Google pushes into the enterprise

CIO roundtable aims to showcase applications in the cloud

Think 'Google' and chances are you immediately think 'search'. It's hard not to; search advertising is more than a $20 billion business for the company. But Google now has a lot more than search in its sights. Google Enterprise has become the provider of choice for many enterprise applications, as businesses look to harness the advantages of cloud computing and simplify their IT environments.

Taken a ride in an elevator lately? You may have noticed an advertisement sprucing Google Apps for business. And when President of Google Enterprise, Dave Girouad, spoke recently at the Gartner Symposium in Sydney, it was a full house.

"We are the half life of Google; we have been around for about five-and-a-half years, when there was no concept of cloud computing - I'm not sure the term had been coined," he told CIOs at a recent roundtable in Sydney.

Over the past few years, Google has taken its consumer-oriented web applications such as Gmail and messaging, and brought them into big business.

"We take products that are simple, fast, familiar and let them go through an extraordinarily rapid innovation as consumer products - and then we bring them into the enterprise setting," he said. "In our opinion, the enterprise market has never really focussed on the end user experience."

As processing and networking power and Web browser technology improve, cloud computing has really come into its own, Girouad said.

"It used to be extraordinarily difficult to provide interactive experience via a browser. Gmail had a degree of interactivity that people found amazing. The reality was it was extraordinarily difficult to deliver within a browser."

Google began offering its applications as a service to businesses in 2007, including the functions expected in enterprise offerings, such as 24x7 availability and service level agreements. It was immensely successful among small businesses and educational institutions from day one. Today, about 70 per cent of universities and schools in the US have either implemented Google Apps or are thinking of doing so.

"We started as a very modest product set and about 9000 businesses signed up first week we launched it. Most people wanted it for Gmail - managing email services is not a job anybody loves. Doing it well is hard and expensive."

The breakthrough company, according to Girouad, was biotech firm, Roche-owned Genentech in San Francisco, which moved the entire company over to Google in 2008.

"We take it very personally that we want to make the adopters of our technology successful," he said.

"It's never perfect and some people adapt to change better than others, but we've never had people revert.

"We keep adding to the maturity of the product. If you looked at Google Apps a year ago, it's very different today. The applications grow and change every week. Just yesterday we launched templates within Google sites. It's a steady march. Every week, things get a little better."

Girouad said Google had also included support for Blackberry, admitting many executives "at the top" were advocates for the brand. And users can also keep their Outlook experience, although he admit to failing to understand the appeal.

Google also lets businesses implement delegate and retention policies around email, and has added functionality around archiving and compliance

"It's an area we will continue to build on," he said.

Google has also taken its infamous 'Beta' label off some products to help CIOs and IT managers more easily sell the Google Apps proposition into the business.

"Not only is it better faster, cheaper, it is more secure than you can build yourself on premises. We think we have an amazing computer infrastructure that we want to open up to you," Girouad said.

"The thing about cloud computing that is different to the traditional model is the technology delivery. You don't go through a two-year upgrade cycle. You don't have to do patches, you're never on an old version. All those things go away. It slowly gets better, it takes care of itself and grows. It's not a ton of energy on your side to maintain that. There has been 99 micro releases in 2009, but we don't experience the change as a problem because things are changing very slowly. Tens of millions of users are giving us instant feedback. There is an element of trust in it - trust is one of the most fundamental things of cloud computing.

Under the traditional model, software can be four to five years old before it is rolled out to desktops, he said.

"It's a dated model, it's non-competitive."

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