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Orlando goes with Google to save on e-mail
[January 09, 2010]

Orlando goes with Google to save on e-mail

Jan 09, 2010 (The Orlando Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Orlando City Hall is gaga over Google.

In a multimillion-dollar move being watched by government agencies across the country, Orlando this week became one of the first cities in America to switch all of its employees to Google e-mail.

The implications are vastly bigger than simply changing the icon that Orlando workers click on their computer desktops.

For city officials, it means cutting annual e-mail costs by two-thirds, saving taxpayers an estimated $262,500 a year.

For Google, the deal provides another toehold in the $20 billion-a-year market for office software. For years, that market has been dominated by Google's archrival Microsoft and its Office software, including Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

In contrast, Google doesn't rely on software saved on users' computers but is a so-called "cloud computing" system in which applications are Internet-based and run on remote Web servers.

With government budgets squeezed, Google hopes other cities will follow Orlando into the "cloud." "The contract with Orlando is very important to us," said Michael Lock, vice president of sales in America for Google Enterprise. "They're going to be on the leading edge of doing this, not the bleeding edge. It's not the biggest contract, but Orlando is a very well-known city." Orlando will no longer need the City Hall servers it uses to run its current Lotus Notes e-mail system, or pay for the electricity those servers consume, the extra data storage to archive employee mail or the two network administrators who oversee it.

"It made more sense to me given my budget. I had to look at a different way of doing business," said Chief Information Officer Conrad Cross, whose IT department was whittled from 84 workers to 69 this year.

If Orlando were to keep its current system, city officials estimate it would cost $133 a year for each of its 3,000 employees -- or $399,000 -- including annual software licenses.

Google is charging $45.50 per user, or $136,500. In return, everyone from city planners to police officers will use a Web-based e-mail system similar to Google's popular Gmail, but without the advertisements that support the free consumer version. Google servers will store all city e-mail and run the application, and Google technicians -- not city employees -- will make sure it runs smoothly.

"The costs and IT support are someone else's nightmare, and that's what we're paying for," Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Sutton said.

A half-dozen Google techs scurried around City Hall on Thursday and Friday, trying to make sure the transition went smoothly.

Orlando's contract includes Google Docs, which includes word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation software meant to compete directly with Microsoft Office. But Cross said the city will stick with Office for now to avoid the expense of retraining employees.

Thousands of businesses and universities have switched to Google, according to the company. But so far, few cities other than Orlando have.

Los Angeles became Google's crown jewel in October, when that city approved a $7.25 million e-mail contract with the Internet giant, but Los Angeles has not yet moved its 30,000 employees to the Google system.

Google cited its deal with Orlando, which had already been signed, in its pitch to Los Angeles.

The vote there culminated a yearlong battle between Google and Microsoft, whose lobbyists warned that Google wasn't ready for the security implications of handling public e-mail for such a large work force.

Lock said Google will archive Orlando records, which must be kept and accessible under state public-records law, in "super-secret data centers." And Cross said he's confident city records, including sensitive law-enforcement and legal documents, will be safe from loss or cyberattack. Google has greater security resources, from people to money, than Orlando could muster on its own.

Besides, Cross said, the city last year contacted other e-mail providers, including Microsoft and IBM, about moving to the cloud.

"They gave us pricing that couldn't compete with Google," he said.

Mark Schlueb can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5417.

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