Hollywood VAR Gives Flight To Virgin America Cloud

A North Hollywood solution provider was the wind beneath Virgin America's cloud computing wings as the well-known airline cut its on-premise ties and took to the cloud with Google and Google Apps.

SADA Systems' cloud computing project with Virgin America and Google originally took flight in July with an official launch in October. And come next week, all of Virgin America's 1,700 employees will be live in the cloud.

According to Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, the migration to Google Apps, which includes moving its e-mail to Gmail and Apps' collaboration tools like Calendar, Docs and Talk, is expected to cut Virgin America's annual e-mail costs in half while saving the airline more than 18 terabytes of storage space.

SADA's tight ties with Google and its sales team, its close geography to the airline's Burlingame, Calif.-based headquarters and its reputation as a cloud computing frontrunner helped it seal the Virgin America deal, Safoian said.

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"It's really the perfect case for the cloud because these workers aren't stationary," Safoian said, adding that all Virgin America employees will now be able to access e-mail and other applications via any browser without a massive IT footprint.

For Virgin America, the move to Google was an easy one, as the company wanted to focus more on longer term IT projects than on e-mail, which has become a commodity, Safoian said. "They wanted to get out of this commodity practice of managing an e-mail infrastructure," he said, adding that e-mail had become almost a non-strategic component of Virgin America's IT plans.

And while Google Apps tells a strong ROI and TCO story, Virgin cut over to Google Apps because of its capabilities and the innovation, not just to save some cash.

"In a lot of cases e-mail is e-mail," he said. "It's not really the price that drives Google Apps, it's the innovation. It fits their culture."

Ravi Simhambhatla, CIO for Virgin America, said in a Google blog post that the move to Google Apps is in line with the airline's mission to reinvent air travel.

"As the only airline based here in Silicon Valley, our goal has always been to use the best in technology and design to reinvent the air travel experience for the better," Simhambhatla wrote. "We're eager to bring the latest and greatest tech innovations not only to our guests -- but also to our teammates. The transition to a cloud-based email system allows us to save costs and increase the speed and efficiency of our platforms, so we can focus on what we do best: elevating the flying experience."

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Along with handling the deployment of Google Apps, SADA also implemented single sign-on user access so users have one password for multiple applications; integrated the system with telephony and voicemail; and is doing custom e-mail configurations. SADA also helped with BlackBerry and mobile integration, Safoian said.

And the move to Google Apps wasn't Virgin America's first journey into the cloud -– no pun intended -– the airline launched in-flight Internet in 2008 with the first-ever "air-to-ground" video stream to YouTube Live; and in June 2009 Google and Virgin America collaborated on the Day in the Cloud Challenge, an online scavenger hunt played in the air and on the ground. Then, in December 2009, Google and Virgin teamed up again to offer free Wi-Fi for holiday travelers.

SADA Systems is also no stranger to the cloud, having worked with a host of forward-thinking companies that ditched their on-premise systems in favor of the cloud. SADA was instrumental in the City of L.A.'s Google Apps and cloud initiatives and has worked closely with many other companies and state and local governments making the cloud leap. All of SADA's customers have one thing in common: They want to live in the browser and move off of Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, or some other on-premise system.

"The Virgin America project is not our biggest, but it's been the most fun," Safoian said. "We get to work with a lot of cool companies."