When Adrian Sannier became the university technology officer at Arizona State University in the fall of 2005, he was handed a simple yet monumental brief by ASU president Michael Crow: make IT the primary driver in Crow's ambitious "New American University" project. The goal is to raise ASU's academic standing while increasing the number of resident students from around 65,000 to 90,000 by the end of this decade.
The first step in the school's new IT strategy was an alliance with Google's Enterprise Solutions division. Last October, ASU became the first large institution to deploy Google Apps, a comprehensive suite of productivity applications that includes e-mail, search, calendars, instant messaging, and even word processing and spreadsheets.
Initially offering new e-mail accounts based on Google's Gmail service (but retaining the "asu.edu" domain) on an opt-in basis, Sannier and his team found that students were making the switch at the rate of around 300 per hour. Today, more than 40,000 ASU students and faculty have made the switch, and he expects to shut down the University's in-house mail servers near the end of this term.
Since the e-mail switch-over, Sannier has been rolling out additional applications including calendar (which users can now share online, a capability the old university system didn't have), IM, and search. Within the next two months he expects to offer personalized home pages as well as online word-processing documents and spreadsheets based on Google Apps.
The cost to ASU: zero.
"Providing e-mail to students alone cost us half-a-million dollars in expense every year," says Sannier, "not to mention the time of my staff to support it."
Even more important, he says, is the pace of innovation: "Now we're on Google's development curve, not ours."
The benefits to a university like ASU in shifting to Google's applications are fairly obvious -- even security and privacy, asserts Sannier, will be handled more effectively by Google's "army" of experts instead of his team of 30. Google, however, is counting on a much wider adoption of its applications by corporations and government agencies.
Google says its enterprise search application, which applies the company's Web-crawling principles to corporate intranets and the like, now has more than 4,000 active customers, with over 5,000 appliances installed. Prices for the Google Search Applicance for enterprise customers start at $30,000 for up to 500,000 documents. Revenue from enterprise apps remains a tiny fraction of Google's overall income, but the unit is expected to be a much more significant part of the search giant's business in coming years.
Sannier believes that the Google Apps model will become more appealing as companies move away from owning their own technology to focusing on their core businesses. The "cottage industry" era of IT, he says, is reaching its end.
"Once you find a technology partner who can meet your business model, that's the last day you'll be able to provide that service at the same price the outside provider can," Sannier adds, "and they'll do it at scales far superior to yours. The minute they meet your model, the next year they'll beat it, and the year after that they'll beat it by a factor of 10."