Moving email to Google Apps for Domains

For the past few years I’ve run my own mailserver. And it’s worked really well: Postfix for SMTP, Dovecot for IMAP, Squirrelmail for webmail access. And of course Spamassassin to stem the unending deluge of unsolicited email Kate and I receive. We’ve also been able to set up custom email addresses I’ve alluded to in the past.

However, there are a couple of problems with having our email delivered in this way. First, there’s the fact that my server (which sits at home, on the end of a good but fairly ordinary ADSL connection) might break or have a power failure. Second, it relies on me looking after the server: something I can’t do when we’re in uganda.

For the last couple of months I’ve been looking for an alternative way to host our email. A virtual server of our own? Shared hosting space at Joyent, where this site is hosted? Something else?

In the end, we’ve gone for Google Apps for your Domain – it’s free, has IMAP and POP access, great spam filtering, and a decent web interface (Gmail, naturally). And we can keep our email addresses, have our mail delivered to and have the fact that it’s hosted by Google be generally transparent.

So: that’s what I’ve done. In the past few days, I’ve migrated our email data from our server at home to Google’s ‘cloud’, updated our MX records so email is delivered to GAFYD and – that’s it.

Migrating your existing email to Google can be a bit of a hassle. If you’re on Windows you can use Google Email Uploader. Unfortunately there’s no such thing for the Mac and anyway, our email lives on the server. The only failsafe way to do it is to open both accounts using IMAP, and transfer the messages one-by-one. I found a fantastic Ruby script which does just that – it worked without a problem for our email. There’s also imapsync if you prefer Perl.

The only concern with all of this is keeping our personal data on someone else’s servers (and obviously accessible to Google’s advertising algorithms). I guess they’ve won the argument that the benefits of GAFYD outweigh the privacy-reducing disadvantages. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me about that…

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