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The first five steps new Google Apps administrators should take

You've just gone live on Google Apps. Here are the first five steps an admin should take to ensure smooth sailing from this point forward.

Last summer I discussed a Google Apps migration I conducted via articles that can be found here (Part One of the series) and here (Part Two). I left off at the successful completion of the migration. At this point all users were sending and receiving company email via Google's servers. They were using the Outlook client, the browser-based Gmail interface and iPhones for their email; I conducted training with them to go over the new setup.

As with many projects, the migration isn't the end of the process (in some cases it's barely the beginning!). So what should new Google Apps admins do at the go-live point? Experience taught me that these five steps are critical to ensure a smooth rollout remains smooth.

1. Follow up with your users to ensure they understand how to use Google Apps

It's not enough to conduct training for users, close the presentation by asking "Any questions?" then presume all is well if their answer is "No." You should definitely not make any such assumptions if they give you a glazed look and a shake of the head.

Depending on how involved your Google services are (is it email only, are they using Calendar or Drive, Google+, etc.?), you should make a point to follow up with your users periodically to see if they have any questions or issues, and to ensure that they're using the products to the best of their capabilities. Support calls are only the "low hanging fruit" when it comes to users having difficulties with a new service. They may not even know there's a problem (or a shortcut) unless you take the time to check and make sure all is well.

For instance, do they know how to use labels to categorize email, or perhaps mark messages as important? Are they being notified of calendar events as desired? Have you shown them how they can choose Gmail Themes to set up a pleasing mail environment (a small thing, perhaps, but it helps illustrate the power of customization)? If you're using Google+ do they know they can add their Contacts to Circles? This should go hand-in-hand with assessing user needs and objectives before the implementation, of course.

If you haven't done so already, point your users to the following links:

(The above link contains a user learning center which will hopefully be valuable)

2. Follow up with yourself (or your fellow admin team if you are part of a group) to ensure you understand how to administer Google Apps

It's not enough to go live and then forget how to administer the environment. Nothing is worse than hunting around for something when there is an urgent situation to address, or racking your brain to figure out how to follow a path you took to perform a certain function weeks or months ago. While Google doesn't often update the administrative interface, knowing where everything is located is critical in order to be a responsive (and responsible) administrator.

I recommend you read and become thoroughly familiar with the Google Apps Documentation and Support Page. To keep track of where all your settings are, navigate the Google Apps Control Panel at https://www.google.com/a/your_domain.com (Replace your_domain.com with your actual domain name), which provides the links shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Some of the options:

  • Dashboard: This shows you at-a-glance details regarding your Google Apps environment; your users, your apps, announcements, common tasks, and support options.
  • Organization & users: Use this to configure your organization and individual user details as well as Google services. You can see user status, email quota information, edit your organization name, and so forth.
  • Groups: This option allows you to set up and administer common Groups for your users.
  • Domain settings: This is where you configure aspects related not only to your domain but admin roles, billing, the Google Apps appearance, and some system-wide user settings such as single-signon and password requirements.
  • Settings: Detailed service settings can be configured here.

To achieve true superadmin status, create some support documents for common tasks (e.g. creating new users) so that if you forget the details (or elect to move to a new position elsewhere) it will be easy to retrace the steps involved. Like all documentation, this should be reviewed for accuracy as changes may render the procedures obsolete.

It goes without saying that all administrative links and passwords should be stored in a central, secured location. Password Safe is a great open-source tool which allows passwords to be kept in an encrypted database that can be accessed by multiple admins. You can also embed URLs in the account entries so you can access the sites and autologon directly from this tool.

3. If you're using methods other than a browser to access Google email, make sure you're aware of how to support and troubleshoot these solutions

It's quite possible that not everyone in your organization is going to use their email via the browser-based Gmail interface.

Mobile access using a dedicated Gmail application for Android and iPhone/iPad is available for Google Apps email users, along with the POP, IMAP and Google Sync (which uses ActiveSync) connections. Please note that as of January 30, 2013, Google Sync will be unavailable for new devices connecting to free accounts (existing devices will still work). However, since the free Google Apps version has been retired, if you're using this service you are paying for it, so this doesn't apply to you or your users.

Desktop email clients such as Outlook can also be used to connect to Google servers. Outlook can be configured to synchronize email, calendars and contacts with Gmail via Google Apps Sync (this article describes the process).

There is no "set it and forget it" here, however. Since your users are employing alternative solutions to access email, you should be aware of how to support and troubleshoot issues that might arise (this even applies if everyone is just accessing Gmail via a browser, of course). Outlook 2011 for the Mac can pose special challenges should you go down that road, but there are caveats when using the "regular" Outlook versions for Windows, which rely on a local PST file to store Google email data on the user's system. Specifically, be on the lookout for duplicate objects caused by synchronization problems, and monitor the user PST file sizes as needed. The Google Apps Sync program sets the default mailbox size at 1Gb or less for maximum performance, but if users have more data than this they'll receive a size warning and you will need to adjust the setting.

