RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Also here in L.A., another change. The city has voted to overhaul its email system, converting all of it to Gmail. And that's a victory for Google, which is trying to replace Microsoft applications in government cubicles everywhere. Rob Schmitz, of member station KQED, reports that some in L.A. are concerned about how the data on Gmail will be stored.
ROB SCHMITZ: L.A. will spend more than $7 million to switch to Gmail, making it the first city in the country to convert its entire email system to Google software. Washington, D.C. uses Gmail on a limited basis. For some in Las Angeles, being a pioneer can be nerve-wracking.
Mr. BERNARD PARKS (L.A. City Council member): There's no place you can in the world and say, let me look at it.
SCHMITZ: Bernard Parks is an L.A. City Council member. He voted to approve the Google contract, but he's nervous.
The move means the city will start to store public data on remote servers instead of internal ones. This is called cloud computing. It represents a new trend in data storage, and it's at the center of Google's business strategy. The company has plans to create a government cloud - remote servers securely located throughout the U.S. that would store public data.
David Girouard, president of Google's Enterprise division, insists the data will be safe.
Mr. DAVID GIROUARD (President of Entertainment division, Google): Their data is their data, and not ours. We have no rights to distribute that data or data-mine it or use it in any other way other than to provide, you know, the designated service to the City of Los Angeles.
SCHMITZ: Plus, says Girouard, the move to Gmail will save L.A. millions in the long term. Google is keenly aware of the economic times, says Richi Jennings, analyst for Ferris Research in London. So Google is beginning to market its software now to businesses and government as an affordable alternative to Microsoft applications.
Mr. RICHI JENNINGS (Analyst,, Ferris Research in London): So it's strategic from Google's perspective because they want to be taken seriously, not just in the small, medium enterprise, but also in the large enterprise. And they want to be taken seriously for government work.
SCHMITZ: Google was certainly taken seriously by Microsoft. The software giant sent lobbyists to L.A. to try and persuade the city that the move to Google would be a reckless one. Google's lobbyists were there, too, defending the company's reputation in the industry. Councilman Parks, though, still has some questions.
Mr. PARKS: Well, they have a good reputation in the industry, but I think we have to identify what their industry is. And their industry, from what I can determine, is primarily ad sales.
SCHMITZ: In fact, 97 percent of Google's revenue comes from ad sales. Still, in this brave, new world, more companies like Google are handling private and public data. It's cheap, it's easy, and it's a legal gray area. And it also raises questions about what happens to your data when it travels into the cloud.
For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz in Los Angeles.
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