Replacing Exchange Public Folder Functionality with Google Apps

One of the problems with ditching Exchange and moving to Google Apps has been the lack of public folder functionality. Public folders are those folders that your Exchange admin would set up where they could give multiple users the right to view content and other users the rights to add and edit content. They are sort of a cheap intranet; at least that’s how we used them.

We successfully migrated 300+ users to Google Apps finishing late this Spring. Part of that required that we solve the lack of public folders. For those public folders where we would just put documents for access, we helped our users migrate to using Google Sites. With sites, users can easily post information or documents. Some of our users also use shared Google Docs for this purpose.

We still had the issue of having multiple users easily access one email account for customer service or other public facing email addresses. We turned to Email Center Pro for a solution that really improves on the public folder paradigm.

The things we like about Email Center Pro:

  • Like public folders, there is a many to many relationship between email boxes and users. In other words, users can be assigned to multiple mailboxes and multiple users can be assigned to the same mailbox.
  • The user interface is a very nice dashboard that has
    • A drop down list of all the users mailboxes,
    • A list of all the other users that are currently logged into that mailbox,
    • The ability to save searches,
    • Recent activity log,
    • Account usage,
    • The message inbox, and
    • a customizable graph of mailbox activity that is exportable to CSV for further analysis.
    • Plus there are about 15 more widgets that are available to add.
  • Emails can be assigned for response to ensure that no emails are missed or forgotten and that they only get responded to one time.
  • The Email Center Pro inbox can send you an alert when email arrives so you don’t have to keep checking.
  • You can create and use templates for common responses, ensuring that communications are consistent and saving time.
  • Create notes for other team members
  • You can create a link from the email to a case in your case system. In our case we use Salesforce. This works nicely when you need to update the case with information from the email thread.

So, we didn’t solve all the problems with just Google. But that’s the great thing about Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, they understand that complimentary functionality and seamless integration is the name of the game. All-in-all, with the public folder functionality replaced and improved, the transition to Google Apps went very well. We are very happy with the choice and the many new features that Google and Email Center Pro have added to our email handling.

6 thoughts on “Replacing Exchange Public Folder Functionality with Google Apps

  1. Hi

    Thanks for the fantastic insights into moving to the Google Apps platform. We are a Non Profit and were looking at moving to a hosted exchange solution but I am being more and more convinced that Google Apps is the way to go.

    One of my main concerns was the ability to mimic Public Folder functionality with Gmail. We use public folders as a repository for emails relating to a specific project (more than one person tends to work on a single project and hence they act as shared inboxes for the specific project) – people move relevant mails to the public folder then anyone can search or read these emails.

    Having looked at the Email Center Pro offering I am not sure that it would meet our requirements (I could be wrong?) even though it looks like an impressive product. Could you comment on this and whether another option would be to create a new email account for each project ( etc) and then provide viewing access to various other users/accounts? Is this possible in Gmail? and would users be able to move email messages to the other account? Would it just be a matter of forwarding the message to that email account?

    Finally I was wondering if you could advise of any tools that might be available to migrate some of our users existing MS Exchange emails to Gmail? We host our own email using MS SBS 2003 and most users would want to be able to migrate at least the last couple months worth of emails across to Gmail.

    Many thanks!
    World Education Australia

    1. Hello James! Thanks for the comment.

      You are essentially correct. What I’ve found the most useful is to create an email address specifically for the project.

      Then you can accomplish shared inboxes in a number of ways:

      • give all the group members access to it
      • use Email Center Pro to manage it. Email Center Pro adds a nice layer of reporting on top of the mail box plus it requires unique logins. Having unique logins was a critical requirement for us. That way if someone leaves the team, you can simply deactivate their Email Center Pro account. You don’t have to change the password on the underlying GMail account.
      • somewhat different – you can use a Google Group for the project. While not part of Google Apps yet (are you listening Google??) its a great way to collaborate on projects if you don’t have to worry about the from address of the emails that are sent out
      • ultimately, if you can swing a Google Wave invitation, that looks like it will be excellent for project communication

      There are a number of other useful tools in the Apps constellation to help with project management and collaboration. Google Moderator lets users post ideas and other users can vote them up or down. This is a great way to prioritize feature requests or bug fixes. Sites is a useful to put all of the project communication in one place. You can take a look at Google’s example site here.

      For migrating email from exchange, there are tools available. We used the free IMAP migration tool from Google. We migrated all of our users’ email over as part of the deployment.

      So for us, Google Apps not only replaced Exchange, but SharePoint and a Blackberry server as well. I have been very happy with our decision to move to Google. Most of our users are thrilled with the change.

      Good luck with your decision. Feel free to post back with any other questions.

  2. Does Email Center Pro run parallel to Gmail or as the frontend to Gmail? How are emails moved from a personal email account to a shared email account? Is it as simple as dragging from the inbox to the public folder?

    1. Hello Brian!

      The way we have it configured is as a front end to a Gmail mailbox. Moving emails from a personal account to a shared account can be done in a couple of ways: 1) forward it to the shared account or 2) if you allow users to share the password for the shared email account (not recommended), in an IMAP client where both accounts are configured, you could drag the email from one account to the other.

      I personally prefer forwarding the message. That way everyone can see the history of that message and how it got there. We all know that context for messages in email is in short supply. So I think that anything we can do to maintain or provide more context for the message is helpful.

  3. I like the solution but hate the price. For a few months I have been trying to replace our old aging exchange 2003 server (100 users) with SOMETHING else. I have been fighting with several issues.

    1) Public folders are a must for my departments.
    2) Monthly costs must be low.
    3) Must be able to be used with XP clients (do not ask…)
    4) Archiving of minimum 7 years of ALL email.

    I have looked at Office 365 and to get the archiving feature requires the most expensive package @ $20/mo/user.

    OpenChange and SOGO on linux is supposed to provide the solution we were looking for but unfortunately the projects are too fragmented to provide a trust-able solution.

    Zimbra looks promising but in order to get public folders (Briefcases) you have to pay an outrages price for the software as a service up front (100 users 3 year term = > $9000) + Hardware to run it.

    Hosted Zimbra has promise but not a single partner has a multi-data-center-resident offering. All of the data is in one data center with no redundant offerings. @ ~$10/mo/user or more.

    Google Apps has the best offering for cloud mail to date. They even have archiving offered at an extra $5/mo/user. BUT the lack of Public Folders makes Google disqualified for our needs…

    Unfortunately the only solutions that meets all of our needs is to invest in a new server, pay Microsoft for new OS and CALS and then get Exchange. Add Antivirus subscription and we have a complete solution that works but fails the second benchmark test.

    This sucks!!!

    (I know that a lot of you will read this and respond with GET MORE MONEY in your budget! I know this is the Congressional way of handling the issue but seeing as how we are on our 3rd round of layoffs with no let-up in sight, that is just not a workable solution at this time.)

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