Google Edu Apps how-to, Part 2

Part 2 of a 2-part series on Google Edu Apps setup.

In Part 1 of this feature, we covered basic signup, domain considerations, and educational account upgrades. Now we move onto the meat and potatoes of Google Edu Apps setup, looking at account creation, security settings, etc.

As I noted, the educational account upgrade happens automatically and usually within a few days, so if you have the time, aside from exploring the interface, it's best to hold off on most of the setup until you've upgraded. Many of the features aren't available within the Standard account, although the look and feel remains the same in your administrative dashboard. You're limited to only 50 users in a standard account, as well, so bulk creation of accounts will certainly have to wait.

"Bulk creation of accounts!", you say? Yes, and it's slick and easy, but there are a few preparation steps that need to happen first. You can also create and manage accounts individually, which you'll have to do as staff and students come and go throughout a year, but the bulk import is very handy.

Let's take a step back, though, to the dashboard, where, as with many web-based services (your ISP, for example, or your web host). Google generally refers to this as the Control Panel and administrators will see it whenever they log in. Standard users just get a list of available apps (Docs, Mail, Calendar, etc.). For a better understanding of all of the Control Panel functions, this Help page tells you everything you've ever wanted to know.

As the setup wizard progresses (you can always come back to it and continue setup or use the Control Panel to access account-related functions once you've completed the setup wizard, if, for example, you skip the user creation steps), you'll find several ways to create user accounts. If you already have a unified, clean LDAP structure in place (Microsoft Active Directory, Lotus Domino, or Open LDAP), then the Google Directory Sync feature allows you to set up active provisioning and maintenance of accounts. Full setup is well outside the scope of this how-to, but there is a video and extensive documentation here.

If all of your users aren't currently in a single LDAP structure (and this will, unfortunately, go for a lot of us), then bulk account creation from CSV files is incredibly easy. User information can be dumped from student information systems, existing email servers, a variety of LDAP implementations, etc., into a single CSV file for upload. The upload wizard gives great feedback on account creation problems or issues with the file. Specs for the file and instructions for the uploads can be found here, although the column definitions are very simple: Cell A1: Username | Cell B1: First Name | Cell C1: Last Name | Cell D1: Password. By the way, this is one of those good things to be doing while you wait for that educational upgrade.

Not so long ago, Google bought Postini to supplement its anti-spam, anti-malware, and compliance offerings for email. Once your accounts are created, you can enable Postini services (free for educational customers) and have significantly more control over mail handling. You need Postini, for example to create a common footer that gets attached to all outgoing mail (e.g., "These message may be archived indefinitely to comply with local and federal laws"). Postini (accessible from your Control Panel) also allows you to create subgroups within your domain with different mail handling rules. Students, therefore, could have all spam blocked or certain keywords bounced to an administrator, while staff might just get a daily report on junk mail/spam.

While the service is quite powerful and very useful, my one complaint is that it is far less elegant than the regular Google controls for Apps. It feels like Postini's control panel was simply shoehorned into Google's Apps control panel. Hopefully we'll see more seamless integration in the months to come.

Postini is also required if you need to set up archiving. Currently, this costs $11 per user, per year (many schools are only archiving staff emails, since that captures student/teacher interactions and saves a lot of money) and, once set up, is managed through the same Postini control panel. You have to contact the Google sales team to set up archiving. Message discovery is brutally easy once set up.

Once accounts are set up for your users, you can either migrate their messages from old services yourself or provide them with a couple of tools so that they can migrate their own email (I can't see this being a good idea for most of my users, but what the heck, right?). I found the easiest to be their IMAP tool, which connects to your old IMAP-compliant service and automagically pulls over messages. It will require you to reset all of the old user account passwords to a known value, however.

Although there is plenty of tweaking that can (and should) still go on, most of it is quite intuitive and well-documented. The main step that needs to be completed to go live (after which you can tweak to your heart's content and based on user feedback) is to change your MX (Mail Exchange) records in your DNS settings. This will allow all mail headed to your domain to be handled by Google. Instructions for a variety of DNS hosts are available here.

Although this how-to wasn't completely comprehensive, it should have pointed you to the key documents and wizards that lead you through the setup process. The take-home message, however, should be that this is easy to do. It takes some time, but overall, setup is remarkably painless and Google's tools and wizards ensure a relatively easy deployment of very powerful cloud-based groupware.

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