Google Hopes to Build Email Empire on Freebies

Google hopes an email outsourcing empire will sprout from its college freebie service UPDATED 3/17 10:45 AM

March 15, 2008

3 Min Read
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Following an odd trend in outsourced IT, Oberlin College will soon be the latest of many high-profile U.S. higher-learning institutions relying on Google for its email network. The school's CTO, John Bucher, estimates the move will save the college over $100,000 in email system upgrade costs.

And Google won't make a cent.

Instead, the company's losing money on its Google Apps for Education venture, despite a growing list of "customers" that includes Arizona State University, Northwestern, Hope College, Sarah Lawrence, Macalester College, Pomona College, Hofstra, University of North Carolina (Greensboro), Clemson University, University of Texas (San Antonio), Kennesaw State University, Arkansas State University... among many others.

"Google looks at the four years as potential to reach a new audience and grow a customer base. These students will be familiar with the applications upon entering the business world and we hope to have users for life after they've been introduced to Google Apps during their college years," states Google spokesperson Meghan Hughes in an email to Byte and Switch.

An unusual take on SaaS, perhaps. Still, by the time many of today's college students start working, Google will have fleshed out its SaaS story further and be ready to tap ready-made prospects. A few budding IT pros may eventually turn back to Google for these outsourced offerings, especially if they wind up working for SMBs. Smaller firms may be able to tap the advantages of outsourced email and related apps, without requiring the high-end content-management, filtering, and archiving features of enterprise email systems.Meanwhile, IT pros like Oberlin's John Bucher are saving big on sizeable email upgrades. In a public announcement from March 5 detailing Oberlin's planned migration, he states that an urgent requirement to upgrade the school's email system is forcing action, and choices are limited.

"[T]he ever-rising dependence on e-mail, and thetransport of digital media (movies, sound, etc.) have placed so much pressure on our e-mail system that we must soon make a significant upgrade in order to guarantee continuous reliable service," Bucher states in his memo. "The options fall into 3 major categories: 1 ) stay with the same set of vendors and upgrade the current (SUN Unix) environment to accommodate the increasing service demands; 2) purchase a new and completely different e-mailsystem; 3) outsource the e-mail system(s) to an outside company (usually referred to as a 'hosted solution')."

Bucher says his choice came down to Google because, he says, "The service is robust, reliable, secure, private, and FREE."

On the downside, Bucher says he's aware that some will complain about the new system: "A change of this type will touch the entire campus and there are bound to be people who will find something that they dont like about the hosted solution at Google. Perhaps the largest area of concern might be the security and privacy concerns of using an off-campus e-mail service."

These are risks he's willing to live with, given the tradeoffs. Bucher has arranged a series of campus meetings to discuss the shift to Google, which is planned for finished conversion by mid-October 2008.Microsoft also has an educational hosting plan called Microsoft Live@edu based on a similar freebie plan. Microsoft claims more than 600 colleges and universities in 40 countries have signed up for its plan, and news reports have mentioned the University of Pennsylvania and Ball State University as users.

As part of Live@edu, Microsoft offers 5-Gbyte email boxes and 5 Gbytes of online, password-protected storage space, plus shared calendars, blogging tools, and mobile access to the services.

Microsoft claims not to be tracking revenue for Live@edu. "This is about engaging with students and creating a long-term relationship with them. We believe revenue will follow," states Microsoft spokesperson Karen Riley.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

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