Cloud-based solutions are flooding the marketplace for every conceivable vertical: from music streaming and management to business and education services. In terms of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), these cloud-based solutions can often make a lot of sense in certain situations. For e-mail, hosting a solution in the cloud can end up being the most cost-effective option available. In my previous article, I focused primarily on understanding the total cost of ownership for an e-mail solution – while hinting at the potential benefits of Google Apps as your primary e-mail solution.
Today, I would like to add to that list of the benefits of Google Apps, and take a slightly more in depth look at why Google just might be the best choice for your environment.
Of course, the two most popular offerings in hosted email are Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps, and Office 365 certainly has its own slue of benefits for enterprise e-mail. Whereas Office 365 had been an on premises solution before it adopted the cloud-based persona, Google Apps came onto the market as a hosted offering first. In light of this, Google had to quickly address the pains of both migrating existing email and allowing logins with existing user accounts. These are required efforts when moving to Google Apps so they are components of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) equation. Additionally, the necessity of this ability to migrate is one of the most prominent benefits of Google Apps for many e-mail hosting solutions.
3 More Benefits of Google Apps – User Authentication Tools
Of course, even if you use a cloud hosted e-mail solution (regardless of your choice in solution provider), there still needs to be an Identity Provider (IdP) that hands the authentication. Sort of like a police officer directing traffic to prevent any accidents between cars and pedestrians during a big event. The IdP facilitates the pathways of information exchange so that your directory and Google Apps can communicate fluidly and securely.
On the authentication front, Google Apps addresses three main considerations that tend to top most lists regarding authentication needs: Synchronizing data with Active Directory, Synchronizing Passwords between AD and Google, and Reducing Multiple Login Prompts.
- Google Apps Directory Sync (GADS) is a free, supported utility that automatically creates Google user accounts for each user in your local Active Directory domain. When user accounts are modified or created locally, the updates are synchronized to Google. There is a separate utility that enables schools to use their Student Information System (SIS) in place of Active Directory.
- Google Apps Password Sync (GAPS) is another, separate tool that only handles synchronizing password changes from your local Active Directory domain to the corresponding Google profile. This helps eliminate some end-user burden of having to maintain the AD and Google Apps passwords independently. If you log into Google Apps through the standard Google logon screen, then this can be a worthwhile feature.
- As an alternative to password synchronization, Google Apps for Work/Education also supports identity federation using the SAML SSO protocol. This allows you to use a centralized Identity Provider (IdP) to handle validation of the username & password (and optionally an OTP for multi-factor) directly against your Active Directory domain. The IdP then creates a secure, single-use token that identifies the end user and proves the user’s identity to Google Apps (the user’s Google Apps password is ignored in this process). The single-use token is transmitted directly to Google Apps within the user’s browser, and Google responds to it by creating a new session for the user. At this point, the IdP is no longer involved.
Interestingly enough, another one of the benefits of using Google Apps is that this IdP can either be hosted on premises or in the cloud – it is completely transparent to both end-users and Google Apps. Some IdPs also have the ability to allow users to reset forgotten passwords on their own, further empowering them and reducing help desk and other infrastructure costs.
The migration to cloud-based services has been happening for years now, probably pre-dating the use of the term “cloud” itself! Understanding all the hidden costs associated with hosting an on-premises email infrastructure is crucial to performing an “apples to apples” comparison with a cloud service such as Google Apps. Not to mention the importance of knowing exactly what you are getting for your investment. The addition of various tools and techniques to streamline and simplify the transition period is one of the many benefits of Google Apps, and puts the entire suite at the top of its class in Cloud-hosted enterprise solutions.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!