I was really excited when Google PR sent me an email about their new multi-domain support in Google Apps. "Finally!" I said. True, we still had to use multiple domains to deal with different privileges and available services for users, but that was OK. Multi-domain support was finally here, I thought, allowing those multiple domains to be managed centrally.
The key phrase there is "I thought." When I first read the announcement from Google, everything seemed mighty rosy. I didn't read their list of limitations, which also happened to have a glaring mistake, even after I read them. At first, they claimed
You cannot set different policies or configuration settings for different domains. You can control which services are available to different groups of users (by turning services on or off for different organizational units), but all other settings in the Google Apps Control Panel apply equally to all domains that are part of your account.
Then a little birdie from Google PR came knocking on my virtual door, letting me know that this wasn't actually the case and that the help had been corrected to read
You cannot set different policies or configuration settings for different domains. All settings in the Google Apps administrator control panel apply equally to all domains that are part of your account.
Which means that this particular enhancement is actually a step backwards for schools and businesses who had created separate Google Apps domains to manage which services were presented to users. For example, many schools want to limit student access to Google Chat and Wave. So they create a domain along the lines of students.school.org, turn off Chat, and don't bother adding Wave for this instance of Apps. They want staff, though, to have access to everything, so they create a domain like staff.school.org and turn on everything, including several marketplace Apps for workflows, expense reporting, and Office integration. Unfortunately, these domains need to be managed separately and they cannot share contacts. Thus, if a student wants to use domain shared contacts to locate a teacher email address, they can't. They can share documents with teachers, but it's kludgy at best, instead of seamless and intuitive as it is when users are in the same domain. It sure sounded like multi-domain support would solve that problem. Here's how the Google Enterprise blog described it:
Users belonging to different domains within an organization keep their domain-specific email address but can see coworkers from other domains in the organization’s global address book. It’s also easy for users to share across domains in Google Docs, Sites and the rest of Google Apps.
Great! Right? Oh, wait, you can't do this with domains you've already created:
Google Apps account merge is not supported. Some current Google Apps customers with multiple domains currently have separate Google Apps accounts for each domain. Google does not currently support merging multiple Google Apps accounts into a single multiple domain account.
And for those people who were already addressing sharing issues using domain aliases, you've got a bit of work to do (again):
Migration from domain aliases is not supported. Some current Google Apps customers use domain aliases for their non-primary domains. Google does not currently support the conversion of domain aliases into multi-domain accounts.
And, of course, you can't have different services presented to users in subdomains when you are using multi-domain Apps.
Oh, right, and you can't use the mult-domain management if you use Postini services either.
So why was I excited again?
It's pretty rare that Google really gets my goat. I've been called a Google fanboi on more than one occasion and probably with good reason. However, this is a spectacular case of creating a feature that will attract businesses to go Google that completely ignores the faithful who already have and are waiting for improved management features.
How great is it that Google can tout the integration of multiple domains to their new customers, customers who can now easily have finance.acme.com and janitors.acme.com and executive.acme.com all sharing documents, content, sites, and calendars? Good for them. And too bad for anyone looking to better and more thoughtfully manage their users in their existing Google Apps domains.