Google Apps

We're in the process of a major internet infrastructure shift at Schweitzer. By the end of June we should have migrated our connectivity from a T1 (part of which is used for voice lines) and a 100mb fiber connection. The resulting shift has a several of important implications. The first is that our day-to-day usage will be incredibly fast – other customers have told us that more often than not remote sites are the bandwidth bottleneck. The second is that we'll no longer need to off-site our bandwidth intensive materials because of the increased speed. Third we'll have to migrate all of our email away from our current provider (the subject of this post).

I've looked at a lot of options for our email infrastructure and ultimately I think we're going to go with the free Google Apps solution. Since we decided to make the connectivity switch I've been looking at a variety of solutions. Here was my basic evaluation path:

  1. Look at setting up the same infrastructure we've used very reliably at Educara for years. This is a linux system with postfix, courier imap/pop, dspam spam filtering, clam-av virus scanning.

    Pros: Great level of control, storage limited by drive space, in-house administration, low cash start-up cost (can run on our existing internet server)

    Cons: Continuous maintenance to keep spam/virus filters current, loss of connectivity impacts email, limits administration to IT staff, high staff-time start-up cost

  2. Look at other in-house solutions with outsourced spam/av filtering.

    Pros: Generally the same as #1 with the addition of no spam/av maintenance

    Cons: Similar to #1 without spam/av maintenance, monthly cost

  3. Zimbra. This was my initial decision until I got a chance to play with Google Apps. I currently have a zimbra server running in a VM handling mail for one of our domains. Setup was quick, administration is easy.

    Pros: Easy set up, all the perks of running it on our own server,

    Cons: Same as #1

  4. Hosted solution. I looked at a variety of hosted options from those using Zimbra to those at our domain registrar. Ultimately none of them really had the flexibility I was looking for without a cost that would be prohibitive this year. The main wall I kept hitting was storage space (we regularly hit the 100mb ceiling with our current provider).
  5. Google Apps. Google Apps basically provides all of the services of Zimbra in a free (or paid) hosted
    solution. Most people have some experience with Gmail so training is minimized as well (there are also great docs online).

    Pros: No dependence on IT staff, proven infrastructure, option for paid support, large amount of storage, options for upgrades/support, google powered search, calendaring, etc

    Cons: Advertising in free version, no IMAP, dependent on google

Ultimately Google wins out for us. The free version provides fairly unobtrusive advertising, 2gb of storage/account, all the power of gmail, google documents, a branded start-page, it also gives us the ability to upgrade to the pro version when required/budget allows. We currently only need 30 mailboxes which makes the workload and infrastructure for dedicated hardware (or even a VM) seem like overkill.

The two big factors for me are cost and dependence on the IT team. We hadn't budgeted for this upgrade even though it is greatly needed – SpringNet worked with us to keep our monthly expenditure the same until next year's budget starts. Not having additional fees for email is a big plus. Secondly the IT team right now is me, a consultant, and a couple of volunteers. My biggest concern with hosting email ourselves was the IT requirement for support and contingency plans in the event of a server failure. 

A completely unrelated bonus is that we'll be able to migrate our email before all of the IP switching craziness starts. While we're going to overlap connectivity for awhile it will be nice for email to not disappear during that transition. 

Everybody I've talked to has been happy with Google's solution – I've never had any trouble with my mail there. Anybody have a different experience to share before I commit to this path?