Google G Suite (formerly Google Apps) was originally a free cloud based email service. Millions of companies abandoned self-hosted Exchange and NetMail servers and moved into the free service offered by Google – which eventually became not so free. As time went on, these millions of companies might end up being bought by a competitor, merged with another entity or perhaps a single company with multiple G Suite accounts wants to consolidate them into a single entity.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to the legacy free G Suite accounts as Google Apps accounts and the new paid-only G Suite accounts as G Suite accounts.
There were also several limitations to made to free accounts, most importantly you could not change your primary domain name or have multiple domains. (only aliases were allowed) What resulted is that some companies with multiple domains or multiple subsidiaries would simply create multiple independent free Google Apps accounts.
There is no simple route to migrate these independent accounts into a single entity. There are several companies which can assist with this, but they are not especially cheap. Take a look a BlueRangeTech.com or TheCloudMigrator.com. (I’ve never used either).
I had six different Google Apps accounts that needed to be migrated into a single G Suite account. Why? It had become unmanageable. User a@companyA.com would have work for two different companies, so I would need to set up a forward from a@companyB.com to a@companyA.com. Then a@companyA.com would leave the company so I’d need to setup a forward from a@companyA.com to his replacement b@companyA.com. b@companyA.com would also need a forward from b@companyB.com. Do this for a few layers and you can see the confusion. Also, there are tons of great features no available to old Google Apps account users, not the least of which is increased storage.
The process that I followed is below. It’s only really practical if you have a few dozen users, it will become tedious if you need to do this for hundreds.
- Make a manual backup of each account. At the end of this procedure, we’re deleting the old mailboxes and the entire free accounts, so there’s no way to recover if something is missed or forgotten – unless you backup first. This can be done by going to takeout.google.com. You must login as the user you want to backup. It’s fairly self explanatory, but large accounts will take a long time to backup and generate huge backup ZIPs. You can delete these files or store them once everyone realizes that nothing is missing.
- Create a new G Suite account. You’ll need to use a fresh new domain here, NOT one of your existing domains. It can be anything really, you can change it later. You’ll need to go through the entire procedure of verifying ownership and configuring DNS records. I ended up using one of the new TLD which was a good match and didn’t change it later.
- Create all your user accounts in the new G Suite. You can upload them in a batch or one by one.
- Do a manual migration of the main accounts. Log into your G Suite account and create a migration task for every single user. You can specify what date range of emails that you want to migrate. This is a slow process to get rolling and the mail migration takes even long. It may take weeks. You can skip this step if you users are ok with being without their old email messages for a few hours/days/weeks. Google tells me that the migration is actually fairly quick, but the tagging of labels takes forever. I ended up only migrating a year’s worth of email because it took more then a week for some mailboxes to process a calendar year’s worth or messages.
- Upgrade each of your old Google Apps accounts to paid versions. Yes, I know this will cost money, but it’s only for a short time. Set your address to Canada if possible, you’ll pay with $5CAD instead of £5GBP, €5EUR or $5USD. Canadian moose bucks are worth far less then the alternatives.
- Contact Google Support. Ask them to abandon the G Suite 30-day trial for each of the consolidating accounts. Best call them, using the chat feature can take hours.
- Change the domains on the old Google Apps accounts to be something temporary. Maybe even register some new domains called mydomain-temp.com or whatever you like.
- Get your domains going on the new G Suite account. Setup all your users primary addresses and aliases as you see fit. This is the tricky part as it can take up to 24hrs for the domains to become “available” again. (meaning they can be linked to a new G Suite account). In my experience, it can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as 24hrs. Google Support will not help you if a domain gets stuck until 24hrs has passed, so do this on a Friday night. You might want to blackhole your DNS if it looks like it’s going to take more then a few minutes. You’ll also need to verify your domains again on the new account.
- Tell your users their new passwords. (and possibly email logins too – if you decided to clean up and normalize everything at the same time).
- Tell your users to delete and re-add their accounts on Android/IOS. The Gmail App in Android (and likely IOS) will simply continue using the old changed temporary domain unless you delete the account and re-add it under the new G Suite account.
- Run a new mail migration. This is necessary to pick up on any messages that arrived after the first sync was completed. Some mail boxes will take 30 minutes to migrate initially and others will take 2 weeks. This creates a large disparity in the messages that are actually in the users new G Suite account.
- Cancel old accounts. Once everything is migrated and working as expected, you can cancel your old Google Apps accounts. This is done in the Billing section of the Admin panel. Make sure you got this right, there’s no going back.
- Delete your Takeout backups, or keep them. I had a couple of terabytes, so I just deleted them. It was too much to keep on hand and I didn’t feel there was a need to buy new hardware to maintain it.