Warning, do not try this at home.
I deleted my school’s Google Apps Domain for Education today but probably not for the reasons you might think. Ok, technically I cancelled the subscription which deletes all accounts and data, but same thing.
You see, somewhere along the line, our GAFE domain got flipped to a Nonprofit for Work domain. We only found out because we hadn’t received our unlimited drive storage yet. Having waited patiently through the new year, we opened our second support ticket (the first time we were told to wait patiently) and were then informed that because we were not a GAFE domain, we weren’t eligible for free storage.
After a double-take, I was informed that we were in fact listed as a Nonprofit for Work domain, which coincidentally enough also has Google Classrooms, and that to get unlimited storage, we would have to downgrade from Nonprofit for Work and then re-apply to be a GAFE domain again. And oh, by the way, all of our Google Classrooms would be reset. The same Google Classrooms that teachers have started using like wildfire. The same Google Classrooms that are used to deliver our District Wide Writing Assessments in 6-8th grades. Um, yeah, not going to happen. I asked for an escalation and immediately emailed Jaime Casap, Education Evangelist at Google. I waited about 20 seconds for a reply and then tweeted at him too. He got back to me within a few minutes and said he’d look into it.
Fast forward to this morning and a call from a Google support engineer. Our issue had been escalated, they had a script that would downgrade our domain and upgrade it to GAFE while keeping our Classrooms intact, and all without causing any interruptions to active users. I asked about that last part several times, and each time was reassured this had been tried and verified many times.
Nervous but willing to try, I agreed to run the script, figuring it was better for something to go wrong at the end of a minimum day with Google support on the phone than later in the day without one. So he emailed me the link to the script, I ran it and it prompted me to login to the clark county schools domain. Oops. Apparently they had the same problem too. New link, new attempt, this time it ran but didn’t get the expected result. It just gave me a click here to continue and took me back to the Admin panel. The support engineer, let’s call him Manny, had me open an incognito window and try from there. Nope. Then he had me check the domain’s super admin and change it to match my super admin username. I ran the script again. Nope. Manny politely asked to put me on hold for 2 minutes, my nerves ratcheted up because clearly the script that had worked several times wasn’t working for us and I was starting to second guess the whole thing when Manny came back on and requested a Google Hangout to share the screen. We did that, and then he had me login to gmail in the incognito window and launch the link to the script from there. Same result. Not what he was expecting. I could hear him typing away with what I could only assume was an engineer somewhere in the cloud. When he spoke again, he said we’d have to do it the manual way.
Ok. We went into the Admin panel and he had me click on Nonprofit for Work and select Cancel. At this point a very scary screen came up and asked if I wanted to permanently delete the domain and all the accounts and data in it FOREVER, or if I just wanted to kind of delete them for 4 days, during which time I could cancel the deletion. At this point, Manny went, Hmmm and asked to put me on hold again. When he came back on, he told me to select the delete FOREVER option, I take my hand off the mouse and calmly asked him, “and we won’t lose any Google Classroom data OR gmail accounts OR drive data?”. To which he said, nope. So in the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken with support, I clicked delete.
And the hangout dropped off and my gmail login kicked me out and my department sent out a collective, “What the???” And then the phones started ringing. At this point my heart probably stopped. As calmly as I could I said, did we just delete everyone’s account? Manny calmly replied, no, he could still see the data, and could I please hold for 3 minutes. Three minutes!!! He came back after what seemed like forever and ask me to quickly re-add Google Apps for Work in the Admin panel. Um, yeah. I refreshed and re-logged in to the Admin panel (at least that worked), after filling out the captcha (I was thinking, oh man, is everyone going to have to do that again?) and then clicked to add the service back to the domain. The page started to load and then threw up a 404 error. I almost panicked, but I refreshed the screen, re-added the service and after two tries of filling out the organization information, managed to get Google for Work enabled on the domain. During this time, no one could login to their Google Accounts and all they saw was this:
Manny kept reassuring me that he could see all of our accounts and data, and could I just enable Work a little faster, but no pressure! Once I had Work enabled, he flipped it over to Google Apps for Education in less than a minute. We verified people could log in again (same passwords), that our data was still there and that things like email still worked. Then we checked out Classrooms and found everything intact. Yay. People didn’t have to enter captchas, mobile logins didn’t need to be reset and unlimited storage is now a reality. No data was lost in the process but my nerves sure took a beating. A few little things got dropped, like custom URLs for google services, but those were minor fixes.
In hindsight, it was a risk deleting the domain, but I asked Manny several times if it would be ok, asked if he was sure that this was what we had to do and would our data and accounts be ok afterward, and each time he reassured me that yes, our data would be ok and I believed him. Because despite the initial script failure and the hiccups, at the end of the day I trust that Google has smart engineers who can solve hard problems and if the whole thing ended up blowing up, I had faith that they would fix it for us. Yes, at times, I felt like those Apollo 13 astronauts must have, radioing back to Mission Control for support and like them, we made it through.
I used to trust Google with our core collaboration and messaging platform because I hoped that Google had the kind of enterprise engineering support that I could never afford to staff as a school district. After this experience, I know they do.