Moving from a hosted Exchange mail system to Google Apps needn’t be fraught with challenges
I have just migrated from using a business class hosted Exchange mail system to Google Apps, and I wanted to share my experiences so that others can make the same change should they wish to do so.
Although my background is engineering and IT, these days most of my time is spent running a one-man Business Continuity consultancy. Thus, IT support is not part of my day job. For this reason I took a decision some time ago to outsource all my IT service provision. Part of this means that I have been using a hosted Microsoft Exchange service provider to manage my email, contacts and calendar.
My own IT environment is heavily Mac based and I have a Macbook Air, an iPad and an iPhone4s to handle the bulk of my IT needs. I use the service from IT Energy in London, through their Opality brand and have experienced no major problems and excellent service. I use Entourage to manage my email and use its ActiveSync connection to sync iCal and Address Book contacts.
I chose to use an out-sourced Exchange service so that could keep my email, contacts and calendar in sync across all devices and get the many benefits offered by Opality, such as server based rules, decent anti-spam and anti-virus and full backup. This is done instead of using one of the many consumer grade IMAP services that are out there; which often don’t give the full experience: such as support for scheduling meetings.
The need to change
Unfortunately, pressure on margins has prompted IT Energy to withdraw from this market and I have recently been given notice that their service will be closed down at the the end of June. Thus I have been forced into finding another service provider.
I looked at other hosted Exchange providers but eventually decided to try Google Apps as a replacement. I already use Gmail for personal mail so I I already knew how to consume Google’s services on my devices. However I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been to migrate from Exchange to Google’s services.
What I needed to do
So, what did I actually need to do, and how easy was it?
In essence, the steps were to:
- register with Google Apps;
- connect all my clients to Google Apps;
- redirect inbound email to Google Apps; and
- migrate existing content to Google Apps.
Registering with Google Apps
Step One was to register for the free trial of Google Apps using my primary domain agdon.co.uk.
I registered an account by using the wizard. I registered for a Google Apps for Business account (which will cost about £35.00 pa) as I think the migration tools only work with the business account. I will probably downgrade this to a Free account when the trial comes to an end.
Note: I did hit a gotcha at this point because I already had a Google account in the name of firstname.lastname@example.org that I use for Analytics and Google Apps complained about this. However, the wizard also pointed me to a simple solution: which was to register using another name and then add email@example.com as a new user.
Adding a new User
Having registered for the new trial and after familiarising myself with the control panel, I then added firstname.lastname@example.org as a new user and gave that account Admin rights. Note: At some point in the future, I’ll go back and delete the initial user.
I then logged on again as email@example.com.
An extra step at this point was to add my personal gmail account as an associated account so that I could switch back and forth between my personal and business email accounts without having to log on again.
I also added a number of alias accounts (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) to the main user account.
I now had a functioning Google Apps account with two users.
Add the Google Apps account to the Mac
Note: Before proceeding any further, I made sure my Time Machine backup was up to date on the Mac and synced both iPad and iPhone with iTunes. I also got a full archive of my Address Book and Calendar on the Mac just in case I needed to roll back.
I then added the Google Apps account in the name of email@example.com to my Mac, the iPad and the iPhone.
To add the account to the Mac involved two steps:
Add the account to Mac Mail and iCal
See also this tech note
In System Preferences/Mail, Contacts and Calendars I added a new Gmail account and selected to sync Mail and Calendar. Note that despite the name of the applet, you don’t set up Contact sync here.
I then went into iCal preferences and selected the new Calendar to be my default calendar. Note: I did not deselect my Exchange Calendar at this point.
I now had the new email account in Mail and the new Calendar in iCal; though neither had any content.
Add the account to Address Book.
In Address Book preferences, I elected to sync my “On my Mac” address book with Google and entered the new account details.
After this the new (empty) address book appeared on the Mac.
Add the Google Apps account to the iPad and iPhone
This was a simple one-step task.
In Settings/Mail, Contacts and Calendars, I added a new Exchange account and entered my Google Apps credentials using the guide contained here. I then elected to sync Mail, Contacts and Calendars. Simple.
I now had a new Google Apps account setup up and connected to my Mac, iPad and iPhone. However it was not yet receiving email directed to agdon.co.uk, neither did it have any old emails, calendar entries or contacts. Before the actual migration, I did some testing.
When the new account was setup, Google also created an alias domain called agdon.co.uk.test-google-a.com so I sent a couple of emails to that domain and checked that they appeared on my Mac, iPad and iPhone. I also created a couple of dummy contacts and calendar entries and confirmed that they appeared on all three devices and were visible through the browser interface.
Having proved that all was working OK, I now needed to migrate incoming mail to hit Google’s servers rather than IT Energy’s and migrate existing mail, contacts and calendar entries.
In my case, I manage my own DNS via 123-reg.co.uk, so it was a simple case of changing the MX records via their web interface. The changes took effect almost immediately and mail started to flow into the new Google Apps domain.
Having confirmed that all was well, all I needed to do was to migrate existing email, contacts and calendar entries.
Now I need a Windows PC and Outlook.
Google has an excellent suite of migration tools to handle migrating data. Choosing one depends on whether or not you have administrative control of the Exchange server. I don’t, so I used the Outlook migration tool. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this only runs on a Windows PC. Luckily, I do have one that is setup with MS Office Outlook 2007 and configured to connect to my Exchange account. I fired up this PC and let Outlook run for long enough to sync all the data from the Exchange Server.
Migration was a simple, but slow, process.
I downloaded and installed the migration tool and ran it. It asked for my Google Account details and which mailbox to migrate and then got on with it.
For my environment, with 1200 contacts, 500 calendar entries and 8500 mail messages, it took about six hours across a Virgin Media 20MB cable circuit. Your mileage may vary.
Note that I chose to migrate deleted emails (though not junk).
It failed to migrate one contact, one calendar entry and two emails. There is a very verbose log file but I wasn’t able to see what had gone wrong. However, I then re-ran the migration tool and told it to migrate only new messages. This time I could see in the log that the two failed messages were probably SPAM that had got through the Barracuda.
Checking for Sanity
Now, when I looked in iCal I had duplicates for all entries. That’s good, because I was displaying both the original Exchange calendar and the new Google Apps calendar. I simply de-selected the Exchange calendar in Preferences.
It was slightly more complex with the Address Book. When iSync ran it detected 1200 conflicts (which I expected) and I did have to go through telling the conflict checker to use the Google contact. I actually had to do this three times but it didn’t take too long. At the end I had a pristine Address Book.
My email client also had a full complement of messages and folder hierarchy. I did tell Mail to Synchronise all folders just to be sure.
Similarly, the iPad and iPhone had the same information.
Having satisfied myself that all was well and that mail was flowing correctly, I deleted the various accounts on Mac, iPad and iPhone that pointed to the Exchange server and made myself a cup of tea!
All told, the process took about seven hours with about an hour of actual work on my part.
Still to do.
There are a few things I still need to do before the job is complete.
- I made extensive use of mail processing rules on Exchange. I still have to recreate these as filters on Gmail.
- I also still have to set up my signature.
- I need to delete the alias domain.
- I need to delete the initial user.
Even allowing for the fact that I have a technical background, I found the whole migration process to be fairly straightforward. The outcome is that all my mail is now flowing through Google’s infrastructure and I also have access to the various other Google Apps; such as Google Docs and the new Google Drive. I have no immediate plans to use these other services, but it’s nice to have them there if a client wishes to use them as part of a project.
Image by Fetchcomms. via Wikimedia Commons
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