Contributed by: Matt Stark
The purpose of this document is to outline the best practices for migrating a domain from one G Suite account and registering it to another. There are many ways to attack this task, but there is a set of best practices that should be followed to achieve the best end result with the least down time for this project.
The difficulties involved in transferring a domain between G Suite accounts is that the domain must be completely unregistered from the current account to move it. This requires deleting all users and their files under the domain to be moved. The most common situation you might encounter this problem is if a subdomain in G Suite needs to be set up as it’s own account separate from the primary domain.
Put yourself in this situation, you have a G Suite account with multiple sub domains. You need to separate one of those sub domains out from the primary G Suite domain to set it up as its own primary domain. When initially starting this probably sounds simple, like moving from an Office 365 environment to G Suite. However, you will quickly encounter an issue that you may not expect.
When you try to register your domain in your new G Suite account you will be unable as it is already registered to an active G Suite account. Unfortunately this means the domain and all associated accounts need to be backed up and removed, then they can be set up again on the new domain. You will also find that there is a wait period between when you remove the domain and when you reregister it. There is also a wait once the registration process begins.
This should be sounding alarm bells in your head. Questions such as what is the best way to back up a G Suite account, do I have all the records I need to re-register this domain, when and how can I do this to minimize downtime for the client, and more. However, never fear this case study is here to help you answer these questions and guide you through, with best practices, how to successfully transfer a G Suite domain to a new G Suite account.
The overarching question you want to ask yourself when undertaking this project is what are the hurdles that need to be overcome? They include:
- What needs to be done to register a domain with Google that’s already Registered to Google
- How much down time should be expected by the customer, and what kind of buffer should be built in
- What impact is this change going to have on users?
- Gmail: email, contacts, and calendars
- Google drive and all files
- Folder structures
- Cloud Print
- Which accounts actually need to be moved?
- User permissions?
- What is the best backup method for all of these different accounts?
- Client follow up procedure?
These are the main body of questions you want to make sure you have answered before this project begins, should anyone of these questions be overlooked there will be complications later in the project. In a project like this the analysis phase and the procedure derived from it is everything, the road to a smooth success depends on it.
There are a couple alternative options for this project, they fall into two categories: G Suite alternatives and G Suite to G Suite options. This is the first big decision that needs to be made. If the idea of switching to another platform such as Office 365 is appealing to the customer now is the time to broach this topic with them. There are also some different options for staying with G Suite as well. Keep in mind that there are advantages and disadvantages to both which will be discussed in this document.
Office 365 is an alternative method should the client be looking to move away from the G Suite platform. Just like G Suite this is a business grade solution. It includes MS Office and integrates well with a Microsoft environment. It also includes Outlook which is an email client many are used to and prefer over web-based mail. It is also much easier to transfer a domain from G Suite to another platform such as Office 365. You can register the domain with Microsoft without having to delete the current G Suite account which greatly decreases the downtime this project will cause. There are also plenty of tools out there to help transfer all data over from G Suite to Office 365 platforms.
Keep in mind, there are some downsides to moving to Office 365 which should be recognized. While Office 365 does have less downtime there will be other hurdles to face for both the end users and the administrator. It will be a new platform for customers to get used to which may result in a higher influx of issues at the beginning. This is due to everyone in an org now needing to learn a completely new process for how they do many of the day to day things they are used to in G Suite. There will need to be a purchase of software to help with the migration itself. There is a need to convert Google’s MBox files to an MS friendly format. Also, as an Administrator the licensing, layout, and features are different and will take time to become accustomed too. There are also features that Office 365 does not offer such as Classroom, Ads, etc.
However, if G Suite is the solution that they prefer there are a few different options here as well. The big option that needs to be considered in the G Suite to G Suite migration is what is the best backup method. There are a few different options online that have their own benefits and weaknesses. This is something that will need to be weighed and chosen carefully, especially because there is no option that Google supports (except for the data migration tool). Not even their own Google branded option, Google Takeouts! Be warned once the domain transfer is done there is no going back.
The two main players in the G Suite backup business right now are Sys Tools Backup and Google Takeouts. Sys Tools Backup is a paid service made by SysToolsGroup. This tool gives you the ability to pick and choose what data you want to backup from G Suite per account. But, it does have some limitations as it does not include everything, it allows main Google items such as drive, gmail, contacts, but does not give options for items such as classrooms config or other G Suite products. The main benefit is that if user’s accounts already have IMAP enabled the backup can be done without the need to log into the user’s account. You will still need each user’s account password to pull the data, however, they can continue using their account with minimal disturbance. The biggest advantage to this software is that it allows you to directly download the data, unlike other backup options. However, be warned it does also tend to have a higher failure rate than Takeouts.
