If users have Google Apps, do they need a server managed login? Many printers have their own built in print queue server. Google apps stores docs / settings in the cloud. What left for the server to do? With Google Apps for Work, you have the potential of not needing any servers at all.
The question I get asked is about most is the security of data held at Google. The perception is often that data held in the cloud is less secure, but as explained in this short video, going Google usually means a drastic improvement to the way in which data is secured.
I've noticed that smaller businesses quite often find workarounds for dealing with the issue of ensuring that all staff have the same calendar information: group-wide emails announcing events, which each individual then puts in their own diary system (paper or electronic); room bookings all managed by one member of staff; quarterly planners sent out with every revision and so on.
These are all mind-numbingly administrative details that can be automated and Google Calendar, which is available as part of the Google Apps for Work suite.
One of my favourite features of Google Calendar is appointment slots, whereby you can indicate your availability for meetings and allow others to book those slots. Another great feature is resource booking so rooms and equipment can't be double booked.
Google Apps costs less than £4 / user / month and offers work based emails and office productivity apps (including Calendar) as part of the price.
For what feels like too long now, the phrase “cloud computing” has perpetuated and I'm struck with how the terminology of clouds is muddling, misleading and often mistaken.
Picture a cloud and we think about how transient and wispy it is, which are not concepts we want to associate with data storage or technology. We know that computer and data security are increasingly of concern to business, particularly those who deal with many customer details or with proprietary information, so the cloud phrase is not one I find helpful.
It is clear that those involved in providing what have become known as cloud computing services, Google and Salesforce to name two, know that no amount of marketing spend would compensate for a scandal around loss of secure data so they invest significantly on a scale we would not be able to achieve independently. But the term cloud does little to promote this!
Another misleading impression from the term cloud is that it doesn’t cost anything as it just exists. Whilst the setup and ongoing costs are significantly reduced by using the economy of scale available from a cloud supplier there still remains a cost in terms of administration and overhead that need to be taken into account if organisations are to make the most of their use of cloud services.
The phrase itself has come to be so misleading or empty (like a cloud itself) that I expect it, like the expression “information superhighway” in the 90s, will quickly be lost into the mists of time, to be replaced by something more substantial.
Once you have made the decision to buy services rather than provide them yourself, the next stage is to investigate which service to use. For everyday productivity (email, calendar, contacts, docs) there’s essentially two choices. Google Apps and Office 365. Which of these suits your organisation will depend not just on financial terms, but also the ease of managing the change across your organisation, ongoing costs, maintenance and usability.
The first consideration will still be cost - after all, the main attraction to CFOs with cloud is the promise to reduce storage, software and maintenance costs. Google Apps can offer significant savings over Microsoft Exchange, but so too can Office365.
The key difference for me is that whilst Google Apps can work with MS Office and Windows, there is no dependency on them. Office 365 on the other hand tends to be used in conjunction with Microsoft desktop / server based software and without them you are going to run into trouble. This is an increasing issue for those looking to work from home and non Microsoft mobile devices.
Most companies have a Microsoft legacy, so can perceive the switch to Google Apps a stumbling block, because their methods of managing email, for example, have been habitualised by the methods dictated by Microsoft. The appeal of a keeping desktop applications like Outlook (and complimentary web versions) is apparent, but for me the lock in and lack of flexibility of taking that approach is a big limitation.
Another reasons I’ve chosen to focus on Google Apps is because I believe in their philosophy of open systems and ease of entry. Pretty much everything you can do with Google Apps for Business you can also do as a gmail consumer, for free, which reduces the barriers considerably. If I share a Google Doc with you, all you need as a recipient to access (or even edit) that document is a browser. No need for MS Office or any other licence. You don’t even need a gmail account. I can also export my docs in a range of formats (including Microsoft formats) and send by traditional email too if I wish.
Increasingly, companies are using Google to handle work emails because it is secure, scalable and simple. This blog post explains how you can perform a quick switch over with minimal disruption.
Register for a free trial
Sign up for a Google Apps for Work free trial and register your domain. Don't worry, registration will not change how your emails are delivered or commit you in any way.
The trial will allow you to set up user accounts for your workplace and try them out, without any commitment.
Once you've decided to switch, send out a company wide email explaining what is happening. "By using Google we will be better placed to support our business requirement".
Be sure to explain that historic documents, emails, contact details and calendar events will stay where they are, but that you will also be copying the recent emails, contact lists and calendar entries over for them. There are tools provided by Google to help with this and they can be run just before or after the switch. I recommend only transferring the past few weeks emails to start.
Create all the necessary user accounts. There are a number of ways this can be done; the easiest being a CSV upload of user addresses and initial passwords.
Reduce the TTL (time to live) on your MX records to 10 minutes. The MX (mail exchange) record is the entry in your DNS which tells other servers where your email is delivered, so having frequent updates is important if you are about to embark on any change.
Send out an email to users with account activation instructions and the date and time of the switch over. They should be able to login to their new Google account and send a test email before the switch.
Change the MX records to route emails to your newly created Google for Work accounts. Job done! Staff will be able to access their emails through the web, their mobile, tablet or using an old-school email client like Outlook.
If you are interested in trying Google Apps out for your workplace, it's always worth starting with a free 30 day trial. Remember, your current email system will not be affected until you update your MX records.