The hardest part of the puzzle is (and always will be) the supported user base. Ten years ago, if you gave users a 100MB email box, you thought they would never fill it. Today, a few marketing folks can fill it in 30 minutes as they email PowerPoint presentations back and forth. The poor Exchange mail store, which was originally designed with a maximum of 18GB (and updated later through service packages), was creeping closer to 80GB. You can ask people to archive to .pst files until you turn blue, but you'll soon realize you're in the middle of a losing battle.
An upgrade was long overdue. Now, I'm not a fan of Microsoft Exchange or Outlook, but most people have used Outlook for a long time and you like to stick with what users are familiar with. I'd be happy with a Unix box running IMAP for email, but straight IMAP wouldn't be the best choice for the company. It was time to get some prices.
This is where things started to snowball. It was easy enough to swallow the prices for the latest version of Microsoft Exchange and the client access licenses (CALs), but the system requirements were another story. As I looked through my hardware upgrades, OS upgrades, desktop software, and PC upgrades, I was closing in on $50,000. It didn't take much thought to realize that I was so far down the rabbit hole, there was no way I was going to upgrade at that cost.
From Exchange to Google Apps: Weighing alternatives
The next step was to look at other options. There are several alternatives to Exchange, many based on open source projects, but none offered a bigger bang for the buck than Google Apps for Business. I wasn't a stranger to Google Apps. I had converted a personal domain over to the free version of Google Apps a few years before. About a year ago, I migrated my church over to Google Apps, since nonprofits can use the service for free. In both of these cases, email is the main service, and many other Google Apps features such as calendaring and Google Docs collaboration are not used.
I struggled with the decision of moving my company. It wasn't just the control that I'd have to yield; I also had to ask whether the data was safe and secure in Google's cloud. The benefits were great, especially in comparison to what we had, and we could simplify our internal infrastructure greatly by removing various pieces of hardware we used to support email on Exchange. I viewed many of the videos Google had on its site, checked out numerous white papers, and read and watched many customer testimonials.
Once the decision was made, it was a quick transition. Users were informed of the change in a few weeks, and we started discussions with Google on how to do the migration. My team is seasoned and not strangers to the hidden world of how email works. We knew what was needed in regard to MX records and LDAP migrations. Judging from our discussion with our Google representatives, we were much better prepared for the migration than the customers they typically deal with.
From Exchange to Google Apps: Productivity gains
Google Apps is a very powerful system, and our users are getting much more functionality than what they had before. Some users hated the Web interface from day one and wanted Outlook back before the Web page even stopped loading; I expected that. Other users were extremely excited by all the new functionality and took to the system immediately. As a company, we really wanted people to use the Web front end. We rolled out Google Chrome at the same time, and I would recommend this approach to anyone moving to Google Apps.