When Abilene Christian University CIO Kevin Roberts learned his e-mail administrator was leaving in 2006, he nearly freaked out.
He took a breath and considered his options, he said. Rather than manage the school’s existing Sun Java System Messaging Servers, Sun Java System Calendar Servers and “rogue” Microsoft Exchange servers himself or hire a new admin, Roberts said he went with Google Apps Education Edition in 2007.
After weighing the options-Google, Microsoft Live, Exchange, and Sun Microsystems’ offerings-Roberts said it became clear the SAAS (software as a service) path was the route he wanted to take to save his school time and money. In moving to Google Apps, Roberts was able to fill the e-mail admin hole with a new developer position.
He said he also figures he’s saving the school at least $100,000 a year in salaries, licensing fees, storage and server maintenance costs.
“It’s been a great decision for us,” Roberts told eWEEK, noting that 80 percent of the school’s 5,000-plus students opted to use opted to use Google Apps fon “G-Day,” April 11, 2007, which was when Roberts flipped the switch on Google Apps.
Next fall, it could get even better. ACU will offer its faculty and about 900 incoming freshmen free Apple iPhones or Apple iPod Touches. ACU will foot the iPhone and service bill for its teachers, while students who choose the iPhone will have to pay for their service plans through AT&T.
The iPhone offer is a great contract for Apple, but it could prove to be just as good for Google. The search vendor currently optimizes several applications, including search, Gmail and YouTube, for the iPhone.
Take into account that more than 6,000 students and faculty have been using Google Apps for more than a year and Google with minimal effort will be able to acclimate thousands of people to its Apps on the iPhone.
“A smart phone that doesn’t do e-mail or calendaring is pretty much a useless device,” Roberts said. “The fact that the iPhone is already optimized for Google is a huge win for us.”
Google Apps for Education and the Enterprise
In the meantime, ACU students will continue to access the free Google Apps Education Edition from their laptops and school desktops.
The suite includes the same apps as in the company’s Standard Edition, but Google removes any advertising and provides access to and support for its APIs.
Google Postini security solutions are not included (though they are available at a 66 percent discount). Moreover, the storage is 6.5GB instead of the 25GB provided by the Premier Edition.
Roberts said after Gmail, Google Chat quickly became the application of choice among students, with steady adoption of Docs and Spreadsheets over time.
The wildfire adoption is perhaps a testament to the popularity of Google among today’s college students, who grew up searching the Web on Google over the last 10 years.
Much has been written about modest-sized companies using Google Apps in lieu of or in addition to the traditional Microsoft Office and IBM Lotus stacks, but the adopters with the most users may well be institutions of higher learning.
Google won’t provide specific figures as to how many universities and their students and faculty are using Google Apps (though it’s thought to be a few thousand schools with hundreds of thousands of users) or how many users are using each app.
However, Jeff Keltner, business development manager for Google Apps for Education, said Google is actively working on letting customers know what’s being done in those applications with Google Analytics.
It’s true that Google isn’t making the kind of money from its Google Apps Education Edition as Microsoft makes from universities that use Office. But if the trend of universities migrating from Microsoft to Google continues, and more schools pair Google Apps with iPhones, it could prove to be a interesting comparison in the future.
As universities require more computing power and storage, it’s possible they could eventually sign up for Google Apps Premier Edition at $50 per user per year. Multiply that number by tens of thousands or even a million, and Google’s Enterprise business could see some better returns in the next few years.
But in addition to having considerably more market share than Google with its Apps, Microsoft also beats Google in enterprise-class capabilities. Google has no SLAs (service-level agreements) to offer and nowhere near the same service support, which it will have to work on if it plans to approach more discerning business customers.