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I have read that there is an option of using Gmail as your primary mail server. In the sense that you can add mx records etc and you do not have to do it on your own server.

Do you think this is a recommended setup in terms of security. Will Gmail do the fight against virusses, spam, and brute force attacks for you?

[UPDATE]

I have seen that this post has some attention by a couple of people. I must say that right after this post I switched my whole communication system to Google. With communication being email, calendar, documents, etc. I must say that this is in my opinion the best step we made.

[switching webhosts]
We were a starting company, and I had to switch webhosts and servers a lot due to configuration/price/etc. with every switch I had to set over all the websites, and also every time the email adresses, and always losing the emails that were on the other server. With having your email 'in the cloud'. Your emails are always at one place, and you just have to set over the websites when switching hosting providers.

[server security]
Another big issue was the security. We had to move over to a dedicated, with more power. With the greater power came greater complexity. I had to work with linux now, and build my own solid server, with great protection to the outside world. I had to say I was amazed by the numbers of attacks we got each day. Being brute force hacks, sniffing etc. After months of work I had finally build a somewhat 'safe' system. The only weak point in my opinion was the email system. Getting a good spam protection, and I had no idea what kind of risks there are more. This is a thing of the past now, as all the email of the company is safely delivered and protected against spam.

[server performance]
Another small benefit is the resources used by the email programs. I don't have any spam protection or antivirus running on the machines now, this has to be a small benefit.

[conclussion]
Finally the service is great. There are a lot of synchronisation options, also for mobile devices. Being a small company this would be hard for us to set up on our primary server, so having this all work from the cloud is a great thing.

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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

We use it here, and I really like it. I just don't have to think about e-mail anymore — I can't think of any higher praise than that. That said, the switch was made before I started here, and so I have none of the political pressure that comes from such a move and didn't have to deal with any of the conversion issues.

Here is what I found:

  • You tagged your question "pop3", but really one advantage here is that users will mainly use the web interface now rather than a pop3 client.
  • That said, a lot of your users will still want to run Outlook (or whatever e-mail client they're used to). That's okay, but you should set them up using imap rather than pop3. Update It now supports a real windows mail profile via Google Apps Sync that works for Outlook very much like exchange did.
  • A lot of tools (especially notification programs) don't work well with "Apps for domain" product. Even some of Google's own products (like the google home page) don't work. Update This has improved considerably.
  • There is no good mail/calendar notification tool available for windows unless you go with a full imap or pop3 client. This is a big one, believe me.
  • The outage problem isn't just whether their system goes down, but also that you lose all e-mail access when parts of your system (WAN connection) goes down. You can mitigate this somewhat by making sure everyone has a good local client, but remember that most e-mails at many places are sent between co-workers. Now a WAN outage will also bring down this "local" traffic. On the other hand, if your business has a lot of remote workers like sales people, this could actually be an advantage, because they'll still have access during a WAN outage.
  • We still have an smtp service on one of our servers on site, but it's only used for internal systems (log messages, helpdesk mail, that kind of thing). No actual users ever touch it. It sends less than 50 messages in total per day and it's the only resource here dedicated to e-mail any more.
  • There's a compliance issue, in that we can't fully disable the delete button. That said, with user training the archive feature is superior and should be a long term advantage in this area.

That said, I want to mention again that we really like it here. The service itself is probably more stable than our own e-mail server would be, and it's definitely going to work better off-premises. The spam and virus filtering are probably better than we could do on our own as well. All in all, it's a very low-cost way to provide a quality e-mail account for our students and staff (we're a small college).

My opinion is that gmail is a great fit here in part because it's what our students are used to (they prefer this to pop/imap system requiring Outlook/Outlook Express/Thunderbird and gmail's web interface is top notch), it serves all the students well (even exchange students) over the breaks, it works well for our recruiters and coaches when they're away, and does it for much less money and with much less maintenance than we could do it ourselves.

