I recently wrote an article for Inman News, entitled, 5 Reasons to Move to the ‘Cloud’. In that article, I discussed the benefits of cloud computing, such as cost savings, collaboration tools, mobile support, and reducing infrastructure and IT hassles. We made the switch to Google Apps in my organization (Residential Properties Ltd.) almost two years ago, and haven’t looked back.
Cloud computing is certainly a trendy topic these days. However, for many organizations, it remains an ambiguous technology. Allow me to clarify a bit.
There are typically 3 types of cloud computing solutions:
- Public Cloud: A cloud service such as Google Apps, where the platform and applications are available to the general public over the Internet.
- Private Cloud: A cloud solution that functions like a public cloud, but is typically managed internally by an organization.
- Hybrid Cloud: A solution that combines both public and private solutions. For example, utilizing a public cloud solution with a proprietary in-house application, such as a file server.
Now, there is certainly a debate in the technology community as to which solution is best. There are many variables to consider, including scalability, training, and P&L (profit and loss). However, as I always say, the premise of cloud computing is to reduce expensive infrastructure costs and technology headaches.
There are pros and cons with any technology solution, and Google Apps is no exception. If you’re contemplating migrating to Google, here is a list pros and cons. (PLEASE NOTE: my focus for this article is on the paid, enterprise product: Google Apps for Business.)
- Google Apps is more then just Gmail. In fact, it’s a suite of software that includes all of Google most popular products such as Calendar, Chat, Video, Reader and more.
- Postini is Google’s hosted security and archiving service. The application protects against spam and viruses, archives and encrypts your email. The application can be added as a stand-alone app or a fully integrated solution. Before we migrated to Google Apps and Postini, my staff and I were dedicating a tremendous amount of resources to manage white lists and mail server rules. Postini has saved us countless hours of work, and given our users the flexibility to control their own spam filters.
- Uptime has been nearly perfect since we moved to Gmail. No server or infrastructure maintenance equals no disruptions in service.
- Connecting mobile devices, particularly iOS and Android, is a breeze. The calendar sync has made our organization incredibly efficient. We have 160 independent contractors, with a plethora of operating systems, carriers, and products to support. Google makes synchronization extremely easy.
- All facets of our organization (accounting, human resources, marketing, and sales) are using Google Docs and collaborating in unique ways. It has streamlined our departments and improved communications.
- When you move to a public cloud solution, you lose a certain amount of control over the platform. One of the items that you lose control over is upgrades. We had some unhappy real estate agents when Google rolled out the new Gmail look. Sure, they give you a sneak peek, and you can revert to the older version. However, that is temporary, and upgrades are generally out of your control.
- Gmail typically works with most mail clients and supports both POP3 and IMAP. However, in my experience, the product works best in the browser with an IMAP configuration. This can be frustrating for hardcore Microsoft Outlook users, who have spent years refining their business in the application.
- Migrating large amounts of data from your existing mail server to Gmail can be extremely challenging. Google provides tools to accommodate this process, but make no mistake, data migration is extremely sensitive and not for the faint of heart. Hire a certified, experienced migration company to facilitate the transition…we did.
- Training is imperative when switching communication platforms, and this is especially true of moving to Google Apps. We had many Realtors® who were using Google products on their own accord. However, there were many users unfamiliar with the platform. There is a learning curve, and this can be extremely annoying to a busy real estate professional.
Google Apps can be a great fit for the real estate industry. Is it the right product for your business? I hope this guide sheds some light on the platform, and will help you determine the best solution for your organization.
About the Author:
Tom Flanagan is the Technology Director at Residential Properties Ltd., a real estate brokerage in Providence, R.I. In addition, he is a syndicated technology columnist at Inman News and a frequent speaker at both local and national events, including Google IT Summit and Real Estate Connect. Follow Tom on Twitter: @tflan