Los Angeles City Council has approved a $7.2 million deal to use Google’s applications for its 30,000 personnel. The council voted unanimously to replace several of their current IT systems with Google Apps and GMail instead of competing offers over a dozen other IT suppliers.
The deal is a massive boost for Google as it attempts to compete with Microsoft, IBM and HP in the business arena. Perhaps it’s the first sign that cloud computing is being considered as a serious proposition by major corporations.
Google’s ambition is to lure companies away from their dependency on Microsoft Office. Their success to date has been modest:
- MS Office is one of the most entrenched business applications. For many companies, it is the primary reason for purchasing a PC.
- Feature-for-feature, MS Office beats Google Docs by a wide margin. Critics argue that Office users only utilize 10% those features, but that 10% differs from person to person.
- Many users develop their IT skills on MS Office. Google Docs may be simpler, but an element of re-training is likely to be necessary. For example, sharing a document with another user no longer involves emailing an attachment.
- Cloud computing is a relatively new concept compared to the files and folders model. Corporations will be concerned about service availability and security.
However, cloud computing can offer significant business advantages:
- Users can work from any web-connected machine at any time.
- Groups of authorized users can work on the same documents at the same time. There will be fewer issues with multiple versions of the same file being shared between personnel.
- Losing a PC, whether by breakdown or negligence, has less of an impact: the data is securely stored online and backed up automatically.
- Staff activity and access can be logged and monitored more effectively.
- There is less need for fast PCs or OS upgrades. Users could keep Windows XP, switch to Macs, or a use a humble machine with a lightweight Linux distribution and retain the same office applications.
The LA contract offers Google a chance to demonstrate their ability to cope with large scale data handling, storage, and security. Computer Sciences, the third-party contractor implementing the system, has agreed to pay a preset penalty payment should a breach occur. With 30,000 users, even 1 minute of downtime represents a work time loss of 2 man-months (although this assumes the unlikely situation that every user is accessing the system during the same minute!)
Business analysts will be watching the project closely.
Would you consider switching to Google Apps within your company? Is cloud computing reliable and secure enough? Are Google’s applications really a viable alternative to Microsoft Office and other fat-client alternatives?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.