When you think about it, e-mail is a little thing, not really worth so much in the large scheme of things – until you begin to realize how much some people, and institutions depend on it.

Today, in a column on ZDNet, we are informed that the city of Los Angeles is needing an overhaul of the system’s e-mail, and that, instead of doing the job themselves, it has been put out to external bid, with Microsoft and Google, the big players.

The city of Los Angeles has a decision to make. You see, the city’s old school e-mail system is pretty outdated and in need of a major overhaul. But like most other municipal governments, the budget for new tech systems is pretty tight these days. And so, city officials have been weighing the option of jumping on board with a cloud offering.

It’s a contract worth $7.25 million, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. But, in the long-run, it’s worth so much more than that. Los Angeles is the second largest city in the U.S. and scoring a contract to overhaul and modernize the e-mail system could be a major score for either company.

For Microsoft, a win shows that Outlook and Exchange are still big players and worthy of an investment by one of the largest enterprise customers in the nation. (The city currently uses neither Microsoft nor Google for e-mail services.) For Google, it would be a major score for the cloud and could serve as a springboard to prove to other cities around the globe that Google’s e-mail cloud is, in fact, ready for prime time. Talking about Google, Los Angeles city councilman Bernard C. Parks tells the Times:

It would be a flagship contract that they can market to the rest of the country. When you buy it and they put on their masthead that you’re one of their customers, you find a trail of cities that say ‘I’ll follow suit.’

The contract is reportedly such a big deal that members of the council have been told that both Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Google CEO Eric Schmidt would be happy to come down to L.A. and visit with council members about their decisions.

The city seems to be leaning toward a Google offering but lobbyists have landed on the doors of City Hall to express concerns about security, confidential information and reliability, all important issues that have prompted city officials to (wisely) ask more questions.

Who knew that this would be so lucrative for either company? Is there that much money in e-mail? Perhaps the real money comes when some dirty deal done brings about the need to return to mail sent some time before. The availability, or lack of availability, might be worth lots of money to the people involved.

Either way, it seems as though the entire story of the Google vs. Microsoft current feud might get fought out, and about, locally.

In the comments column that follows, the usual data breach, outage, and reliability concerns pop up, with about a 50/50 smattering of comments. It’s also true that bragging rights will go with this, and the winner will do some chest thumping to the rest of the nation, as its rushes to join the ‘forward thinking’ California people.

Let’s be clear about this – it has nothing to do with forward thinking. It has to do with being cheap. Too cheap for the city’s data system to take care of e-mail themselves. Is it a good idea for more e-mail to become part of that nebulous entity, known as “the cloud”?

I suppose that the mail system is very necessary to those involved with it, but is it something that needs to be available world-wide? Putting more and more into “the cloud” is something that brings up the matter of data density, which seems to get forgotten about these days – until a breach, or loss occurs. At that point, everyone is ready to harp on it for a short time, and then the idea is forgotten until the next breach occurs.

It is amazing how many times the same fight gets fought. The idea of Google and Microsoft as agents of doom will pervade, and until the decision is made, the tempers will flare, and nasty epithets about previous times will get thrown around. Then, after the decision, nothing. After that, we have the governmental or private debate, which continues up until the Microsoft-Google debate is ready to restart.

Until that first problem…  the “Google has outage problems” and “Microsoft can’t keep anything safe” will then be back, like a bad memory.

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Heaven_and_Hell but who takes care of the e-mail?

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