Google Enterprise Apps – a first look.

I attended my first Google event last week at Google’s Ann Arbor, MI office. The event was titled “ready for the cloud?” referencing today’s IT organizations are in the midst of a cloud computing revolution, as a growing number of businesses choose hosted messaging and collaboration solutions — such as Google Apps — to help employees collaborate more effectively while saving significantly on IT costs.

Let me reiterate, this was my first “Google” event; I’ve been following the cloud-computing movement for some time, and Google is a major player – so naturally my expectations were pretty high. Not only was I interested in content, but curiously also about this Ann Arbor office. Google has made alot of news about their presence in Michigan, with a few offices in the area. It was my understanding that their precence here was primarily with their AdWords division, which I neither confirmed nor denied, but as I expected, the presentation was hosted by regional sales folks using the AA office as a hub for businesses in the area. The event took place on the 4th floor which resembled a lounge. It had all the expected Google “stuff” – pool table, ping-pong table, bar, vending drink machines, TV w/gaming systems, rock band, and a couple arcade games. We were setup in the back corner with tables in classroom style, facing two projectors.

Speakers included two Google employees from the Enterprise division and one of their Enterprise partners, Sheepdog inc. The presentation started off with a slide deck overview of google, which lead into their growing Google Enterprise practice, which encompasses four primary units: Search (appliance) / Maps / Postini / Apps.  A couple quick facts: 2008 Google had > 20k employees, w/50% of them being engineers.  They had 21B in revenue, with 13B in profit (conveyed verbally), Google owns 70% of online Ads and has aprox. 63% search market share.  Also interesting was Google is considered the 4th largest hardware manufacturer – whereas they custom build all of their own infrastructure equipment, from switches to servers (I had heard that prior, but was interesting to confirm.)  Platforms include Chrome & Android – doing a small primer on both.  They did also reference the development of a Chrome OS, and touched briefly on Wave and Voice – but not within the “Enterprise” offering.

The Google Enterprise practice has aprox. 1100 employees, nearly 800M in revenue (6% overall).  We then began to dive into the 4 offerings.  Enterprise search was quickly referenced as their Search Appliance, and that was about it.  Maps was also glossed over, with references to its popularity both from consumers as well as businesses, and advanced functionality existing to help businesses track assets and location-based information.  Postini (similar to MXLogic) is a hosted email spam filter with some security provisions to help buffer the enterprise from various threats.  We’ve been using MX Logic at Billhighway for a few years, so we’re pretty familiar with the model and will say we’ve enjoyed it thus far.

On to Apps.  We’ve all heard about .edu’s beginning to adopt GMail as their email provider, whereas they referenced a few examples.  >2M businesses were now using Apps, 15M business users and over 4,000TB of data being managed within Apps.  They have >150M Gmail customers and stated an IDC study indicated nearly 20% of corporations are already using Google docs in some fashion.  The takeaway here (from my perspective) was – it’s out there, it’s been “tested”, use-cases validated, capable infrastructure in place and we’re now ready to take on the “enterprise.”

As the slide deck advanced, they referenced numerous other corporations migrating to Google Apps, primarily emphasizing GMail, which appears to be their “foot in the door” product, aimed squarely at MS Exchange and to some degree Blackberry.  One slide outlined the average legacy cost for in-house email hosting was $300/user/year – compared to $50/user/year with Google.  A slide also outlined the breakdown of these costs, with server equipment|staffing|filtering|archiving consuming the lions share of the expense.  Another argument surrounded upgrades, whereas in-house upgrades tend to be painful, slow and potentially expensive (32bit -> 64bit, requiring new hardware example) and may require 22hr/week to keep Exchange “up” – which translates to 60-150 hours/yr downtime!  On the surface, that seems like alot to me.

Gartner estimates 20% of email services will be in the cloud/SaaS by 2012.  GMail references 99.9% uptime, moving to 99.99% with 24/7 support for enterprise customers.  One thing I did like, was a reference to version “.now” – meaning, with SaaS you’re always current, no upgrade/migration and you benefit (seamlessly) with new features, vs. waiting the traditional 2-3 yr upgrade cycle.  As a SaaS provider ourselves, the benefits are pretty obvious, but like all things in technology there is no one-size-fits-all model.

Another interesting trend taking place is the (subtle) migration to the web-desktop.  By leveraging the “cloud” more and more apps can run within a browser, having minimal software footprints on computers.  Google even mentioned, many companies want to get out of the hardware business all together, giving employees a $1500 signing bonus, to cover the cost of their own computer – since the company no longer needs exclusive controls over the software they issue, since more and more of it is being hosted via the web ~ accessed by browser.  This is something I’ve been watching unfold for a while now, still a ways off (in my opinion) but getting closer all the time.

Another trend Google is encouraging is ubiquitous search.  In other words, they want users to give up their hierarchical organizing habits (often found within subfolder upon subfolders within Outlook, or Windows in general) – in favor for search.  Mac users will probably agree, a solid (unified) search is better, even offering context sensitive search.  Threaded messages is also helpful within GMail, which gives the impression of nearly 40% increase in efficiency, by summarizing email chains (which have lots of ‘replies’) into a grouped conversation.  With a simplified UI, it can make you more productive just by organizing your work differently – which provided a segway into an Einstein “Think Differently” quote (which I believe Apple even used to use back in the day.)

Google then demonstrated some use-cases for corporate Gmail, with fast type-ahead and context sensitive features such as “also include, or did you mean” links for frequently emailed users – based upon your usage habits.  Couldn’t help but think about all the [private] date Google has access to, which helps fuel these “features.”  Presentation previews was cool, again within Gmail, to display a doc, or presentation without opening a popup window.  Google also wants to encourage people moving away from attachments, making it easier to share/collaborate with online documents; think of a transparent ‘webEx’ experience, directly within popular apps (word processing, spreadsheet, spreadsheet, etc.) which helps with version conflicts and increased productivity with real-time collaboration.  This also addresses the serial nature of sharing documents, whereas a RFQ would have to pass through several hands independently.  Video chat was also incorporated (directly within browser) which is rumored to support up to 10 users soon.

So, how can you influence your shop to adopt Google Apps (via SheepDog, Inc.) :

  1. Communicate the ‘Why’ (cost savings, increased productivity, collaboration & simplicity)
  2. Create an Adoption Culture (identify internal advocates, training, leadership)
  3. Plan and Discover (pilot team selection, success criteria, allocation of resources, timelines)
  4. Train & Support (End user documentation, admin roles & responsibilities, Train the Trainer, online guides\self-service)
  5. Other [customized] consulting.

In summary, the session was good.  Clearly, there is some tremendous potential for SaaS/PaaS and the Cloud in general.  I personally am excited about the space and the opportunity it presents.  Like some, I do see “cloud” as evolutionary vs. revolutionary, but it does challenge you to think differently.  If you’re part of an emerging organization already leveraging SOA, SAN, GRID, and virtualization – the cloud becomes a no brainer.  If you’re not familiar with the technologies leading up to the cloud, you have a serious homework assignment.  There is a watershed event taking place around us and you owe it to yourself to become versed in this [arguably] new ecosystem.

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One response to “Google Enterprise Apps – a first look.

  1. Right on with this post syncs up almost exactly with my experience in Toronto. The overall offering is certainly moving from early adoption to steady state and the trend is only going to increase. This is going to turnover the IT business, working in an IT services firm you can already see the disruption. I am really excited to see how companies like SheepDog evolve.

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