If you’ve not used Gmail yourself, you’re almost certainly familiar with the concept of web-based, free e-mail boxes with plenty of storage. Until Google introduced Gmail as an invitation-only beta on April 1st, 2004, most other services such as Microsoft’s Hotmail limited users to a few megabytes of e-mail storage. Gmail debuted offering a 1 gigabyte mailbox capacity, since increased to 7.5 GB and counting, and precipitated our modern-day concept of what web-based e-mail should be. In more recent years, you can combine the functionality of Gmail with your own Internet domain name.
Google has since gone on to wrap up Gmail in their Google Apps, including Google Docs and Google Calendar. While many potential readers here have an intuitive, expert-level familiarity with Google’s most popular offerings, this post may be worth your time if…
- You’re an IT professional who has seen headlines from time to time regarding organizations outsourcing their e-mail, calendars, documents and other services to Google. Examples include the City of Los Angeles, New York University and the U.S. General Services Administration. You’re interested in this topic in a general sense, but you’ve yet to look into how much or how little effort might be involved.
- You’re a business owner or manager considering the purchase or replacement of an on-premise e-mail server and are interested in knowing more about alternatives. You want reliable and secure e-mail, calendar and document sharing among your team at a price you can afford.
- You’ve registered one or more Internet domain names for your personal or small business use but haven’t set up e-mail for the domain yet. You still list a Gmail, Hotmail or similar e-mail provider’s address on your web site or business card. You may be interested in presenting an e-mail address containing yourdomain.com to your customers.
The aforementioned Google Apps, including Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs, are now available in several flavors for different users populations. Those include the free edition, as well as versions for Business, Education, Government and Nonprofits. While headline-grabbing implementations are complex, potentially multi-year projects, walking through the basic setup is relatively simple.
For any individual, organization or business needing less than 50 mailboxes, the Google Apps free edition may serve all of your needs. For businesses with more than 50 mailboxes or needing a feature only available in the Business edition (such as an SLA and 24×7 support), you’ll generally pay $50 per mailbox, per year. We can always get started with the free edition and switch to the paid edition later. A feature comparison is here.
[Update: Beginning May 10, 2011, Google Apps free edition is limited to businesses with 10 or fewer mailboxes.]
So, just how easy is setting up Google Apps? Assuming that you already have an Internet domain registered and have authorized access to your domain’s DNS server records, an IT professional who is familiar with DNS concepts can set up Google Apps for a domain in around ten minutes. Seriously. Let’s summarize the process here and then link to a step-by-step PDF with screen shots.
- Internet domain name registered with a domain registrar.
- Access to and appropriate credentials for the DNS server settings for the domain.
- Basic knowledge of DNS concepts including MX, CNAME and TXT records, or willingness to investigate these concepts as you complete the implementaiton.
- Get started.
- Enter your domain name.
- Provide real-world contact information for your domain.
- Enter desired administrator name and password.
- Verify domain ownership by creating DNS entry as instructed.
- Choose to switch entire domain.
- Provide friendly URL such as http://mail.yourdomain.com.
- Update MX records.
- Active e-mail.
- Provide friendly URL for docs and calendar if desired.
- Enable SSL.
- Set up DKIM if desired.
- Start creating users.
- Explore. Make additional customizations as desired.
- Enable POP or IMAP in your individual mailbox if desired, allowing connectivity via your favorite e-mail client or smartphone.
With an initial investment of zero dollars and a few minutes of our time, we can set up customized Gmail boxes for up to
50 10 users on a previously established Internet domain.
It would be silly to suggest that migrating a large organization from on-premise Microsoft Exchange and Outlook to Google Apps would be easy, or without significant investment of both time and money. Regulatory compliance in certain industries adds additional challenges and cost, though Google has answers for that too in the form of Postini. One would have to balance the ongoing purchases and maintenance of server hardware along with software licensing against Google’s $50 per mailbox, per year. That calculation is going to come up differently from one organization to the next. For those that find value on Google’s side of the equation, perhaps there is less to be nervous about after walking through the process. For those who can get by on the Free Edition, why not?
A detailed walk-through with screen-shots is linked here: Using Gmail With Your Domain