Levin said the dire economic situation of Los Angeles -- the city's $400 million deficit this year and an $1.2 deficit expected in all counting 2009 to 2011 has meant loss of 30% of IT staff -- was a key factor in shifting to Google for e-mail, expected to save saving about $5.5 million over five years without a large capital outlay. "There's new infinite scalability and a better quality of service," she said.
But the ongoing transition to cut over many thousands of city employees has not been without its challenges. The LA Police Department, for example, has had specific security concerns related to electronic subpoena, and Google has taken steps to make specific changes, which Levin wasn't at liberty to discuss in detail, to accommodate the police department's need for better security. Other changes are expected in contract amendments.
Levin said one lesson learned about the migration to the Google cloud is it would be better to move off an older e-mail system quickly rather than try to run both in parallel. In addition, she said training users on the new cloud-based system has been challenging, especially for older employees with less Web experience than their younger counterparts. "We underestimated how much training we needed," she said.
The Tribune Company, which owns several newspapers, TV stations and media Web sites, last year made the shift from internal data resources to the Microsoft's Azure platform for cloud storage as part of consolidating 32 data centers down to three nationally.
Tribune's CTO Steve Gable, who spoke on the same Gartner panel with Levin, said the huge data volumes -- uploading 100 gigabytes of content each day -- is daunting, especially as there is a massive amount of video the Tribune staff produces that isn't even part of it yet.
"We're moving content back and forth, back and forth," said Gable, who acknowledged, "Moving content to the cloud was difficult."
Integrating the new technologies, such as the necessary application programming interfaces to do this, did mean a "struggle for developers," he said. "There's a challenge in scaling, and you don't build that three-tier architecture" that was common in the past. The main reason for the move to Azure was not primarily cost-savings but to try and gain increased agility and flexibility, with the intent to build out cloud-based applications in the future.
A third speaker on the panel, Eric Sills, director of advanced computing at North Carolina State University (NCSU), said the university created its own private-cloud computing arrangement a few years back based on IBM BladeCenter hardware, a XCAT cluster management tool, and Linux Cluster HPC to serve the student population in a "Virtual Computing Lab" that allows for a download of a menu of applications based on student authentication procedures. The NCSU system can also handle high-computing tasks from professors and grad students in times when the general student population tapers off, such as the summer.
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