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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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Reader Comments

Mon, Apr 25, 2011 Jo California

There is an IT decision making lesson in here. LA got rid of a system that had been built from its nearly 25 year beginning as a secure collaboration tool, not just email. LA sucumbed to the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side/need to make a change/gotta-be-cutting-edge emotion at a time when they could little afford the cost and with no valid reason to put tens of thousands of users through a difficult and disruptive change. On top of that the change they decided on doesn't meet their needs while their "old" product did. This was simply bad, wasteful, decision making that cost the tax payers a lot of money.

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 Bart Summer Washington

Scott, I doubt you actually have had that many bad Microsoft support experiences. Their enterprise support is above average and they are typically competent overall. As for open source, your at the mercy of finding a knowledgeable resource (or resources) to spend time helping you and in some cases when the problem is too hard, these people tend to lose interest.

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 IT Manager Small City

You know, the problem is that there is no right answer for eveyrone, there is only right answers for your situation. There are some times that this solution would be a good model, there are others. To say that either model is right is like saying which is a better platform for your desktop. It depends. All you Microsoft bashers out there, do you really think you're still rooting for the little guy? Do you really think that Google is doing this to be nice? THEY ARE MONATIZING THE WORLD'S DATA, LOKING FOR WAYS TO ADVERTISE TO YOU. That's it. Get over it. It's not the evil empire versus the jedi knights, and if it is, I question who the real evil empire is.

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 Scott Florida

Don from So Cal nailed it - security requirements are supposed to be addressed prior to the awarding of the contract, and really shouldn't be a reason for missing an implementation deadline. The IT poeple and the elected officials in LA dropped the ball by failing to hold vendors accountable up front for their security requirements (and for Google's well-known prepensity to err on the side of less when it comes to protecting user data). My money sez the security section of the RFP was flawed, and the tough questions that should have been asked, weren't.

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 Todd FORTHRIGHT Delaware

I applaud them for what sounds like a good contract and how both the client and Google are handling a missed project date. There are deadlines and financial impact to both parties, Google will be paying for the impact by keeping the old system running while they work toward meeting the objectives. This is a good check point and decision. The team did not force the new system to “go live” just based on a date but are continuing toward meeting the objectives. This is the plan..maybe plan B.. but this was not a flip the switch when you know there was still things to work out. Good risk mitigation.

Tue, Jul 27, 2010 Stephen Jacksonville Beach, Fl

One thing people seem to forget about sending data to servers you no longer own. Once there its not your anymore, once there it can be seized by the government, it can and well be stolen by folks that otherwise would have had to break into your servers, etc. One thinks we would learn that the old mainframe client model does not work well that well. I guess I am old school, but once you cede control to someone else its gone forever.

Mon, Jul 26, 2010 Don So Cal

We have Never had an issue with Exchange and have all the control we need, including the security. Security in the "Cloud" has been an issue ever since someone renamed 3rd party distributed remote data-centers as "In the Cloud" (it is easier to say). We have never had a moments issue with MS Enterprise support; which we find to be excellent. I don't think that there is anything wrong with the cloud nor do I find any issues with company owned data centers. The problem with our industry is they find a new arrow for thier quiver and throw all the rest away; or to coin another phrase when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. Simply someone in LA's IT department didn't do their home work and now they have a problem. It is ALWAYS about fit and the appropriateness of the solution.

Mon, Jul 26, 2010 Scott Colorado

And Microsoft was right... about what? I've been jumping through enough hoops for ~20 years with problematic MS software implementations to know that MS also has problems; in fact, I don't know of a software company that doesn't. Linux installations also are NOT trouble free, but the quality of support I get with these open source options is head and shoulders above MS offerings. I have yet to deal with Google support, but they surely cannot be any worse than MS... what is your point?

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