Maryland opts for gradual Google Apps rollout

The state's migration of 54,000 employees to Google Apps started in early 2012 and will be finished in mid-2015

Adhering to the saying "be quick but don't hurry," the state of Maryland is in the midst of a three-and-a-half-year migration to Google Apps, saying the measured, deliberate rollout is a better approach than a big-bang implementation.

The state chose Google Apps in 2011, after deciding it wanted a cloud email and collaboration suite to replace a variety of on-premises and heterogenous email systems across more than 50 agencies.

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It has now moved about 33,000 employees to Google Apps, so it has about 21,000 more staffers to go, as it gradually turns off internal servers running Novell's Groupwise, Microsoft's Exchange and other systems from other vendors.

"We're over the halfway hump and we have a lot of momentum," said Greg Urban, CTO and deputy CIO of the state of Maryland.

Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst, said state governments are particularly well-suited to slower migrations due to the agency structure. "Sequential, agency-by-agency rollouts create a strong mechanism for best-practice identification and execution of migration activities," Cain said via email.

The state has gotten assistance from Google and has contracted outside help for certain parts of the rollout, but mostly has decided to handle it with its own IT staff.

The reasons for choosing this approach are varied, according to Urban. For starters, the Apps rollout is being done in conjunction with a user directory implementation, to centralize user management across all agencies.

In addition, Urban wants to make sure his staff is familiar with the technical aspects of the migration project.

"My organization has to support this for as long as we have it. I need the tech expertise. I need to really understand how it works," he said.

He also estimates that by handling the bulk of the work internally, the state is saving a significant amount more than if it had hired a battalion of system integrators to do an accelerated rollout.

"Maybe there were faster ways to do this, but we have such a great knowledge base internally, and the cost of migration is around 25 percent of what other folks would have paid to do the migration," he said.

The main thrust behind moving all employees to Google Apps was to put the entire staff on a modern email platform that is secure and scalable, while also providing them with tools for collaboration, like the Docs productivity apps, the Drive cloud storage service and the Sites intranet tool, he said.

Maryland's approach is smart because a slow rollout lets in-house IT staff deal with unanticipated problems in a measured way instead of having to solve a problem that affects thousands of users at once, said industry analyst Michael Osterman of Osterman Research.

"Moreover, because user training and the entire user experience is critical in getting any new technology adopted, a slow rollout allows time for user objections, questions and issues to be managed more easily by the state's help desk staff, and it allows time for 'departmental gurus' to become well versed in Google Apps, the integration with the user directory, how to recreate workflows in Google Apps that used to be performed in GroupWise or Exchange, etc.," Osterman said via email.

The rollout started in January 2012 and is expected to conclude in June of next year.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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