On the other hand, before most business can adopt it they need to provide a working notification application and fix the compliance delete button issue. Also, as a school we get the service for next to nothing, but for-profit business pays something like $50 per user per year. The stories I hear indicate the migration tools need some work as well.

Update
I had to go back through some of the docs from when we set this up, and I found this link:
https://www.google.com/support/hosted/bin/answer.py?answer=139019
from which I quote:

Google Apps for Education is free. We plan to keep the core offering of Google Apps Education Edition free. This includes user accounts for incoming students in the future. ... this is just one way we can give back to the education community.

The same section also talks about a for-pay add-on (no doubt based on Postini) called Google Message Security and Compliance you can buy that deals with the compliance and archiving issues I mentioned, but it's $45/user/year.

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Accepted. I liked the detailed explanation for the upsides and downsides of choosing this method. The tag was obviously wrong, I have no clue why I tagged it that way. As far as outlook that is no problem for me, this system is mostly used by staff and we all use web based email. –  Saif Bechan Apr 13 '10 at 15:43
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I host some of my personal email there (not like "I have a gmail account" but actual domain email hosted there).

On the one hand, they're pretty reliable, and they're not likely to get taken down by any shmuck with a grudge against your company. You get a lot for free, and if you want more, it's pretty cheap. They do do decent spam filtering, and probably viruses as well, though I haven't even SEEN an email virus in so long, I've forgotten what they look like.

On the other hand, there have been a few significant outages lately. You have to decide for yourself as far as reliability goes. I wouldn't do it with professional mail, but I have the resources to pay for services like Postini (owned by google) and pay for security appliances, SAV gateways, etc, etc, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Edit: Sorry. Enterprisey, large business: shouldn't have said "Professional" because you can have a professional setup in any size shop.

I run mail servers for about a thousand people, I deal with a large volume of emailed image files, a decently large amount of encrypted email, and I run mail proxies, mail forwarders, dedicated antivirus gateways, multiple exchange servers, SAN mail stores big honking security appliances, and, above that, Postini.

My point is that, for what I need, I pretty much have to host it in house. If your needs are complex enough, you may have to as well.

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+1 yeah I haven't seen any viruses in a long time also, but I like to keep it that way. Can you define professional mail for me. I am going to host some commercial websites. The email addresses that are used are mainly for staff. I will not be selling any inboxes etc. Do you think it will be a good alternative in that sense? –  Saif Bechan Apr 13 '10 at 15:40
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GMail now has IMAP support for public users for free. This happened recently and I LOVE it. I like keeping my mail up on the server instead of on my machine and using Thunderbird to check it. Works beautifully.

So, in that respect, I would highly recommend using GMail unless you think you could also setup a encrypted TLS IMAP server of your own. That is the bar that GMail has set and in order to justify some other solution you need to beat that.

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If by "recent", you mean three years ago, then yes IMAP was added recently. Also, just because some vendor adds a bit of good functionality doesn't mean that's the measure by which all other options need to be compared. There are many undesirable aspects to Google's service and each individual/person needs to do a full evaluation of their needs and see if Gmail is the write solution. –  EEAA Apr 15 '10 at 13:55
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I have a small business client that uses Gmail. They just love it. POSTINI ($50 per user per year) with very good spam filter gives them ability to retrieve messages they inadvertently deleted. And now they have Droid with Androids. It integrates very well with their phone and they feel like they have an private email server backed by big IT resources. Google calendar sends you SMS/Email for notification; people can see the busy/free hours each other. Also, Google talk has very clean interface and lets you do IMs(of which you can save).

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+1 thanks for the response –  Saif Bechan Apr 13 '10 at 17:11
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afaik they do basic scanning, but they have also an additional ($$$) service called POSTINI (they've bought it some years ago).

Btw I wont use google for an enterprise.. (i've done it in the past just for some months and it was a pain in the ... to migrate from)

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+1 thank you for mentioning the POSTINI , I will look a little further into that. As far as migration goes, that is not problem for me as I am setting my system up from scratch. –  Saif Bechan Apr 13 '10 at 15:38
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