Google has three tools available to help you set up and manage your Google Apps user accounts. Despite the sync apps having similar names, they all work in very different ways, and choosing the right one can make the difference between a successful or failed Google Apps deployment. Let the battle of the syncing tools commence!

Three tools to rule them all

Google provides three free tools that you can use to set up and manage your Google Apps users. These are:

  • Google Apps School Directory Sync. (GASDS)
  • Google Apps Directory Sync. (GADS)
  • Google Apps Password Sync. (GAPS)

Before we look at the differences let’s start with what is common to all three apps:

  • All three are free and can be downloaded from Google’s website.
  • They can be run on Windows or Linux — GAPS is Windows only.
  • The end goal of all three is to maintain your Google Apps user accounts and groups.

Before we start!

Google recommends that you don’t use Google Apps Directory Sync or Google Apps Schools Directory Sync together. The two tools will technically run side by side, but it’s very easy to create conflicts between the two apps which can result in lost data or deleted user accounts. You have been warned!

It’s also important to note that once you start using one tool it’s very difficult — but not impossible — to switch to using the other.

Google Apps Password Sync can be used alongside either of the other two apps.

Google Apps School Directory Sync

First up is Google Apps School Directory Sync (GASDS). This is a relatively new app from Google which takes data from your school’s MIS system, like SIMS or Intergris, and uses that information to create user accounts and more in Google Apps.

School Directory Sync lets you sync the following to your Google Apps domain:

  • User accounts — teachers and students.
  • Sections/Classrooms and Rosters — this automatically organises your students into class groups, useful if you intend to use Google Classroom.
  • Organisational Units — you can use GASDS to drop students into the appropriate OU in Google Apps.

What doesn’t School Directory Sync transfer?

  • Messages, Calendars, and Calendar resources.
  • Contacts
  • School Directory Sync only synchronizes passwords for new users and creates a password if one is not included in the CSV files.

How Google Apps School Directory Sync works

School Directory Sync doesn’t import data directory from your MIS system. Instead it imports the data it needs from CSV files which you have to generate from your MIS system. Some MIS systems like SIMS allow for scheduled reports to be run, which makes keeping your Google Apps accounts

Google Apps School Directory Sync

How Google Apps School Directory Sync works

School Directory Sync Strengths

  • Makes creating users, groups, and classes really simple. Great for Google Classroom.
  • Doesn’t require an LDAP server like Microsoft Active Directory.
  • Runs as a service in your server environment. No machine outside your perimeter accesses your AD directory server data.

School Directory Sync Weaknesses

  • Doesn’t allow you to import as much information as GADS.
  • Keeping information up to date can be difficult as the import uses CSV files.

Google Apps Directory Sync

Google Apps Directory Sync is the older of the threeo apps and takes data directly from your Microsoft Active Directory and imports it into Google Apps. If you don’t have an AD or LDAP server in your school you can skip this section.

GADS Connection Settings

GADS Connection Settings

GADS can synchronise the following information:

  • Organizations in Google Apps are folders which let you organise your use accounts.
  • Mailing lists in AD  which correspond to public groups in Google Apps.
  • Each user can have multiple nicknames in Google Apps, and these can come from multiple AD alias attributes.
  • Calendar resources, like rooms and projectors.
  • An AD Contacts list corresponds to Google Apps Shared Contacts. Shared Contacts are visible as autocomplete options when users in Gmail start typing an email address.
  • Extended LDAP information, like phone numbers and addresses.

Directory Sync Strengths

  • If your users are already set up in Active Directory it’s really simple to duplicate your school’s current user accounts in Google Apps.
  • Can synchronise much more information than just users and groups.
  • Runs as a service in your server environment. No machine outside your perimeter accesses your AD directory server data.

Directory Sync Weaknesses

  • Doesn’t allow you to import as much information as GADS.
  • Keeping information up to date can be difficult as the import uses CSV files.
  • GADS only performs a one-way synchronization. Data on your AD server is never updated or altered. This means if you make a change in Google Apps it’s not reflected back in AD — could also be a plus!

GADS is a business focused tool, so unless you have already created class groups in AD you’ll have to manually create them in Google Apps. Having said that, it is a much more full featured tool, allowing you to create complex rules on which data you want to pass on to Google Apps.

Google Apps Password Sync

Google Apps Password Sync allows you to sync changes to Active Directory passwords live to Google Apps. GAPS has to be installed on all of your Active Directory domain controllers where it “intercepts” password changes live and forwards them on to the relevant Google Account. Password changes take seconds, so there’s no delay between a user changing their password on AD and then logging on to their Google Account or Chromebook.

All password changes are from Active Directory to Google Apps only, so if a user changes their password in Google Apps it won’t be reflected in AD.

Google Apps Sync Resources

I hope that’s helped you decide which tool(s) you want to use. Google has provided extensive documentation on each so here are a few resources you might find useful moving forward:

Getting started with GADS

Google Apps Directory Sync admin guide

Google Apps School Sync Resources

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About Author

Profile photo of Karl Rivers

Karl is an award winning Director of IT for the Royal Grammar School Guildford, based near London, England. He has been working in education for more than ten years and founded ClassThink in 2013 to share technology best practice with other schools. In 2014 he won the NAACE Impact Award for support services in schools, and writes edtech articles for Education Executive Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. Great article, but both School Directory Sync Weaknesses and Directory Sync Weaknesses show this:

    Doesn’t allow you to import as much information as GADS.

    I’m assuming it’s a weakness of School Directory Sync?

    Thanks,
    Bob Cassidy
    IT Director
    Somerton School District
    http://www.ssd11.org

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