Google Selected To Handle City’s E-mail Operation

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 10:39 am

    CONTRACT: Deal Could Save $5 Million, But Some Still Have Security Concerns

    Google trumped Microsoft and Novell on Tuesday, winning a $7.25 million contract to create an e-mail system for workers in Los Angeles, the first major U.S. to city to sign up for "cloud" computing.

    Google mail will take the place of the city’s slow and crash-prone e-mail system despite concerns by some council members about security and liability.

    "It seems like this is the system of the future, but the question is if the future is here," said City Councilman Paul Koretz, who suggested the city phase-in the Gmail system.

    But Council President Eric Garcetti said it is time for the city to act.   

    "I think the one thing we cannot do is wait," said Garcetti, who confessed to using Yahoo to handle his personal e-mail. "It is important for us to move forward."

    Councilman Bill Rosendahl urged the council to act and not fear being the first major city to use the system created by Google, which has said it plans to create a more secure "cloud" to handle e-mail systems for Los Angeles and other government entities.

    "I like the idea we will be first," Rosendahl said. "It means that if we have a problem, they will respond and make sure we are happy."

    However, the Los Angeles Police Department will not transfer its confidential data onto the system until additional work is completed and the California and U.S. Justice departments sign off on its security.

    Randi Levin, general manager of Los Angeles’ Information and Technology Agency, said the city needed to find a more secure and reliable e-mail system. The new e-mail system also will allow the city to save money since Google operates and maintains its own servers.

    The Google contract will cost the city $7.2 million, but, combined with other costs, will represent a savings of $5 million over five years.

    John Simpson with the group Consumer Watchdog warned against adopting the Google system until more work is completed on security.

    "It may be the thing of the future, but I’m not sure it is there yet," Simpson said. "The security checks don’t exist yet. It is the gleam in Google’s eyes."

    Part of the City Council’s approval was based on promises from Google that it will reimburse the city for any damages.   

    The contract had been the subject of heavy lobbying by Microsoft and Novell.   

    Microsoft officials argued it could perform the same services at a lower cost than Google and allow city staff to continue to use Microsoft Office and other products.

    Novell officials said they would offer an upgrade to their system now in use, but city officials said the new system fell short of what was being offered by Google.

    "I can’t tell you the number of complaints I get from my staff about the city e-mail system," Rosendahl said. "All they asked me was to get something new, something that worked."

    As an example of problems, city officials noted the e-mail system was down throughout the weekend and into Monday morning. Failure of the system affects not only e-mails, but those sent to Blackberries issued to city staff.

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