Google wins L.A. e-mail contract

Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to move to Google Inc.'s vision of online computing as the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to outsource e-mail to a Web-based system run by the Internet search giant.

Despite a flurry of lobbying by arch rival Microsoft Corp., the council agreed to shut down the city's in-house messaging system and transfer e-mail operations for its 30,000 employees to Google's nationwide network of servers.

The decision could have implications for other major cities and large corporations considering whether to stay with older e-mail programs, such as Microsoft's Outlook, or to embrace the "cloud" model championed by Google.

In cloud computing, applications run on remote servers rather than on workers' desktop machines.

"The city of Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the nation, made a world-class decision today to support a state-of-the-art e-mail system," said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who made the motion to approve the Google system.

After more than two hours of debate, the council voted 12 to 0 to approve the $7.25-million contract, which endured months of intense opposition from Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., software giant paid City Hall lobbyists tens of thousands of dollars to make the case against Google, which is based in Mountain View, Calif.

Both companies treated City Hall as a key battleground in a larger struggle for the estimated $20-billion market for e-mail and office software that Microsoft now dominates.

In debate leading up to the vote, several council members questioned whether the city would see any real cost savings, as Google had contended, and whether the system would be capable of storing sensitive city data from law enforcement agencies, whose security standards are more rigorous.

Because Los Angeles will be among the first municipalities to adopt Google's system, some council members also worried that the city might be buying into the system before it was fully tested.

Google has weathered a series of outages in recent months that knocked out its Gmail product for hours, affecting tens of millions of users and adding to concerns about the system's readiness for city use.

"It's unclear if this is cutting edge or the edge of a cliff and we're about to step off," said Councilman Paul Koretz.

The contract was approved pending an amendment that would require Google to compensate the city in the event that the system was breached and city data exposed or stolen.

The vote Tuesday ended a nearly yearlong process in which Google had to compete intensely with other software vendors to secure the city's valuable stamp of approval.

Google and the city believe that if Los Angeles successfully transitions to Google's cloud system, more cities and large businesses are likely to follow suit.

It is that type of cascade effect that Microsoft had feared and fought hard to prevent, sending executives and paid advocates around the city in a prolonged attempt to derail the Google proposal by pointing to its weaknesses. Google fielded its own team of lobbyists and representatives to argue its case.

"We know you have all been strenuously 'informed' by numerous parties," Randi Levin, the city's chief technology officer, told the council, referring to the many lobbyists that swarmed City Hall in recent months.

In what appeared to be a swipe at Microsoft, Levin added, "Unsuccessful bidders might have better spent their resources by delivering us a more qualified proposal when they had the chance."

For its part, Microsoft continued to question whether Google had the experience to manage e-mail for an organization as large and complex as that of Los Angeles.

"In any cloud solution the true measure of success lies with standing up and deploying the solution as well as ensuring the security and privacy of citizens," Microsoft said.

The city plans to complete the implementation of the Google system by June and will begin with a short pilot period in which a limited number of employees will test the software.

City law enforcement agencies including the Los Angeles Police Department will move onto the system last, once they are satisfied with its security and reliability.

"We're obviously happy with how this turned out," said Dave Girouard, president of Google's enterprise division. "We're going to put a lot of energy into making sure this is a great success for the city."


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