Massachusetts State House in Boston

Boston drops Exchange for Google Apps, as battle of cloud app providers plays on

The city of Boston has dropped the Microsoft Exchange service in favor of Google Apps for Government, the latest of a line of cities that have recently made the switch to Google.

Boston will pay $800,000 to move about 20,000 employees to a Google package that will include Gmail, Google Docs and Google’s document storage service, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Dropping the Microsoft services will net the city savings of about $280,000 a year.

The Gmail that government offices use is similar to what consumers use for free, with the exception of larger storage for e-mail. The cost for governments is roughly $50 per user per year. Google also doesn’t charge public schools for use of its apps, according to Google.

Analysts reasoned that the higher cost of Microsoft services — about $100 a year per employee, according to the Globe — drove Boston’s decision. “The number one reason that organizations are going to Google is price,” Gartner Analyst Matt Cain told the Globe. That’s a reasonable view considering the public sector budget crunch most cities find themselves in.

Others argue that, in addition to the cost advantage, Google offers a more pure cloud experience. Enterasys Networks, which recently made the switch, said that using Office 365 required administrators to install hardware and software, while Google Apps required only a license agreement.

Responding to the Globe story, Microsoft fired back, saying “the citizens of Boston deserve cloud productivity tools that protect their security and privacy.”

That doesn’t appear to be a deal breaker for Boston or other cities that have made the switch to Google. Last year, the city of Pittsburgh converted to Google Apps, retiring an Exchange 2003 e-mail system and moving all 3,000 city employees to Google Apps for Government. The city estimated it would save the city about 25 percent in annual support costs.

“Our employees are working more efficiently because they have 500 times more e-mail storage and no longer need to waste time emptying their inboxes,” Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in a testimonial for Google.

Using Google Apps, Pittsburgh is also able to gather all employee e-mail in a central repository, “which helps us meet e-discovery needs much more efficiently,” Ravenstahl said.

Even so, the Google Apps vs. Microsoft contest is a match that may be too close to call. Just prior to the Boston switch, Microsoft announced a group of eight local governments and universities were moving to Office 365, including Kansas City, Mo.; Seattle and King County, Wash.; and the San Diego Regional Airport Authority. The city of Chicago, the Environmental Protection Agency and California Institute of Technology are also making the move to Microsoft.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.

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