Apps customers: Going Google was tough decision, despite cost savings

Moving to the cloud was no easy decision but Google Apps customers share why they'll never go back.

If anyone out there still thinks that this cloud computing thing is just a passing fad, they should have a chat with someone like Randi Levin, the CTO for the city of Los Angeles.

Cloud computing was the main topic at yesterday's Google Atmosphere event and Google covered all of the bases - the dominance of social networks, the exponential growth in mobile, the power of HTML5 and more. But what was probably the most educational hour for me was one spent having lunch with a few key execs and Google Apps customers for a press Q&A. I was impressed with the customers and what they had to say. Clearly, that's why Google put us in the same room - but these didn't strike me as "talking heads" for the Google's Kool-Aid.

I sat next to Levin, who found herself in the middle of a political firestorm as the city considered - and eventually chose - Google over Microsoft to replace the city's aging and ailing e-mail system.

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.

There's still plenty of that out there, the other customers said. There's a lot of fear and a lot of distrust. Some naysayers not only distrust the cloud itself but Google specifically as the caregiver of the data. What if Google uses the data to engage in some sort of criminal activity? It was a suggestion that sparked some laughter around the lunch table. Someone also suggested (I can't recall who) that compromises to a company's data is often greater from within the organization - possibly by a disgruntled employee - and that Google would probably catch it faster than he or his IT staff could.

Interestingly enough, the same was said about an outage. Sure, Google had gone down before but it was no worse than when email or the whole network would go down with the on-site staff left to fix it. And the outages have definitely been less frequent.

More importantly, they reminded everyone that this isn't an overnight transition. Employees make the move slowly, start off with email and calendar before tackling Docs. The two worlds - the legacy and the cloud - will co-exist for a while.

But make no mistake, none have any plans to take backward steps and back out of the cloud. They're already integrating with other cloud systems, such as salesforce. And they're pumped about what's still to come.