Besides search, Gmail is Google’s most popular product. Its immense storage capacity and the inclusion of a robust office application suite makes it one of the most useful services on the Internet. However, Google Apps accounts come in four main flavors, and many do not understand the difference. Using the correct type of Apps account ensures you are leveraging these powerful tools to your advantage.
Gmail is the free entry level version of it’s email services… sort of an “Apps Basic.” After signing up, you receive an email account that ends with @gmail.com, about 7GB of mailbox storage, and access to Google Docs, Calendar, Picasa, Talk, Sites, and Blogger. The account is free, but the only technical support is in the form of help files and forum posts.
Google Apps account
Google Apps is a type of Gmail account associated with your website domain. Your email address will end with @yourdoman.com, and features are similar to a free Gmail account. Calendar, Docs, Sites, and Blogger are available, as is the same 7GB of email storage. Being associated with a domain gives your email a more professional look, and document collaboration is made easier by being able to easily share documents within your domain. This type of account was formally known as “Google Apps for Your Domain,” then they changed it to “Google Apps Standard Edition.” It now is known as plain “Google Apps.”
This type of account is also free as long as you own your own domain. Sounds good, but there is a catch — it’s limited to 10 users or less. Google Apps is a good way for groups, organizations, and clubs to coordinate, but a ten user limit is a low ceiling. Like Gmail, support is offered in the form of forum posts and help files, so small businesses going this route may need some additional assistance with setup or migration.
Google Apps for Business
Google Apps for Business is the heavy hitter in the Google Apps arsenal. It offers a powerful and scalable platform on which to base business communications. Mailbox space is upped to 25GB, with the addition of Outlook and Blackberry Sync. Along with the standard Docs and other apps, Google Video and Google Groups for Business are also included for more effective video and document collaboration. Reliability is ensured with a 99.9% uptime guarantee as well as email and phone support.
Migration tools are provided to help your business move email, contacts, and calendars off of legacy systems, but many Google Apps resellers will actually handle migrations for you (which I would recommend as migrations can get a bit hairy if you don’t know what you’re doing). Postini Message and Security is available to if additional security layers are required. Administration is performed via a provided Google Apps Dashboard.
Google Apps for Business runs $50/year (or $5/month) per account, which isn’t too bad of a deal if you consider the costs of alternatives like Exchange and SharePoint servers.
Google Apps for Non-Profit/Education
Google is all for helping organizations. They offer Google Apps for Business accounts free of charge to Non-Profit organizations and Educational institutions. All of the features such as a 25GB mailbox, Docs, and other apps are included. Many Google Apps resellers offer very low cost migration and support to assist in transitioning to the new platform. Apps for Non-Profit/Education is proving to be very popular with various charities as the collaboration tools allow multiple offices to pool their information and resources together instantly, therefore allowing donations and funding to work harder towards their causes.
If you’d like to compare the features of the various Google Apps accounts, take a look at this chart. While small groups may benefit from the standard Google Apps package, a business of any size will probably want to opt for the actual Google Apps for Business due to the scalability…you don’t want to be limited if you find yourself needing more accounts or mailbox space, plus the extra support and tools make things a lot easier to manage.
Migration costs have to be considered as well. Some of the conversion tools can be a bit tricky, so it may be worth the cost of using a service to assist in the transition. Migration services are relatively low cost and have experience moving many different infrastructures to Google Apps. You’ll want to weigh the costs and downtime of doing it yourself vs. having a service provider handle it for you.