Moving from a traditionally structured server/client email system to a hosted, cloud based one has great benefits on paper – but just how good is it in the real world? For conservation organisation CapeNature it has proven to be a clear winner, with its decision move to Google Apps’ Gmail so successful that it has renewed its licenses after a full year’s operation.

CapeNature is a public institution with the statutory responsibility for biodiversity conservation in the Western Cape. Senior Information Systems Manager Arno Scheepers initially opted for Google Apps in 2009, recently renewing licensing with Western Cape Google reseller partner Xepa Consulting.
According to Xepa MD Garth Francis, cloud computing is translating very well from conceptual models to practical implementations. “The introduction of cloud-based services has almost happened under the radar; many of us were using them as consumers before they entered into the business domain. That created the level of trust and understanding of the applications which is necessary to take the leap for the more demanding environments associated with business.”
Scheepers concurs. “Our use of Google Apps has really served to demonstrate that validity of the cloud model. The peculiarity of the CapeNature environment provided an added dimension: our users are spread far and wide. Outside of the head office, there is no WAN infrastructure to connect remote workers so they connect to their email using every network connectivity service available. 3G, dial-up, ADSL, EDGE, GPRS, we use them all,” he says.
Explaining why this is an ideal test case, Francis says the one major concern prior to making the move was bandwidth. “In the IT industry, bandwidth is a constant bugbear. It is constantly advanced as the limitation to all kinds of solutions. With email considered a critical service for many organisations, CapeNature included, there was a worry that with this variety of connectivity mechanisms being used, cloud-based email would be too slow for some users.”
It was a concern that proved to be unfounded, Scheepers confirms, with email availability and performance by far surpassing that of traditional hosted services.
“At the time, we compared the costs and other implications of a traditional hosted solution versus the cloud-based Gmail solution. Not only was cloud a lot less expensive, it also provided far more functionality, where every additional feature on the hosted solution came at an extra cost,” he says.
As a ‘server-side’ solution, the cloud-based Gmail also introduces updates, patches and upgrades with zero-impact on users. “Yes, it was a leap of faith, but after extensive testing and the support of Google as probably one of the biggest names in technology, we were prepared to take that leap,” Scheepers says.
And it has paid off handsomely. “What’s impressed me most from an administrator’s point of view is the speed at which mail is delivered. Where we had previously had an issue with mail taking time to reach its destination, Gmail is always first to arrive,” Scheepers says. “We also don’t need any server-side hardware; in the past, you’d constantly be running short of capacity and need to make expensive purchases. That’s a thing of the past.”
Even better, he says once set up, the solution needs very little intervention from the IT administrators. “There is no longer any hassle or worry. The solution sits in the cloud and the mail is reliably delivered. It costs less, works better, never runs out of capacity. And we never have issues of people losing their email – it is all safely stored in the cloud, independent of the access devices.”
Scheepers says Google Apps has changed the organisation dramatically. “Stability of email is unmatched. In over a year, we have had not one minute of downtime. And that’s been achieved with a massive cost saving.”
Francis says Xepa Consulting has thrown its weight behind cloud computing as the model of the future. “More and more businesses are seeing that owning and managing hardware and applications adds little value to their businesses. They need the services – reliable, available and secure services – and nothing else. That’s exactly what Google Apps delivers, together with channel support. The result is lower-cost and better performance, a powerful value proposition.”