Thursday, November 12, 2009

Q&A: Google's Enterprise Software Plans

Google recently described its efforts in the enterprise software space, including details about its e-mail service contract win with the city of Los Angeles.

What follows is an edited transcript of a talk I had late last week with Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google enterprise. Google is known for providing free Web-based applications to the general public, but these free consumer apps are also key its enterprise software development strategy, Glotzbach explained.

In the interview, Glotzbach talks about the ideas behind Google Apps, Google App Engine, Chrome Frame, Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook and the mysterious Chrome OS. Some of these products are starting to gain ground on similar Microsoft solutions, or even bypassing them.
Q: Does Google have a name for its cloud computing platform?
Glotzbach: Where we really started in terms of a commercialized offering, in what I would call "cloud computing," is our product suite that we refer to as Google Apps, which is a bundle of products. Gmail is our e-mail offering. Google Calendar is our calendaring system. Google Talk is our instant messaging and voice-over-IP technology. Google Docs is our office productivity and collaboration technology (word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software). Google Sites is our team collaborative and team site capability. Google Video for Business is a "YouTube for business" [type of application].

So we bundle that group of technologies together under the name of Google Apps and we give that to organizations, small-to-medium businesses, large enterprise, education, public sector, etc. It includes…the types of administrative controls you'd expect and integration and interoperability capabilities -- so things like synchronization with on-premises directory servers, be it Active Directory or user provisioning in groups, single sign-on capabilities, archiving and e-discovery capabilities, APIs, a full administrative console, reporting, etc. That's our primary computing offering on the commercial side today.

We launched Google Apps Premier Edition, which is our for-pay version, back in February of 2007. For businesses, we charge $50 per user per year -- and that's per year, so it ends up being about $4.17 per month. The Google Apps Standard Edition is really geared towards clubs, organizations, affinity groups and families where you still have your own domain name and you have a group of users but you're not a business. The Standard Edition has most of the things that the Premier Edition has, but it doesn't have some of the APIs and more of the large enterprise integration points; it doesn't have things like archiving and e-discovery as you'd expect in a for-business offering. We give that one for free. We also have one that we call Education Edition, which is basically our Premiere Edition product, but we provide it at no cost to educational institutions, both primary K through 12, as well as secondary universities, etc.

We do have App Engine, which falls in the platform-as-a-service or the infrastructure-as-a-service-type category. Basically, it's an application hosting development platform where a developer -- whether they be an enterprise IT developer or an ISV or someone doing hobby development over the weekend -- can build an application on our platform and have it hosted by Google to take advantage of our computer resources and our storage services. We've had that in the market for one-and-a-half to two years now. And we continue to grow and expand that offering, but we don't really have a formal enterprise offering around our App Engine product at this time.

Would calling Google's cloud platform an 'experimental' platform be accurate?
I wouldn't say 'experimental.' We tend to introduce technologies into the consumer world first and use that as a maturation ground. You could say 'testing ground' to some extent, but by that measure, frankly, that's everything that Google does. We are constantly testing and iterating -- that's really the fundamental of our model that we are constantly evolving things. So, we tend to bring things out into the consumer world. And we've had great success. There are hundreds of thousands of applications built on App Engine serving millions of users, or something like that.

The city of Los Angeles last month elected to go with Gmail over a Microsoft e-mail platform. Has the contract been finalized?
It's been voted on and unanimously approved by the City Council and I believe it's in the final contracting stages.

Did Google have to meet an RFP and address security issues with hosted services?
Yes, there was an extensive RFP process conducted by the city. There were over 15 public bids across a number of vendors from which Google was selected as the preferred bid and then entered into the contracting phase. Obviously, Microsoft was one of those vendors -- although I heard at one point that Microsoft was seven of those proposed solutions. They were all scrutinized on a number of dimensions -- security was one of the big ones. I will say that the city's report, based on the findings of that process, stated that the hosted solutions from Google would be significantly more secure than the on-premise solution that the city has today.

And I think that's an important thing that we are seeing more and more. I think that as cloud computing becomes a mainstream way of doing business, what organizations are realizing is that there is a misperception of security. Just because something is in your own basement server room doesn't necessarily make it more secure than something that's hosted by a third party. The analogy that comes to mind is that of a bank. Your money is significantly safer in a bank than under your mattress. And it took everybody a few years to come to that realization a century ago. But now, you don't think about putting your money anywhere else and you don't think about going to an ATM and using technology to extract your money, and you don't care whether your or my money are all mixed together in a bank because we can go and get money out wherever we are.

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