Q&A: CIO Michele Norin

It's been about six months since the City of Los Angeles gave Microsoft a black eye and said it was choosing Google Apps to replace its Exchange E-mail platform. Microsoft staged a slight victory of its own this week when the University of Arizona shunned Google Apps, even though it had initially planned to deploy the platform for its faculty -- after all it is the e-mail service offered to its students.

University of Arizona CIO Michele Norin explains in an interview why the University went with Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) instead of Google Apps.

What made you decide to choose BPOS?
We had made a decision a little over a year ago to move our student community over to the Google Apps environment and so out of that we launched an analysis to study whether that might be a suitable solution for our faculty staff e-mail environment as well. We ended up putting together a group of people to compare the two environments and solution sets -- BPOS and Google Apps -- to help consider or pull some data points or facts around some particular requirements that exist in our faculty and staff's environment that maybe don't exist in our student arena. So there were some unique pieces there that we needed to have looked at, and out of that analysis we concluded that the BPOS solution is going to address our needs.

What were some of the metrics that pushed BPOS over the top over Google?
Well part of it is just the level of integration that we wanted to have in our environment. We don't have a very high bar for that though, I will say, because our current environment is pretty disintegrated, so anything we get there, people are going to love. But we have a pretty complex, diverse environment when it comes to how people interact with e-mail and how people use the calendaring systems. We have external federal regulations that we need to comply with. So among all of those factors, we came away more confident (at least at the moment) with what we feel we can get out of the BPOS solution to address those levels of complexity.

Do you have Exchange in-house at this point?
We have some of our units that have their own Exchange system specific to their college or their departments so we have a little bit of in-house experience with it, but not at the institutional level.

What else do you have?
We have some shareware products and open source type product. It's old.

It sounds like you went into this expecting to go with Google. Were you surprised it didn't measure up?
I don't know that I was surprised. I think that there's definitely an attraction to the Google environment and there are definitely advantages there. It's not like we wouldn't have had an advantage in that space. As we dug into the things that we really needed to make sure we could accomplish, we just came out with a stronger perspective for BPOS.

What were some of those advantages that Google Apps has that BPOS still lacks?
I think the notion that at a basic level you can use that environment, where students can use it the way they need to use it. We don't have to do a lot of planning on our side for them to use that environment. We could have taken that approach, where we ship everybody over there and have at it. You can use it as you need to in that arena. But we didn't feel our community would find that totally acceptable. Some do, but we wanted to have a little more structure around it.

Once you did make the decision, what was the process you went through to sign up for BPOS?
We have our own institutional procurement and acquisition rules that we typically follow. We are a state institution so we can buy off state contracts. Some of that foundation was already there.

I am sure you are familiar with the City of Los Angeles contract late last year where Microsoft and Google fought vigorously for that deal, which of course ultimately went to Google. Did Google use that to try to sway you?
It wasn't that competitive. They were here early on. They came in and did some presentations and demos for us, and eventually we had Microsoft come in and do the same thing. But it didn't feel like it was that competitive, necessarily. I think there are questions coming up now. Google clearly wants to know where they came up short from their perspective.

What was Dell's role in this deal?
They are the VAR for Microsoft. We used them to secure our Microsoft Campus Agreement licensing agreement program and we will use them for the BPOS environment as well.

What is their role in this?
It's the mechanism to acquire the service.

Did you consider an on-premises solution?
Yes we did. We had been looking at that prior to this exercise. We were considering standing up our own Exchange environment and decided against that.

One is cost, because we'd have to invest a considerable event up front. The other is we are looking for opportunities to redirect our folks to other priorities and rely on external expertise. So this just became on of those opportunities.

How much more expensive would it have been to deploy Exchange on-premises?
We never pinned down the exact cost, but the numbers we were looking at early on would have probably taken us over a million dollars to get into it. And there would have been additional costs per year.

How much is BPOS costing you?
Half a million dollars a year.

I'm sure security was a concern. What convinced you that this would be as secure as having something on-premises?
Microsoft has been willing to make some guarantees around how they secure their environment. For example, one of our requirements is that servers reside in the United States. That is a federal program that we have to adhere to. They have, at least so far this year, made that guarantee.

So what is the plan to roll this out?
We are putting the plan together right now. Our goal is to have our folks transitioned over by the Fall of this year. We'll transition people over in phases and we are currently working out who is in which phase.

Are you looking at bringing Office Communications Server into BPOS?
Yes. We will look at that, though we won't start out with that. It will be in the next phase --which will be to integrate it with our other environments.

What about SharePoint?
We want to but we will wait for the next release to come out later this year.


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