My name is Derrick Wlodarz and I’m jumping on board Technibble as a contributing business & technology writer. I’ve been opining about the tech industry at large for a few years now in outlets such as my personal blog Wlodarz.net and other similar avenues across the net. I’m building a budding technology consulting company called FireLogic which I started entirely on my own and have been running ever since early 2010. It’s a pleasure to be able to share industry insight, opinion, and experiences pertaining to this excellent line of work we all have in common. I hold multiple certifications from Microsoft and CompTIA, and am one of a handful of Google Apps Certified Trainers in the United States. I’m currently working toward becoming a certified Google Apps Deployment Specialist so I can extend my knowledge and expertise in the cloud applications arena.
Now, onto the article. 10 reasons to consider Google Apps for your business.
I don’t manage an in-house Exchange server and honestly, I never plan on doing so. My company email sits in the cloud, along with multiple calendars, an extensive client contact list, my business phone number, and a great majority of my day-to-day documents & spreadsheets. I started my technology consulting company FireLogic with the full notion of keeping the company’s backend integral communications in the cloud – hence my decision to go with Google Apps back in 2010. I can safely say it’s been a little over a year since I’ve "Gone Google" and I’m happy as ever.
Before I get blasted with hate email claiming that in-house Exchange is better or Google Apps lacks in this facet or that feature, let me say this: I’m in NO way saying that Google Apps is right for every company. But for many technology companies with limited startup funds and a staff as small as mine (read: one person) utilizing the cloud is a great option. And a good portion of the Technibble audience can likely relate to my situation. With client work eating up more and time, why would I want to waste valuable billable hours on supporting myself? Seems a bit counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s true in every regard. At my previous employer (another tech consulting competitor) we had in-house Exchange running. But like most other Exchange systems I supported at client offices, it was riddled with the common problems and headaches. Database sizes taking over hard drives, viruses, ISP port configuration nightmares, and general availability…. all things we cherish in a proper email system. Sure many will say that Exchange "works well when configured right." Easier said than done.
I won’t espouse in detail on the cost savings I’m seeing over using an Exchange system. I wrote an overview of that aspect of the reasons behind going Google in a blog post of mine (read it here at Wlodarz.net). Please don’t send me emails regarding how my calculated numbers may be incomplete or off. My evaluation was by no means exhaustive and I’ll be the first to admit that. As a fledgling small business owner, I used readily available & sensible estimates. The truth of the matter sits more-so in the fact that I pay a total sum of zero dollars to Google for the service they provide. GoDaddy merely charges me for the actual domain, so yes, Google Apps is technically free.
If you’ve been debating whether or not it’s time to dump the old Exchange server and move to the cloud, here are my top ten reasons why you should consider it. While I run my own tech consulting business, the aspects described below can apply to nearly any organization of any size. My needs aren’t unique or niche in any way, but as always, consider my opinion in light of what I have personally experienced with Google Apps and FireLogic.
Reason #10 Spam Filtering
I haven’t tested out every competitor’s filtering solutions, but from what I have dealt with (namely Exchange’s built in filter, Red Condor, and Google Apps’ Postini powered system) the clear winner is Google Apps. The spam filtering algorithms employed produce false positives so infrequently that the old norm of checking your spam folder for good messages is a thing of the past. I haven’t been in my spam folder in months, and only jump into it when a client insists that they sent me something I didn’t receive. And the best part is that junk never gets through. My personal Gmail account gets blasted with hundreds of spam emails every day and I may force 2-3 messages a month into the spam folder. Otherwise, the good stuff gets through and the bad nearly always gets caught. Isn’t that how a good email system is supposed to work?
Reason #9 Setup Time
Unlike having to prepare a box (or VM), configure Exchange, and the other bevy of items that need to be accounted for in a traditional email setup, getting Google Apps running is a breeze. I recently setup my personal domain with Google Apps and from start to finish (fully configured) the process took me maybe 45 minutes at most. Add in a smartphone to the mix for mobile access and you tack on another 15 minutes. All in all, you can see what I’m getting at here: the entire configuration was simple, easy, and any mid to low level technician could handle it from start to finish. The only relatively scary parts are the MX/CNAME record changes – and even that is timid compared to the tasks with getting Exchange running.
