The cloud doesn't fit all use cases. "It's not a silver bullet. It's not the right answer for every situation," says Casey Coleman, chief information officer for the General Services Administration.
Only fools rush in
As the first federal government agency to deploy a cloud-based email service agency-wide, the GSA didn't have a road map to follow, says Coleman. So beginning in May 2009 it thoroughly examined its current costs as well as projections for the cloud service.
"It is the case that it has to be well thought out and methodical. This is an IT project like any other. You have to plan for change management, promote user awareness, ensure cyber security in contractual terms, like with any IT project. If you don't approach it in that manner, you might have a different experience," Coleman says. "The promise of cloud computing has been borne out in our experience."
When the GSA adopted Google Apps for email in July 2011, it was able to realize added cost savings by also transitioning non-email systems that were attached to its legacy email system. The agency had been using Lotus Notes for email, plus Domino for workflow apps. As part of its review of adopting Apps for email, the GSA took a hard look at the Domino apps. "We ended up reviewing those apps and eliminating most of them," she says.
The GSA had 2,000 apps in Domino, ranging from small databases to more substantial workflows. It got rid of all but 500 of those apps, with many consolidated and reworked in Force.com. Cutting so many apps meant that the GSA could then turn off 300 in-house servers, Coleman says.
Those savings plus others meant the GSA projected that it would save $16 million over five years by moving to Google Apps for email -- and to date that estimate is proving to be accurate, Coleman says.
Not every transition to the cloud will save that kind of money, but closely examining costs and benefits may reveal that the cloud makes sense even if it doesn't impact the bottom line.
In 2009 when Northern Kentucky University switched from on-premises Exchange for student email to Microsoft's hosted offering, known then as Live@edu, it didn't save money over its existing implementation. But the university gained value because the service allowed for easy integration with smartphones and online storage with SkyDrve. "So even though the costs were flat, it provided more services to students," says Tim Ferguson, CIO for the university.
The hosted service also allowed the university to boost the size of student inboxes. "What we were able to offer to students when we hosted email on site was minimal at best," he said. "With the move to the cloud-based email, students now have enough email storage to meet their needs."
Ferguson studied what it would have cost to adopt the latest version of Exchange and upgrade storage capacity to match what was offered with the hosted Exchange, and he estimated the additional annual cost would have reached $100,000. Instead, by moving to the hosted version, his costs remained flat, while gaining functionality.
Just say no -- even temporarily
Northern Kentucky University is in the midst of a transition to using virtual desktops rather than physical computer labs and has been turning down vendor offers that just don't make sense economically, with hopes that still-to-come products and pricing models will eventually meet its needs.