These are my notes from the EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The Launch of Google Apps for Education at USC: Determinants, Decisions, and Deterrents,” presented by Brendan Bellina, Identity Services Architect, University of Southern California.

Brendan presented a very balanced review of USC’s deployment of Google Apps campus-wide. I was struck not only by the enormity of this project but just the sheer guts it took to do it. We all hear from students and faculty that we should just do stuff like this and I am so used to hearing the typical, “we couldn’t possibly do that in our current environment,” response. USC IT said, “Sure, sounds good!” and they did it in eight months. This presentation gave me hope for the future.

That’s not to say it was easy or that they would go back and do it all again. As Brandan described, there was a substantial cost involved in bringing these “free” services to campus. Other IT projects were affected and over 4000 person-hours were consumed. The resulting service was also not all it was cracked up to be. USC did not provide user credentials to Google and ended up creating a separate Google account for each user in addition to their USC network account. Google accounts could not be renamed and information could not be migrated across accounts. This was problematic for users who changed names. Deleted accounts could not be restored and it took five days to create an account with the same name as a deleted account. Google implemented new services and features without advanced notice. Although it’s possible to block services, new features in adopted services are made available at Google’s discretion.

As I was leaving the session, I heard just as many people saying, “Well, there’s no way we are going to do that any time soon,” as were saying, “Hmmm…that’s interesting.” It sounds like Google Apps for the enterprise is not quite ready for prime time, but I am dreaming of the day when we can offer our students who lease laptops for $1000 a year the option of a reduced lease price if they decide to go sans Microsoft. When sitting in sessions like this one, it seems so close you can almost taste it. I hope Google recognizes that it’s through efforts like USC’s that this will happen and when it happens on college campuses with the next generation of employees, it will happen off campus as well. Google would be well served to resolve the problems encountered by USC to pave the way for similar efforts on other campuses.