It's cut-over weekend. This means that for all District staff email is closed for the Independence Day holiday weekend. (A few MUST HAVE users excepted of course.) When staff return to work on July 6, 2010 they will begin using the new Google Apps email and calendaring system. My District has officially "Gone Google" now.
In preparation for cut-over weekend we initiated a series of communications. We issued notices of what people should do, when they should do it, and what to expect. I really don't think you can over communicate when making such change.
We pre-migrated some of our very heavy users. This gave us a chance to work one-on-one with those who really depend on email, calendar, mobile access, etc. It was good in two ways. First our team was able to practice the migration techniques. We were able to learn where our users would need support. Now we can adequately prepare the help documentation that most staff are likely to need. Second, by migrating several heavy users we can begin to minimize the folks who may need more attention on day one. I'm pleased with the outcome of the early adopters.
On the technical front we prepared about a week ago by shortening our "time-to-live" notice on our mx record.
This tells DNS servers across the internet to check for an impending change. The change they'll be getting is mail delivery for our existing domain will change from our email servers to the Google email servers. In prior testing we didn't shorten the TTL and the change took nearly a week on some DNS servers. This can result in lost email due to confusion on Internet DNS servers.
Migration from Exchange to Google servers:
One of the things that has been very handy is a "test" Google Apps domain. We have registered two domains. One for staff and one for students. It has been handy to use the student domain for testing the Exchange migration tools
. While students are gone for the summer we can import and export accounts without disrupting the contacts database in our staff server. So if you are planning a migration, having a test domain is handy.
We have learned that calendar events that have been created as a result of a meeting invitation are not being migrated from Exchange to Google Apps. We have also noted that if a delegate user maintains your calendar that event migration is suspect. We have asked all of our staff who use the calendar system to print their calendar event list. After migration they are advised to compare old to new. Another option for staff who's calendar migration wasn't successful is to export their Exchange calendar to a .csv file and import into Google Apps calendar.
On Friday, offices closed at noon. Network administrators spent many hours importing accounts into Google Apps and testing the migration tools. They set up a series of desktop computers with the migration tools installed. While some documentation suggests to migrate smaller numbers of accounts we tested larger numbers with success. Each computer was pre-configured to migrate between 50 and 100 accounts. The migration kicked off and seemed to go slowly at first but picked up speed. Any inconsistencies in account spelling from one server to the next introduces serious delays. Triple-check your account name spelling! More than a million email messages, calendar events, and contacts are being migrated over the holiday weekend. Fingers crossed!
When all migration systems had started the Exchange server was running close to 50% CPU. Our Internet circuit was hovering around 8 mbps outbound. I'm guessing that the bottle-neck was disk read speeds as we had a number of computers pulling data for migration.
First Day Support for Office Staff:
On the first day using Google Apps email we have assigned a member of Technology Services to each building. The technician will assist office staff with getting logged in, sending email, reading email, and checking / maintaining their calendar. The tech will provide staff with a user manual
(pdf), quick start guide, and answer basic questions.
Technical staff are directed to provide basic assistance only. Staff who wish to have more formal training will be pointed to our training calendar
Advertising to the Public:
Notices to parents, contacts, and constituents will be made through traditional correspondence. We have placed a prominent announcement on our District website.
Staff members are urged to put new address notices in their signature block. School buildings will be asked to highlight our new email addresses through welcome letters and school newsletters. Pennsylvania Department of Education have been notified of our official change of web and email domains.
I'm considering sending news releases to local newspapers as well.
Please check back for our successes and pitfalls.
In my region this change to Google Apps for our primary email is like a middle school dance. Everyone stands on the perimeter until one person starts dancing. Well, we're dancing! Will you join us???