Not only does Google Apps for Business cost less than an on-premises Exchange Server system, but it has a "high level of functionality -- 90% to 95% of what we were looking for," Patel says.
Generally speaking, moving to the cloud relieves IT of the responsibility of maintaining and operating an e-mail infrastructure. And it allows for more rapid innovation by developers, who can roll out new features as soon as they're ready. Users don't have to wait for the next service pack to see updates and they don't have to wait three years for major new features to appear in the next release. "When you look at the pace of innovation, this is where the cloud really starts to shine," says Forrester's Schadler.
But some IT executives who have explored using Google Apps say the cost savings can disappear if you run an extremely efficient on-premises Exchange environment. Others point out that cost isn't everything.
"It's a huge effort to ask people to learn something different -- even if it's for a better price point," says Ce Cole Dillon, CIO at Chicago State University, which recently moved everyone to Google Apps but then decided to move some staffers back onto Exchange. Finally, some users report that certain features in Google Apps aren't as sophisticated as those offered in Outlook and Exchange, particularly when it comes to calendaring -- an assertion that Google vigorously disputes.
A quick rollout
Patel succeeded with the transition by getting executive buy-in early and doing the rollout very quickly, over a 90-day period, rather than going through a prolonged migration process. He did, however, face some resistance to change. The Gmail interface, for example, organizes messages with tags instead of folders, and while accessing Gmail using a browser as the local client software worked better than Outlook for some tasks, it wasn't nearly as robust for others, such as dragging and dropping. He expects those differences to go away in the next 12 months as browsers begin to support new features in the emerging HTML 5 specification.
Patel sold the project by touting the potential cost savings and the benefits of moving from a fixed cost infrastructure to a variable cost service. "The financial guys loved that," he says.