Los Angeles chooses Google Apps over Microsoft

30,000 users to get Gmail as part of L.A.'s Google Apps deployment

The City of Los Angeles government is deploying Google Apps to alleviate three problems: a crushing budget deficit, IT staff shortage and widespread dissatisfaction with the current office software system.

Google is a long way from usurping Microsoft as the most popular maker of office software, but it scored a big win for its enterprise division when the City of Los Angeles committed to Google's cloud apps -- a deal made even sweeter because $1.5 million of the project cost was indirectly financed by archrival Microsoft.

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office: Who will win the office war?

In the City of Los Angeles government, Google Apps is being deployed to alleviate three problems: a crushing budget deficit, IT staff shortage and widespread dissatisfaction with the current office software system.

With the city facing a $485 million projected budget deficit, the IT staff has been cut from about 800 people to 500 in the last three years. With fewer people it's getting harder to maintain in-house systems, such as the city's Novell GroupWise collaboration software, which has frustrated users with small mailbox sizes, says city CTO Randi Levin.

While an organization with more cash on hand might have chosen Microsoft Office, Levin says even if the price were the same she would have been worried about her department's ability to support an in-house mail system. Moreover, the city is in an earthquake zone but lacked a disaster-recovery system, and officials decided placing e-mail in Google's data centers would be a better way to guarantee uptime.

"We are not flush with a lot of cash these days," Levin says. "It took a lot of our resources and time to run an in-house e-mail system. We didn't have a disaster-recovery solution for e-mail, which was quite concerning, living in an earthquake zone. We felt it was critical for the City of Los Angeles to have a disaster-recovery strategy in place."

L.A. ended up with a $7.25 million project to implement Google Apps, a price that includes fees paid to Google and for consulting work from CSC. That's a lot of money, particularly for Google Apps, which is mainly used by small and midsize businesses.(See Microsoft Office vs. Google Apps: The business brawl.)

But L.A. is a large city government, with more than 40 departments and 30,000 users. City officials believe they will save more than $5 million over the life of their five-year contract, and that ROI could be $20 million counting increased productivity. Coincidentally, $1.5 million of the project cost will be paid indirectly by Microsoft, which had to give Los Angeles money as part of a settlement for a class-action lawsuit that alleged Microsoft overcharged for software.

Google Apps, including Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar, have been rolled out to 3,700 users so far. Levin expects to be fully implemented by the end of June, with 100% of users on Gmail, and about 80% using Google's other office products. Google's non-email tools are not quite rich enough yet to completely replace Microsoft Excel and other types of in-house software. (See related story, "Google Apps basics".)

"Most of the users are very satisfied [with Google], and they're liking a lot of the new functionality we're getting that we didn't have before," Levin says.

Workers have increased mobility, with access to e-mail and office tools on their mobile phones, Levin says. Workers also have greater ability to edit shared documents, and video chat is allowing some people to hold virtual meetings, rather than driving into City Hall.

Some office workers are still using Microsoft Excel instead of Google Docs, partly because Google doesn't support macros. L.A. also still uses Microsoft Access, Visio, and to a limited extent SharePoint, but for most city employees the basic functionality of Google Apps is enough. Levin and her team used Google spreadsheets to create their budget this year.

"It was wonderful to all be working on the same document at the same time," Levin says.

Not surprisingly, security was the biggest concern about moving e-mail and office applications over to Google's data centers, particularly as an early adopter. "There were not a lot of organizations to look to that had done this already," Levin said.

A city councilman and police union questioned the plan, saying they were worried about the risk of disclosing sensitive data. But the City Council eventually approved use of Google Apps by unanimous vote.

L.A. officials were convinced by Google's security credentials, which includes SAS 70 certification, as well as plans to build a government cloud network tailored to the specific requirements of public agencies.

L.A. needed its data stored only within the continental United States to meet regulatory demands, and Google was able to guarantee that, Levin says. Just as important are the failover capabilities built into Google's data centers, which will help L.A. meet its uptime and disaster recovery goals.

"The way Google works, even in the consumer marketplace, it automatically will fail over to another site," Levin says. "It's seamless, transparent, and not located in Los Angeles."

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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