Using Google Apps

Monday, April 2, 2007

I spent some time this weekend setting up to use Google Apps for my wine club‘s email, while leaving the site hosted where it currently is on GoDaddy. My primary reason for doing this is that GoDaddy’s webmail sucks (although mostly I just POP it down to Outlook) and the mailbox provided with my hosting account is only 25MB unless I buy one of their email packages on top of my hosting — only $20/year, but the webmail still sucks.

The free version of Google Apps has a lot to offer:

  • 2GB/person email storage for each email address in your domain, and access through the familiar Gmail user interface and spam filtering
  • Google Calendar, with calendar sharing between those in the same domain
  • Google Documents for collaborative word processing and spreadsheet file creation
  • A page creator that allows you to actually host your website, although the functionality is pretty basic.

Since our site is on WordPress, I can’t move it over here, but I’m happy with the GoDaddy web hosting, just not their email, and this gives me a nice alternative.

The one glitch was that we have a .ca domain that is registered with DomainsAtCost.ca, who don’t offer custom DNS: that means that I can only specify a single set of nameservers for the domain, and therefore can’t have my web site hosted in one place and my email in another. (For the technically-minded, the location of your web site’s host is dictated by the A records and CNAME records, whereas the location of your mail host is dictated by the MX records). Luckily, James Woods, who I know through the Toronto tech community, pointed me towards ZoneEdit for a free custom DNS remapping solution.

Here’s the final configuration:

  • The domain is registered on DomainsAtCost, which points the domain to ZoneEdit’s nameservers.
  • On ZoneEdit, I set A, CNAME and MX records to point everything to the right place.
  • The A records point to my hosting server on GoDaddy (the actual server IP, not the GoDaddy nameserver IP’s, as I found out after a day of pulling my hair out), where our site is running on WordPress.
  • The MX records to point to Google’s mail servers.
  • CNAME records for four subdomains point to Google as well, to provide easy access to the calendar, docs, webmail and a launch page for my domain.

I didn’t have to change anything on GoDaddy (in fact, the old mail account is still there, it just doesn’t have any MX records pointed at it so will never receive anything), and the Google setup was easy; I had to do a bit of research on the DNS stuff to get ZoneEdit to work properly, although this would not have been necessary if my domain registrar allowed me to set my MX records independently.

I’m going to try this out for a few months, then if it works out, I may switch over my corporate email addresses — although it’s only me in the company, I maintain four separate email accounts for easier tracking. Although it’s currently hosted on an upgraded 1GB hosted mail account on GoDaddy, along with the web site, the superior user interface and spam protection of Google’s email may convince me to just abandon the rest of the year’s worth of paid email to move to Google Apps.

I like what Google is doing here. They’re taking the “free email for everyone” idea and expanding it to “free email on my own domain for everyone”. I have a number of friends who don’t even have a website but do have their own domain for email, and this would be a great solution for them. Google will, of course, sell you your domain registration as well, but that’s not required.

10 Comments

  1. Jure says:

    Can you please elaborate on what you had to do with zoneedit to get the MX and CNAME working. I did what google said, but it doesn’t seem to work.

  2. sandy says:

    It was pretty straightforward:

    1. Login to ZoneEdit.com and create a “zone” for your domain, or choose the zone from the list if you already have it set up.

    2. You should see a list of all records that you’ve set up for your domain listed on the initial screen: IP addresses (A records), mail servers (MX records), aliases (CNAME records), etc.

    3. To change your MX records, click on Mail Servers (MX) near the top of the screen, which will put you into the add/change MX records screen.

    4. For each mail server name that Google provided, enter the name, select the order, then put your domain name and click Add New Mail Server. For example, I entered “ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM”, selected “1st”, and entered “aws.ca” (my domain). I then did this for the six other mail servers that Google listed, so I have a total of 7 MX records listed.

    5. For CNAME records, click on Aliases (CNAME) at the top of the screen to get to the CNAME record editing screen.

    6. I was using this to create subdomains (which are a type of alias) that point to the Google apps, while my mail domain records point to my hosted service on GoDaddy, so I entered the subdomain name on the left, then the Google server address “ghs.google.com” on the right and clicked Add a New Alias for each of the subdomains that I wanted to create (calendar, start, docs, etc.).

    Hope that this helps.

  3. Bumpy Light says:

    It helps to remember that the sole purpose of all of this game-playing with canonical names and aliases is to get the correct IP address of the relevant Web server to your browser (A records or CNAME records), or the IP address of your mail server to the outside mail server (MX records), or whatever. It’s all about that single number.

  4. kenton says:

    It is worth noting, if you include the final “.” (full stop) when setting MX records on zone edit, it will reject the settings – just take it off

  5. Alexis says:

    I just wanted to mention that Domainsatcost.ca now support custom DNS settings

  6. sandy says:

    Thanks, I had heard that it now did. I only have one site left on domainsatcost.ca since GoDaddy now handles .ca domains, I just haven’t got around to removing the zoneedit links.

  7. sandy says:

    Alexis, turns out that domainsatcost.ca only support custom DNS settings if you buy one of their hosting packages. I’ve moved all of my domains off there, since that clearly is an unacceptable policy for a domain registrar.

  8. Michael says:

    @sandy – this is not true – you can create custom DNS settings if you park the domain. I have successfully set up Google Apps and 3rd party hosting with Domainsatcost’s panel

  9. sandy says:

    I’m not parking the domain, I have it hosted elsewhere. That was the problem. All fixed now by removing DomainsAtCost.ca from the equation.

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