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Google Struggling with Los Angeles E-Mail Deal

Sometimes, revolutionaries don't make the best rulers. Such is the case with Google right now in the company's deal to provide cloud-based e-mail for the city of Los Angeles.

Last year, Google won a landmark contract for cloud computing and against Microsoft by sealing a deal to replace LA's old Groupwise e-mail system with a cloud-based system. It did so, in part, by looking young, hip and inexpensive in front of the LA city council, while Microsoft sent suits and old-school messages into the City of Angels.

All of that sounded great for Google at the time, and we at RCPU fully backed the search giant's cloud-first pitch and took Microsoft to task for practicing some fear-mongering with regard to the readiness Internet-based applications. There was one problem, though, with both our take and Google's. We were wrong, and Microsoft was right.

The LA Times reports that Google missed a June 30 deadline for having its e-mail system implemented because it couldn't meet the LA Police Department's requirements for security. Now, not only is Google losing the faith of city leaders in LA, the company is also on the hook for paying for upkeep on LA's old e-mail system until at least November.

The real damage here, though, is to Google's reputation and to the cloud-computing model itself. The LA fiasco could not come at a worse time; Microsoft and Google are both pushing hard to sell cloud-based e-mail to the US federal government, and Google had the extremely unfortunate timing of announcing today Google Apps for Government and touting one of its landmark accounts...yes, you guessed: the City of Los Angeles.

For all of Microsoft's talk about being "all in" for the cloud, the company still makes most of its money on desktop software and on-premises servers. At this rate, it might for a while to come. We're enthusiastic about the cloud here at RCPU, and while we don't cheer for one vendor over another (really, we don't), we were hoping that Google's LA implementation would go well and that it would give the cloud model a reference account.

Now, to be fair, technology implementations run over schedule and over budget all the time. Everybody knows that. So, we're not raking Google over the coals here for missing a deadline. What does concern us is that the problem that has delayed this deal relates to security and the handling of sensitive data -- probably the two biggest issues (along with compliance, which is tied into those two issues) that cloud skeptics tend to talk about.

Google's LA deal, fair or not, is a watershed event for the enterprise readiness of the cloud, and right now Microsoft's suits must be having a good chuckle because the cloud is failing to meet expectations that, to be fair, might have been too high to begin with. Google's failure has to be good news for Microsoft Exchange partners, too, as they can point to the LA debacle as an example of how cloud computing really isn't as cheap or easy as it's cracked up to be.

Of course, with Microsoft "all in" for the cloud and telling partners to get on board or get lost, channel members might not want to cast Google's LA folly in too negative a light. After all, Google is still ahead of Microsoft in terms of cloud functionality, and assailing Google right now is nearly tantamount to assailing cloud computing itself.

Over the years, Microsoft has rarely been first to markets it has come to dominate -- but it has dominated, eventually. Google is on the leading edge of cloud computing, a revolutionary that's struggling now that it's in power. Will Microsoft, in the long run, be able to stage a cloud coup? Or will servers within organizations' walls and copies of Outlook crush, at least temporarily, the momentum and hype around the cloud?

Stay tuned. LA has long been a leader in providing entertainment to the rest of the world, and the Google cloud drama should be as entertaining as anything Hollywood has produced in quite a while.

Do Google's problems in LA change your impression of cloud computing? How seriously to do you take the cloud as an enterprise model? Send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on July 26, 2010 at 11:56 AM


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