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Moving away from G Suite/Google Workspace

History

For a few years, I tried to run an independent IT consulting business. I wasn’t successful; I lacked the drive to hustle for sales and never had enough income to make it worthwhile. During this time I set my domain up with G Suite – first free, and then paid at the lowest tier – because it was inexpensive, easy to manage, and matched the personal services I was already using. It also gave me some management options for mobile devices so that when I switched phones, most of my configuration came over without having to rely on a manufacturer’s data transfer app, and offered more storage than a free personal Google account.

Eventually I moved back to working for someone else and drawing a steady paycheque, but I kept my G Suite setup in place. Besides a couple of apps I had purchased being tied to the G Suite Google account, I valued the expanded storage, the device management capabilities, and the integrated website hosting.

Fast forward another couple of years, and Google announced substantial changes to G Suite: rebranding it to Google Workspace, adjusting pricing levels, and making some features that had been available at lower levels only accessible with a commitment of more dollars. They made it clear that existing G Suite customers would be moved over to the new tiers, and a conversation with a support agent seemed to indicate that if I wanted to maintain even basic MDM features for my Android devices that I would be looking at tripling my monthly costs. It was finally time to finish closing up my business accounts and move to personal Google services.

The plan

I developed a rough plan based on the services I used within G Suite. As a pretty basic user, I didn’t have to worry about complex tasks like closing out multiple user accounts, managing data stored for legal reasons, or anything like that; I just needed to identify which services I was using within G Suite, where I was using it externally, and what the migration path from that state to a personal account was. Here’s what I settled on.

Migrate away from G Suite sign-in on third-party sites

Google makes identifying sites where sign-in is being used pretty easy – on just about any Google product page, click your profile image, then “Manage your Google account”. In the Security section, look for “Signing in to other sites” and click the Signing in with Google link. In the “Signing in with Google” section of the permissions page, any websites or apps where the Google account has been used as the sign-in method are listed.

The process of transferring those accounts to a new sign-in method varies per site or app. I was successful in moving from Google-based authentication to email-based in most cases without contacting any app or site support teams, and some sites (like Feedly) allowed direct switching to another Google account.

Change mail flow to stop new email coming into G Suite

For this step I had to identify the mailboxes and aliases I needed to keep, add a hosting plan at my domain registrar, and then create new mailboxes (matching my to-keep list) at the registrar. After mailbox creation, I changed the domain’s MX records so that they no longer pointed to Google. The process for all of this will vary depending on where the domain is registered, but it should be relatively straightforward.

After waiting a bit and confirming that mail sent to my domain addresses was now flowing into the new mailboxes, my next steps were to disable the registrar’s spam filter and to verify that the new mailboxes were accessible by POP. With those in place, I was ready to migrate both my email history and my current mail flow to a personal Google account.

Migrate G Suite mail history to a new Google account

The easy way to do this is to have the new Google account pull email over via POP. Enable this by signing into the G Suite Gmail account and then navigating to Settings > See all settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Enable POP for all mail and then click the Configuration instructions link to get setup information for the account. Next, sign into the destination Gmail account and navigate to Settings > See all settings > Accounts and Import. In the “Check mail from other accounts” section, click “Add a mail account” and add the G Suite account. For my purposes I left the option to leave a copy of retrieved messages on the server unchecked; this made it easier to determine that all mail had been migrated, because the G Suite mailbox would have 0 messages left in it when the POP import was complete.

The import job took a couple of days for my main account. A few messages with odd attachment types were skipped and I followed up on them afterwards, but otherwise this was a smooth (if slow) process. About halfway through, I started coming close to the storage limit of a personal Google account. Rather than start paying for a Google One account, I decided that I’d been hoarding email for too long and deleted the oldest couple of years of email. I still have email from 2006 kicking around, so at least for me the storage provided is plenty generous. When the import was finally complete, I removed the G Suite account from Accounts and Import.

Migrate existing mail flow into Gmail

To get my old G Suite address working through the Gmail interface of my personal Google account, I first gathered the POP setup information from my domain registrar. Then, back in the Gmail Accounts and Import settings page I added the mailboxes I had created at the registrar in the “Check mail from other accounts” section. This functionality could also be mimicked by creating the mailboxes as forwarding-only addresses at the registrar, or by creating forwarding rules in the mailboxes.

To enable sending mail via the Gmail interface using the new mailboxes, I added the registrar mailboxes in the “Send mail as” section of the Accounts and Import page. This allows for outbound mail to be sent using my domain email addresses and using my registrar’s mail servers, but for the email to be captured in the Gmail interface where I’m most comfortable. I also set up one of my domain addresses as the default address when I compose new mail.

The disadvantage to this setup is that if the domain addresses are relatively low volume in terms of incoming mail, Gmail will check them only infrequently (at the slowest, only once per hour). This can lead to delays in receiving messages, meaning that if something time-sensitive is sent to a domain address it may be quicker to sign into the actual mailbox (at the registrar) than to wait for it to show up in Gmail. If that’s inconvenient it can be worked around using forwarding rules as mentioned above, or by ensuring that mail is delivered to the account frequently – Lifehacker described one method for this almost 11 years ago.

Delete and recreate Google Home

Google Home/Nest never integrated with G Suite all that well, so it’s no surprise that there’s no easy migration path. My setup was relatively simple so I took a couple of screenshots, made a couple of notes, and then just did a factory reset on all of my Google smart devices. Reconnecting my other IoT device accounts took a few minutes but wasn’t too bad, and as an advantage I now have a Google Home that recognizes my calendar and allows proper joining of other members of my family.

