La Salle rolls out web services

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on August 22, 2008

Cloud computing debuts in the Philippines

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Josemari Calleja, the executive director for communications and corporate services at De La Salle University. Calleja confirmed to me that La Salle has been rolling out Google’s suite of web services to students since January. Called Google Apps, the services include the usual office productivity, e-mail, and calendar software applications.

The rollout began with graduate students, and is expected to be completed by November. It includes all 17 schools throughout the Philippines, and will involve about 100,000 students and faculty. Parents of students and alumni are also eligible to receive the accounts. Calleja told me that undergraduate students will begin receiving their accounts next month. (Disclosure: Google is a client of my firm.)

Google Apps are delivered over the Internet using a technology called cloud computing. To understand what cloud computing is, imagine a warehouse stuffed with thousands of servers connected to each other and to the Internet. Then imagine a network of these warehouses strategically positioned around the world to quickly and efficiently order up applications for users everywhere on earth when they need them.

As user demand for these online applications experiences the inevitable peaks and valleys, the number of servers serving up these applications increases and decreases automatically, or on demand, assuring that responsiveness is always high. That, very simply defined, is cloud computing. Only Google and a handful of other multinational, mostly technology, companies offer this service.

The immediate benefit of web services delivered “over the cloud” is low investment compared to setting up the network infrastructure to support a university system, or a company for that matter. Instead of purchasing servers, the equipment to connect them, and the software that runs them and on them, users of all kinds simply pay for the time they are using Web services assets. In La Salle’s case, Google is providing Google Apps free of charge, which it does for all educational institutions.

Another major benefit for La Salle and its students is the ability to collaborate using Google Apps. Documents, spreadsheets, and presentations can be developed and revised online by groups of students and faculty. Google Apps also includes a web service called Google Sites, which enables users to quickly and easily set up collaborative project websites where multiple files can be stored and worked on simultaneously by users online.

The benefits of such collaboration are obvious. Because group projects are such a fixture of a modern university education, students frequently meet physically in person to work on group assignments with urgent deadlines. Using Google Apps and Google Sites, much of the necessity to physically meet for the purpose of collaboration disappears. Regardless of where students are not just in the Philippines, but anywhere, the group can work productively “together.”

The ability to collaborate is an important business asset, too, and Google is also helping small and medium enterprises leverage Google Apps by providing the service free. Large enterprises can also use Google Apps for free, but for a $50/year fee per user, these companies receive additional user support. That minimal fee allows large organizations to substantially avoid the cost of maintaining user help desks internally or outsourcing support to an unrelated third party.

Although Google entered the Southeast Asia market only a year ago when it opened an office in Singapore, it has quickly deployed Google Apps and other Google products throughout the region, often in localized versions. When reporters recently asked Dipchand V. Nishar, senior director for APAC products how Google intends to monetize the low and frequently no-cost products it provides users, he responded, “When satisfied, users tend to use more of our products.” But what benefit does Google receive from more users using more of its products for free?

To answer that question it’s important to understand Google’s business philosophy. Nishar began his conversation with reporters last week by stating that Search – its original core business – will always be its core business. That’s because search enables Google’s revenue generating product: AdWords, a service that places client ads in websites and alongside search results and charges advertisers when ads are clicked.

When La Salle students use Google Apps, and appreciate its anywhere, anytime collaborative functionality, they should naturally feel good about using Google Search, probably for a lifetime. Another reason Google provides products such as Google Apps, iGoogle – a personalized web portal – and Maps free of charge is the benefit of product development on a massive scale.

“Users discover our products and go and use them in creative ways,” Nishar said, enabling Google to see what products are going to resonate and help build that good will the company expects to provide strategic support for its core Search business. “Our purpose is to spawn innovation, not contain it,” Nishar explained. “When you build quality products, money will follow.”

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