Dark clouds in L.A. as Google Apps faces city's security concerns

The city of Los Angeles is losing patience with the rollout of Google Apps, specifically with the delay in meeting the security concerns of the LAPD.

Everyone knew that the stakes were high when the city of Los Angeles voted to “Go Google” and move its email system to the cloud.

Los Angeles, being the first out on that Google Apps limb, would be under watch. Google, which had been touting the cost-savings and efficiency of its online productivity software, already had its critics. Even cloud computing, which was disrupting traditional computing business models, was still considered a scary unknown world. So, this was certainly a deal that was under a big microscope.

Today, those stakes are even higher for all parties involved as the Great Los Angeles Google Experiment finds itself back in the spotlight - and not in a good way.

City council member Dennis Zine, who filed a motion requesting an update on the Google transition, told the Wall Street Journal that he feels like Google sold him a bill of goods that it didn’t deliver. The deal between Google and Los Angeles, reached in October 2009, called for all 30,000 employees to be transitioned to the Google system by the end of June 2010.

But that didn’t happen. The police department had raised concerns about Google’s data encryption, its ability to segregate city data from other other data managed by Google and about background checks for Google employees who would have access to police department information. That prompted delays. But now, more than 15 months later, patience at City Hall is wearing thin with these delays.

For good reason.

It’s not unreasonable to think that the transition would be complete after two years. And certainly, Google is anxious to see it completed, as well. Bit It’s unclear whether the delay is a case of Google selling something that it failed to deliver, as the council member suggested, or an instance of Los Angeles asking for more after the handshake.

The WSJ report quoted Google and its implementation partner as saying that the city identified new security requirements for its law enforcement division - which has about 13,000 employees - after the deal was reached.

For what it’s worth, the other 17,000 city employees have already been transitioned and a city official said that Google’s email product is “working well for the majority of the city’s workforce.”

Back in April 2010, before the first deadline was missed, Los Angeles CTO Randi Levin spoke to reporters during a lunch roundtable at Google’s headquarters. Then, she was an advocate for the cloud model, calling the cost-savings a “no-brainer,” but recognized that it faced its share of critics. At the time, I wrote:

As a city official, Levin spoke carefully - but was also frank. The cost savings was a no-brainer. At $50 per user per year, the city is saving $5 million in cash but $20 million overall, when all factors are considered. For example, with its old system, the city had no disaster recovery system in place. With Google, the city now gets that protection.

So why was the decision such a heated battle? She didn’t have to think twice about her answer. Fears and myths over the cloud - from the security of the data to the reliability and stability of it - caused politicians and city leaders to have a lot of reservations.

Clearly, those concerns remain today.

That’s where the pressure falls back on Google and the cloud. Google needs to find a way to address the security concerns of the LAPD if it expects any other municipality - or large company - to buy into its cloud model down the road. Whether this is a case of Los Angeles changing the rules of the game or Google falling short doesn't seem to matter.

What's more important is how it gets resolved. And when.

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