Reason #8 Cost
This topic can be debated to death, but I’ll lay out the facts of what Google Apps costs me and you can make your own decisions. My domain costs me roughly $7-8 a year, and I pay $0 for Google Apps. That’s the extent of what it takes to run Apps. I don’t house a server that rings up the electric bill, or keeps me tangled up on maintenance, or that needs any kind of licensing. If I wanted to upgrade to the Google Apps for Business premium edition, that comes out to $5/person/month or $50/person/year, whatever I pricing plan I choose. But seeing that I am not someone who needs phone/email support from Google (the software platform just works, and well) the free version suits me just fine and there are no major limitations I have to deal with. At the end of the day, my only raw cost is a domain name and the bandwidth from my Comcast line.
Reason #7 Maintenance
Google handles this so I don’t have to. I don’t pay myself a consulting rate to fix internal server problems, so to me, fiddling with an internal server for email or other needs is pure time loss and essentially, money lost. A NAS box handles all internal file sharing and storage needs adequately well and I have yet to find a need to install a traditional server. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with the tech behind running an Exchange system, it’s just that I purely don’t want to deal with it on a constant basis. As the sole employee of my company, and being head of marketing, invoicing, customer relations, purchasing, and all the other hats a business owner must wear, I find that playing technician for an internal Exchange server is not worth it for me.
Reason #6 Collaboration
Before Google Apps, how did we collaborate on documents together? Here’s a common scenario: a Word file was worked on, emailed to a colleague, who sent off another revision to another coworker, who ended up making a few changes and sending the wrong updated copy by mistake…. frustrating at best, and anything but "collaboration" if you ask me. Google Docs (available free as a part of Apps) solved that: why not bring the collaboration aspect into the actual user experience and make it seamless? Document sharing is a small part of the power that Docs offers, but an integral one. To be honest, making an "Excel spreadsheet" or "Word doc" aren’t a part of my everyday jargon anymore. "I’ll make a Google Doc out of it" is the case 9 times out of ten. Microsoft Office is still needed, don’t get me wrong, but for most document work I do, I’m using Docs instead.
Reason #5 Uptime
Here’s another one that is better left to the experts, but from most of what I’ve read, Google Apps and Gmail are much more reliable than the standard Exchange setup. How much more reliable? Quite a bit – 46 times more according to research by the Radicati Group (numbers reported here). That’s pretty darn good. In my experience, this is in line with what I ‘feel’ to be the case. My school district used to run Groupwise for email, and my previous employer ran Exchange 2003. Both solutions had many instances where we could see multiple hours of downtime every month. With Google Apps, both for my business and my current school district, the downtime is barely noticeable. In fact, the system as a whole almost never goes down. Certain parts may not work for a small period, but the "big blackouts" of Exchange or Groupwise are nonexistant. It’s kind of a shame though, since we can’t pass blame to a non-working email system anymore as to why something didn’t get done. The blame game days are over.
Reason #4 Scalability
You may run a small business consisting of a few people now, but you may also either have seasonal employment to consider. Better yet, you very well may rapidly grow as an entity. With a traditional server, unless you accounted for that growth pattern when you installed the server, you either have to make hasty upgrades, purchase additional licensing, and/or look into the worst option of all: just get an entirely new server altogether. In the end, it’s all wasted time, effort, and sometimes equipment. Add in the space and electric and cooling costs with the above hardware, and you can see that expansion on the backend is just as costly as the new hires themselves. Google Apps has near unlimited scalability with instant-on ability to tack on as many – or as few – users as you may wish. It’s all controlled on the Apps Control Panel and administration is seamless. You only pay for what you use, and it’s an ideal that I agree with 100%.
Reason #3 Features and Upgrades
Unlike an Exchange server or Sharepoint installation, I never have to worry about getting the "new version" in order to keep up with the times. Why? Google rolls out updates and bug fixes to Google Apps on the fly and rapidly. Google handles the entire backend part of all the updates and they are literally seamless to the end user. Given, most updates are smaller and piecemeal compared to the all-inclusive changes between Exchange or Sharepoint releases, but here’s the nice part about them: they are rolled out in such a way that makes them manageable for end users and easy to adjust to in smaller chunks. Unlike the time it takes to train people between versions of software (Office 2003 to 2007 anyone?) the smaller revisions that happen monthly to Google Apps are welcoming, timely and generally requested directly by the community.
