With Google Apps
businesses can combine the Gmail
service with their own domain names. Here’s how to get it up and running and provide mobile email without a mail server.
You don’t need an email server for mobile email. Google’s Gmail email system has evolved into a viable replacement for locally-hosted email systems such as Exchange, especially following its integration into Google Apps when the latter launched in mid-2006. You can operate Google Apps for your customers’ domains, which gives them not only email, but access to the Docs and Spreadsheets online office suite, along with Google Calendar, Google Sites (an online system for building collaborative Web pages), and the Google Talk instant messaging and VoIP system.
There are two versions of Google Apps for Business: the free, ad-supported Standard version, and the $50 per-user per-year Premium version. The Premium version includes 25Gb of storage per user, but the email capacity for the Standard edition keeps creeping up too. At the time of writing, it was 7.3Gb. The Premium version includes a 90-day recovery service for email, although Google offers a separate archiving service to firms that need a more robust solution for compliance purposes. The main benefit of the Premium service is the 99.9% uptime SLA (there is no SLA at all for the Standard version, so it’s not suitable for most businesses).
Moving to Gmail
Use Google Apps’ administrative panel to register your customer’s domain, and create an administrative email address under that domain for yourself. Then, verify domain ownership, either by uploading an HTML file with a Google-generated key to the domain’s root directory, or by changing the canonical name (CNAME) record. The first requires a simple FTP upload, while the second involves altering the domain settings with the existing host. Changing the CNAME record also gives your customers’ employees easy access to Google Apps Web-based services. Instead of typing http://mail.google.com/a/yourdomain.com for mail access, they can use the sub-domains mail.yourdomain.com, docs.yourdomain.com and so on.
You’ll also use the existing domain host’s administrative interface to point your customer’s mail exchange (MX) records to Google’s servers, which will cause all email to a customer’s domain to go straight to Gmail. This enables you to split your customers’ domains, so that they can still host their Web sites with other hosting providers. As with any other infrastructure change, you’ll need to plan ahead and do this out of business hours to avoid interrupting business processes.
Then, you’ll need to create user accounts for each customer employee accessing the service. You can upload a CSV file containing this information to avoid typing it in for everyone by hand. Many companies will have existing mail they need to migrate to the new system. Gmail supports both POP and IMAP access. We’re concentrating on IMAP here, because once set up, it’s the most intuitive and functional system for employees to use. The options for getting existing email into Gmail’s IMAP system are extensive and, for the most part, highly workable. For customers with existing on-site IMAP servers such as Exchange, you can temporarily open up a hole in the customer’s firewall for Google to contact the on-site IMAP server and transfer the mail using the pre-created accounts (you’ll need to ensure that these account passwords replicate those on your customer’s IMAP server).
For very small customers, the alternative is to use the Google-provided email uploader program, designed for Thunderbird and Outlook users, which automatically uploads a user’s local email file to the user’s account so they can receive the messages again. We tested this by migrating a Thunderbird user’s account to Google, and it worked flawlessly. We then created a new account within the user’s email client pointing to Google’s IMAP service, and deleted the old account. The client downloaded the newly-transferred email automatically. Taking this approach means everything must be done manually, which in turn means a certain amount of repetitive tedium unless you script the installation of the tool to happen when the user’s PC next logs into the Windows domain.
Things are a little more problematic for businesses who have Macs and no local IMAP server. Google doesn’t provide an upload tool for OS X; there is a third-party tool, Mark Lyon’s Gmail Loader
) but this is a free and unsupported utility. Simply updating an existing account’s credentials to point at Gmail
’s servers and leaving it to replicate existing email won’t work either, as most mailboxes are too large. That leaves manually dragging email folders from an existing Mail.app account into a newly created Gmail
IMAP account. This is tedious for one user. For 20–30 OS X users, it could be a potential deal breaker – especially as a large proportion of Mac users still work in creative industries and may have large attachments stored in their mail.
Making Gmail mobile
Once your customer’s existing mail has been migrated to the Gmail service, accessing it on a mobile phone is relatively straightforward, thanks to the popularity of the service, and its support for IMAP. There are three different ways to access Gmail on a mobile device. The easiest is via Webmail. Surfing to m.google.com gives your customers a streamlined Web interface with access to the various services (Docs, Calendar, Gmail and Google Talk), included in their Google Apps implementation. They’ll have to configure the Web-based interface to provide access to their Apps-based accounts: tell them to select the ‘Configure for Google Apps Domain’ option on the Web page, and enter the domain name. The Apps-based services will appear on the portal’s main screen, highlighted in green, above the existing services.
The second option is to use the dedicated Google Apps for Mobile client, which also provides the option to compose email messages off line. There is a Java-based version for Windows Mobile and Symbian devices, or a native version for the BlackBerry. Users can download it on their phone from m.google.com/mail or you can enter each mobile number at www.google.com/mobile/default/mail.html and they will be sent a link to download the application directly in a text message.
iPhone users aren’t as well supported. The Apple-approved Google application is little more than a native replacement for the front-end m.google.com interface, providing one-touch access to the various Web-based Google Apps services, including Gmail, which open in the phone’s Safari browser. There is no dedicated email client for that system (although it’s worth installing the iPhone application to get voice-based Google search).
has built-in IMAP support, you can set an iPhone
or any other mobile device that supports IMAP access to connect to Gmail
from their native email applications. Google offers step-by-step instructions (http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=75726
) for connecting Android
phones, along with the iPhone
, Windows Mobile
(5 and 6) and BlackBerry
. For Palm OS
you will need a third-party IMAP client like ChatterEmail
will connect to Gmail
via POP but not IMAP). Although Google suggests that all these phone operating systems will work with Gmail
, it only provides support for the iPhone
and the Android
, which makes the $50 per user fee for the Premium service’s support facility less appealing, especially as the help pages are basic and the Gmail support groups have been repeatedly reorganised.
Only clients that support IMAP IDLE will receive email automatically, without users needing to set up a regular schedule or check for messages manually. Symbian supports IMAP IDLE, but other platforms need third-party utilities or email clients like ChatterEmail, FlexMail and ProfiMail, which means installing software on all devices. It also means leaving the data channel open more than on other push email systems, which can reduce battery life.
Some niggles with specific IMAP migration scenarios aside, incorporating Gmail service into your customers’ existing domain will make subsequent management relatively easy (just make sure that you keep hold of the administrative account for that domain, which you’ll set at the beginning). This writer migrated his own domain to the system and now has seven separate accounts using it across three countries, including collective scheduling using Google Calendar. However, it’s not a true push email service for all handsets.
Turn Thunderbird into the ultimate Gmail IMAP client
How to get Thunderbird operating with Gmail:
How do actions sync in IMAP?
Gmail uses a system of labels, which can be mapped to folders in conventional email clients. This page explains how conventional folder-based clients interpret labels, stars and actions such as message moving:
How to set up IMAP-based Gmail in the iPhone
This video shows you how to set up an iPhone for IMAP-based Gmail access:
Google Apps IMAP migration: Best approaches for large migrations
This step-by-step guide takes you through the process for migrating larger groups of email accounts from an on-site IMAP server to Gmail: