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LAPD Rejects Google's Cloud E-Mail

Did anybody really think this was going to work? Did Google really expect to impress Joe Friday with something called "the cloud"? Just listen to that tone, so flat and humorless. Soak in the foreboding nature of the "Dragnet" theme. This guy was going to send his e-mail -- strictly the facts, of course -- into something called "the cloud"? Think again, mister.

Google made a big splash when it won the deal to provide e-mail services in the cloud for (as Jack Webb flatly drones it) "the city, Los Angeles, California." But the tough, no-nonsense LAPD (yes, we're kind of conveniently forgetting at least the last 20 years or so here) has put the kibosh on that idea, saying that cloud e-mail didn't meet the city's security requirements for the cops.

There's so much to talk about here that we can almost feel the carpal tunnel syndrome setting in (although Joe Friday would have typed right through the pain), but we'll pick out a few things to observe. First, what a mess. Can anyone tell that public employees are at work here? Check out this revealing little passage from the Los Angeles Times story linked above:

"There was definitely a time when Google seemed positive they were going to meet the requirements," said Maggie Goodrich, the Los Angeles Police Department's chief information officer.

She noted, however, that the rules were written for law enforcement agencies that store their own data and did not consider the increasingly popular cloud computing model.

"It will be difficult for law enforcement to move to a cloud solution until the [security requirements] and cloud are more in line with each other," Goodrich said.  

Uh, OK, Maggie Goodrich. So, you took everything into account in this deal except for that little bit about Google running e-mail in the cloud. Really? The cloud was the whole point of the deal -- it saves money, cuts down on need for staff and maintenance, and so forth. But now, the LAPD is saying, "Oh, wait, we don't want cloud-based e-mail after all." That's kind of like saying, "I bought a bicycle, but what I really wanted was a car. Oops!" It's a hard mistake to make.

Let's move on and go back to the L.A. Times story:

For its part, Google noted that the complicated security rules were not part of the original contract it signed with Los Angeles in 2009 and that the city raised the issue well after the deal had been completed.

"We're disappointed that the city introduced requirements for the LAPD after the contract was signed that are, in its own words, 'currently incompatible with cloud computing,'" Google spokesman Andrew Kovacs said in a statement. He also noted that 17,000 employees were successfully using the Google system and that it had already saved city taxpayers "more than two million dollars."

Hey, Google, did you think to ask about the cloud? OK, we've established that the city of Los Angeles was not at its Joe Friday finest in singing this deal. But Google, did you at any point just happen to bring up questions about the cloud and security requirements, or did you just figure you'd go ahead and implement everything and maybe nobody would notice? "Shh, ix-nay on the oud-clay...I think we've got them." Bizarre.

What's even better is that Google issued a nothing-to-see-here, everybody's-out-to-get-us defense when this issue first cropped up publicly back in October. Check this out from's own Kurt Mackie:

In December 2009, Levin had explained that the city planned to move "all 30,000 city employees to Google Apps from our existing [Novell] GroupWise email system," according to a Google blog post. She noted then that "everyone will benefit from Google's security controls." The Consumer Watchdog letter to Villaraigosa, dated Oct. 18, 2011, claimed that "a mere 17,000 city employees use the Google system while 13,000 LAPD and other employees involved in law enforcement cannot make the move."

A Google spokesperson, without clarification, issued the following statements, asserting that its competitors were engaged in a publicity stunt, and that the city introduced new requirements to meet.

"This is just the latest in a long list of press stunts from a group that admits to working closely with our competitors," Google stated. "We are meeting our commitments to the City of Los Angeles. Indeed, the City recently renewed their Google Apps contract for 17,000 employees, and the project is expected to save Los Angeles taxpayers millions of dollars.

"The City has acknowledged Google Apps is more secure than its current system. Along the way they've also introduced new requirements which require work to implement in a cloud computing environment, and we've presented a plan to meet them at no additional cost."

But wait, it gets better. Are you ready for the plan? You're not ready for the plan. It doesn't exactly involve Google actually meeting any requirements. It's way funnier than that. Let's go back to the LA Times story:

In a unanimous vote, the City Council agreed to change the terms of its $7.2-million contract with Google so that LAPD employees and others will stay on an older on-site email system. Google will pay up to $350,000 per year for those employees to use that system, which is run by Novell, a competitor.

That's the plan: Google is going to pay the LAPD to stay on GroupWise. GroupWise! At this point, your editor needs to get a Subaru to pay his wife for driving her '98 Corolla. This is just brilliant work by Google -- punt, and then pay to keep the client on an e-mail system that actually used flint and stone. (Well, not really; we can't remember what GroupWise was like.)

Hey, we're fans of the cloud here at RCPU. But this scenario does make us wonder whether we should all tap the breaks on the cloud a little bit. Yeah, there's a lot of officious government interference at work here, namely the security requirements for e-mail, that might or might not really be necessary.

But if a major law enforcement agency simply rejects cloud e-mail (forget about it being from Google; we're talking about the cloud in general here) because it doesn't deem the system secure enough, is cloud-based messaging secure enough for your business? How much is your data worth, and to what lengths will you go to protect it? It's just something to think about amid the cloud hype. We're pretty sure we know what Joe Friday would say, though.

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Posted by Lee Pender on December 15, 2011


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