impressive still wasn’t enough for me to make a change, I was dependent on Outlook. When I learned about the Google Apps Sync tool (only available to Google Apps Premier and Education editions) is when I started giving the possibility of using Google Apps some serious consideration. In the end, I did some final research into the features I would be giving up on Exchange in favor of Google Apps Premier and finding them acceptable I signed up. The Apps Sync tool provides the user with Exchange-like access to Mail/Contacts/Calendar – changes are pushed and faster than IMAP for mail, and the Contact/Calendar synchronization is not far behind that as well. Your data is stored in a PST file and it just works – there are a few kinks relating to the way Outlook handles Gmail labels [as folders] where it duplicates any message that has more than one label in its corresponding folder and the email/follow up flag duplication you are likely to see, but I cover how I overcame these hurdles in a later post.

Now that I knew I wouldn’t have to give up Outlook on my main PC (a requirement for me since I was perfectly fine with using the Gmail interface everywhere else) I felt ready to make the jump, I signed up.


The sign up process

The sign up process as I remember it was really straightforward, the main requirement is that you own a domain name. You will be asked for billing information, to create an administrative user, some other details and finally be asked to confirm that you own your domain (either by uploading a file there or creating a CNAME record that Google provides you with). Once you confirm that you own the domain you are brought to the dashboard for the domain you just signed up with:


Everything is currently activated, however, when you first sign up, you need to manually activate Email and Postini Services by modifying your MX records from your domain’s DNS control panel. The mobile sync service (bottom right) also needs to be enabled by opting into it.

Google makes the configuration process fairly painless by providing a setup guide the first time you sign into the control panel which you don’t have to follow but if you need guidance it is invaluable.

Activating Email and Postini can take up to an hour each so you need to be patient while this process completes, in the meantime feel free to go through all the options offered to you by every other component of the Google Apps suite and configure them to your liking.

Additional Considerations

If you opt not to go through all the pages in the Google Apps dashboard at least be aware of the following:

  1. The Support tab provides you with a Customer PIN# and Support PIN# (not sure if it applies to Google Premier only) to contact support and bulk user creation.
  2. The Advanced tools tab provides you with many useful options such as: authentication options, reporting options, email migration.
  3. The Service settings dropdown (last link on the navigation menu) provides you with quick access to each of your service’s settings pages.
  4. It is wise to customize the URLs of your services so that you can access them without having to type out the Google Apps URL. For example: instead of or instead of All you need to accomplish this is create CNAME records on your domain’s DNS control panel and let the Google Apps application you are changing know its new URL (so that Google can update its servers). The services will then be reachable via your custom CNAME and the long URL format. The URL change can easily be accomplished through the settings page of each service.

NOTE: I have not covered all the options for a Google Apps migration from Exchange, only the options that I chose to go with because they met my needs, this article has additional information regarding integration with Outlook and Exchange.

All things considered, the creation process and dashboard was very painless, the pain began once I attempted to get all my data into my account. I will touch on that in the next post.

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