Pittsburgh has been using Microsoft Exchange 2003 for email. The system served city administrators, police and emergency responders. The city didn't have a problem with Exchange, but it did have trouble finding IT administrators to manage it.
"The problems had less to do with the Microsoft product and more to do with our internal resources," Stern said. "A couple years ago, we were looking for an Exchange administrator and we just couldn't find someone with the right skill set at our pay rate. We have a hard time paying our employees competitive salaries. Good administrators for Microsoft Exchange are fairly pricey."
To get around that problem, Stern said Pittsburgh officials decided to move to the cloud so a service provider could manage the email system. That way, the city wouldn't need as many dedicated technicians for its email service.
But after embracing the cloud, Pittsburgh had to make one more decision: Should it stick with Microsoft and its Office 365 suite of cloud-based tools? Or should it switch to Google and its cloud-based Google Apps productivity suite?
The city decided to go with Google.
"Basically, there's a Microsoft or a Google cloud. They were both very, very good products. It was a tough decision," said Stern, who noted that the selection committee included city IT staffers as well as a budget official, the county CIO, and a tech representative from a local university.
"The reason that we went with Google at the end of the day was a matter of pricing, a matter of security, capacity and a matter of innovation that is promised for the future," Stern said. "Everyone, internal and external folks, all had the same feeling at the end of the day about going with Google."
Stern noted that he was impressed with Google's cloud security, as well as with its experience in dealing with the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), which sets standards for information security.
Google and Microsoft have been increasingly competitive, with both companies vying to move their cloud-based applications into the enterprise . Olds said this competition can only help organizations that are looking to get good deals.
"Now that Microsoft has a cloud offering, we're going to be seeing them locking horns directly with Google much more often," Olds said. "This is a good thing for users, since it forces both companies -- along with the smaller players -- to take their game to a higher level in terms of service quality."