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August 25, 2007

Google Apps, Not Yet a Mature Enterprise Solution

An interesting report from Burton Group titled "Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects?" (it's available as a PDF, but requires free registration) analyzes if the business edition of Google Apps is a good solution for the corporate environment.

The report starts with a short description of Google's offering: "Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) is a SaaS-based solution; a member of the Google Apps family; a collection of applications, application programming interfaces (APIs), third-party applications, and support; and supplied by a company where historically selling to the enterprise has been a corporate sideline." Google doesn't make too much money from enterprise products and it tries to adapt consumer-oriented applications to the corporate needs. "Only if and when the enterprise division stands architecturally on its own will Google be able to compete head-to-head with competitors who have focused on the enterprise from the beginning," suggests the report.

Google Apps is presented as a "lite" replacement for Microsoft Office and a basic option for an enterprise content management system or a collaboration suite. Google Apps can't address the needs of Microsoft Office power users, doesn't offer tools for document archiving, records management, stats, content policies. It also lacks collaboration tools like video chat, web conferencing, workspaces for collaboration, wikis, forums, although some of these will be added in the near future.

Google "has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them beta software, and issuing updates on a known only to Google schedule. Furthermore, some companies are leery of entrusting their corporate documents to a company that makes its living from analyzing content and displaying it to the world. To these companies, keeping information secure seems at odds with Google's emphasis on information sharing."

Here are the product strengths, according to the report:
* Don't need to pay for unnecessary power user licenses
* No software to install, and no continual updates
* Minimal, if any, training required
* Relatively easy to include workers outside the enterprise
* Online documents are not scattered on C drives or fileshares
* Integration of past application silos

... and here are the weaknesses:
* Power users and sophisticated documents are not supported
* Records management is difficult and requires extra work
* 99.9% uptime guarantee is for Gmail only
* Google is not liable for lost data, profits, or revenue
* Live telephone support is 17/5
* Difficult to plan for product capabilities and rollouts

To be fair, the text from the service agreement is very similar to Microsoft Office's terms: "In no event will Google or its licensors be liable for any indirect, special, incidental, consequential, exemplary or punitive damages, including but not limited to damages for lost data, lost profits, lost revenue or costs of procurement of substitute goods or services, however caused and under any theory of liability."

The conclusion is that Google Apps is not yet a mature solution and companies should wait until Google or other competing software-as-a-service suites become more powerful:
Google has caught the attention of enterprises with its inexpensive Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) product: available at $50 per user per year. However, the seductive price can spell trouble for enterprise architects and their companies if they don't do their homework: the solution's rudimentary feature set means that enterprises need to pick carefully and implement slowly.

While Google's entrance is adding momentum to using software as a service (SaaS) for communication, collaboration, and content management, it's unclear at this point whether Google will be able to capitalize on the trends that it's accelerating.

8 comments:

  1. Google App can't replace Exchange Mail that many enterprises have been using; my school is now using Exchange 2003 and I find it extremely difficult to replace the system with Google App. There are just many things that Google App can't do for the enterprise/universities.

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  2. I work for a reasonably large enterprise, and I can't imagine us going with Google Apps... but I don't need a whitepaper to figure that out. Like most whitepapers this one has a commercial purpose; whether that purpose is simply to capture business from companies who are considering SaaS architecture, or whether the purpose is to deliver a message for which they've already been paid is not clear.

    GoogleApps will find its niche. Whether that niche becomes a completely new model of IT which large enterprises are willing to adopt is an open question; however, I definitely hear things that suggest enterprise thinking is becoming more conducive to such an IT model.

    Google may need some special partnerships (HW, SW)on the back-end to ultimately make this Fortune 500 ready; there are some critical sensitivities to the keeping of data.

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  3. Old hand in the data centerAugust 25, 2007 at 3:24 PM

    The article says:

    * Google is not liable for lost data, profits, or revenue

    In reality, no IT company agrees to liability for such things. None. Zip. Zero. Never.

    There is folklore that one IT company agreed to such liability once and that they were quickly sued into oblivion, but that is just a myth. No company in IT was ever so stupid.

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  4. I think it is too early to judge. Google is slowly adding new weaponry to Apps. What if Google combines a free Star Office to Apps the way they did with GPack? What if they offer free secrurity through Postini? As Apps gets better companies will find it irresistable to purchase a tool that is dirt cheap.

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  5. I took Apps for a test drive, but had to abandon it when I discovered that it took over my domain's webspace - it went literally from my Blogger blog to a 404 page. I'm now looking for other, more "traditional" ways for email, etc.

    Sephyroth
    http://www.sephyroth.net

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  6. Clearly the author disagrees with the trends outlined in Friedman's "The world is flat."

    The ease of collaboration that empowers individual humans to create and foster the relationships, rather than their IT departments, will trump the traditional model. I predict that IT departments, will resist for job security and I predict upper echelons of management will resist for "security concerns". However, the calls from the individual users will be too loud and eventually the inability to collaborate will stymie the company's core purpose.

    The traditional desktop model is analogous to telephones that only work in the company or e-mail that only works in the company. Even then, almost every collaboration requires a top down in house enterprise-provided solution. On-the-fly collaboration is more nimble.

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  7. Once your team actually uses full real time collaborative apps they will never go back to stand alone docs or spreadsheets. We use both Google apps and msoffice and find they complement each other.

    Try it. First one is free ;)

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  8. When I look at Google Apps, I see it as a brilliant strategy used by a weaker force against a stronger opponent.

    Anyone who has tried to take Microsoft on with a frontal assault has been slaughtered. Google has taken a different tack with a series of guerrilla like raids against the Microsoft Empire.

    They have been highly successful in some areas, using search revenues to develop apps like Google Earth, and Gmail and now youtube to possibly launch an assault on Microsoft's dominance in the Enterprise area. Google Apps appears to be another attempt.

    One thing you can say about Google is that they are unpredictable, an invaluable asset for the underdog in any contest. Microsoft seems to have been put on the defensive by Google over the past couple of years because Google has dictated the terms and sites of contention between the two. I am not sure that Google Apps is not a feint and we will not really know what Google is up to until it decides, on its own schedule, to reveal it to the world.

    From what I have seen of Google over the past decade, these guys have been really cleaver. They have used their resources very well and stuck to being engineers trying to make things work.

    I think smart money, at this point says, if a Google wants to take on Microsoft in any area, I would not bet against them. They are just plain brighter than those guys up in Washington.

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