By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: Which e-mail system did you use before you moved to Google?
SB: We had a mixture of Microsoft Exchange for the power users and open source components–based simple SMTP e-mail for nonpower users.
SB: As a company, we decided to move to Gmail because Microsoft Exchange e-mail was too expensive to be given to the basic e-mail user, the masses, say to all of the 15,000 users we have in IndiaInfoline. Putting all of those users on Exchange is a lot of money, and they don’t generate that much value out of e-mail, frankly. But we do have about 1,000 users in our core group who need a fully loaded e-mail solution with all of its complexities. With the Exchange-based on-premise setup, you still have to deal with bandwidth, manageability, and spam control anyway. So, we finally decided that we needed to get out of hosting our own e-mail. We looked at a few available options: Google, Microsoft, and a couple of other noncloud hosted e-mail options, and we finally decided to go with Google. As part of that move, we brought all of the 15,000 users onto Gmail.
SM: You said that you have a group of core users who need heavy-duty e-mail, and then you have the masses who need unsophisticated email. Now, I can understand the unsophisticated e-mail, that kind of need can definitely be met by Gmail. But what about those sophisticated users and their needs? Are they met with Gmail as well? What is your assessment of Google’s capabilities in that context?
SB: Well, the sophistication is all in the front end of an e-mail solution, and Google allows you to use a Microsoft Outlook client as the front end. We have around 400–450 users who still use the Outlook client, and the rest use the Gmail through its webmail interface. In that sense, Google has both the server and mail client. For our power users, the Gmail client can become a little troublesome at times, but it has gotten substantially better than where it was earlier. Even in the power user base, I use Gmail clients more often than the Outlook ones because I don’t need things like mail merge very much. The mail client on the Web has not moved any faster than Outlook. I use both of these e-mail clients, but I mostly use the webmail interface.
SM: Got it!
SB: We don’t have too much of a problem with Gmail in our power user segment. Our biggest challenge was on the user administration side. Being a retail e-mail, Gmail has relatively basic user administration features, and companies like ours require a lot more of those features. We have requirements in terms of applying a lot more restrictions and choices of restrictions on whom we are giving e-mail access to and what kind of flexibility or use we allow. There we faced more of a challenge during migration to Gmail, but of course Google mail has become significantly richer since we moved.
SM: Besides Google, besides your e-mail movement, are there other applications you have developed on top of, say, Microsoft Exchange and extended Exchange yourself for some business need? Are there other applications such as those that you also moved to the cloud? Most larger organizations have a bunch of applications that are specific to the business of that organization. Do you have a lot of custom applications? In other cloud adoption use cases, we have seen that such applications usually also need to be moved to a cloud-based platform.
SB: Most of our applications are homegrown. We have our own IT department which builds most of these applications. So, we found it relatively easy to modify these homegrown applications in order to meet the needs of moving to Google or moving to a cloud environment. That is why our move to the cloud has been relatively pain-free in that sense – we were easily able to certify our own applications in the cloud environment. If you are dependent on an external vendor, sometimes you have to wait a long while for those external vendors to certify the applications for cloud. If the vendor does not certify, you run the risk of not being able to get support from that vendor.
SM: Are these homegrown applications also being moved to a cloud-based infrastructure?
SM: Cloud architecture?
SB: Since all of our applications are homegrown, we don’t really have a choice. We had to move all of it to the clouds.
SM: Okay. Did you use any other cloud vendor in that context?
SM: In the movement of your homegrown applications to the cloud as part of your Microsoft Exchange to Google transition, at least from an e-mail point of view, what I am trying to understand is what exactly did you do? What strategy did you use to move the rest of the applications to a cloud environment?
SB: We are moving application by application to cloud by testing them. We assign a few servers to ourselves on the cloud, and we put the application there and do testing for a while until we see it works for us, and then we move the application.