Google Beats Microsoft in the E-Mail Battle of Los Angeles

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-28

Google unanimously won the battle with Microsoft for the right to move Los Angeles' 30,000 municipal employees to its e-mail system, knocking out Novell's GroupWise platform for the $7.25 million contract.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 12-0 Oct. 27 in favor of using Gmail over Microsoft Office Outlook. The city plans to complete implementation of the Google system by June and will begin with a pilot period during which a limited number of employees will test the system, according to The Los Angeles Times, which reported the news first.

Google hosts Gmail, used by more than 40 million people, on its servers and serves to users over the Internet, or the cloud. It is also the heart of the Google Apps collaboration platform.

The search engine giant believes businesses and organizations that become comfortable with Gmail will eventually adopt additional services from Google Apps, such as the Google Docs word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

Like Gmail, these apps are key components of Google's cloud computing play and alternatives to Microsoft Office's Word, Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation programs, which are installed and stored locally on users' PCs.

These Microsoft applications comprise the bulk of installations in businesses and government agencies all over the world, making Google's win with Los Angeles quite the coup.   

"We're thrilled the LA City Council unanimously voted to go Google, and we look forward to working with the City to bring the many benefits of Google Apps to their employees," said Dave Girouard, president of Google Enterprise.

However, the contract comes with a caveat. Google must compensate the city if its e-mail service is breached and data is stolen. The Los Angeles Council voted to add the penalty provision 9-3. Consumer advocates applauded this motion.

"Los Angeles residents cannot be sure the city's confidential or sensitive data will be secure," said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, "but at least they know there will be a penalty if security is compromised. It's essential that this project be closely watched to ensure that Google keeps its promises."

While Google has not had users' e-mail data stolen, it has suffered several highly publicized outages, including two in September. These have been blows to the company's bid to prove that the cloud is cost-effective and reliable. Google charges $50 per user, per year for its premier edition of Google Apps, which includes 24-7 support and greater security, among other perks over the free, standard edition.

That Los Angeles chose Google over Microsoft could be a good template for other government agencies weighing whether or not to embrace Google and its cloud. Some 38,000 employees in government agencies in Washington, D.C., also use Gmail and other Google Apps. Google is building a so-called Government Cloud, a dedicated cloud computing system for the U.S. government, in 2010.

Google has also embarked on an advertising campaign to unseat Microsoft, IBM and any other collaboration providers. Launched globally earlier this month, Going Google ads show up on billboards on highways and in train and bus stations in major cities, as well as in leading newspapers and magazines around the world.

Interestingly, a confluence of Google's cloud computing heft and the industry shift toward hosted computing has made Microsoft join the Web-based arms race. Office Web Apps, which includes Web-based, is one of several hosted solutions the software giant plans to offer.

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