Reason #2 Accessibility
FireLogic is a 100% mobile company with no storefront, with the sole "office" being a spare bedroom in my condo. Many small tech companies are run in a similar manner even though they may not publicly admit it. A majority of work for clients is done onsite and this makes the need for ‘accessible anywhere’ information crucial. Sometimes I jokingly tell friends that my company runs on a single Blackberry 9700 smartphone, which as crazy as it sounds, is very true. I have access to company email on the Blackberry at all times, along with my calendars, and since Google Voice powers my business number, all client calls and text messages reach me instantly. But the beautiful part? The same functionality is easily duplicated on ANY computer with a simple web brower ANYWHERE I may go. Even if I don’t have my company laptop, I generally have a computer around – and this means equal access to all of my needed information. If I had to try and replicate my current setup on an Exchange server in house, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Sure, Outlook Web Access handles calendar and email fine and dandy, but we all know it only works "cleanly" on IE and I dread using IE full time. I have yet to see Microsoft duplicate the power of Google Voice with similar ease or cost. If I’m behind on the times, feel free to rebuke the above.
Reason #1 Ease of Use
Technology comes easily to me, but I can’t say the same for everyone else – we support users after all, don’t we? The point here is that Google Apps took functionality that was sort-of available previously (in that statement I mean a concoction of Exchange/Sharepoint/etc that is the MS equivalent of Google Apps today) and made it accessible to the average user without the need to reinvent the wheel. I’m not saying that training isn’t needed to use Google Apps effectively (hence the need for Google Apps Certified Trainers such as myself.) What I will say is that Google Apps usually "just works" for the average user and that’s a beautiful concept. I can say this with certainty because my other employer, Maine Township High School District 207, went Google from 2008-2010 (three year rollout plan for those wondering) and our district is now entirely run on Google Apps. I see teachers and students using Google Apps for things that were only a pipe dream if we had to rely solely on Microsoft Office and the related equivalents. Technology is supposed to make productivity rise and hopefully have an intuitive factor – things Google Apps does extremely well.
Does Google Apps have its downsides? What system doesn’t!? I’ve got some gripes with Apps. For example, Docs isn’t a 100% replacement for Microsoft Office. I have to do a lot of my niche and formatting-specific documents in Word or Excel because Docs just doesn’t play nicely with them. PowerPoint has some functionalities still better served on the desktop side which Google Presentations (a subset of Docs) cannot properly handle. If you have bandwidth issues at your company or are not geared up for a mobile, always-accessible style of capability, then Google Apps may not be your best bet. Since this platform is entirely powered by the cloud, it lives and dies by the connection from your ISP. However, the above are all minor issues in an increasingly web-powered world.
And if you are looking at new opportunities for your consulting business, consider this: becoming a Google Apps Certified Trainer has provided me the single largest ROI of any certification I’ve ever gotten when taking into account all of the new clients and consulting work I’ve opened the doors to. The number of people inquiring about going Google far outnumbers those curious about installing another clunky Exchange server in their back office. If you want to keep up with the times and stay relevant, take a look at what Apps offers not only for your own company, but for the possibilities it provides your clients. They’re most certainly already on the prowl for this technology – ensure that YOU can be the solution provider to help them implement it.
And if you’re curious how I typed this article, I’ll give you one hint: it didn’t involve MS Word.
For more information on the Google Apps editions, you can visit: http://www.google.com/apps/index.html
Interested in Going Google for your small business? Have further questions? Contact me – I’m always willing to help out! Shoot me an email at info (at) firelogic.net and I’ll do my best to respond. If you are curious about the Google Apps Certified Trainer program, you can visit: http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/edu/certification_details.html
Disclaimer Notice: I am a Google Apps Certified Trainer, but be fully aware that I moved my company to Google Apps a full year before I received the Google certification.