Then there is the Google Takeouts option. Which again, to be very clear, is not supported by Google. Takeouts while not supported by Google is very well integrated. It works well and like Sys Tools allows the choice of what items to pull from each individual account. Just like Sys Tools this will require access to their account password. The main difference we see here is that the service is free, it gives the option to pull all Google services including android phone configurations, but this backup cannot be downloaded locally directly. Google Takeouts can put data in a drive account, a user account, or send an email with the files it creates zipped up. It does not have a local file download which is a benefit of Sys Tools, if there is a fiber connection available it may be quicker to download files directly.
Let’s quickly talk about the limitations of the Google Data Migration tool. The issue with the data migration tool lies in its functionality. The Data Migration tool, while supported by Google, does not support individual exports. If using the Data Migration tool every account under every domain in a G Suite account will be exported. Not only are all accounts not necessary only one domain’s, but this process will take a significantly longer amount of time to download the data. This in turn will cause more downtime for the client and more time for the technician to sift through all the data to pick out just the needed information. Because of this issue the Data Migration tool is not a recommended method for this project, however, it at first glance seems like a great solution so it was worth mentioning.
In summary the main choices that need to be made are continue with G Suite or go with another alternative, and if going with G Suite what backup method is best for the environment. This is all going to depend on the client and what their use cases are for the software. As well as what network options are available for backup methods should the G Suite route be chosen.
Recommendation and Implementation Plan
Taking into consideration the options available to accomplish the end goal of this project I recommend going forward with the G Suite Domain Transfer. It is also recommended to use Google Takeouts as the backup option for G Suite. This recommendation comes for two reasons, the first being that G Suite to G Suite transfers while more difficult to accomplish will overall have less impact on the users. The second being Takeouts, while not supported by Google, is a Google product and integrates better.
Why G Suite to G Suite? This is a question that you are probably asking yourself. While going from G Suite to Office 365 is an easier transfer, sticking with G Suite keeps all user’s workflows the same. The environment will also be the same. This is a huge advantage as it is overall less impact on the end users and it will make this transition much easier for both them and the admins. Folder structures can be set up to be exactly the same, end users will be able to use Google Drive File Stream still, sharing options will be the same, the email interface they are used to will be the same. All of these factors add up to ease of use for end users and less clean up / support necessary for admins after the move.
Now let’s talk about Takeouts and why that is recommended over a service such as Sys Tools backup.There are a few advantages to Google Takeouts over Sys Tools. While Sys Tools does have a support line which is great and does give good service they can only help with how to use their software. They can’t give support on anything that may happen while using their software. This puts them in the same boat as Google Takeouts, and the Takeouts documentation is excellent so there should be no need for support. Sys Tools on the other hand does have some functionality issues that may require more in depth support which unfortunately is not offered.
Next, Google takeouts has historically had a higher success rate than Sys Tools. Even though Sys Tools is a Paid Service it ends up taking more time to actually download all of the data through it. This is because it will sometimes need to be restarted as it will fail during large backups. The software works best when downloading one item per account and breaking the total number of accounts up. For example downloading just email, then just calendars, then just contacts with small segments of accounts rather than all of the accounts at once. This makes the Sys Tools process take longer. While it is possible with Sys Tools to download the files directly to local storage it is overall not worth the extra downtime necessary to complete the project. Most often it will be necessary to pull more than just email.
Takeouts will require setting up a storage option outside of the Current G Suite or downloading from the current G Suite to local storage. While this is an extra step it will over all be more time efficient, and Takeouts has a higher success rate. Being able to successfully download all the files requested is the most important part of this project which is why Google Takeouts is the recommendation even though it does not have a download to local storage option and requires other channels to get data to local storage before recreating the domain.
Now that recommendations have been explained let’s talk about the implementation phase of this project. There are a few stages to the implementation plan, for it to work best it’s best to break it down into each process that needs to be accomplished, then review each completed process before continuing to the next. This ensures that each process has been completed successfully and allows for time to confirm before moving on. Remember, there comes a point of no return in this project and you want to be prepared and have everything double checked and ready before moving on to the next section.