The relevant PST file(s) can be found in this folder on Windows XP:

C:\Documents and Settings\(user account name)\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Apps Sync

The PST file(s) can be found in this folder on Windows 7:

C:\Users\(user account name)\AppData\Local\Google\Google Apps Sync

Note that as of January, 2013 the Google Apps Sync support page makes no mention of whether this product is compatible for Windows 8.

Match the mailbox size configuration for the Google Apps Sync program depending on how large the PST file grows (where applicable). You can do this by right-clicking the Google Apps Sync icon in the system tray. (Figure B)

Figure B

Choose "Set mailbox size limit." (Figure C)

Figure C

For instance, if the PST file in question is at 1.6GB, set the Mailbox Size option for 2GB. And make sure to encourage users to actively clean up their mail on an ongoing basis to keep clutter from getting out of hand.

4. Monitor your Google Apps services via reports

Google offers a multitude of reports (Figure D) to analyze your environment. You can keep an eye on email, calendar, docs, mobile devices, and other statistics:

Figure D

For instance, clicking Gmail (Figure E) will show you statistics involving mail usage and user activity.

Figure E

You can also review Calendar Activity, as well as important information regarding Documents, such as collaboration summary report, the type of documents being created, average number of users a document is shared with and so forth. Assessing this type of activity is essential to understanding your environment as well as the habits of your users.

There's also an option to examine email logs and additional reports (Figure F), such as the ones shown.

Figure F

Unfortunately there is no way at present to implement administrative alerts whereby you can be notified via email or SMS if certain conditions occur (such as a spike in outbound mail which might signify virus or spam activity on your network). Hopefully this will be included in future versions of the product.

5. Make sure you keep up to date on Google Apps news

Google Apps isn't a static or permanent environment like Microsoft Exchange 2010, so it's crucial to keep up to date on all Google changes. Bookmark and keep an eye on the Google Apps for Business page (which provides links to Webinars, Events and News), their "What's New" site (where the latest product news is released) and their Updates Blog:

The Updates Blog announced on 12/14/12 that "Users using the new compose experience in Gmail now have the ability to insert files up to 10GB from Google Drive directly into an email . Gmail will automatically check that recipients have access to any files being sent." This is a key example of something to communicate to your users so they're aware of the change.

It also makes sense to ensure your administrator account for the domain has been configured to receive the Google Apps monthly newsletter. Per Google's instructions:

Sign into the Google Apps administrator account (http://www.google.com/a/your_domain.com). Note the control panel near the top of the screen. (Figure G)

Figure G

Click "Domain Settings" and then "General"

In the "Communication Preferences" section make sure "Performance Suggestions and Updates" is checked. (Figure H)

Figure H

Click Save Changes (if applicable). This ensures all viable information will be sent to your administrator mailbox. If this is separate from your main email account (which is the case for the Google Apps domain I administer as a consultant), configure forwarding of these items so you will receive them as soon as they are sent out.

Conclusion

These same tips (training users, training yourself, becoming familiar with support procedures, working with activity reports, and keeping up to date on changes) can apply to any new environment, not just Google Apps. They serve to illustrate the concept that it's all about the journey and not the destination when it comes to system administration.

Throughout the process it's important not to leave out security. My colleague Andy Wolber outlined a list of security options for Google Apps last year (thank you, Andy!) and I highly recommend you follow these helpful steps which show you how to enable SSL, mandate a specific password length, configure 2-step authentication, and other critical tips to protect your organization and its data.

Also read:

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

3 comments
Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

where we couldn't use half these services for legal or security reasons. Compliance with privacy laws, contract security needs, confidentiality of material etc means everything had to be stored and kept in house at all times. However, since these first came out I have been saying they're ideal for uni / college and high school students as they can save money and use them from anywhere.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

It has been over two years since CBS Interactive implemented Google Apps and things are going smoothly for the most part. What was your deployment like?

renders
renders

We moved to Google Apps at the beginning of September, 2012 and have never looked back. The nicest surprises have been the new features added since then. Nicknames for Groups was the first and immediately solved a major shortcoming for us. The new compose window in Email is really nice. We have replaced an internal calendaring program with Calendar and while it does not do everything we could want, it certainly improves the user access. We use Docs for many things including sharing files. We have moved our ftp file transfers to Drive. It was an good business decision and we have never looked back.. Rob Enders Director of Engineering Blackburn Radio