Created:
8/21/2007 5:41:59 AM

Author:
Przemek Radzikowski

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Using Google Apps & Gmail as a Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan for your Email

With the recent introduction of Google Apps and the expansion of Gmail to fully support POP and SMTP access from external email clients, it is now feasible to utilize these free services as an effective Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity (BC) Plan. BC has become a real headache for businesses, particularly as our businesses rely on email as a primary mode of communication.


 

 

Today it would be extremely hard to think of a day in the office (or on the road) without access to email.  There's no denying it - the single largest business disruptor in a modern organization is email system failure.

The MyCompany.com Scenario

A company, say, mycompany.com with 600 or so employees has a number of servers in-house which perform various tasks.  One of these servers is a mail server.  Over the last few months there have been a number of interruptions to the email systems operation with various faults and failures as well as communications issues with the outside SMTP gateway (outside MyCompany control).

Because everybody in the company relies on email to perform their daily tasks it is costing MyCompany many lost man-hours while the service is out of action.

Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity

I'm not going to dwell on what DR or BC are in this article, I think there are plenty of reference articles out there on the net that would do it far better justice than I ever could.

The basic idea behind BC in this scenario, is to maintain the delivery of email and allow all users to continue working while the internal server or mail gateway is out of action.  We should try to achieve this with zero (or very little) interruption to the end users. 

Current approaches which ensure that mail is not lost during periods of outage are centered around utilizing a backup queuing mail exchanger (MX).  This can either be provided by your ISP or another mail hosting company.  A problem with the queuing approach is that although your mail is not lost or bounced; your workforce is still unable to receive and send emails.  So here we're only addressing one side of the problem.  Having multiple paths into the company for email traffic with for example two different ISP's will tackle issues if the link for one ISP falls over, but ultimately we need to address the employees ability to continue working uninterrupted.  Something which multiple network paths nor the queuing approach address.

Google Apps and Gmail to the Rescue

Google has recently updated it's hosted mail service to allow for the addition of domains already registered by third parties as well as allowing POP & SMTP access from a mail client applications (such as: Outlook, Eudora or Thunderbird).  This new addition makes it much easier to integrate the hosted services model into applications already used within your company.  Some of the features included in the Google Apps offering are closely aligned with the well established email players such as Microsoft's Exchange/Outlook and Lotus Notes/Domino combinations.

By signing up to Google Apps you can add your MyCompany.com domain to the list of domains you manage.  Then simply create user email accounts to mirror those found in MyCompany.com internal system.  There is a bulk user create functionality which will speed up the process.  Google has also provided API which will help you in the creation of these accounts in case you have a large number of users or if your user accounts change very frequently. Google has also written a few applications which will make your life easier, one in particular is the Google LDAP Sync script.  This script will synchronize your LDAP and create the initial users for you in Google Apps.  You will also need to make additions to your DNS entries by adding the Google MX records.  Follow the Google instructions on this but ensure that you give all the Gmail MX records a higher cost than your primary MyCompany in-house server.  This way, when the server goes off-line mail will be routed to Gmail.

The email client software will also need to be configured with an additional email account, this one will grab any incoming mail from the Gmail servers using POP.  This can be done using automated scripts which won't cause too many headaches for organizations.  Once this is setup we pretty much have a decent and free BC scenario.

If you're lucky enough to be using the Outlook/Exchange combination as your email system, Outlook will synchronize all the new mail pulled down using POP with the Exchange store once your servers are back up and running.  Thereby maintaining your mailbox integrity and history information.  The only drawback that I can see in using this type of scenario is to educate your users to simply change the default Out Account for SMTP when sending their emails - but this could just as easily be handled within your network infrastructure when it comes to SMTP traffic.

Conclusion

We have maintained Business Continuity and provided for a Disaster Recovery in the form of synchronization from client.  You also get a company-wide webmail system provided by Gmail - accessible from anywhere and with a browser.

Total cost to the organization: Zero.

 

 

permalink [Permalink] - Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013





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