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Thursday, 09 August 2012 18:05

Google cloud lures Catholic schools Featured

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By the end of this year 300,000 of Australia’s Catholic School students and 30,000 teachers will be using the Google Apps platform, which beat Microsoft’s Office 365 to the punch by dint of its app ecosystem and low cost.

The two companies are locked in an international battle to win over education sector users to their cloud platforms. Google’s biggest local win came through the NSW Department of Education and Training which has deployed Google Apps for 1.2 million users; Microsoft meanwhile has recently won a Catholic schools deal in Mexico where 4.5 million students will use Office 365.

The Catholic Education Network (CEnet) which has signed up to use Google Apps in 740 sites in NSW, Queensland, the ACT and NT is paying nothing for the system according to Ian Gregory, its manager of IT systems as Google makes the platform freely available to schools.  Nor will the users of the system see any advertising.

While Google isn’t making money out of the deal Mr Gregory said that there was a benefit to the company in that school students which used the system would emerge “well versed in the Google space” when they leave school and entered the workforce.

It’s a tried and tested approach from technology companies, pioneered by AT&T which made Unix available for free to university students in the hope that when they entered the workforce, they would ask their employers to use the software. The approach proved highly successful.

For CEnet however the value comes from reduced risk and lower costs according to Mr Gregory. In the past the organisation had to manage the infrastructure and all software patches and updates for the fleet of 330,000 users, which was non trivial.

“If you look at a typical mail deployment you need a storage network manager, a network engineer and server experts. Now I can have my team in administrative mode rather than engineering mode,” he said.

Also CEnet’s infrastructure costs will be sliced as the Google apps platform will be hosted on Google’s cloud and provide 25 Gbyte mail boxes for every user, for free. Moving to the cloud has also allowed CEnet to reduce the number of servers it manages from 30 to four.


Mr Gregory said that all 740 sites would have access to Gmail, Google Sites, Google Groups, and Google Drive (which includes the old Google Docs suite), although the Google Wallet function has been switched off.

According to Mr Gregory CEnet’s key intent when it went to the market was to look for a cloud based solution that would allow it to reduce risk and the reliance on its own infrastructure. It came down to a two-horse race between Google and Microsoft.

While CEnet remains a Microsoft user, Mr Gregory said that Google Apps was successful “after a pretty rigorous procurement process” because; “It was more of a platform than a suite of products.”

It was also free. “And having the (Google) marketplace on top was important,” said Mr Gregory.

Mr Gregory said that in the future CEnet wanted to update its learning management system, and was hopeful of finding a cloud based solution in the Google marketplace. However there is already an initiative underway in the Sydney diocese called CloudShare to see how Google Apps itself can be used as a virtual learning environment.

CEnet went live with Google Apps in March, and took one person a fortnight to set up, according to Mr Gregory. He said 150,000-180,000 users had already moved across to the new system with more joining every day.

“We hope to have the whole community by the end of the year,” he said.

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