Editor's Note: We are pleased to welcome guest bloggers Todd Jackson, Director of Information Services and CIO, and Bryan Mundy, Network Operations Manager, for the City of Westerville, Ohio – a city that has recently Gone Google. Westerville is nationally recognized as one of "America's Best Places to Live" by Money Magazine. The city features over 46 parks, a community recreation center, and 26 miles of leisure paths for residents, visitors, and businesses. Now one of America's best places to live has an email system to match – Google Apps. Mundy and Jackson use Google Apps to support nearly 500 users. Westerville has also invested in fiber infrastructure (52 linear miles) as well as a community data center/carrier neutral hotel that will serve as a launch pad for local businesses and community partners who need access to cloud-based technology to grow.

Please join Todd & Bryan for a live webcast on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. EDT / 11:00 a.m. PDT / 6:00 p.m. GMT. Register today.

The City of Westerville has a workforce of about 500 people who rely heavily on email. For many users, email is mission-critical. Police officers, for example, need to send reports by email 24 hours a day. Until recently, we relied on Novell GroupWise, and despite the fact that we were on the latest version, we were suffering constant outages. At last count, we had over 100 known issues, and it was taking its toll. As an IT team, we worked late nights and holidays. We were chasing issues versus adding value.

Adding to the challenge, we were having trouble scaling email. Users were unhappy because they couldn't effectively store important email due to limited inbox quotas.

We also have users on Windows, Mac and Linux – and we want to support them all equally well. Besides reducing IT complexity (and allowing us to have holidays off), we wanted to drive innovation by providing services like document sharing, mobile access, SMS functionality, and the ability for our users to build their own intranet sites. Finally, by freeing up our time from minding servers, we could dedicate time and resources to new projects and drive innovation within the community.

When we decided that GroupWise was no longer feasible for our city, we conducted a comprehensive evaluation that included the top hosted solutions, including Microsoft's hosted BPOS. We came away impressed with Google Apps' value and features. Google's solution was platform-agnostic, so we could easily support users on a variety of platforms. It was also less costly and came with capabilities like document sharing and Google Sites for building intranets. We felt that we could accomplish more with Google Apps for less money.

Our migration of all city departments – which included bringing over every single email, as well as calendar events and contacts – took just six weeks. We didn't lose data and we never had a major issue.

Our move into the cloud has freed IT staff time to focus on projects that provide more value to the city, departments, and the residents. We now have time to invest in new IT initiatives to help us grow our economic base. For example, we are working to build a newly-approved community data center – or 'community cloud' as we call it – which will provide access to services for small and medium business owners that typically only larger corporations enjoy. As far as we know, it is the first community data center in the country.

Today, IT makes jokes internally about how hard we work to "release new features." With Google Apps, we've received a constant stream of innovations that our users love and has allowed us to finally enjoy late nights at home.