Migrate Keep notes

Keep doesn’t have a documented migration path that I was able to find, but I worked around it by sharing notes that I wanted to migrate from my G Suite account to my new personal account, then signing into my personal account and removing the G Suite account from the collaborators on each note.

Migrate other services using Takeout

The other services from which I wanted to retain data were Photos, Drive, and Calendar. Google offers a Takeout tool that exports content from all of these, so getting the data was painless (though it took several hours before the download was ready).

For Photos, I installed the Backup and Sync app and allowed it to process folders from my computer. In hindsight I found the app to be a little hard to work with and should have just used the web interface to upload my photos, but in the end everything got imported fine. In my experience existing albums, contact tags, etc. needed to be recreated after the upload was complete so that should be accomplished before deleting photos from the G Suite service.

For Drive, I just dragged and dropped folders and files from my computer to the web interface. Upload was quick and painless. Some document formats were changed from Google Docs to .docx during the Takeout process, but that didn’t cause me any issues so I didn’t worry about changing them back. Similar conversions took place for Slides and Sheets. I had to re-share folders and files that collaborators still needed access to.

The Takeout tool generated an iCalendar file that I was able to import into my personal Google Calendar. Some recurring events and some events that were meetings (i.e. had attendees rather than just being for me) needed to be re-created. I also had my calendar shared with a couple of people before migrating, and those permissions had to be reestablished.

Moving contacts

To move contacts, I started by signing my personal Google account into my Android phone (where the G Suite account was already signed in). In the Google Contacts app, I switched the view to show only contacts from the G Suite account and then used the top-right menu button to select all contacts, then again to move them to another account. I selected my personal Google account and then monitored the Contacts web interface for the G Suite account to verify when there were 0 contacts remaining in the account. I have ~6,000 contacts and this took around half an hour.

Remove G Suite account from phone

I checked and found that removing a Google account from a phone does not automatically remove purchased apps from the phone, so at this point I was ready to remove the G Suite app from my personal device. I did so, and then uninstalled the Device Policy application as well. This was how my Wi-Fi network was configured, so I immediately lost that connection and had to re-enter my passphrase, but that was expected.

As expected, all of my purchased applications remained on my phone. My next steps were to reconfigure apps that relied on my G Suite account, and to ensure that I continued to receive updates to apps already installed on my phone.

Managing phone apps

Most Google apps just kept working, but with the information from my personal account (as migrated from the G Suite account). Google Pay was the exception – there’s intentionally no migration path here – so I had to reconfigure it manually. Step 1 was to log into the Pay web interface with my G Suite account and cancel my existing subscriptions. I only had one, for an app I don’t use any longer, so this was trivial; if there were multiple subscriptions to move they would need to be dealt with before proceeding. I then removed my payment methods from the account before signing into Pay using my personal Google account and re-adding the ones I needed on my phone. The Pay app on my phone also picked up most of my loyalty cards from Gmail, but there were a few that I had to reenter manually.

For the other apps on my phone, I found that I was able to associate them with my personal Google account without reinstalling them by signing into the Google Play store via a desktop web browser using that account and then re-purchasing each app. For free apps this was just clicking through the option to install the app on my device – this caused no changes, but I have verified that updates are being received for apps I’ve done this for. For non-free apps, I had to actually purchase the app again but the effect was the same. Unfortunately Google doesn’t support transferring purchases from the Play store between accounts. I did go through and check for any apps that were backing up to Google Drive to make sure that they were pointed at the right account, but I didn’t have any trouble making that adjustment where necessary.

Google Chrome setup

To migrate Chrome to my personal Google account, I first exported my Bookmarks and made a list of installed extensions. Then I reset Chrome, signed in using my personal account, reimported my bookmarks, and reinstalled my extensions. Chrome does also support export and import of browsing history, cookies, and settings but those weren’t important to me so I skipped them.

I took these steps on one computer, turned Sync on, and then simply reset Chrome on my other computers and signed into Chrome using my personal account.

Remote Desktop

I use Chrome Remote Desktop to access my computers when I’m away from home, so on each computer I had to access the web interface while signed into me personal Google account and add the computer to the list.

Domain cleanup

For me, that was the full data migration process. The remaining steps were to first delete remaining Google-related DNS entries at my domain registrar (CNAME records for mail, contacts, calendar, and drive; TXT record for domain verification; A record for site hosting), and then to cancel the G Suite account.
This unfortunately wound up costing me some money due to the subscription I had in place. In hindsight, I should have timed this change to match my service renewal or I should have switched to month-to-month commitment to avoid paying an early termination fee. I didn’t check what my options were, to be honest. Still, the termination cost balanced out in savings over just a few months so it wasn’t a big deal.

Custom sign-in

After the G Suite account was cancelled, I added my domain email address to my personal Google account as a way to sign in. This wasn’t necessary, but it does keep things consistent with my previous experience so it’s a nice touch. Google has a support article describing this process.

Conclusion

I hope this post is useful! Google doesn’t have a migration plan for people that want to move from their paid services to their free ones, so I was on my own in figuring this all out and there are probably opportunities to do some of these tasks more efficiently but these steps will work to ensure data migration and minimal disruption.

My overall effort on this was a few hours to research and plan and a couple of days (interspersed with other activity while I waited for DNS propagation and data transfer) to complete migration and clean up tasks.

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