"The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to outsource its e-mail system to Google Inc., making it the largest city in the nation to make the move and handing the Web search giant a major victory in its quest to become a software provider to the world's cities and businesses." stated the article in the LA Times.
So, what does this REALLY mean? It doesn't mean that if you want to email the mayor, his new email address is going to be TonyV at gmail.com. What it does mean is that the concept of "Cloud Computing" is maturing and getting a resounding vote of approval from a major organization. While I'm not here to voice my opinion on whether Google's solution is better than Micosoft's or Novell's (the other competitors), I am interested in what this means to the millions of other businesses out there and the trend towards more and more cloud computing.
If you're not familiar with this concept, simply put "cloud computing" is about moving the computer systems you rely on from being at your location to someone offsite who can provide these same functions through your internet connection. This also goes by the name "Software as a Service" (SaaS). This greatly reduces the strain put on your business to own, manage, and maintain pieces of your own network infrastructure and put this responsibility on to someone else who's sole purpose is to provide these services. We're seeing this more and more these days. The greatest example of this are things like Salesforce.com, Google apps, Mint.com, etc.
What does this mean for you practically speaking? For many of our clients this can be seen in hosted email and hosted spam filtering. You can run MS-Outlook internally on all your workstations while NOT requiring an internal MS-Exchange Server (but rather using one out in "the cloud"). While this has many advantages: lower cost to start, lower cost to maintain, upgrades taken care of, etc.) there are also a number of significant disadvantages: data stored offsite, reliance on your internet connection, reliance on a 3rd party, etc. Like I said, we are seeing this more and more these days. While it's not for everyone and certainly not for every application, for certain size businesses and certain applications, it's a very cost effective and valuable solution that we will be seeing more and more of in the future.
While the base need to leverage technology to achieve your business goals hasn't changed, what has changed is "how" (technically) this gets accomplished. And how, we, as a company are changing "how" we do what we do is changing. While historically we've been focused on internal technology and how we manage, maintain, and support it for our clients, we now are moving in ways to ensure that we're able to effectively provide similar consulting services for hosted or SaaS or "cloud" technologies to ensure the technology our clients' are using are as effective for them as possible.