Google Apps Replaced by Microsoft for Immature Products, Service, Serena Says

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-11

Google Apps Replaced by Microsoft for Immature Products, Service, Serena Says

Serena Software turned heads in 2008 when it announced it would replace Microsoft Exchange with Google's Gmail application to save upward of $750,000.

That migration was completed in March 2009 and Serena was happy for a while. How a year changes things.

Microsoft swooped in this year and won Serena back as a customer with its Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, or BPOS-S.

Starting at $10 per user, per month, BPOS-S offers Web-based messaging and collaboration software hosted by Microsoft, including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting and Office Communications Online. Serena had been using Gmail and other Google collaboration applications through Google Apps, which costs $50 per user, per year.

Word on the high-tech street is that Microsoft gave Serena BPOS for free for three years, is migrating the company over for free and is providing a great discount on the overall enterprise agreement as well.

Did anyone ever think the world would see Microsoft giving software away for free? Of course not, and that's why the idea sounds a little suspect.

Perhaps Microsoft's strategy in the cloud collaboration market, where Google has over 2 million business customers, a three-year head start and a solid track record of satisfied customers, is to give a little in the hope of getting a lot of goodwill, if not new customers in the long run.

Microsoft declined to discuss terms of its arrangement with Serena and would not make executives available for comment, beyond this statement from Tim Rizzo, senior director of Microsoft Online Services: "Microsoft has the expertise businesses trust and offers competitively priced solutions that deliver proven results. When Serena Software required a collaboration platform that provided enterprise-class support, security and reliability, Microsoft responded. That is why Serena Software and the large majority of businesses around the world are choosing Microsoft."

Ron Brister, director of IT for Serena Software, denied that Serena is using BPOS for free. While he confirmed that Microsoft is helping Serena move from Google Apps to BPOS and that Microsoft gave him a discount on Serena's enterprise agreement, he declined to say how much of a discount or to discuss the financial arrangements.

Why Serena Went Back to Microsoft

But Brister fleshed out why he switched back to Microsoft in this blog post May 18, hinting at weaknesses in Google Apps.

Specifically, he said BPOS will help Serena collaborate more effectively internally and with customers and partners, "without having to deal with content loss or clients being unable to open or edit a document. In particular, Exchange is unchallenged in its calendaring and contact management abilities, mission-critical functions for a global company such as Serena."

However, that blog post was published on Microsoft's TechNet site, not Serena's site. Just to be careful, eWEEK sought more clarification from Brister, who said he expects to have the company running on BPOS by the end of August.

"In my opinion, Google's contacts [functionality] is nonexistent," said Brister, who noted Serena went with Google because it was the only credible company offering cloud collaboration at the time. "It's also their lack of professional customer support. Enterprise counts for 2 to 3 percent of their business and I think they put 2 to 3 percent of their effort into it, whereas enterprise is Microsoft's wheelhouse."

He also said users who forwarded an e-mail with an attachment while Gmail was offline would sometimes have that attachment stripped-without warning-when it arrived at its destination. Google's support team told Serena to disable the offline feature in Gmail, an untenable solution in Brister's opinion.

There were other issues, but Brister said on balance the rate of maturity slowed for Google Apps, whereas Microsoft picked up the pace with BPOS.

"Google just hasn't matured to the point that we would have expected by now, and frankly Microsoft is a way better fit for us," said Brister, who was actively testing Google Apps 18 months before deploying it to his company's 800 employees.

Google, meanwhile, took the high road in response to Brister's analysis, and pointed to its solid track record and rampant innovation in products such as Google Docs, which just received a major overhaul that enables it to preserve the fidelity of Microsoft documents.

"Free is a great price, and we wish Ron well," a Google spokesperson said. "We can always do better, and we take our customers' feedback to heart. We'll continue our efforts to provide the best possible service and support, which is reflected in our 90 percent-plus renewal rate."

In any event, the Serena and Microsoft lovefest is just one small sign that Google now has a major player to contend with in the sea of collaboration providers that includes IBM, Zoho and Cisco Systems.

That player would be Microsoft, which blazed the first big trail in the messaging and collaboration market. What is old is new, even in the cloud.

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