9/21/09 – Joshua Schoeneck, Teacher and Director of Technology at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, WI, shares his experience with Google Apps …
We are right at the edge of implementation. Google Apps (mail, docs, calendar) will be rolled out to some students starting tomorrow and to the remainder of the student body (435) within a month. We included some segments on Google Docs in two of our classes last year with students creating their own accounts to make use of it. Rollout to faculty/staff will likely begin this week as well.
We have had a Novell GroupWise email server on site since we got a fixed IP internet connection about 10 years ago. Last year we made the decision to change our network over from Windows XP & Novell Netware to Windows Vista & Windows 2008 Server. Since GroupWise is tied directly into Novell, I knew we would need a new email system, so we started evaulating options. We’ve never hosted student email before, but have allowed students to use gmail, hotmail, yahoo, msn, etc. The three main options we looked at were Google Apps, Microsoft’s Live@edu and Microsoft Exchange Server. The cost(free) along with the fact that we wouldn’t need to maintain an email server made Google Apps and Live@edu very appealing. Live@edu’s feature set matches most closely with what we were doing with GroupWise and is very similar to having a hosted Exchange server, so that was the option that I planned to pursue. The one stumbling block had to do with email archiving. We need to be able to archive both the email between our own users and between them and the outside world. I just could not discover a way to do that with Live@edu, which seems to be aimed mainly at colleges for use among their students (their docs often reference setting it up side by side with an on-campus Exchange server for faculty/staff). This set back my implementation plans by about 2 months, but I then moved on to Google Apps. The more that I dig into Google Apps, the more I find to like, but compared to managing my own email server on site, it is a bit more restrictive as to what I can do. We will actually end up with two implementations, one for students (@students.kmlhs.org) and one for faculty/staff (@kmlhs.org). Google has two ways that you can manage archiving of email, you can go through a third party (like Google’s own Postini), but those options can get to be pretty costly. I am in a unique situation in regards to archiving – we have a product called LightSpeed Systems Total Traffic Control, which acts as a firewall, filter, spam blocker, virus protector, email archiver and a few other things. The features can’t be paid for separately, so unless I could get my archiving free somewhere else, I wanted to use the one I was already paying for, so now we have a setup where email actually comes into my server, then goes to Google and email from our Google Apps implementation (even intradomain) flows back through my server. My biggest problem has been coming up with a good way to manage the transition for our existing faculty/staff users who I need to switch from Windows XP and GroupWise to Windows Vista and Outlook 2007/Google Apps one by one. The student side was pretty easy, since there is nothing that needs to transfer from an old system.
Here are some issues that I’ve come up with in Google Apps that have caused some grief:
- It takes days-weeks to get your Google Apps implementation upgraded to the Education Edition, which includes several features that I needed to have.
- Google Apps won’t deal with email subdomains. I can’t run @students.kmlhs.org and @kmlhs.org from the same Google Apps implementation.
- If you delete a user in Google Apps, you can’t recreate that user for 5 days. I found this out the hard way when I did a bulk create of all of our faculty/staff as a test, then deleted them and tried to create them again.
- Documentation seems a little shaky on some things.
- Google Apps does not have GoogleGroups capabilities built in. This seems to be a big mistake.
- Password synching between GoogleApps and Microsoft Active Directory needs to be provided by a third party program (some are available for free). We will likely pursue this a little further down the road.
- Google does have some ability to sync users between an Active Directory implementation and Google Apps, but at this point the caveats involved have led me to stop pursuing that option.
Once I’ve completed our implementation of Google Apps here at KML, I plan to also set it up at Morning Star Lutheran Church & School where I serve in a volunteer IT capacity.