The first process that needs to be accomplished is information gathering. This is going to be one of the most important things that is done for this project. The information that is going to need to be gathered is as follows:
- Timeframe, when is best for the client?
- What does the client need to have backed up?
- When can passwords on accounts be changed so that the backup process can begin?
- Keep in mind the account can still be used while this is happening, but the account will need to have the password changed so that Takeouts can be authenticated, you may want to temporarily disable 2 factor authentication while you do this
- Does every person in the organization need the same things backed up or will this be on a group or individual basis?
- Make sure to bring up groups, calendars, contacts, Drive, and all other Google items, customers may not realize how all encompassing the data backup is
- Make sure all this information is gathered and that it is in writing, preferably by the director or executive of this organization, this is important to make sure that you are covered
- Finally check and see if there are any changes that need to be made
- Now when the account is going to be deleted and recreated is the perfect time to do this, and this will also help avoid any follow up changes that need to be made for the client down the road
The next process is going to be the backup phase. As discussed previously in this article, Google Takeouts is the recommended method for backing up the account. Using the data that was gathered in process one, backup all the account data requested. You will need to consider where you want Takeouts to send data once it’s backed up. You will also want to, before you move forward with the backup, review the data to be backed up with your client one more time. This will ensure that everything is backed up and that everything within your power was done to backup all of the customer’s data.
In regard to picking where Google Takeouts will send the backed up data, there are several options which are:
- Google Drive
- One Drive
- Or Send Link via Email
The recommended option is definitely option 5. Option 5 allows you to get a link sent to your email with a zip/zips of the information that was backed up. This then allows the ability to save the data anywhere, not just cloud storage, but a fileserver, local machine, etc.
The process that needs to be tackled next is going to cause downtime. That process is the deletion and recreation of the G Suite account. Before starting make sure that the client is aware that the downtime is coming, how long it will be, and what to expect in the coming days. There will be at least 36 hours of downtime, and suggested would be to say 48 hours of downtime to account for any unknowns during the recreation.
The process for deleting, then recreating the G Suite account is simple. It can be boiled down to 5 steps which are as follows:
- Double check and make sure all backups were successful!
- Begin by deleting all accounts within the domain
- This will require choosing to backup or delete the accounts, you have already backed them up, you may delete them
- Once all accounts have been deleted release the domain from G Suite, this can be done with in the Domains section of G Suite, Click Manage Domains, then Deactivate
- Note, this can take up to 24 hours to propagate, this is part of why downtime is high
- Once 24 hours has passed you will be able to register the domain to a new G Suite account, this is sometimes available earlier and worth trying after 12 hours
- This will require access to the domain registrar to be able to use the records required to register the domain to the G Suite account (these records will be outlined by Google when registering the domain)
- Once the domain is re-registered, it is time to recreate Google Accounts
- Once accounts are recreated import the backed up account data to each respective account, this will require uploads for Drive, Calendar, and Gmail separately
- Unfortunately to upload email to gmail accounts you must use either Outlook or Thunderbird and import the legacy emails there and they will upload via IMAP
- There is an option to upload directly to gmail in a personal account, but G Suite does not have this functionality
- Calendars can also be uploaded via Outlook or Thunderbird
- For Drive data if there was a drive used to share out data recreate it’s folder structure there in your new account
- Keep in mind if there is going to be more than 15 GB of data you will need to upgrade the storage so that all data will fit
- Share out all the shared items to each account that is supposed to have access
- This is also a good time to log into each drive account and move the shared items from Shared with me to the users actual drive so GDFS can access those shared folders
- You may also need to upload data to individual drives of users if they had data separately from a shared drive location
- Final stage, Training and Clean Up
- Install Google File Stream to make the user experience more like using a Windows file share if you have not already
- This is a great option to help customers have a more streamlined experience if it has not been done already
- Train users GDFS, their new accounts, setting / using 2 factor authentication, etc.
- Then any clean up, file recovery, or end user troubleshooting that is necessary to keep the customer working at the maximum capacity
- Install Google File Stream to make the user experience more like using a Windows file share if you have not already
There are several options to accomplish a GSuite to GSuite domain transfer. Sys Tools, Google Takeouts, or the built in data migration tool in GSuite. There are both caveats and advantages to all of these options. However, the option that tends to be most successful, with the least downtime is the Google Takeouts method. Much of the migration other than the backup tool is the same, however, the backup tool that is used is the most crucial part of this whole project. The better the tool the less likely data loss will be and it helps minimize downtime for the project.