Google Apps was a topic that came up in several sessions at the NJEDge conference I attended recently. Actually, the talk was about Google Apps for Education which is different from non-academic users who have a Gmail account or use other Google cloud computing tools.
I wasn't in Denver for EDUCAUSE 2009, but that is where Google unveiled Google Apps for Education three years ago. Schools that have adopted Apps may have made the move to "cloud computing" before most people on campus even knew there was such a thing.
In just the past year, Google has released more than 100 new features and have six million students and faculty. They added a million users just in the first month of this fall semester.
Apps covers a wider range of grades than many other applications. Google Message Service for K-12 schools and integration with learning management systems like Blackboard and Moodle, which probably impacts higher ed more, are good examples.
Why are schools doing this move? Cost saving is certainly a factor. As with individuals, the economy of free is very inviting. Also, taking a school's IT department out of things like the email business is also attractive for economic and responsibility reasons.
According to the 2009 Campus Computing survey, 44% of colleges and universities have converted to a hosted student email solution, and another 37% are currently evaluating the move. My own Passaic County Community College is in that latter evaluation category. (56% of K-12 schools and 59% of colleges who have moved, moved to Google.)
There are still many people I heard at the conference who are wary of moving to Google for tools. I remember hearing most of the same fears when I was involved in launching iTunes U at NJIT in 2007. What's in it for Google? How will they make money from it? (It can't just be goodwill to education.) What happens if Google goes away or decides to stop offering the services - or gets us hooked and then charges us?
There is also some distrust of "the cloud." All our content stored on someone else's servers? What are they doing with it? Data mining? What happens when I have no Internet access - how do I get to my stuff?
I won't try here to allay those fears. I don't need to do sales for Google. But I would point potential "customers" to those 6 million users at schools and tell you to look at www.google.com/appsatschool for more information.