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.