Google Apps could help agencies move to the cloud

Thursday - 6/17/2010, 3:41pm EDT

David Gerard, president, Google enterprise division

Click to hear the interview

Download mp3

Many federal agencies are looking at moving to the cloud, as we tell you at the Fed Cloud Blog here at Federal News Radio.

When you think of Google, you probably think of the search engine, but the company is actually making a big push to move applications like work processing, e-mail and spread sheets into the cloud.

The service is called Google Apps, and it is one of many offerings that could change the way the federal government does business.

David Girouard is the president of Google's enterprise division and says cloud is important because, in his opinion, it is one of the biggest technology changes to ever take place.

"The information is stored 'centrally' but the technology is radically different these days. [Before] was a very closed, proprietary world where you had to stand in line to get access to the mainframe. . . . Today, this is an open platform. This is the Web. While there are some echos from the past, I think it is fundamentally different because it's a liberating platform, as opposed to one that keeps people and information captive."

Google in general is very excited about the cloud, he adds, and says that he thinks it's actually going to wind up being more secure than traditional models.

"If you think about a cluster of systems sitting in a basement somewhere, which is how the city of L.A. Had their email system -- on a rack of servers sitting in the basement of City Hall. Compare that with the capabilities and the infrastructure Google has to protect it in our data centers, and the way we shard and spray data across lots of servers so no information is stored on a single server. When you add up all the pieces and parts, we absolutely believe cloud computing is more secure than legacy computing environments."

He says the trend of outsourcing email is growing. Los Angeles and Orlando have both made the move, and smaller cities and towns are getting in on the action.

But what about the federal government?

Girouard says agencies are looking at and testing Google Apps, but they're also probably waiting for Google to obtain FISMA certification before making their moves.

"I think having FISMA certification has been sort of the thing they all wanted. The decision of who has to approve and is it ok is really kind of a difficult and nebulous question for a lot of folks who see the benefits and want to take advantage of it, but they, of course, have to be responsible to the law and to their users. I think FISMA certification really is the starting gun that a lot of people have been waiting for."

If agencies were to take the plunge, however, Girouard says Google has lessons learned and best practices to share after helping L.A. And Orlando.

"Most organizations find the technical transition shockingly easy. Our goal is always . . . [to] do it in less than 90 days. We've had organizations with tens of thousands of people move everybody to Google in less than 90 days. We've done it now with many large organizations in both the public and private sectors. We are very formulaic about it, and frankly we take ownership of making sure it's a success."

Whether an agency head is for or against the move, cloud is disrupting the traditional business model of D.C. Girouard says it's not just agencies that are having to adapt, but service providers, too.

"In the old world, a dollar of license led to 7 or 8 dollars of services. That was viewed as a good thing by the service industry, but it was not necessarily great for customers. When you're just talking about simple things, like email, that formula falls apart very quickly; in fact, it's probably quite the opposite. It's not very hard to get onto these systems, but they aren't necessarily the end game, either. What Google is really developing alongside its core applications is a platform that is going to let partners do all sorts of things: implementing custom business applications, tying together applications from multiple cloud vendors, [and] building unique applications for an agency."

Girouard adds that Google wants to work with the solution providers that already exist, but has no desire to become one itself.

"One of the initiatives that we've had going for several years is to help the U.S. Government make its data more accessible to its constituents. Government websites have always been largely difficult, and sometimes grew up like org charts, as opposed to having the point of view of the user. So, through many different venues, Google has worked to help governments at the federal level, and also at the state level to deliver more information in an open way. We think that's a very healthy thing. . . . We found governments at all levels actually wanting to share more information, [but] they just sort of needed the help on the technology side."