Google Apps Premier Edition has matured into an affordable and functional service with clear advantages when compared to in-house and other hosted alternatives. At around £40 per user per year it's hard to match on price, and for that you get email, contacts and calendar sharing plus a lot more besides. The 25GB inbox is a major benefit as you get to use your own domain name, and it's incredibly easy to deploy and manage, with all the supporting software maintained for you in the cloud. Drawbacks are the reliance on the internet to do business, and data security and compliance issues, but all these can be addressed and overall it's a great product for companies of all sizes.
Low per-user annual fee; 25GB inbox; own domain name; fast setup; Outlook plug-in; migration tools; message search and labels; easy to administer; security and compliance options.
Single point of failure; reliance on internet connection; data security and protection concerns; Google Docs lacks functionality.
$50 (£33) per user/year
Hosted multi-tenanted service accessible using customers own domain name, comprising: Google Mail - hosted email, IM, voice and video chat; 25GB inbox per user; 99.9 per cent uptime SLA; browser client; Outlook plug-in; mobile sync; migration tools; optional security service (Postini) Google Calendar - shared calendars, meeting scheduling, mobile notifications Google Docs - online documents, spreadsheets and presentations plus storage/sharing of other files Google Sites - intranet web pages Google Groups - user managed groups for document sharing and messaging Google Video - video sharing
The business implementation of Google's hosted Apps service, Google Apps Premier Edition, differs from the free implementation in a number of ways. These include using your own domain name for email rather than @googlemail.com, and an enormous 25GB inbox per user compared to an already generous 7GB for standard users.
Adverts can be turned off in Premier Edition, and there's a 99.9 per cent uptime guarantee, backed by a proper service level agreement (SLA), and phone and email support.
Google Mail is the core application and, at just $50 (£33) per year per user, is worth having by itself. Moreover, as well as a customisable browser-based client, Premier Edition users get an Outlook plug-in and tools to migrate existing messages and contacts to the Google platform, with support for mobile access from a variety of devices.
The product set includes Google Calendar and Google Docs, complete with extra tools to enable domain users to collaborate and securely share information. The recently added Google Groups also helps here, as does Google Sites which can be used to build team intranets and other in-house web pages. There's even a kind of cut-down YouTube service (Google Video) for private video sharing.
Other neat features in Premier Edition include Active Directory integration, single sign-on support and the ability to enforce the use of Secure Sockets Layer encrypted connections.
It's also possible to configure extra security filters using Google's Postini service, add custom footers to all outgoing messages, and archive messages sent or received for up to 10 years. Moreover, unlike Microsoft Online and other cloud-based services, you can start with just one user. Everything, except for the archiving, is included for the single per-user per-year fee.
Premier Edition is incredibly quick and easy to get started, requiring very little in the way of technical expertise.
We tested the software using a 'real' company looking to migrate to Google Apps from an existing in-house server. To do this we signed up online, supplying Google with the domain name to use, along with contact and credit card details for payment following an initial 30-day free trial. We were then sent a confirmation email, and all we had to do was change the company's DNS MX records to point to Google's email servers, then prove ownership of the domain by making a further DNS change and configure our users via the web-based administrator dashboard.
It took just over an hour, after which we had a fully operational setup with users able to send and receive email, and share calendars, documents and so on.
Of course, we also needed to migrate existing messages and contacts to Google Mail, and there are a couple of ways of going about this. One was a bulk upload from the host mail server, but the tool provided only works with Exchange 2003 and a couple of specific IMAP servers and ours wasn't on the list. So we downloaded a uploader tool designed to work with individual Outlook and other email clients.
The uploader worked very well indeed, even down to converting our Outlook folders to Google Mail labels in the process. Our only gripe was the time it took; each upload of around 3,000 messages per user took several hours, principally because of the relatively slow uplink speed of our ADSL connection. Still, we got round that by leaving the uploader to run overnight. You only have to do this once, so it shouldn't be seen as a deal breaker.