October 8, 2010 By Russell Nichols
Should the cloud computing world be an exclusive club for states and municipal heavyweights like Los Angeles?
Not if Greenwood County, S.C., has a say in the matter. As state and local governments debate the security, potential cost savings and privacy issues of private data storage, Greenwood County entered the cloud this past spring, switching from its mixed environment that was malfunctioning to a one-stop-shop Google Apps solution.
With the old systems, the county had all types of problems, from faulty spam filtering to rampant viruses and a never-ending stream of maintenance requests, said Greenwood IT Director Brad Barnell. Four people make up the county IT staff.
“We knew we didn’t have the resources to keep going that way,” Barnell said. “We didn’t really have time to deal with all the e-mail hassles. That took resources away from everything else we were trying to get done.”
In fact, he added, up until a year ago, the county had no IT department, and a vendor handled technology matters. But with the new department and the increase in workload, the county had to upgrade the hardware or find a viable alternative.
For about $17,000, Barnell said, the county set up 300 Google e-mail accounts. In addition to e-mail, employees primarily use the suite’s calendar and talk features.
The transition to Google was handled by Cloud Sherpas, which helps enterprises with the migration and management of Google’s productivity suite. Since the business began in 2008, Cloud Sherpas has guided more than 10 state and local governments in Google Apps adoption, said Michael Cohn, founder and vice president of marketing and project management.
Migration costs range from $50,000 to nearly $1 million, depending on the size of the organization, he said. But when governments compare costs of renewing licenses and upgrading hardware to a cloud solution, Cohn said, “Going Google makes business sense.”
“Revenues are down; that’s the bottom line,” Cohn said. “When you’re looking for a solution or an alternative, Google Apps is a no-brainer. The platform can save most users upward of 70 to 80 percent of what they were paying.”
The debate continues about whether cloud computing and hosted services put sensitive data at risk or actually realize the cost savings that are promised. Some local governments have determined that the return on investment for moving to cloud-based services isn’t sufficient yet to justify moving in that direction. But the concern isn’t universal. Orlando, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; and some departments in New Mexico and Colorado have already migrated to Google Apps.
This year, Google even launched a version of its productivity suite tailored for government customers that meets federal IT security benchmarks. According to the company, Apps for Government is the first cloud computing suite to receive Federal Information Security Management Act-moderate accreditation, designed to standardize IT security across the government and relieve concerns about perceived security risks.
“By the end of the migration, most customers are convinced that data would be safer in Google data centers,” Cohn said.
Not all governments believe in cloud computing as the smart solution. Some local governments don’t see the cost benefits in migrating unless it’s a last resort. Some observers believe that was the case in L.A.
Last year, the city decided to implement Gmail on more than 30,000 desktops and adopt the suite. The five-year deal made L.A. the first government of its scale to choose Gmail for the enterprise.
The number of Gmail accounts in L.A. represents nearly half of Greenwood County’s entire population. But according to Barnell, Greenwood actually has a size advantage.
At a rate of $50 per account, Barnell said, a smaller department gets a better deal. For instance, he said, L.A. could have hired IT people to handle the workload, especially when servers are not that expensive.
“But if you have four people in the department, you can’t hire an IT person for $200,” he said. “The smaller you are, the better you are to go with Google Apps.”
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