It seems Google Apps is growing up. Attracted by the prices ($50 per year per user) and the plethora of technologies available once you've signed on, some enterprises are already making the leap.
Lincoln Property Company, a real estate management firm based in Dallas, Texas, has about 4,000 employees scattered throughout the U.S. CIO Jay Kinney just moved almost 1,000 of them to Google Apps, ditching Novell GroupWise in the process. Kinney said he ran the numbers and Google came out ahead. His users are already spread far and wide, so managing the system remotely was a natural fit.
"The primary business case was around email and Google Chat," he said. It was easier to accomplish all his messaging goals under a single banner, and he was perfectly comfortable trusting Google to manage its own infrastructure. He said it meant less management overhead for him.
Kinney calculated the cost against Novell's stiff licensing fees and a hardware refresh, including maintenance, archiving, backups and disaster recovery, and was pleased to discover how competitive Google Apps was.
"It's basically a third the cost … it's come to fruition from an email perspective," he said.
Google recommended Kinney use consulting service Cloud Sherpas to migrate his email store to Google Apps. CloudSherpas did all the legwork, helping Lincoln Property Company navigate archived and sometimes corrupted message stores that Google's own migration tools couldn't handle.
Kinney said software services and outsourced solutions were old hat in the real estate industry, so there wasn't much of an attitudinal adjustment to consider email as a service. He said real estate firms, including his, rely heavily on traditional outsourcing suppliers for most business needs, like ERP and payroll services, something that's not likely to change. Email, according to Kinney had just been around so long.
He's mildly enthusiastic for on-demand, pay-as-you-go infrastructure services but doesn't expect the radical cost savings he got with Google Apps, because he feels his IT suppliers are already as low as they can go.
"Maybe some of our vendors will have more of a cloud model than a traditional outsourcing [model], but they have already got the economies of scale," he said. "It's not going to get a lot cheaper."
Konica moves into the cloud
Konica Minolta also just moved 7,000 users to Google Apps Enterprise.
"It wasn't really about cost savings initially; that's certainly one of the byproducts," said Nelson Lin, CIO and VP of information technology services for Konica. After a series of acquisitions, Konica was faced with technology diversity headaches. "We were managing five or six unique email systems out there," Lin said.
He performed the same calculation as Lincoln Property Company, albeit on a larger scale, and found that if he wanted all of the messaging and collaboration tools that Google Apps had, he'd have to deal with far more products than he cared to.
Lin said Lincoln Property Company's rosy cost estimates were believable, but only when comparing Google Apps to platforms like Exchange. He said the costs when running Google Apps versus Lotus Notes were actually very close.
"We had invested heavily in Lotus Notes and Domino for years," he said, but moving his new users off their legacy systems on to his own legacy Notes system wasn't attractive. He said he'd need a raft of additional products from IBM to match the massaging and collaboration features on Google Apps. Lin said the firm will continue to use Microsoft Office software, but he can see a day when Google Docs might take its place for users.
Users trying to adjust to Google
Lin said it was a bit of a wrench for users, some of whom liked their email clients and others who had a hard time coming to grips with a browser-centric world. Once they realized it still did everything they wanted, users settled in quickly with only one major gripe.
"They hate the threading," he said, meaning the way Gmail combines emails and replies together in the Web interface. Lincoln Property Company's Kinney confirmed this was the case for his users too. "They can't stand the threading," he said.
The larger issue for the Konica IT team was giving up control of their infrastructure. Moving email out into the cloud meant losing the ability to pinpoint problems. "We struggle daily with the notion that someone else is managing this -- we have all these tools, you can literally see everything -- and you kind of have to accept it," Lin said.
That meant not knowing exactly where or how his data is hosted and relying on Google's service-level agreements (SLAs) for comfort. Lin said he didn't know if his email was multi-tenanted with other company's data, for instance, or how Google operated its backups, but he was comfortable with that.
"You don't really have the opportunity to negotiate with them on the core offering," he said, but it was plain that Google understood his concerns about privacy and availability for Konica's email system and were building suitable systems. "They get it, they have the enterprise down," he said.
That's a different story than the city of Los Angeles, to which Google promised a private, isolated, fully transparent "government cloud" and SLAs guaranteeing astronomical legal penalties if Google compromised data in any way.
It's not clear how or if Google is making money on the service, which some say has as many as 25 million users, the majority of which are likely individuals using it for free. It's also not clear if there's a major market for email as a service. Yahoo has been offering it for years and it's never been more than a minor adjunct to the company's revenue. Email is such a foundational, baked-in part of most enterprises that it's going to take an awful lot to convince companies that outsourcing it to a search engine is a good idea.
Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.