I am writing this article in hopes that it might help other IT users, whether pros or weekend warriors with cloud computing.
I recently completed a test migration of one of my networks to a cloud based platform. I actually have two different networks that I am testing on the cloud, one with Microsoft using SkyDrive and a hosted Exchange platform and one with Google Business Apps. My Microsoft test is not complete yet, but I would like to share with you my findings on using Google as my Cloud Backbone.
First off, a full disclaimer as to my background. I have been in IT, mainly small networks with a few servers for a very long time, for over 20+ years (scary to think it has been then many years in this industry). I have for one never been a huge fan of cloud storage, always prefering a standalone file server, hosting my own Exchange services, heck even my own web servers up until a few years ago. So for me to move over to the cloud or even consider it, was a big challenge.
The Project: The existing network was a test network of mine, but it was active, meaning that there was real data being accessed, a file server and four workstations. This small network was a test, but the actual data and access to it was real and part of my business production.
The issue arose when my Windows 2008 SBS server started to fail. I was looking at replacing a RAID controller card and decided that I would need to not only replace the card, but probably should replace the hard drives. If I am going to replace those items, I might as well upgrade the Operating System on the server, which would require RAM, etc. In the end, I decided I would be better to just replace the server. But, to spend thousands of dollars and reconfiguring a server that was essentially a file server or a glorified hard drive for four workstations didn't sit right. I could easily use the money I would spend on the server for something else that I needed in my business. So, I decided to take the plunge and try out the cloud. Worst case scenario, I would lose some hours of configuration and just replace the server.
For this setup I used Google Business Apps as my cloud service. I had four workstations, all of them using POP acounts on Microsoft Outlook 2013. I had one network share mapped out from the server that contained documents, MS Acess databases and artwork used for client projects. It was a basic file server configuration.
The very first step is setting up a Google Business Apps account. It is fairly straightfoward and easy to complete. www.google.com/apps/business
The second step was to point my existing web domains' MX or mail exchange record to Google. Again, this step is pretty easy to complete. This would send all of my email to Google instead of my current web host.
Third step: A very important step to follow: My Outlook accounts were all using POP email accounts, meaning that everything was downloaded to the local computers Outlook PST file. For cloud computing to be fully utilized, your Outlook account should be using IMAP. I fought this step for several days - but in the end I am so glad that I switched over to IMAP. IMAP allows for all of your email, calendar and contact data to be stored in the Cloud at Google. Which in return allows for all your devices: Smartphones, Tablets, Laptops and Home PC's to have the exact same data (contacts, mail, sent items, drafts, inbox, calendar...) synchornized and indentical all of your devices. This is a huge plus! To complete this step you have to convert your POP account to an IMAP account and while I thought there was no simple way to do this (google "converting POP to IMAP" and you will see a plethora of ideas, none of which are very fun to implement) but I was wrong. Google makes an Outlook Sync application - www.google.com/apps/outlook-sync.
The program will completely setup your Outlook for IMAP using a new profile and upload your data to the cloud. This process can take some time depending on how much data you have.
Fourth Step: Using Google Drive as my network share. The standard share allows for 30 gigabytes of data and additional storage can be added by upgrading the account. www.google.com/drive