(This is an old--unfinished until now--post that never quite made it onto the blog, hopefully some of you will find it useful.)
This is a long, technical post. Ok, not that technical, but you get the picture. If you are thinking about using Google Apps for your winery, or, other business, read on.
First, what is Google Apps? From wikipedia:
"Google Apps is a service from Google for using custom domain names with several Google products. It features several Web applications with similar functionality to traditional office suites, including: Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs, Page Creator, and Sites. The Standard Edition is free and offers the same amount of storage as regular GMail accounts. The Premier Edition, which offers 25 GB of e-mail storage, is 50 USD, or 40 EUR, per year, per account. The Education Edition, which is free, combines features from the Standard and Premier editions."
This entire package of "stuff" is also refered to Google Apps for Your Domain (GAFYD). Like the name implies, you will need to own your own domain name in order to sign-up. After sign-up, you will be able to send email using your firstname.lastname@example.org email address via the Gmail application, as well as access the other Google applications (Docs, Calendar, Pages, Talk, etc).
Once you are setup you can create up to 100 user accounts, each with 6GB of email storage. In the Google App environment everything can be shared with other users in your domain, or, with people outside your domain. For example, if you are working on a newsletter via Google Docs and you want your winemaker to put in some comments, they could do so by logging into their account and pulling up the document, inputting something about "aged in french oak...hints of cola, spice, earthiness, etc. They finish the process by hitting the save button. All changes would then be relfected in the shared document.
So let's look at the nuts and bolts of how you get started with GAFYD. Again, this is not the same as signing up for an iGoogle account, which also gives you access to these applications.
Step 1: You need to own your own domain name (yourwinery.com) to use GAFYD, and you also need to be able to change domain settings to get things working properly. DNS settings can be changed easily if your web hosting provider gives you this option--typically via a control panel of sorts for your account. Also, if you manage your domain through Godaddy or some other service you can update the settings there as well. Other than that, it really is a pretty straightforward process. All in, it took me about 30 minutes to get everything working, your results might vary depending on how fast your changes resolve. So once you can determine that you have access and can edit your MX, CNAME, and A setting entries for your domain (yourwinery.com) proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: Here we will sign up for a Google Apps account by going to www.google.com/a and selecting solutions for "small businesses and employees". On the next page you want to select "Get Started" under "Get email, productivity, and collaboration tools for business." On the next page select "Standard Edition." Also, while you are here you should definitely read Google's setup instructions and watch a few demos, especially if you don't know what you are doing, or, have an uneasy feeling that this might be a bad idea!
You should now be on a page asking for your domain name and whether you are signing up as an administrator, or, a user. You want to select the administrator button and click "Get Started." Enter your name and other information on this page and then click continue. You should now be at the username and password selection screen, enter your desired information and click the "I accept continue with setup" button. You should now be at the dashboard page of your administrator account. Proceed to Step 3.
Step 3: You are now at the Google Apps administrator panel, but in order use your domain with Google apps you must verify that the domain you entered is actually yours. There are two ways to verify--create a CNAME entry, or, upload an HTML file with a line of code Google generates for you into your web hosting account in the root directory. I have tried both methods--you will be verified immediately if you upload the HTML file since Google just goes to your website and looks to see if it's there. If you choose to go the CNAME route, Google will generate a random letter and number string which you will then use to create a new CNAME entry. Just follow Googles on screen instructions and you should be good to go.
When I used the CNAME method it took about 20 minutes for verification to go through. It doesn't matter which method you choose and I found that the HTML route was easiest. Just open notepad, or, some other basic text editor, type <html>, paste the code that google generated for you underneath it, type </html> to close it, save it as whatever Google tells you to (googlehostedservices.html is what I got) and upload to your root directory where your website is hosted using FTP, or, your control panels upload file feature.
That's it, your verification status will be shown on the administrator dashboard page, just wait for it to change to "all services are running smoothly." Could take 10 to 15 minutes, or, maybe longer. Once verified go to Step 4.
Step 4: At this point you are ready to setup Gmail as your email system for your domain. This is the trickiest part of the process. You do this by changing the MX settings for your domain. These settings are likely setup to point to your web hosting company's email servers (most everyone gets one, or, more POP3 mail account when they open a web hosting account). What this MX change does is send all new mail addressed to email@example.com to Google's servers, thus, allowing you to use this address via Gmail. All mail sent to your address after you make this change will show up in your Gmail account--accessible via the administrator login and password you created in Step 2 from above. Again, to be clear, this is not firstname.lastname@example.org, we are talking about. You will be using a Gmail interface and sending and receiving mail as email@example.com after the MX change. Google also gives you the option to customize the look of Gmail by uploading an image of your company logo.
To make the MX change click the Mail icon on the Google Apps dashboard, then on the next page click the link next to Email Activation, then click change MX settings for instructions. (Note: Don't get confused here, your MX settings are changed via your domain management account, i.e. Godaddy, or, through your web hosting company, etc.) There is a drop down box on this page that has a list of hosting providers and their specific instructions for changing MX entries. If your service is listed select it and follow the directions from there.
The MX change is simple to make, you just delete what is entered currently--probably two entries--and put in the information for Googles mail servers. I had to make five entries, one each for Google's five different email servers, overall it took about 2 minutes. Make sure you enter the information to the letter or it will not work. After you have entered these and can see your changes, you will go back into the email dashboard in the administrator account that you created in Google Apps and then tell Google you made the changes by clicking the "I have completed these steps" button at the bottom of the page. It may take 15 to 20 minutes for things to process--you can check status on the dashboard page--but don't panic, as long as you entered everything exactly it will work. In some instances it could take 24 to 48 hours for things to propagate, but in the five times I have setup Google Apps, each time, it took around 20 - 30 minutes.
Once the changes are registered you should be able to login to your newly created Gmail account using your login and password you setup earlier. Please note that you will not be able to get new emails sent to you by accessing your old email account (perhaps you were using webmail via your hosting company login page), however, older emails should still be there. Double check things by sending an email to yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org. A word of caution, your email will be down while the MX changes take place, so you should undertsand that ahead of time. For our mail I was able to setup one catch all email account with our domain serivce provider while the changes were taking place. This was deleted after everything was verified to be wokring fine. Depending on your setup you might not have this option.
That's it really, just follow the on screeen directions and you should be fine. Google also lets you assign sub-domains so that you can access all the apps via the following:
For example, click calendar.coveredbridgecellars.com to go to our Calendar login page. Maybe in another post I will go over how to set those up, it's pretty easy really, you just need to create new CNAME entries and then map to them via the Google Apps administrator panel. Google has easy to follow videos for setting all of this up.
There other tutorials on the web with graphics that will walk you through the steps needed to get GAFYD up and running if you need help with anything, just Google the acronym. And if you don't like the idea of tinkering around with this kind of stuff, or, if you're out of your element, then get someone to help you out.
Welcome to the cloud!